RE: Baptism?

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‘Anglicanism has a side to it that is not found within the evangelical church. And the opposite of this is true. Evangelicalism has strengths that can enrich and strengthen the Anglican tradition as well.’ – Robert Webber. [1]

Imagine blending these two great traditions with aspects of Pentecostalism, Charismaticism, Methodism, Catholicism (particularly Liberation Theology), and Eastern Orthodoxy. Such is the kind of eclectic, multifaceted, Christian faith that is perhaps arising from the ashes of denominationalism today, and that increasingly typifies my own developing perspective. I find myself, perplexingly, on a peculiar and unexpected journey that refuses to accept the shackles of fundamentalism when the alternative is freedom in Christ via the Spirit. This brief post is thus an attempt to share my muddled, personal thoughts on my own spiritual outlook through the inadequate medium of garbled words and unsubstantiated generalisations; expect no theological treatise or scholarly efforts here (although I can’t help but include some references and footnotes!).

Confessions

My Christian journey has thus far been relatively short. It is less than a decade since I first made my commitment to Jesus Christ, and was subsequently (re)baptised by full immersion in a heated swimming pool, alongside several other people from the first Church I attended as an adult believer. [2] Based on recent church statistics, it seems that I represent a firm minority group in being a bona fide ‘convert’ to Christianity. This is, perhaps notably, contra Roman Catholicism, which was the religious background that I inherited from my family as a child. At the tender age of ten, I rejected the Catholic Church with a spirited indifference to what seemed to me to be a truly meaningless, ritualistic, hypocritical organisation largely staffed by child abusers (the resident priest at our local Catholic Church was arrested on such charges). Whilst I no longer hold such negative sentiments towards Rome (far from it, Papa Francisco!) I remember clearly deciding that, based on my extremely narrow experience, organised religion was certainly not for me.

To be blunt, I ended up considering Christianity to be at best delusional nonsense, and at worst a disparate collection of bigoted, self righteous, right wing, judgmental prudes who seemed obsessed with sex and never had any fun. I was determined to follow my own path, forget about God or church, and have as much fun as I pleased whilst learning how to play the guitar (the latter of which, it turns out, I can do rather well). God apparently had other plans for me.

Testimony

As I have often testified, at the age of twenty five I encountered Jesus and found myself taking a cataclysmic lurch away from what had became a staunchly atheist perspective; Granted, I may have occasionally flickered over the blurry boundary between (un)reason and faith into some form of agnosticism (i.e. believing in the possibility of “something”). Yet despite my occasional flirtations with various new age spiritualities, an eternal chasm separated me from any kind of affirmation or acceptance of the notion that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord of the cosmos. I certainly did not perceive the Jesus of History who was crucified by the Roman Empire to be God in the flesh. Nor did I consider it plausible that he died for the sins of humanity and set us free from the tyranny of death and evil in order that we might be reconciled to God the Father, and receive the free gift of eternal life. [3] I lived in an almost blissful ignorance of such matters. It turns out that Christianity was in fact true and I needed a saviour; Jesus obliged. Just as well really, given the dark, depressive, and debaucherous depths I had begun to sink into at the time.

All of this is to say that when I plunged into the murky waters of Christian (ana)baptism, a monumental change of heart and mind had occurred. [4] For me, baptism by full immersion was very much an outward sign of an inward truth; Jesus is risen and had revealed something of himself to me whilst rescuing me from a state of spiritual death. Life felt different. Cue the first steps on my current journey of faith seeking understanding: what on earth did all of this mean?!

RE: Calibration?

Fast forward nearly a decade, and my faith has begun to show tell tale signs of maturity and evolution. Nearly three years of part time theological education, which have been suffused with divine grace, have undoubtedly helped to broaden my horizons. I am not in the same place that I was in when I emerged out of the baptismal pool. For instance, until very recently I (somewhat uncritically) held resolute Baptist convictions which, amongst other things, would preclude the possibility of infant baptism or finding God’s sacred presence amidst the sacraments. In all likelihood, I absorbed these to some extent from my experiences in independent evangelical churches, and presumed that such ideas were unshakeably ‘biblical’ (meaning that non-baptists were simply wrong). I am not ashamed to say that I currently find myself softening toward the possibility that I was merely misinformed and unduly prejudiced by a particular faith tradition.

In fact, having recently attended several traditional Anglican church services in our local parish, I have been struck by a sudden affinity with both the Liturgy and the Eucharist, which I do not recall experiencing before now. Since then I have also been pondering the previously unthinkable prospect of embracing infant baptism. Just as Jesus himself eagerly welcomed little children when he allowed them to come to him unhindered, I find myself feeling almost compelled to release my own children to do the same, at the earliest possible opportunity (Matt 19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16). Admittedly, there is much study, prayer, and dialogue to be had before I (or my wife!) could, with good conscience, fully embrace a different faith tradition which emphasises and defines the sacraments in such a way. Yet the fact that I am even seriously, publicly considering such a move is a testament to how much my theological outlook has changed shape in recent years. I suspect that this apparent recalibration of my faith and doctrinal convictions is to be expected for any burgeoning academic theologian, although it has caught me somewhat by surprise (to say the least!).

I can only assume that all of this is evidence of more divine grace enabling me to admit that I may have been mistaken. Quite how I go about reconciling this turn toward liturgical tradition and/or hold it in tension with what I might describe as a vibrant ‘Vineyard’ spirituality which emphasises (amongst other things) intimacy with God’s real presence in and through sung worship, and ‘prophetic’ (think Neo-Pentecostal spiritual gifts) ministry, remains to be seen.

In Sum

Whatever the outcome, there is no denying the reality that I am even finding myself feeling remarkably drawn towards the richness, theological clarity, steadfastedness, and heritage of longstanding faith traditions such as Anglicanism, and to a lesser extent Eastern Orthodoxy. On a slightly different note, it troubles me to see so many examples of overzealous believers castigating and deriding other faith traditions as being lesser expressions of Christianity than their own; think of throwaway phrases like ‘lukewarm’, ‘less biblical’, ‘powerless’, ‘compromised’, etc. Some, more (non)innovative charismatic groups even advocate ‘Rebaptism’ (yes, for Baptists too!) because, unsurprisingly, such new groups have rediscovered ‘real’ Christianity. They are of course right, and everyone else is wrong. That said, they do seem tellingly oblivious to the name Novation, or the notion that there really is nothing new under the sun. [5] Doubtless, those of us who are suspicious of such groups can learn something from the eschatalogical urgency and fiery, faith fuelled passion they bring to the ecclesiological table; even if the desire for ecumenical dialogue is not currently mutual.

To my mind, it would be extraordinarily naive to think that God has forgotten his universal Church. He is, after all, in the habit of breathing new life into dry bones. Perhaps he is starting with old men like me. I hear dog collars are the new skinny jeans for real Christian hipsters! 😉

M

Endnotes

1. Webber, Robert, and Ruth, Lester, Evangelicals on the Road to Canterbury: Why Evangelicals are attracted to the Liturgical Church (Rev. Ed.), (Kindle Edition) New York, USA: 2012, Introduction.
2. I use the term (re)baptism as a deliberate play on words, which alludes to the Anabaptist tradition that arose during the Reformation. See for example: MacCulloch, Diarmaid, A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, (Kindle Edition), Allen Lane, Penguin Books Ltd, London, UK: 2009, 622.
3. Clearly, this is a very truncated, unqualified summary of the apostolic Gospel, which relies on my own hermeneutical presuppositions and alludes to numerous biblical texts (not cited here).
4. See [2]
5. See MacCulloch, History, 174. Eccl. 1:9.