I remember the day I was baptized. Not from my own recollection but from the stories my family told. Though all the written documents say that Rev. Jack Peters baptized me, our family knows that it was my grandfather when I was still a baby. Growing up, the norm was to baptize children as soon as possible. It was not until I was in seminary when I really talked with people who had been baptized as adults. The concept was foreign to me, but it was something I could understand from the large “unchurched” community. But it surprised me to find out that people in a Presbyterian Church would not be baptized, because I had been taught that Baptism had nothing to do with me.
One of the big differences between the Evangelical tradition and mainline churches like the Presbyterians is our understanding of Baptism. To oversimplify things, in Evangelical communities the emphasis of baptism squarely rests on the individual. It is the moment that this person feels a connection to God that moves them to seeking Baptism.
In the Presbyterian tradition, our understanding of baptism is different. While it is about a relationship with God, it is a trifold relationship in that the community witnesses the work of the spirit within the child and initiates the child or adult into the family of God, recognizing the fact that God has been with that child their whole life. But there is also a responsibility from the community that they are involved in the life of the person. As the confession of 1967 states: By baptism, individuals are publicly received into the church to share in its life and ministry, and the church becomes responsible for their training and support in Christian discipleship.
Baptism is an equalizing aspect of the church; unlike circumcision, baptism is open to both males and females. It does not discriminate, but equally calls the individual and the community into a New Life with Christ while also calling that same community to a renewed relationship and commitment.
This week in The Gathering we are going to dive into the next section of the Confession of 1967, which is titled “New Life.” This section shows us how the reconciling work of Christ created a crisis for Humankind because of its call to reorder our goals and directions. It shows us that all people who are loved by God are equal and only have a place because of God’s Grace, which means that we have no place to claim superiority over others. This New Life is recognition of the beginning of a journey, not an end. This means that in this New Life we are not released from the difficulties of life, but a recognition that God is part of our lives in even the most difficult places and that we are called, though it is hard to overcome them.
Moreover, the New Life is a call to shed the constraints of the world and politics and work towards the reconciliation of the world through seeking justice and speaking truth to power. All of this is done in the knowledge that what we live for is our life with God, which is the permanent full life.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen