Monday, March 25, 2013

I Declare: A Lost Aspect of Baptism

Yesterday, eight people were baptized at our morning services.  While always a joyous occasion, the first person set this one apart.  Neil was asked to share why he wanted to be baptized and replied that he wanted to declare that he was a Christian.  I wanted to stand and cheer.  He got it.

The most common answer to the question of why is because Jesus did it or commanded it.  While those statements are true, they belie a lack of understanding that the person baptized is making a public declaration of allegiance.  The following section of a journal article states this well:
There was a time long ago, after all, when one's baptism was not only one of the most momentous events of one's life—and even perhaps among the the most dramatic, terrifying, and joyous—but also a genuine transformation of everything one was.… It was not merely a symbolic drama marking a casual shift in religious association, like moving from the Methodists to the Episcopalians; it was a change in one's social and spiritual identity, and also—for want of a better word—in one's cosmic station.  The act of becoming a Christian was not only an avowal of faith, but also a profound act of renunciation, a taking leave of much of what one had previously known and been, in order to be joined to a new reality whose demands upon one were absolute.  In entering the body of Christ, one also consciously and irrevocably departed from the world one had inhabited all of one's life, and from the allegiances that had bound one to that world.  It was, in a very real sense, an act of rebellion.*
Baptism marked the individual as one who renounced the idolatry, lasciviousness, debauchery, and disregard for human life in the Roman empire, and as such it automatically brought abuse, condemnation, and death from any who had authority to mete out punishments leveled in order to bring these "atheists" back into proper Roman culture.

Believers in Muslim and Communist countries understand the dangers of following Christ, but we Americans have not yet had to suffer the same outcome.  As a result, we have a view of baptism that is more akin to college graduation or retirement from our occupations to enjoy a new phase of life, than with the consequences of Jesus' clear statements:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.  (Mark 8:34-38)
In his article David Hart posits two likely scenarios for the future.  The first is that society may once again oppose Christianity, and that "the church will increasingly finding itself more and more isolated from the center of civic life, and will increasingly find the circumambient world to be again under the sway of alien power…,"† while the other envisions the blossoming of a better Christian age than the previous.  The former is upon us.  Society will—and has already begun to—marginalize Christians for upholding and living out the truth of scripture.  It will only become worse: those who believe God's word know this.

Does your baptism declare you to be God's own child?  Are you willing to so declare?

* David Bentley Hart, "Baptism and Cosmic Allegiance: A Brief Observation," Journal of Early Christian Studies 20 (2012): 458-59.
† Ibid, 465.

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