Sunday, August 30, 2009

What can baptism actually do TO us?**

I've been thinking about what happens when we get baptized. Those outside the Church might be really doubtful that dunking somebody in water would do anything but get them wet. In the Episcopal Church (as well as others), we see baptism as a rite of initiation into the Christian community. OK, but what happens after you've been "initiated" into the Christian community? So what?

I think our emphasis on intiation into the Christian community is important, but I think we've neglected to talk openly about the personal change that begins in baptism. It's that "C" word ... Conversion - and that's a scary thing for us. But what does conversion mean? I've been thinking about this and I believe that there are three personal changes that happen to us at our baptism:

  1. We become Ministers of the Church
  2. We become Stewards of God's good gifts
  3. We become Evangelists who tell others about the good news of God in Christ

These three things happen, whether we are aware of them or not. They are part of an ontological change in us. Ontology is one of those "hundred dollar theological terms" we use in seminary that describes the "being-ness" of each person. In other words, your core being is changed in baptism and you become a Minister, Steward and Evangelist. These three things are who you are, not what you do (althought they all will involve doing at various times).

We can think of these three ontological changes as the acquisition of a Christian DNA. Our baptism gives us the Christian DNA to become, through the power of the Spirit, an effective Minister, wise Steward, and enthusiastic Evangelist.

When we think of ourselves as Ministers, Stewards and Evangelists, we begin to see our lives in different terms and ask different questions. We no longer ask whether or not we will volunteer at church, but rather we ask "How can I minister to others?" "Where are my gifts best used for ministry?" and "What will be the quality of my ministry?" We no longer think about how we can buy that thing we want, instead we evaluate whether or not we need it and whether our resources are better spent helping others. We don't see creation as something which serves our wants, we think about how we can use our resources rightly and for the good of all. We let go of our fear about what others think of our faith and become comfortable speaking the gospel of our lives without the need to "win over" the other person (after all, God doesn't really need me as the "holy defense team" - God can handle that without me).

As I think about these three changes, I'll be posting more ... but this is enough to chew on for now.

P.S. I'm really stoked that an article I wrote and submitted to Alban Institute's Congregations Magazine is being published in the Fall. I don't normally tell people this kind of stuff 'cause it sounds like bragging and we Scandinavians consider that a mortal sin ... but I'll take my chances this time!

** I changed the title of this post based on comments through FaceBook from a fellow priest in our Mutual Ministry Program, Karen Crosby+. Thanks Karen+!

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