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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry

This book has a strong ecumenical nature and due to this fact more conservative readers may not agree with all the statements, ideas and positions discussed. The themes proposed (Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry) are really very controversial and have different interpretations according to each church tradition. The first essay revolves around Baptism. The author of this essay covers almost all the aspects of the doctrine of Baptism. He starts defining Baptism and exploring its meaning. This beginning is very orthodox and Bible centered. He says that Baptism “is participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, a washing away of sin, a renewal by the Spirit. It is also the experience of salvation from the flood, an exodus from bondage and liberation into a new humanity in which barriers of division whether of sex or race or social status are transcended” (page 2). Baptism according to the author is a gift of the Spirit. The Spirit works in the lives of all people before, during and after their baptism. The Spirit of God initiates the whole process, starting with conversion, pardoning and cleansing. Although the Holy Spirit plays a major role, the author makes it clear that human participation is also required during the process. He says that there is a “necessity of faith for the reception of the salvation,” and that, “personal commitment is necessary” (page 3). All the controversies about Baptism starts in article number four. This article will discuss the practice of Baptism (for believers and infants). According to the author there was a possibility of the practice of infant baptism during the apostolic age. At this point, the author does not support his statements in the Bible anymore, but only on church tradition. Although he does not consider infant baptism wrong, he makes clear that “baptism upon personal profession of faith is the most clearly attested pattern in the New Testament documents” (page 4). One of the arguments used to support infant baptism is that the infant in a later moment of his life will respond personally to Christ, making his baptism valid. In his commentary on infant baptism, he introduces a concept that I have never heard. He talks about corporate faith and faith shared with parents. Maybe this idea is very common in some church traditions, but it is totally new to me. Again, this statement lacks biblical support. I wonder, “What if this infant never personally professes a faith in Jesus Christ? Will he/she be able to enter into the presence of the Lord just by his parents’ faith?” Another characteristic of the corporate faith is the responsibility of the community to nurture the baptized children in the ways of the Lord. The last article on Baptism deals with the celebration. Again, several statements are supported by church tradition only. Maybe one of the most acceptable traditions in churches of all denominations is about who administers the baptism. Jesus told us to baptize all those people who come to believe in him through our preaching, but we ignore Jesus’ words and normally only an ordained minister is the authorized person who has the privilege to baptize a new believer. Then he moves toward eucharist. Jesus instituted the eucharist during his last meal with the disciples. He commanded us to do the same in remembrance (anamnesis) of Him. “Consequently the eucharist is a sacramental meal which by visible signs communicates to us God’s love in Jesus Christ, the love by which Jesus loved his own ‘to the end’” (page 10). There are several meanings of the eucharist. According to the author, one of the meanings would be thanksgiving. We, as the church, express our thankfulness to God for all the benefits provided. Another meaning is the memorial of Christ. He says that Christ himself is present in our remembrance of Him, and His presence is what grants us communion with Himself. On the last section of the significance of the anamnesis, the author says that the Church believes and confesses Jesus’ real, living and active presence in the eucharist. For him, Christ’s presence does not depend on our faith, but to discern the body and blood, faith is essential. With regard to the issue of transubstantiation and of biblical interpretation, the author’s commentary on the bread and wine being transformed into the real body and real blood is this: “the decision remains for the churches whether this difference can be accommodated within the convergence formulated in the text itself” (page 12). Another meaning of the eucharist is an invocation of the Spirit. For the author, there is an intrinsic relationship between the words of institution, Christ’s promise, the epiclesis, the invocation of the Spirit, and the liturgy. Jesus is the centre of the eucharist and the promise contained in the words of institution are therefore fundamental to the celebration. Eucharist also means communion of the faithful. It demands reconciliation and sharing. The author states, “Through the eucharist the all renewing grace of God penetrates and restores human personality and dignity” (page 14). Another meaning of the eucharist is that it is like a meal of the Kingdom. The last subject analyzed in this book is the ministry. Although he will speak about a specific type of ministry, he first addresses that all people of God are commissioned to speak and communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All Christians have authority given by Christ to spread the Good News. His focus then moves toward ordained ministry and what is the biblical base for such a thing. For him, the particular call of the apostles as the representatives of the renewed Israel is the biblical base to support the ordination of ministers. But he makes clear that “the role of the apostles as witnesses to the resurrection of Christ is unique and unrepeatable. There is therefore a difference between the apostles and the ordained ministers whose ministries are founded on theirs” (page 21). Thus, ordination is completely rooted in the apostolic tradition, where the succession of bishops became one of the ways of this expression. This succession was understood as serving, symbolizing and guarding the continuity of the apostolic faith and communion. On the subject of women’s ordination, the author is very short in his comments, but at the same time very clear and direct. For him, in Christ there is no male or female. Therefore, God can use both men and women to bless His people within and without the church. He then addresses that churches have not yet agreed on this topic of discussion. The meaning of ordination is discussed toward the end of the section on ministry. The very reason for ordination is the continuation of the mission of the apostles (preaching and teaching). It is done by the invocation of the Spirit and the laying on of hands, according to I Tim. 4.14 and II Tim. 1.6. Ordained ministers are people who discerned their calls to ministry by personal prayer and reflection. This call has to be authenticated by the Church’s recognition of the gifts and graces of the person who wants to be ordained.

Note: Copy of this material is allowed and free, since the source is cited / A reprodução dos textos é permitida e gratuita, desde que citada a fonte.

Rodrigo Serrao Posted by Picasa

2 comments:

Adriana Simoes said...

Olá!!

Ficou legal com a capa do livro!! Tenta fazer nos outros!!

Bjs e Deus te abençoe!!

Dri

Diego Simões said...

I found it amazing how these 3 Christian practices can bring so many controversies not only to our churches but also to everyone that is outside our churches. It is even more amazing how the Christian faith has survived 2000 years of religious controversies, manipulation, splits and even wars, and still has the power to change the hearts of many. That truly speaks about the awesome power of our God. But the most important thing to remember is that the relationship that a believer has with Jesus Christ surpasses religion and the disagreements that it brings.

Good book review. :)

Diego