Monday, May 10, 2010

Missional Sacraments, part 8 Higgins/Newbigin on baptism

Excerpt from summary of Craig R. Higgins (Trinity Church, NYC) DMin thesis:
That is precisely why the recovery of a strongly instrumental view of baptism is
important to the life and health of the church. As I argued earlier, baptism gives us our identity and our mission. It is not a mere rite of passage—an initiation into a merely human organization. No, baptism is the rite of entrance into the missionary people of the missionary God. An underdeveloped theology of baptism deprives the church of the Godgiven, dominically appointed rite that tells us, the people of God, who we really are.

Baptism is the rite that defines us as God’s own missionary people.

When I have baptized a group of converts in an Indian village and they
have been received into full communion and established as a
congregation, what is their relation, and what is my relation, to the
unfinished evangelistic task in that village? It is of course possible for me
to go on preaching there as if the responsibility was still primarily mine.
In that case the congregation is likely to draw the obvious conclusion,
cease to concern itself with the rest of the village, and become a body
concerned only with its own welfare. In fact what I say, on the day that
they are confirmed and receive their first communion, is: “Now you are
the Body of Christ in this village. You are God’s apostles here. Through
you they are to be saved. I will be in touch with you. I will pray for you. I will visit you. If you want my help I will try to help you. But you are
now the Mission.” When that is the approach, the effect is that the new
congregation takes it for granted from the first day that being a Christian isbeing part of a mission—and the Gospel spreads. To deny thatresponsibility to the young church is to do it an irreparable injury
(Newbigin, One Body 32).

It is my contention that we have done the church a serious injury by failing to
teach and practice a high view of baptism, one that sees baptism as nothing less than
incorporation into the church, the people of God sent on a mission. May we find, by
Gods’ mercy, that the damage is not irreparable, and may the Father give us wisdom and grace as we seek to reverse this damage and, therefore, once again, to see baptism in all its New Testament mystery and glory. For, after all, baptism is a missional sacrament, and mission is our baptismal calling.
-Higgins, link, PDF

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Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!