Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Baptism and Dispossession

Hey folks,

My name is Dave Belcher, and though Brannon has already listed me as a contributor, I have yet to actually contribute to this great conversation. It's late where I'm at and it's been a long day--my band played on the 12:00 Kansas City Fox4 News, then our bass player cut his leg wide open with a razor blade (accidentally), we got lost multiple times on the way to our evening gig, and we played a concert for recovering addicts of all sorts ("Celebrate Recovery")--but I'd like to just give a preface to my interest with "the Church," the sacraments, and my research for my master's thesis [and though I share this here with trust, I haven't finished this, and this will be a published work, so please don't share it elsewhere...sorry for the disclaimer].

The Church can only appear as it is One; not only is this affirmed all over Scripture, but in nearly all of Christian tradition(s), especially up to the Reformation period. Because Jesus Christ is One, and brings the scattered Adam into Unity--the Unity of his very body--there can be no division in his body...this is Paul's point when he says to the churches in Galatia and Colossia: "There is no longer Jew nor Greek..." However, with the division of the body of Christ--which we can say with certainty occured in the Reformation, if not in other instances of Christian history, e.g., the 5th century split of Eastern and Western Roman orthodoxy--we must say with confidence that the Church has disappeared. Two things must follow this statement. First of all, we must recognize that though this language sounds harsh, it is absolutely necessary. The countless ecumenical councils and conferences that have followed in the wake of the Reformation, though they have been a step in the right direction, have more often than not served as a veil to the problem, or a way for one denomination to blame another; concrete worldwide Unity is not forthcoming. If we do not recognize that the Church cannot appear as it is One, and that refusing to join with one another in worldwide Unity also restricts Christ's lordship, we deceive ourselves, and pompously remain in rebellion against God's will to bring healing and restoration to the brokenness (read, "sin") of fallen humanity. As St. Paul asks the churches in Rome, "What shall we say then? Shall we remain in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!"

Secondly, the statement that the Church has disappeared does not mean that the Church has died or failed; as Augustine said in response to the Donatists, the Church cannot fail, because that would mean that Christ would fail in His mission (sent from the Father, and with the Holy Spirit) to bless the whole world through his body (the Church). Rather, the Church exists because it is the body of Christ, and because of the constitutive gift of His Spirit...Christ is thus present where two or three are gathered (by the Holy Spirit), in the Sacrament of Unity at the Eucharistic table, where Church happens. However, because the Church is the marriage of the Holy, blameless Christ to the human bride of the Lamb, and because we persist in our sinful brokenness even after Christ has already freed us from that sin, we can indeed, and do, fail to make Christ present to the world. The way that I have described it in my thesis is that the Church does not disappear ontologically, but rather, phenomenally.

The Church's response to this severe, urgent problem must be something more than the sterile, neutral "agree to talk about not disagreeing" debate of ecumenism; what is required of us is nothing short of (actively) remembering our very entrance into the body of Christ in Baptism. The shape of the baptismal liturgy is the shape of dispossession: we are to "put off" our old humanity, and put on the garment of Christ, who is our new life--as Bonhoeffer puts it, our "new human being." We are drowned in the baptismal waters, buried with Christ in a death like his, and we die to sin so that we too might walk in the newness of resurrected life in the nourishment granted in the very flesh and blood of Christ's body in the Eucharistic meal. In early Christian rites, however, the cathecumens were not permitted to participate in or even see the mysteries of the bread and wine--to join in loving embrace with their new family and body--until they had been washed in the purging waters of baptism, dispossessed of all of their possessions (as Christ says, "No one can be my disciple who does not give away all his possessions"), so that they may receive new life in complete gratuity.

There is no doubt that the Church of the Nazarene is just as involved in this as is the Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches. We cannot be content to be invisibly joined to our Christian brethren--past, present, and future--by the faith that lies in our hearts; if the Church is not visibly One, we must see that the Church disappears. This has massive implications for sacramental worship in the Church of the Nazarene, but even more so for our day to day life--which should be an outgrowth...or actually they should be the same dang thing...of our sacramental worship. This is my prayer.

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