Church, theology

Into The Pray – Baptism


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*This is the fourth post in a seven-part blog series called Into The Pray*

At the end of last week’s post, I asked a whole bunch of probing questions and provided the link to Bible Gateway so you could punch in the areas in question and then see for yourself what the Bible actually says, and, in some cases, doesn’t say about them.

If I was to roll all of these questions into one paraphrased version, it would be this:

Why do we do stuff in church that clearly we were never meant to do; why do we not do stuff in church that clearly we are supposed to?

Writing specifically of prayer, Mike Bickle puts it like this,

What we do negatively and what we neglect to do positively deeply affect our (prayer) lives. (Emphasis mine)

Christening

A couple of years ago, working on staff of an Anglican church in central London, I witnessed the glitzy occasion of a television celebrity – who rarely came to church – bringing their family and wider entourage with them to celebrate the occasion of their little baby’s ‘christening’. I led some songs of worship and then the Vicar led the church through the sprawling liturgy for an ‘infant baptism’, aka christening. Everyone stood up at the right time, repeated their bits on cue, the baby didn’t cry or vomit, there were ‘ahhs’ and ‘ooos’ and lots of photos were taken. The celebrity guests looked on, if I’m being honest, with bemused expressions somewhere between confusion and boredom. It was all supposed to be rather lovely.

But was it?

No. It was flipping terrible.

Forms of Godliness

Having a form of godliness but denying its power. (2 Timothy 3:5)

This christening service was a classic example of a form of powerless spirituality acting to veil the true kingdom of God and the life-giving reality of the presence of Jesus and His Church. Why? Because a whole load of stuff was going on that was never meant to happen and in such a way as to conceal that which was. And worse still, people loved the ‘stuff’, celebrated the ‘stuff’, were comforted by the ‘stuff’ and even thought that God was pleased by the ‘stuff’ – all because it’s “what Anglicans do”, as though the Vicar (or the Vicar’s wife, depending on who was actually wearing the trousers) had just brandished their trump ‘get out of jail’ card from their back pocket, choosing to forget that it’s the Bible that is their authority for living, not the sickening impotence of English church sentiment.

In this ridiculous scene, gathered church was revolving around a form of religion that was denying the power of God because it was actually in denial about the truth of God. Guests were ‘treated’ and God was ‘honoured’ by the substitution of the power of the kingdom of heaven, rooted in the living truth of the Bible, with idolatry and the type of zombified standing up/sitting down that you’d associate with bored school children in assembly who would genuinely rather be picking their nose or their scabby knees.

Strong words you might think, but for very good reason:

Where in the Bible does Jesus teach that saving faith is via anything other than faith alone? Or that the awesome, eternal justification and glorification of a person choosing repentance and grace freely for themselves is the same as a baby ‘receiving the sign of the cross’ vicariously through their parents –  who may or may not even believe the gospel at all? And all because of some tiny droplets of holy London H2O and the popular desire for a public rite of passage? (Watch how popular church like this becomes in the coming years).

So if this is not true biblical baptism, what on Earth is going on? What on Earth are we saying that the Church is and, by direct implication, therefore, who God Himself is?

redsea

Damaging Church – why does this matter?

Within the first week of the release of this Into The Pray blog series, someone wrote to me with the accusation that what I was writing was ‘damaging’ to others. Let me tell you what is damaging to others, especially for the celebrities of London occasionally visiting church who likely know no better:

It is unimaginably damaging when the identity and function of a church morphs into a form and pattern that is deliberately compatible with comfortable, nominal arm-chair christianity rather than the form and pattern mirroring biblical truth concerning the Church. Such truth is transcendent and timeless and, when submitted to, powerfully counters culture and trend and every sociological deviation from God’s created order.

According to the Bible for example, baptism is the outward compos mentis step of obedience, at the command of Christ, that publicly proclaims the radical inner transformation of a person’s life following their step of faith to commit their life to Him as their Lord and Saviour; a person who has literally passed from death to life and who has literally been reborn into spiritual life in Jesus; who is compelled to tell the world because they know the world needs to know, and thus God is glorified and the Church is encouraged as their testimony brings supernatural sanity to others who hear and see.

Tragic Omissions

What we do negatively and what we neglect to do positively deeply affect our (prayer) lives. (Emphasis mine)

Again, as Mike Bickle says above, it is the principle of both the presence of negative additions to Christianity, and the neglect of positive ones, that deeply affect us. This principle is also true for the Church in a general sense.

Think about it.

What is most tragic about the christening scene above (and a lot of what we call church generally) is not so much what happened to confuse and muddle the visit to the London Anglican church but that which didn’t even come close to happening: the actual baptism of a believer and their story-telling as to how Jesus had transformed their life. How amazing would it have been if the celebrity crowds had come to witness their friend’s decision to be baptised that day and to listen to their testimony to the reality and greatness of Jesus?

Instead, they sat through a church service that had nothing to do with the literal life of God in a believer’s life and, most likely, only compounded the very reasons that they weren’t in awe of God and His gospel in the first place: the utter irrelevance of a kind of dead traipsing through ceremony and outward denominational style.

Rather than it being seen as damaging that these type of questions are asked, in the hope that biblical literacy might improve, the truly damaging thing is when a church is called ‘church’ but that really doesn’t resemble the biblical Church at all. And we don’t seem to notice, or we do but don’t really care.

It’s Not Good Enough

As I said in the second piece in this series, witnessing this kind of spirituality taking centre stage, and watching it being called church, is  the number one problem facing the unsaved world.

It’s not good enough to turn a blind eye to this or to make out that the church might not ‘suit all of my values but that it does in other areas‘…this just does not wash. Are we serving people well when we lead church in such a way that it does not reflect the Bible? Are we not responsible for the signposting of the kingdom toward the essence of the gospel? Is it not right that we remove every hindrance to the blessing of God in our midst rather than sweeping ugly compromise under the carpet while hoping there’ll be no consequence?

Like Gideon in a discouraged winepress of Midianite oppression, the Church do not know who they are and they’re helping to raise others equally unsure of who they are.

Things have to change. We need God to shake us free from the froth of denominational nonsense that blinds the minds of believers and unbelievers alike, and to clear the space needed for the honouring of the Word and His great Name.

Only then will power come.

*For the remaining couple of posts in this series, I want to continue to discuss one or two other major areas of church dysfunction but, at the same time, try to offer some more positive conclusions as the finishing line comes into sight*

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