I’ve been thinking for a while about the whole issue of what it means to be united, one to another through our common baptism in the body of Christ. In light of the many discussions that have been had about the relevance of an apocalyptic conception of the church as mission, what then are we to say about the notion that, in baptism, Christians enter into a special sort of solidarity with one another, a solidarity that makes them uniquely a peoplehood, a family? If we conceive the church-as-mission, that is, if we hold that the church exists only as it gives itself to the world in kenotic service, what then does that leave of the notion that the members of the church share a unique sort of unity?
As I see it there is no dispensing with the “specialness” of baptism, if you will. To be baptized together is to be brought into unity with each other in a way that is irreducible and singular. But what sort of solidarity is this that we have with each other in baptism? If we understand our baptism in light of Christ’s baptism, whereby he is commissioned by the Father in the power of the Spirit to proclaim the kingdom of God in word and deed to the poor and oppressed, how can we understand our baptismal solidarity as anything other than being given over, together, to and for the world? Baptismal solidarity means we find ourselves, by virtue of God’s action, to be united together as partners in giving ourselves away to “the least of these.” To be united in baptism is not, then to share a unity that exists within borders, which draws lines, establishes “in” and “out.” Rather the unity of baptism is a solidarity in proclaiming and enacting the end of all such separations and divisions.
To be united in baptism is indeed to share a special unity, a unity that binds us together closer than any other form of human unity. But it does so not by establishing us as an “alternative” form of unity, rather it unites us precisely in the traversal of all walls of division wherever they might be. The solidarity of baptism is solidarity in self-giving unto the world which God loves and for whom God came in Jesus. When we proclaim that we are united, one to another in one body we are not claiming to be an alternative cultural matrix, rather we are proclaiming that, because of what Christ has done and continues to do, we have the joy of finding ourselves sent out together in God’s service, the service of giving our lives away, of dispensing with boundaries, divisions, and all forms of alienation. Baptismal solidarity is missionary solidarity. To be united in baptism is to be united, not towards ourselves, but towards all those for whom the kingdom of God is coming. Indeed, one might say that baptismal solidarity, by its very nature is a solidarity of being turned outward, of being sent out in Christ to follow him into the world in all its brokenness. Baptism, then, does not establish a new “inside” a new cultural seat of coherence and stability, rather it propels us — together! — out into the world which God loves, the world still in tragic, broken rebellion. We are baptized, not for ourselves, not for the church, but for the world, whose destiny it is to be transformed into the kingdom of God.