A while back, I posted the full text of an article by Stanley K. Fowler noting the increasing convergence of Baptist and Church of Christ baptismal theology. It turns out that was a pre-publication copy of an article to be published in Baptist Sacramentalism 2, which is volume 25 of a series called “Studies in Baptist History and Thought.” The book has been available in England for a few weeks, but is just now available in the U.S. I can’t find it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble yet, but they should have it soon.
I was privileged to receive the book for free — in exchange for promising to mention in the blog. I made no promises to be complimentary … just to mention it. I can’t be bought that cheap.
Anyway, the book is a collection of 15 essays by Baptist authors on the Baptist view of the sacraments, particularly baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And the articles are uniformly thoughtful, insightful, and well written. In fact, although the articles are plainly written for a Baptist audience, it’s a great resource that addresses many issues relevant to the Churches of Christ.
We in the Churches have a lot in common with the Baptists. We both have a history of following Zwingli in our understanding of the Lord’s Supper — as merely a symbol and reminder. We are thus both very uncomfortable with sacramental language as applied to communion.
We, of course, strongly disagree with traditional Baptist teaching on baptism, as they also take a Zwinglian view of baptism — a mere symbol — whereas we take a sacramental view of baptism, finding that the Bible plainly associates God’s action in saving the convert with the convert’s immersion (although we hate saying “sacrament” as it sounds so Catholic). As discussed in Fowler’s article, which is chapter 15 of the book, the Baptists are moving more toward our position.
Here are a few tidbits to give a sample of the value of the book.
Chapter 5 is an essay by Michael F. Bird, “Re-Thinking a Sacramental View of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper for the Post-Christendom Baptist Church.” It’s an essay that could be profitably studied in any Church of Christ. The author concludes,
I suggest that we to conceive of the church as a missional and displaced community that does not really fit into contemporary society rather than comprising the religious wing of modernity. … [W]e should see ourselves as heralding the good news that God was in Christ reconcliing the world to himself. The church must become a menace to our pluralistic society and threaten to undermine the philosophical premises that the pax postmoderna is built on. The scandalous message and perplexing praxis of Christians should invoke umbrage and curiousity. Why don’t you abort foetuses? Why don’t you approve of gay marriages? Why do you believe that only your religion is true? The answer is not a programme, not four spiritual laws, and not seeker sensitive services; rather, the answer is a story and community. … Let me show you what renewed and redeemed humanity really looks like: justified and Spirit-led new creations, abounding in love for one another, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus. And what tools do we have that tell the story and display the community: baptism and eucharist. That is where the postmodern pagans may come and hear, see, taste, and experience the good of God in word, symbol and presence among his people.
I could do a quarter’s worth of lessons on just that paragraph. I mean, it should be pasted on the walls of the studies of all our elders and ministers. That’s some powerful stuff.
The author goes on the concludes that both baptism and communion are effective symbols — and yet much more than just symbols. Something actually happens.
Chapter 13 is captioned Ex Opere Operato: Re-thinking a Historic Baptist Rejection, by Paul S. Fiddes. The author considers the Catholic view of the sacraments. It’s pretty standard cant among the evangelicals to distinguish their view of the sacraments (or ordinances, as some prefer) from the Catholic view. We tend to presume that the Catholic notion is that the sacraments work quite on their own, apart from faith of the recipient. The author notes, however, that the Second Vatican Council rejected this notion, and the Catholic Church now insists that the sacraments infuse God’s grace as an act of God for those with faith.
Of course, there remains the problem of infant baptism, where the infant obviously has no faith, but as is true of Protestant pedobaptists, the Catholic Church considers the baptism fully efficacious only when the child is later confirmed in response to a confession of faith.
Now, my point is not to defend infant baptism at all, just to reflect the author’s point, that Catholics and Protestants aren’t as far apart in their understanding of the sacraments as we tend to assume.
This one sets the record for long titles: “Ambiguous Genitives, Pauline Baptism and Roman Insulae: Resources from Romans to Support Pushing the Boundaries of Unity.” In this essay, Sean F. Winter asks whether we must consider those baptized as infants as outside the church. In particular, he asks whether the British Baptist Churches should consider Anglicans are part of the same one true Church of Jesus Christ.
I love this take on Romans 14-15 —
He raises an interesting perspective on Romans 14-15. You see, the Roman Christians were likely meeting in “high-rise, overcrowded tenement apartments known as insulae. This social context provides the most plausible explanation for hostility and enmity between different Christian groups in the city. The references to domestic servants (oiketai) in 14:4 and use of terms relating to the well being of the household (oikodome) in 14:19 and 15:2 confirm the suggestion.
This explains, secondly, why Paul uses the verb proslambano in 14:1 and 15:7. In context it clearly means ‘take one another into your dwellings’. For Robert Jewett it here ‘carries the technical sense of reception into the fellowship of the congregation, that is, to the common meal’. For our purposes it is enough to remind ourselves that the image is not of mutual respect from a distance, but of radical hospitality and mutuality.
I’d never seen that take on Roman 14-15 before. It’s very cool. Thus, Rom 15:7 transforms from,
(Rom 15:7) Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
(Rom 15:7) Receive one another into your homes to share in the communion/love feast, then, just as Christ receives you to share communion/the love feast at home with him, in order to bring praise to God.
Rom 14:1-3 thus becomes —
(Rom 14:1-3) Receive him whose faith is weak into your home to share in the communion/love feast, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has received him to share communion/the love feast at home with him.
The language becomes all the more poignant when we recall that going back to the prophets, salvation is pictured as joining God at a banquet table, and Jesus shares this imagery in much of this own teaching.
And here’s the critical conclusion for us. It’s great to be all progressive and gracious and consider those Baptists down the road as saved, too. But if you don’t actually invite them into your communion, you’ve really missed the point of being brothers in Christ. The communion/love feast, of course, is symbolic of being part of a single community and family — of offering one another love, acceptance, hospitality, and protection.
You see, these passages aren’t so much about the theology of unity as the practice of unity — and we all need to get better at that.
This book is going on my shelf right next to G. W. Bealey-Murray’s Baptism in the New Testament, Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord’s Supper by John Mark Hicks, and Down in the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God’s Transforming Work by John Mark Hicks and Greg Taylor.
Do I agree with everything in it? No. As I told my class the other Wednesday night, I don’t even always agree with the dictionary 😀
But I find it rich with ideas and resources that are helpful to my own study and understanding of baptism and communion, and I’m sure I’ll turn to it often. And for those of my readers who enjoy discussing baptismal theology with the Baptists, well, here’s your chance to read what some of their best scholars have to say — and agree with much of it.
Who’d’ve thunk? (Sorry, it’s the West Alabama in me.)