Thursday, March 19, 2009
debaptism: a theological punch in the nose
A historian, an atheist, a theologian and a missiologist sat around the lunch table. Wearily they blew steam from their morning cup of tea. The atheist searched for his lighter, the theologian thanked God for her sandwich, the historian fretted over the suduko, the missiologist enjoyed the letters to the editor. All four glanced up, intrigued by the TV newsflash “Debaptise yourself!” Turn it up, the athist asked, and they listened intrigued …
The atheist punched the air in delight. At last, a chance to write a wrong. He’d always been angry at the smirk on the Anglican church’s face when it came to baptism, the way that baptismal numbers were used to swell their sense of societal importance, their colonial paternalism that assumed that somehow God owned him. Why should he feel somehow guilty that he never attended the social club that his parents used to attend? How dare the church somehow consider him linked to the judgmental mumbo-jumbo that it pumped out week by week?
The historian was intrigued. A baptism was a fact. You can’t unpick history. What’s done is done, what’s fact is fact. Records are important, accuracy is essential to memory and contentedly, she returned to her suduko.
The theologian was angry. Infant baptism was a sacrament of grace, a sign of God’s embrace and acceptance. Treating it as history was an insult to theologies of covenant, in which God’s people were welcomed despite their enslavement, their doubt, their immaturity, their potential to rebel and wander desert byways. Angrily the sandwich was thrown at the TV, smearing butter over the glass screen as the bishop pontificated.
The missiologist was intrigued. He knew that infant baptism worked best in Christendom, a sophisticated way of telling the Christian story, at the event itself, through the ongoing socialisation expected of parents and church, capped off by confirmation, with the chance for faith to be owned for oneself. A marvellous way to transmit faith in a society with church central. But he knew that at some point, infant baptism must bear the hard scrutiny of post-Christendom. A marginal church must surely seek to renounce privilege.
Yet he’d read Callum Brown’s book, The Death of Christian Britain (Christianity and Society in the Modern World), which charted the de-Christianisation of Britian, not based on numbers, but based on the loss of Christian themes from societal narratives. And Brown’s claim that this was the fault of the church in the 60s, who raised the bar around infant baptism and the expectations for parents to tell the Christian story. In so doing, they cut off their links with a more widespread folkish religion. In other words, get elitist over infant baptism and you lose the chance to tell the story. An intriguing question began to gel. If a post-Christendom church decided to free itself from it’s Christendom rituals, what non-elistist places in contemporary culture might still be carriers of folk religion?
Slowly he turned back to his iPOD. The new U2 album, No Line on the Horizon was playing. The missiologist drummed the beat as Bono screamed “Breathe/Sing your heart out/I’ve found grace inside the sound.”
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