Friday, August 31, 2007

Rantings about Baptism

As I sat around at ESR the other day the topic of discussion was baptism. Water baptism. The question was raised, actually it was repeated second hand, that one of our seminarians (FGC no less) might have wondered why we don't have water baptisms, especially if someone might think it would be a nice thing to do? I wonder if this is from the same person that defends the recognition of non-theists as Friends. Wouldn't that be interesting. Maybe I could get soaked with a power washer by a non-theist Quaker.

But seriously, my concern isn't with yet another dive into the depths of water baptism, but with the total lack of discussion about real Quaker baptism, the Baptism of Fire by the Holy Spirit. How many Friends have you recently heard speak of their experience of the Holy Spirit in terms of baptism? How many Friends talk openly about the moment when they suddenly knew, not only that God loved them, but that God had plans for them? How many of us talk about that time when our lives began to change so significantly that others could experience our radical turn toward the risky business of serving God? Have Quakers so lost the language, and possibly even the experience, of the Baptism of the Spirit as a central tenet of our sacramental theology?

And let's not forget that Spirit baptisms are not a once-off event. Convincement can happen at any time, for who can limit God's yearning to teach and guide and water the seed over and over again. Our nurturing Creator knows us as a people thirsty for the Spirit, and we are blessed with multiple opportunities for such an experience as we venture through life. The Baptism of Fire and the concept of convincement are one and the same. Baptism opens our eyes and convicts our soul, and convincement generates never ending opportunities to see ourselves in relationship to God and one another with sudden clarity of purpose...of Truth.

As for water baptism, my take on such an event is that it is a marker of membership for those adults who wish to join a church community. (Let's not even discuss infant sprinkling!) Yet, the Apostle Paul warns against any works or badges of membership, insisting that we are God's people as a matter of faith. We are not allowed into a club once we have been dunked. We are members of the Body of Christ because we believe in the faith of Jesus Christ. While Friends might not see water baptism as a deterrent to true faith any more, it certainly is an unnecessary, and possible spiritually misguided, attempt at forcing a faith instead of waiting upon the Spirit to act in magnificent ways.

But more importantly, someone who participates in a water baptism outside of a community of faith that truly experiences such an event as a sacred event, makes a mockery of someone else's faith. I hope that no Quakers are getting baptized in water because it seems like a neat thing to do. And I also hope that we continue to support our neighbors who worship in such communities when they invite us to witness their baptisms, and share how we Quakers understand such an event. Ecumenism shares faith, it should not co opt it.


Kim Ranger said...

You're right, Scot, and that was why I decided NOT to get baptized with water. Seeing baptisms at the SDA church did give me the opportunity to talk about Quaker views with them (and with our Meeting as well, as you probably recall).

Nancy A said...

I've always wondered why Christianity got so focused on water baptism anyway. Jesus didn't baptise anyone. Nor did he tell anyone to get baptised. It is strange that this ritual has become such a focus in the religion.

However, he did show people how to wash each other's feet, and did say that this was an example that they should follow.

How much more moving it would be too new initiates if instead of dripping water on their heads one of us knelt on the floor before them and humbly washed their feet. Then handed them the towel to wash the feet of others.

It would be a ritual that teaches and provides example, rather than one that magically transforms someone from one state to another. So I kind of figure Fox wouldn't have had too much of a problem with it!