Sunday, 26 July 2015

Why My Son Was Baptised: Part 2

Having established the biblical and traditional foundations for affirming the efficacy of Baptism, we next explore the question of "what is it efficacious for"?

Starting again from scripture and examining the texts previously referenced in Part I, we find that a parallel is drawn between baptism and circumcision. Circumcision, an act initiating an individual into God's covenant community in the Old Testament, is aligned with the practice of baptism in the New Testament (Col 2: 11-12). Although the scriptures remain firm on the centrality of faith and obedience in bringing meaning to the act of circumcision (1 Cor 7: 19), they do not divorce inward faith from the external act. Utilizing this framework, we come to an understanding of baptism that underscores it's centrality in the Church's mission and life - that through this act God incorporates an individual into the greater body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13), God's new covenant community established in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

St. Athanasius, in his response to the Arian controversy, relied heavily on this understanding of baptism to defend the co-divinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
The faith in the Trinity transmitted to us is the only one, and it unites us with God, and whoever takes something away from the Trinity and baptizes in the name of the Father, or in the Son alone, or into the Father and the Son without the Spirit, receives nothing, but those being baptized and he imagines himself to be giving baptism remain in vanity and unconsecrated, because the Mystery is accomplished in the name of the Trinity: so that whoever separates the Son from the Father or reduces the Spirit to a creature has neither the Son nor the Father but is an atheist, worse than an unbeliever, and anything but a Christian.
Implicit within his argument is the assumption that the efficacy of baptism is driven by the power of the Trinitarian God, subsuming the individual into the divine life of the Trinity and hence into the Church as Christ's body. Thus, a failure to appropriately recognize the effector of this act leads to a baptism that is inefficacious for true Christian conversion, leaving nothing accomplished in the unseen realm and keeping the individual separate from true union with the body of Christ. 

This close relationship between a sacramental understanding of baptism and the Church may be readily observed today: in communities where a robust and well-developed eccelesiology is articulated, a  deeply sacramental understanding of baptism continues to be practiced (e.g. Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism), with a recognition of the integral part it plays in Christian faith and practice. Likewise, Christian communities with a less established ecclesiology typically downplay the significance of baptism. As unfortunate as it is, this latter pattern has become pervasive in protestantism, driven by an individualism which has been characteristic of a post-modern worldview emphasizing individual belief and opinion against corporate confession and belief.

In summary, an examination of scripture as well as tradition suggests the following regarding baptism:
  1. Baptism is more than a "symbolic" act of an inward conversion. Rather, baptism performed in the context of faith, is an act demanded by God of the Church, in which He effects a change in the life of the recipient.
  2. The effect of baptism is tied closely to the believer's participation in the life of the Church; God has made it normative that all who come to faith are to be baptized into the body of Christ (However, normativity does not necessarily translate into exclusivity; someone who confesses faith in Christ and dies before being baptised will still be saved).
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