Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Baptism into the Church

In an article on baptism in the book The Marks of the Body of Christ, Susan Woods remarks:

Baptism does not just incorporate us into the church as a club or an organization. It does not just bestow grace to us as individuals. It makes us "living stones" to be "built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood." Through our participation in the life, death, and resurection of Christ in baptism we share in his priesthood. Baptism gives us a share in the priesthood of all believers. Just as stones construct a building, so the church is constituted by Christians and is a priestly community by virtue of its being the body of Christ, the high priest. This "house" and this "priesthood" is essentially communal. However, for a number of reasons associated with Christianity becoming a majority rather than minority religion and the disintegration of a unified rite of initiation, the communal meaning of baptism was replaced by a more individualistic focus. This individualistic focus emphasized the salvation of any individual through the removal of sin and the bestowal of grace rather than incorporation into an eschatological community identified as the body of Christ. Eventually, too, the concept of graace became reified, imagined as a quantifiable substance rather than a relationship of communion.

For the early Christians, the implications of baptism were enormous demanding a total conversion that immediately placed them in a countercultural position at odds with the dominant faith systems, wheather Jewish, Roman, or Greek. This conversion was a process that proceeded in stages over what was frequently a three-year period of probation known as the catechumenate. Initiation was not easy, and half-hearted Christians were discouraged from undertaking the process.

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