The 8th chp of Jonathan Wilson’s study, Why Church Matters, has to do with baptism, eucharist and footwashing, and in today’s post I will take issue in a way that I hope will generate a good conversation.
Wilson contends that baptism initiates a life of discipleship, that it makes sense only in light of the kingdom (death to the old life and resurrection to the new life), that the community needs to play a far greater role in the significance of baptism, and that baptism should become more central to the community of faith — in space and calendar and teaching. Namely, is the one being baptized entering into a community that understands itself as a community of discipleship.
Now here me out: Many, like Jon Wilson, are attempting to get the church to resurrect baptism and to revive it and many have been asking themselves for years why we work so hard at trying to revive it and make very little progress. Jesus had little to do with baptism; Paul’s comments in 1 Cor 1:17 (“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel–not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power”) make many think that baptism wasn’t that central to his theology; and we don’t see it that much in the New Testament. Now, no one wants to wipe it off the map, but many who argue for the centrality of baptism are using language to construct a theology of the gospel that is shaped by baptism language. In other words, it is a language game and not an exegetical game. Thus, to say that discipleship is a life of baptism is a nice, thick, theological expression — but it is language and not the way the NT talks about discipleship.
No one disputes that baptism occurs in some major passages — Romans 6; 1 Pet 3 — but how central was it?
Now here me out on another point: try as hard as we can, baptism just doesn’t mean all that much to most people today. And I’m talking mostly about those who are baptized upon profession of faith as adults — I rarely hear them express their faith in baptismal categories.
Now here me out: I’m not sure what I agree with in the above comments so have at it!
On Eucharist: it is the sustaining practice of the Church by providing communion with the provision of new life. Wilson brings up good themes: reconciliation, living remembrance, communal meal, God’s hospitality, and the concrete value of participating in preparing for the Lord’s supper.
On footwashing: Wilson grew up in a footwashing community and contends that it was central to the early church — and indeed it was since it was a central task in hospitality customs. He urges to renew its practice.
By the way, in footwashing we raise the issue of the redemptive movement hermeneutic — of adjusting culturally to a new day. Is this the way to address footwashing or do we need to return to this custom?