Friday, April 22, 2016

Making Baptism Matter

The previous blog presented material from D. Jay Koyle’s essay in Liturgy on baptism, offering reasons for the decline in importance some churches have placed on this initiatory sacrament.

Many congregations, even denominations, not only wonder what kind of future they have, but whether they have a future at all. As a result, survival strategies are placed at the top of the agenda. Such an emphasis hastens, rather than reverses, decline. Although dying can bring stunning clarity, fear of death blurs vision. . . .

Nervousness about dwindling numbers in plate and pew stokes our reluctance to embrace any practice or policy that could deter even the most casual involvement in our churches. Over time, our anxiety has engendered a membership that is less and less shaped by the mind of Christ. Instead, inclusivity that is unrelated to the way of Jesus has become our guiding principle. The convergence of font and paschal feast in the ancient church that our rites today prompt us to recover may have much to teach us. It does not easily suggest itself, however, to a church for which survival is a dominant motivation. . . .

How might we break our Christendom habits, counter our consumerist presuppositions, overcome the preoccupation with survival, and recognize baptism for what it is and what it can do to unleash a vital and faithful church? . . .

Here are some of Koyle’s ideas for returning to the life-changing meaning of baptism. He holds out the prospect of congregations responding to the future with baptismal promises at the forefront rather than fear of dying.

We might begin this work by prompting Kingdom conversations in every facet of congregational life. If conversation truly is the currency of change, then what we invite people to talk, think, and pray about blazes the path into the future. . . . Therefore, in meetings, study or working groups, and in any devotional time, we should ask questions that differ from the usual fare. Too often, we read a snippet of scripture and then quickly look for how it applies to our lives. Dwell instead on who God is and what God is doing. Ask questions such as:
    • What word, image, phrase stands out for you?
    • Where is God in or behind this text? What is God/Christ/the Spirit up to in this passage?
    • What characteristics of God or God’s reign does this story reveal or suggest to you?
    • What promise of God for the world do you hear in this passage?
    • Where have you seen or experienced this action or promise of God in your life? In the church/this congregation?
    • Is there anything in our worship that this story brings to mind? Anything in other aspects of our congregation’s life?
    • Do you see God at work to fulfill this promise in the world today? If so, where? If not, what do you think it would look like if God were doing so?
    • How do the affirmations and pledges made in baptism reflect and respond to God’s promises?
    • . . . What would it look like if this church lived in expectant anticipation of the promises we have identified?

D. Jay Koyle, is a presbyter serving as Congregational Development Officer for the Diocese of Algoma (Anglican Church of Canada) who also teaches at Huron University College in London, Ontario.

D. Jay Koyle, “The Mistaken Identity of Baptism,” Liturgy 31, no. 2 (2016), 11-19.

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