Saturday, December 1, 2007

Chapter 1 cont'd - Baptism and the Real Me

The question that ended the last post could be put another way.
1. What effect is God producing in the water rite of baptism?
2. How are baptized people invariably changed by this rite because of God’s action?
3. Does God always produce some kind of result in this rite?

Some other more specific questions are these:
1. Do we treat our baptized children as elect only when they make a profession?
2. Do we treat them the same way we treat adults who have made a profession and are then baptized?
3. Do we speak to our baptized children like they belong to Christ?

Hopefully, that last set of questions puts this whole discussion into a practical, pastoral perspective.

I don’t know that I am ready to articulate my thoughts on this quite yet. It’s probably safest to continue listening to the false assumptions Leithart tries to deal with in this section and then draw out any blind spots in ours or, for that matter, Leithart’s thinking.

So – we’ll look at his next the next topic - man and personal identity. NOTE: The quotes in this post come from pages 4-7.

Here Leithart begins to work through questions about personhood. He’s looking at how we understand or define the self and what it means to be a person. We have to think through the definition we offer and what’s underneath that answer.

Leithart suggests that modern individualism has done a number on our understanding of personal identity, but the Bible gives the corrective. He says, “Baptism is about personal identity”. He says this because he believes that Paul was not just “playing pretend” in Romans 6. There, Paul “teaches that a Christians “self image” is grounded in and shaped by the fact of his baptism”. But that not everyone would agree with this is evident.

He draws out an interesting similarity between Catholics and Protestants - both groups agree that the "real me" is “hermetically sealed in my body”. How does Leithart get there? The basic disagreement between the two groups revolves around whether there is or is not something in the water. The presence or absence of that supernatural something makes all the difference in the world. Protestants say, 'There's nothing in there". Roman Catholics say, "Yes there is". Yet in this disagreement both agree on this - an external rite does not change an individual.

Leithart offers a third option – the external and physical rite might actually change who we are. He deals with the false assumption that we can compartmentalize the inner and outer so tidily. He points to 1 Sam 30.12, Prov 22.15, and Ps 19.7 to show that the bible says that the inner IS changed by external things. Further, scriptures use of bodily organs as a way of describing the inner man shows that it conceives of the inner physically. All this to say that – “What makes me uniquely me includes what happens to my body”; there is no distinction between inner and outer, no impermeable membrane between. “The inner and outer are two dimensions of united human life”.

The final examples Leithart offers on this makes his point clear. Stations in life change by rite. Priests become priests through ordination rite, husbands through ceremony, and presidents through inauguration. We would not say that any of these lurk within the body of the individual. The same is true, in Leithart’s understanding, for those who receive the rite of baptism. The baptized are just that ‘baptized’. They are new people with a new name, a new identity, and new future.

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