Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What is a Christian? And why do we baptize?

Recently on Facebook, I noticed a popular new page that everybody seems to be "liking." It's called, "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car."

Well, duh: I figured that's self-evident. Baptism is what makes you a Christian, not going to church -- and your baptism can't be taken away, no matter how rarely you attend services. That Christians out there are using any other standard to measure who is and isn't a Christian is a source of some concern to me.

I think the confusion lies in the fact that some Christians have a hard time differentiating between the terms "Christian" and "good person." They feel that everybody who is a good person ought to be a Christian, and vice versa. The minute somebody deserves to have his "good person" label revoked, the implication is that he really wasn't a Christian in the first place, or isn't anymore. And the far more sinister assumption (which most would never admit) is that you can't be a good person unless you're a Christian. Clearly, the world is not this black and white!

Now, of course I'm bothered by the behavior of many Christians: greedy TV preachers, pedophile priests, politicians who use their faith to knock down their opponents, etc. But often, I'm also bothered by my own behavior. And there's no doubt in my mind that, no matter how much I mess up, I'm still a Christian. I always will be.

It also doesn't bother me that a good many people out there aren't baptized. Baptism is a sign of something that God has already done and is still doing: working through a person's life to help bring about the Kingdom. Just because we, as a community, haven't shown that sign publicly does not mean God does not love that person, or that the person is not doing good things.

Above all (and following logically from these points), failure to be baptized in no way relegates anybody to hell. We stopped believing that a long time ago. Yet some people (especially, I've noticed, the parents of non-churchgoers who won't baptize the grandchildren) still harbor some anxiety about this point -- anxiety that could probably be redirected to more constructive and faith-filled ends. I do understand the anxiety: who doesn't want their grandkids to have a good moral upbringing? But I don't believe that possibility hinges on baptism.

So that leads to an interesting point: Why do we baptize at all? If it is not necessary for salvation, and if not every good person need become a Christian, what's it for? Let's discuss.

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