Friday, December 26, 2014

Baptismal Faith, Baptismal Life

How is baptism connected to Christian life? Writing in Liturgy 30, no. 1, Meyers explore this question by offering a detailed look at each of the three parts of the Apostle’s Creed. Her assessment helps make clear that baptismal affirmations are at the heart of Christian witness.

At a time when some Christian churches have sought to bypass the ancient understanding of baptism as the sacrament by which individuals are initiated into the body of Christ and then admitted to the communion table, Meyers’ work may help re-tool our sacramental perspectives.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the risen Jesus commissioned his apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19–20). Baptism is not merely a ritual act of administration of water in the triune name. It requires as well a way of life conducted in obedience to Jesus’ teaching. The book of Acts also makes this clear. On the day of Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit had descended on the apostles, Peter preached a powerful sermon that resulted in the conversion and baptism of three thousand people. These new believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

As Christianity spread through the ancient world, conversion meant both a change in belief and a change in behavior. Gradually, creeds summarized Christian faith as associated, in particular, with baptism. In the final weeks of preparation for baptism, a bishop or catechist taught the creed to candidates preparing for baptism, and the candidates were then required to recite the creed as a symbol of their belief. Some baptismal rites used an interrogatory form of a creed focused on core tenets of Christian belief . . . The responses to these questions were not an abstract statement of Christian doctrine, but an expression of a living faith that provided the foundation for a life of discipleship.

Meyers, then, examines each of the three affirmations––belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit––for the ways in which the creedal acclamations shape the baptized life. Here is an example regarding the first article of creedal faith:

Christians are called to care for all God's creation, living and nonliving. Too often, the biblical injunction to subdue the earth and have dominion over every living thing (Gen 1:28) has been used as a license to misuse creation, to exploit and pollute the natural world. But when we recognize creation as God's handiwork, a reflection of God's great love, our attitude can shift to one of ecological responsibility and justice.  . . .

God who created all that is and who sends the Son and sends the Spirit also sends us to share in God's new creation and to seek the restoration of all creation to God.

. . . Baptismal faith is trinitarian faith, belief in God who created heaven and earth, in Jesus sent by God as the embodiment of God's love for the world, and in the Holy Spirit sent by God as the animating force for the people of God. United with Christ in his death and resurrection and filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, those who are baptized walk in newness of life, a pattern of life consistent with God's self-giving love and merciful justice. A trinitarian baptismal faith issues in baptismal living, daily dying to sin and rising to new life, being conformed ever more fully to Christ. Through baptismal living, embodying God's love, Christians grow into the full stature of Christ (Eph 4:13). Baptismal living thus deepens baptismal faith.

May Prof. Meyers’ fine baptismal thinking feed the church with affirmations of faith that arise from all baptismal waters.

Ruth Meyers is Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics and Dean of Academic Affairs at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, the Episcopal seminary in the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.

Ruth A. Meyers, “Baptismal Faith, Baptismal Living," Liturgy 30, no. 1 (2015): 18-23.

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