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The solidarity of baptism

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.

9 Comments

  1. I wonder if we can say that our baptism was done in the same way as Christ’s was?

    I do, however, think you are onto something with the mission aspect of our baptisms. In Col. 2 Paul says that Christians were circumcised by their baptism; thus Paul links the two actions together.

    Circumcision for the Hebrew was a sign that you were a covenant person of God. The 3 aspects of this covenant were: 1.) Nation 2.) Land 3.) That they would be a blessing to the whole world (Gen. 12:1-3). Ironically, that third part was the only thing the Hebrews failed to fulfill (especially after coming out of Exile; see Ezra and Nehemiah).

    So, I think baptism is a sign, like circumcision, that you are a covenant person of God, and are therefore, to go out into the world….and bring the blessing of the Gospel. If the church (community of God, or baptized ones) fails to be “for the world,” then it fails to fulfill its covenant, much like the OT people of God did.

    Nice post

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink
  2. MFB wrote:

    It’s interesting that this post follows closely on the one encouraging robust ecumenism. I wonder if you, as I do, see anything at stake here in terms of infant vs credo baptism? If the sacramental reality of baptism is that this act actually opens the boundary (no male, female, Jew, Greek, slave, free) this would seem to exclude a Reformed reading like Jarrod’s. This would in turn have consequences for our table fellowship. Thoughts?

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    I affirm in believers’ baptism, but I don’t know that I’d see disagreement in that area as grounds for division at the table. Because as I see it, the efficacy of baptism lies, not in our proper administration of it, but in God’s own faithfulness to which all baptisms are a response.

    That, at least, is the way I lean on the matter.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  4. Kevin Davis wrote:

    This construction of baptism is interesting in light of Simone Weil’s stated reasons for rejecting baptism, namely, that she wanted to identify with those outside the church, those alienated and oppressed. She wanted to be identified with those outside of the means of grace and, in a sense, rejected by God. It seems that, given her French Catholic context, this action has some nobility in it, but it is fundamentally a failure to really understand baptism as the Gospels present it.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink
  5. Matt Jenson wrote:

    This is awesome: “Baptismal solidarity is missionary solidarity.”

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  6. Theophilus wrote:

    Funny how this post goes online the day after the Anglican Church of Canada announces that it is considering giving communion to the unbaptized. Such a move would, I think, make the unity of baptism absolutely crucial, because it would shatter the unifying power of the Eucharist.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink
  7. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Kevin:

    I’m not so sure, as to your last sentence. I mean, there seems to be something about baptism as the Gospels present it, and particularly Jesus’ giving himself over to John’s baptism of repentance, which is in many ways consonant with Weil’s actions here. We must not forget that Jesus’ accepting John’s baptism of repentance is precisely Jesus’ acceptance of solidarity with those “sinners” who had been labeled as such by the religious and political status quo of his day. That is, Jesus’ baptism was a baptism precisely into solidarity with those poor and dying at the hands of the religious and political powers and principalities of his day. Baptism thereby determines Jesus’ life as a life of continual turning to solidarity with precisely these ones who are “sinners” as outside the religious and political status quo. This movement is especially clear throughout Mark’s gospel, where the call to “repent” and “follow me” is almost at every turn immediately followed up with Jesus’ own turning to precisely those poor and marginalized. Jesus movement to the cross is one long movement of being baptized (immersed) into the lives of these “least” so as to be raised with these least to new life. Wherever baptism occurs in such a way as not to involve a repentance continually undergone as a turn to solidarity with those rendered poor and marginalized by the powers of this world, the body of Christ is not happening, and “baptism” made to be a rite of a worldly power that is best not named “church” but rather “ecclesiasticism.”

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  8. Kevin Davis wrote:

    I agree, Nate. In so far as Weil was rejecting a baptism that didn’t “involve a repentance continually undergone as a turn to solidarity,” then her refusal to be baptized can be seen as a critique of the Catholic Church. My last sentence was a statement of hope that she would have, instead, mounted her protest by way of baptism.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Permalink
  9. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Kevin:

    Certainly, I understood your statement as such. Part of me was just asking out loud whether there was not in Weil’s life-work here a martyrial witness that is itself consonant with “baptism as the Gospels present it.” That a kind of baptism may indeed, however paradoxically, have been given to have happened here, otherwise.

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 12:01 am | Permalink

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