September 19, 2018

Rowan Williams on Baptism (2)

Cumberland River, KY (2015)

Rowan Williams on Baptism (2)

Today we continue our series of reflections on Rowan Williams’s book, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer.

As we continue to hear what Williams has to say about baptism, he reminds us that, being baptized into the life of Christ, we partake of and grow into his identity. One classic way of thinking about the identity and calling of Jesus is to consider the three roles of prophet, priest, and king.

For many centuries the Church has thought of Jesus as anointed by God to live out a threefold identity: that of prophet, priest and king. The baptized person identifies with Jesus in these three ways of being human which characterize and define his unique humanity. As we grow into his life and humanity these three ways come to characterize us as well. The life of the baptized is a life of prophecy and priesthood and royalty. (p. 12)

To speak of our lives like that certainly sounds heady, but in fact, this baptismal identity works itself out in down-to-earth ways.

As those who share the life of Christ the Prophet, we “express and ask important and readily forgotten questions” (p. 14) of ourselves, the church, and the world in which we live.

As those who share the life of Christ the Priest, we “are called upon to mend shattered relationships between God and the world, through the power of Christ and his Spirit. As baptized people, we are in the business of building bridges. We are in the business, once again, of seeing situations where there is breakage, damage and disorder, and bringing into those situations the power of God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in order to rebuild something” (p. 15)

As those who share the life of Christ the King, we find that our “‘royal’ calling is about how we freely engage in shaping our lives and our human environment in the direction of God’s justice, showing in our relationships and our engagement with the world something of God’s own freedom, God’s own liberty to heal and restore” (p. 16).

As we saw in our recent series on Genesis, baptism restores us to our original human vocation, which is that we should represent God in the world and live within his blessing, so that we will flourish upon the earth, take care of creation as God’s stewards, and also actively engage and overcome evil. This is exactly what Rowan Williams is saying when he says we are baptized into the life, identity, and vocation of Jesus Christ.

God created this world for shalom. Jesus came to restore shalom. Now, in his name we are baptized so that we may begin to experience his shalom in our lives and participate with God in making shalom a reality throughout the world.

We arise from the waters of baptism to be shalom-makers. And blessed are the shalom-makers, for they will be called the children of God.

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    ” . . . baptism restores us to our original human vocation, which is that we should represent God in the world and live within his blessing, so that we will flourish upon the earth, take care of creation as God’s stewards, and also actively engage and overcome evil. This is exactly what Rowan Williams is saying when he says we are baptized into the life, identity, and vocation of Jesus Christ.”
    (Rowan Williams)

    I find Rowan Williams’ SHALOM concept in baptism to be similar to the nature of Incarnation as seen by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in this way:
    ““” We now know that we have been taken up and borne in the humanity of Jesus, and therefore that new nature we now enjoy means that we too must bear the sins and sorrows of others. The incarnate lord makes his followers the brothers and sisters of all humanity. ” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

    We are invited ‘in’ to a union with Christ in order to help ‘repair’ what has been wounded and broken:
    we are invited to ’embrace the leper’, we are invited to come alongside those with burdens and help them, we are invited to be ‘with’ those who suffer and grieve. . . . .

    Rowan Williams’ concept of baptism seems deeply ‘sacramental’ in so many ways.

    “So baptism means being with Jesus ‘in the depths’: the depths of human need, including the depths of our own selves in their need—but also in the depth of God’s love; in the depth where the Spirit is re-creating and refreshing human life as God meant it to be.

    If all this is correct, baptism does not confer on us a status that marks us off from everybody else. To be able to say ‘I’m baptized’ is not to claim an extra dignity, let alone a sort of privilege that keeps you separate from and superior to the rest of the human race, but to claim a new level of solidarity with other people. It is to accept that to be a Christian is to be affected—you might even say contaminated—by the mess of humanity.

    This is very paradoxical. Baptism is a ceremony in which we are washed, cleansed, and re-created, it is also a ceremony in which we are pushed into the middle of a human situation that may hurt us, and that will not leave us untouched or unsullied. And the gathering of baptized people is therefore not a convocation of those who are privileged, elite and separate, but in the heart of a needy, contaminated messy world.being-christian

    To put it another way, you don’t go down into the waters of the Jordan without stirring up a great deal of mud!”
    (Rowan Williams)

  2. senecagriggs says:

    I just wanted to get dunked and say, “I stand with Jesus.” Not sure I would have voluntarily signed up for trying to save the planet.

    • Christiane says:

      I hear you, Senecagriggs. Rowan Williams is an Anglican and it might help explain the post a bit more if you take a look at the Anglican liturgy for holy baptism:
      https://www.bcponline.org/Baptism/holybaptism.html

    • Your reply is evidence of one of the weaknesses of baptistic evangelical churches. One thing that attracted me to the Lutheran tradition was its emphasis upon remembering and living out our baptismal identity every day of our lives. Baptists on the other hand see it as a one-off.

      • Also in such churches, God doesn’t do anything in Baptism. It’s all about us, OUR choice, OUR decision to be obedient to Christ and get baptized. But why would Christ ask people to do such a thing if Nothing Happens except that a person gets wet? What is the action of God in it? (And a begged question: where is the Church?)

        Dana

      • Michael Bell says:

        Chaplain Mike and Dana,

        A lot of speaking for Baptists here.

        When I proclaimed through Baptism “I stand with Jesus”, it wasn’t a one off, but something that I came back to again and again.

        • Michael,

          It’s good you came back to it again and again. And you’re different from most.

          I was in baptistic Evangelical churches for +20 years. All the ones I was part of were as Chaplain Mike describes.

          Real question: How did you understand God as active in your being in the water, right at that moment – *not* God leading you to take such a step, or wanting to be obedient to Jesus, or in any emotion you felt, but in what was happening as you were being baptized?

          Dana

          • You Baptists and former Baptists might either cringe or chuckle at this, but I didn’t get baptized until ~27 years after following Christ and being “born again.”

            So the REAL question is…

            Was I not “baptized” until then? I think I was a “shalom-maker” and a Spirit-filled-fruit-bearer for a number of those 27 years, despite not having arisen from actual baptismal waters.

            • God is bigger than any one route. As I’ve said often before, baptism is designed to be the ordinary entrance into salvation, the Christian life, and the church. The fact that it doesn’t always happen that way is testimony to the wideness of God’s mercy and the foolishness of our efforts to build boundaries around his grace.

              • –> “The fact that it doesn’t always happen that way is testimony to the wideness of God’s mercy and the foolishness of our efforts to build boundaries around his grace.”

                AMEN!

                I’ve never been bothered by my own “baptismal” testimony, but I’m sure it causes some to feel great anguish…LOL.

                In fact, my own testimony has helped others to wait for their own baptism until a “time that you’ll know is right.”

            • Michael Bell says:

              I was greatly influenced by Michael Green’s book: Baptism: Its Purpose, Practice, and Power which he wrote (and I read) in 1987. Here is a very good summary from an Amazon Review:

              _Baptism: Its Purpose, Practice, and Power_ (1987) is written by British theologian and Anglican priest, Michael Green. The book weighs in at 141 pages and is a very accessible (well written and easily understood at lower literacy levels) introductory text on baptism.

              Green is inclusive as to his understanding of the meaning of baptism. He summarizes the various meanings that have been applied to baptism throughout church history under three headings or “strands:” the Catholic strand views baptism as the doorway into the faith community, the church. The Protestant (Baptist) strand views baptism as the witness of the Christian’s repentance and faith. The Pentecostal strand views baptism primarily in terms of the experience of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life (pp. 13-14).

              Though none of these three understandings of baptism is sufficient on its own, together they flesh out the meaning of Christian baptism. Says Green, “There is the human side, repentance and faith. There is the churchly side, baptism into the visible family of Christian people. And there is the divine side, forgiveness of sins and reception of the Holy Spirit. All three belong together.” (p. 20)

              Coming from a Reformed perspective, Green understands baptism to be the New Testament analogue to the Old Testament rite of circumcision. Circumcision was the initiation rite whereby persons were admitted to the Old Testament church. Baptism is the initiation rite whereby persons are admitted to the New Testament church. In both eras, circumcision and baptism are the physical marks of belonging to their respective covenants (pp. 25-26; 45). Green relies on Colossians 2.11-12 for this continuity between the two initiation rites.

              Green asserts that baptism speaks of many different things. It speaks of new birth (John 3.5), of washing (1 Corinthians 6.11), of justification (Romans 6.3), of putting on new clothes (Galatians 3.27), of escape from the dangers of the flood (1 Peter 3.20), of incorporation into Christ (Galatians 3.27), and of a union with Christ in his death and resurrection (Romans 6.3-4). Green concludes, “All of this underlines how important baptism is. It cannot be thought of as an optional extra, which is how some modern Christians seem to treat it; nor can it be repudiated altogether, as the Quakers and Salvation Army do.” (pp. 48-49)

              Green rightly points out that what baptism means is quite different from what it does (p. 54). Roman Catholics believe that baptism effects what it signifies. Many Protestants believe that baptism is merely symbolic and does not do anything at all. Green takes a middle-of-the-road approach: baptism does do something, but not necessarily so. He continues:

              “[Baptism] is rather like the marriage service where, after the exchange of vows, the minister pronounces the couple man and wife. That is fair enough, because he knows that the signing of the register will follow in a few minutes, and consummation later on. But if either of these two conditions is missing the couple are not married even though liturgically they have been said to be!…And if, for some reason, such as sudden illness, the consummation does not take place for some time, their marriage could be null and void. But what they would need to do is not to go through the ceremony all over again, but to supply the missing part, consummation!

              “Baptism is very similar. It offers us a wedding certificate to the Lord Jesus Christ, or, if you prefer, an adoption certificate into the Father’s household. It can properly therefore be spoken of an effecting what is symbolizes. But it does not do so automatically or unconditionally. We have to repent and believe. And we have to make room in our lives for the Holy Spirit. (pp. 55-56)”

              In addition to the questions of what baptism means and does, there is the question of who it is for. Green presents a cumulative case for the baptism of believers and their children:

              1. Children were admitted into the Old Testament church.
              2. The whole family was baptized when proselytes came over into Judaism.
              3. Whole families were baptized in New Testament days (Acts 11.14; 16.15; 16.33; 1 Corinthians 1.16).
              4. Jesus accepted and blessed children too young to respond (Mark 10.2-16).
              5. The church down its history has baptized children.
              6. Infant baptism stresses the objectivity of the gospel.
              7. Infant baptism stresses the initiative of God in salvation (pp. 64-77).

              The final chapters of _Baptism: Its Purpose, Practice, and Power_ are occupied with common objections to infant baptism, the place of confirmation in the church, the issue of re-baptism, and baptism in the Holy Spirit.

              The baptism debate is a controversial one and Green’s book will not bring any finality to the disagreement. It is, however, worth the read, particularly for evangelicals who may have doubts about the common view of baptism as merely symbolic. Green takes a middle-of-the-road approach by ascribing efficacy to Christian baptism but stops short of ascribing an automatic and unconditional efficacy to baptism.

              A reading of Green’s book will give the reader an adequate overview of what’s at stake in the baptism debate.

              I remember all these years later, him writing (and I paraphrase)… “Trusting Jesus for Salvation, Water Baptism, and being filled with the Spirit, and all very necessary things for the Christian to experience… Though they may not happen in that particular order.”

              • Michael Bell says:

                “and all” = “are all”

              • Green’s book sounds like it’s very thorough and reasonable, pays attention to Scripture, and can connect with Christians in western traditions. Too bad he didn’t investigate what the Orthodox Church has to say about it…. just for completeness of information, if nothing else.

                https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/doctrine-scripture/the-symbol-of-faith/sacraments
                https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/baptism

                In the Orthodox Church, Baptism is followed immediately by Chrismation (anointing for the gifting of the Holy Spirit, somewhat analogous to “confirmation” – though of course the Holy Spirit has been active all along in bringing people to the Lord) and the reception of the Eucharist – all three at once, even for infants & children, as the full incorporation into the Body of Christ. A link at the bottom of the second-linked page above takes you to Chrismation, and then at the bottom of that page to the Eucharist.

                I agree completely with Chaplain Mike’s comment at 5:43, just for the record.

                D.

                • Michael Bell says:

                  Michael Green was a charismatic, Anglican Evangelist. Which kind of explains why he had a charismatic Anglican Evangelist perspective on Baptism.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Your reply is evidence of one of the weaknesses of baptistic evangelical churches.

        Yet another result of a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

        What about you, me, everything else?
        “It’s All Gonna Burn(TM)…”

    • It’s not about “saving the planet”, Sen. It’s about becoming more human and living as the Icon of Christ in one’s sphere of influence, even if that sphere is quite small – which it is for the vast majority of people.

      Dana

      • I see where Seneca was coming from, as my reaction to some of the content was similar. Kind of a sense of “Now that you’re baptized, time to Man Up!”

        Nah. I’ll try to bear fruit and be a Shalom-maker, but “manning up”? Not so much.

        • What’s so different between this and “take up your cross and follow Me”?

          • Big difference in my mind. One suggests that you need to be humble, perhaps to the point of death. The other suggests you need to get strong and be prepared to fight.

        • Rick Ro.,

          I agree that the “man up” attitude is deficient 🙂 but I think Seneca was reacting to what he might term as social justice-focused “liberal” churches. I may be wrong.

          Dana

          • Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t read that angle into Seneca’s words. Odd, too, since I’m usually pretty cynical.

            😉

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Fighting a Social Gospel without Personal Salvation with a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.
            Communism begets Objectivism.
            Total opposite, equal fanaticism.

    • Whatever happened to “Saved FROM sin FOR service”?

  3. –> “Now, in his name we are baptized so that we may begin to experience his shalom in our lives and participate with God in making shalom a reality throughout the world. We arise from the waters of baptism to be shalom-makers. And blessed are the shalom-makers, for they will be called the children of God.”

    I like those closing words of this blog post. One of the things I consistently see as I lead studies on the gospels is that we believers are to image bearers of Christ. To me, that means bearing fruit of the spirit as referenced in Galatians chapter 5. Fruit-bearers = Shalom-makers.

  4. The photo reminds me of when I was about 11 years old. We would visit the Cumberland Gap. My brothers and I would yell across that river to the sheer rock face on the other side. To my memory it would take about 3 full seconds for our “HELLO” to echo back. That was very cool.

  5. Ronald Avra says:

    I was raised in the baptistic evangelical tradition. I regarded baptism as pretty much a one-off event. I pushed my way through Ben Witherington III’s “Troubled Waters” when it was published about ten years ago. It was a bit over my head, I emerged somewhat confused, and I haven’t seriously attempted to revisit the subject.

  6. I was raised in the cofC. My baptism (by immersion of course) was a “one-off” which “saved” me from hell and added me to the one true church. After baptism it was my responsibility to stay “saved”.

    • When I became a Christian, a CofC believer that I worked with proceeded to tell me that I needed to – NEEDED to – get a full water immersion or I wouldn’t be saved. I was like…”What???”

      His insistence so turned me off that I decided I wouldn’t get baptized until I felt the time was right. That time didn’t come until ~27 years later…LOL.

      People can be so frickin’ weird with their beliefs!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        When you encounter that attitude, it usually means full-water immersion Baptism is a tribal recognition marker.

  7. Has anyone read Scott McKnight’s new book “It takes a church to baptize”?