In a previous entry, we ended on the question of whether a denomination that includes many Protestant streams that see baptism as either a sign of incorporation into a covenant community or as sign of previous regeneration can honestly claim baptism is a sacrament within its bylaws.
The gulf between views of baptism as imparting a gift from God (sacramental) and outward sign of covenant community (Zwingli, Congregationalist) or a sign pointing to an inward act of faith that has already transpired (Baptist, Anabaptist, Pentecostal/Charismatic) becomes even broader when we begin to discuss the ontological meaning of baptism.
Since the time of Constantine, baptism has often been one of the strands holding together the knot of national identity and Christendom.
In other situations, the fear that a child, tainted by Original Sin, might end up in hell for all eternity if she were to die before being baptized has led parents, grandparents and other guardians to seek out baptism in churches as though it might provide some sort of magical fire insurance.
In my previous blog entry I stated that MCC’s bylaws refer to baptism as a sacrament. But what does that mean?
When the New Testament was written, its authors referred to the mustēria or "mysteries" of God — thoughts and plans that are beyond human understanding unless God reaches out and gives us the gift of understanding and participation.*
In the early days of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, the first Bylaws published by the movement had the following to say about baptism:
The Church shall embrace two Holy Sacraments:
1. Baptism by water and the Spirit, as exemplified by Christ at the hands of John the Baptist. This baptism shall be a sign of the dedication of each life to God and His [sic] service. Through the words and acts of this baptism, the words, ‘God’s own child’ shall be stamped upon the recipiant [sic] (UFMCC 3).
But shortly thereafter, John the Baptist disappeared from the Bylaws. What happened?
I mentioned in my 2009 Annual Life Lessons that I’ve been doing a lot of work on baptism this past year. Most seminarians have to grapple with this practice at some point in their studies, but it was a call for papers from the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) that sent me into overdrive. So I’ve decided to make some blog entries to share what I’ve been studying and writing about.
For my final project I have chosen to construct a liturgy for the Affirmation of Baptism. While the original context for this work was inspired by discussion around the need for such a service in the UFMCC, the liturgy could be used in any emerging church setting where people from multiple denominations have come together as a single congregation.
What if we could see baptism as inclusively as we see communion, and really made it our own, got comfortable with it, reinterpreted it with the authority and power with which we celebrate communion week after week? (Wilson, Baptized paragraph 21).
From early in the history of the Metropolitan Community Churches, the Bylaws have stated that in order to attain good standing as a member of an MCC congregation, one must be a baptized Christian. Though other requirements have changed over time, Baptism has remained a constant. At the same time, anecdotal evidence suggests that individual churches within the Fellowship have begun to dispense with this requirement, accepting members without Baptism, thus raising the question: should Baptism be required for membership in the MCC? I propose to approach this question as an issue of epistemology, ecclesiology and, more broadly, MCC corporate identity. My contention is that as long as the MCC identifies as a part of the Church universal, Baptism as a sign of profession of Christian faith is essential to church membership.