Baptism in The Christian Community

5. The Christian Community. Church and Membership

As has been explained, Baptism within The Christian Community does not necessarily imply Church membership. Even so, the task of the godparents is described as a leading of the soul in the communion of Christ. Here the community is not treated as ‘the public’, but as co-responsible members of the sacrament. It now becomes clear that the freedom of choice to join the Church is not the same thing as a shallow lack of commitment to the community in which the child is baptized.

It was shown earlier how a discrepancy that may arise for the godparents is rectified through recognition of a wider Church. It remains for us to consider the relationship between the community and the person baptized when membership is not implied.

In the third chapter of the Gospel according to John there is an account of the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus. There mention is made of the double birth: ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born anew.” ‘ (3:6f). Besides the birth in the physical sense of the word (‘born of water’) Jesus also speaks of a birth ‘of the spirit’. This future aspect of the birth of man’s immortal part is explained by Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians. ‘The first man [Adam] was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven . . Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.’ (15:47.49)

The heavenly man, who is born in the earthly man, will be able, by the power of the Resurrection that lives in him, to withdraw the physical body from death. Or, as Paul wrote: ‘But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.’ (Rom.8: l0f).

If the birth out of the spirit is no mere image, certain aspects of physical birth should also be found in it. If we recall the words spoken to the congregation during the second part of the Baptism, namely that they should receive and carry this soul that has been sent down from the spiritual world into the earthly community, we can see the connections. Before physical birth has taken place the mother has conceived and carried the child. Now a parallel task is asked of the community. That is to say, baptism–besides being a continuation of the physical birth–is also a preparation, a conception. a sowing of the seed of the spirit-man. the second Adam, and this conception happens in the womb of the community. This appeal is a social and religious deed, awakening readiness to welcome a human soul and receive it into the community.

Now when the seed has been sown for the birth of the spirit-man within the community of the Christ-Jesus, the years that follow need to have a religious content to prepare the child for the Sacrament of Confirmation at the age of fourteen. During the intervening years, this seed is carried and nourished in secret within the enveloping life-body of The Christian Community. Celebration of the festivals, the experience of other baptisms, the religion lessons for children of school age, regular attendance at the Sunday Service for Children; all nourish the soul during its time of development, and serve as religious life-substance. In much the same way as the new-born infant frees himself from the warm protective environment of the mother’s womb, the fourteen-year-old struggles out of his familiar circle to seek his own way. In the Confirmation the young person is reminded of how he has been led by people close to him, by his parents and teachers. After this he is directed towards the Christ-Spirit whom he can now regard as the highest leader on his life’s path. Birth pangs accompany this stage also, often all too noticeable to those around him.

To summarize, and bring this subject to a close: The Baptism in The Christian Community can be seen as ‘after-care’, as a consecration of the earthly body; and also as preparation and conception of the ‘Christ-man’. This understanding of baptism makes sense for the one baptized, as well as having meaning for the community of Christians who are called upon to receive and support him. When we recall what was said about the three substances we can conclude that Baptism is of immense importance not only to the individual, but for the community of Christians, the earth and the spiritual community. The personal guardian angel, the angel of the community, and even the Spirit who unites heaven and earth, the Christ, all bear witness to and co-operate in the holy sacrament of Baptism.

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