Monday, May 5, 2008

Baptism service and significance

Sunday night, much earlier than the hockey game, Woodcreek Bible Church held our first baptism service in quite a while. It was the first one held since I've been the pastor. What a fun event!

We had the privilege of baptizing 6 people yesterday. 5 of those were younger children who were baptized by their fathers. We have a church tradition that children should be baptized by their dads if the dad is a Christian. One of our participants was an adult who came to faith in Christ this last February. It was very, very exciting to hold this event. There are truly only two ordinances that have enjoyed an unbroken line of observance in the Church since the time of Christ and his Apostles, those being: The Lord's Supper (or Communion) and Believer's Baptism.

The significance of both of these observances is so universally acknowledged in Christian traditions, that the debate remains ongoing regarding the exact efficacy of these events in people's spiritual development. On the one hand, the Roman Catholic view would assert the importance of these events are to be seen as no less than contributory to one's eternal salvation. On the other end, because these ceremonies should not be viewed as contributing to one's eternal salvation, some hold them as holding little value at all. To what extent does God use ceremony to develop spiritual depth, substance, growth and maturity in believers in Jesus Christ?

The theological debate uses many terms that, while not having a place in regular preaching, are helpful for the conversation. Two labels used for the dominant schools of thought (or strains of Christian tradition) are: sacramentalism and memorialism. Defining these two terms appropriately requires volumes of theological tomes to expound. However, I'll attempt to summarize the two in the following manner.

Sacramentalists would assert that a measure of either justifying or sanctifying grace is mediated to the believer as they partake of the "sacraments" (called ordinances above) by faith. One is either moved along toward salvation, or moved along in their sanctification by obeying the Lord's command to engage the sacraments, tangibly experiencing God-ordained ceremony intend to be a vehicle of grace to them. This is likely an oversimplification of the sacramentalists' view, and they would doubtlessly be able to make a better argument for their view that in can.

Memorialists, however, would assert that ceremony, while beneficial to the Christian experience, should not enjoy the status of a "vehicle" of grace. Great dangers lurk in the religious alleys waiting to prey upon those who trust in ceremony over above direct relationship with Jesus Christ. Ceremonies such as baptism and communion are to "memorialize" the significant spiritual blessings wrought on the believer by faith. They are a teaching tool that helps the believer further appreciate, through object illustrations, the invisible grace given freely by the Spirit for which there could never be an adequate material vehicle.

I am not a sacramentalist. I am a memorialist. However, I often lament how little memorialists seek to mine the ordinances of their "memorial" and reflective value. It's as though many memorialists are thus simply so as not to be sacramentalists who require adherence to uniform liturgy forms and disallowing the "fly by the seat of our pants" inventing-the-church-as-we-go mentality. This is tragic. There are far better reasons to be a memorialist than simply being able to assert with integrity, "I'm not Roman Catholic." For this reason, I wish there was a mediating position between the extremes. My episcopal friend tries to console me claiming that I should find the Anglican view attractive. I don't. Instead, I find that I try to be fully and honestly a memorialist, seeking to have Christian ceremony express its full memorial value; for it is of great value to the developing believer to remember and reflect on the undeserved goodness of God. In the meantime, those observing my passion to see the Christian ordinances express their "full memorial value," who also understand my theological position, will have to keep asserting to other onlookers: "Pastor Ott is NOT Roman Catholic. No, really, I mean it. He's Not Roman Catholic."

Such is how meaningful I found, and continue to find, events like our baptism service and party this last Sunday evening.

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