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TH 302 06 Week 2

Lathrop is talking about the notion of 'Ritual' - a ritual (in a church setting) is an action that is performed regularly for a religious reason. This can be a simple action, a complex action, or a series of actions in a sequence. There are, within Christianity, any number of actions which might be called rituals, and across denominations the variety is huge.

Part of the task of this course is to get us to slow down and ask 'Why are things being done this way?' In other words, what theological reasons exist for this particular ritual?

Ritual interacts, as well, with many religious symbols. Symbols are common things, taken from the world, which - in a liturgical setting - are transformed or altered, to point us away from worldly things and to think about another, heavenly reality. Symbols are common things which focus our thought on God.

Discussion of 'Baptism Worksheet'

When is Baptism performed? From the discussion we see that where and when a baptism is performed varies widely across churches. For some, it occurs prior to the preaching of the Word, for others after. For some it happens at night, for others, prior to the service. In each case, we found, there are reasons that can be pointed to that helps us answer 'why'. There is a theology of time that relates to baptism.

Who can baptize? Despite the fact that protestantism proclaims the 'preisthood of all believers,' we find that most often those allowed to baptize are church authorities or those who have been authorized by a pastor. Despite the theology which states that pastors have no 'special powers,' it is often the case that some sort of teaching authority or responsibility are cited as reasons for restricting the administration of baptism (and this does not even begin to touch upon questions of female authority to baptize - which you will find in some traditions like Lutheran and Episcopalian).

As soon as you ask the simple question 'who can be baptized?' a whole set of theological questions, it seems, flows from this.

What age of folks can be baptized? Whether 'free will,' 'age of accountability,' 'infant,' or otherwise, this is a loaded question. If you argue for 'infant,' then how do we account for responsibility and personal choice in faith? If you argue for 'accountability,' what do we do with the mentally challeged, or the insane? Wherever you place the emphasis, you will have to think about how your position includes - and excludes - certain members of your church.

There are always consequences to the theological positions we take. Our task is to learn how to articulate and account for these consequences.

What is said during Baptism? Again, we see a lot of variety. Most often you will find the nomination 'Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,' or 'in the Name of Jesus'. In many congregations, a confession of faith is required. In others, the whole congregation is required to rise and reaffirm baptismal vows. In each case, you can trace out theological consistencies in these varied positions. In traditions that have a great stress on individual accountability, you will often find the focus on the one being baptised. In other traditions where the focus is on being called despite our free will (e.g. the Reformed tradition - Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc) you will find the emphasis placed more on the whole community.

Where does baptism occur in your church? The architecture of a church can tell you a lot about the theology of that church. Where, for example, the baptistery or baptising pool is placed cna tell you a lot about what is most important to that church. In Baptist churches, the baptistery is front and center, and everything in the design of the church focuses you toward it. In other traditions, other elements (the altar, the table, the pulpit) are front and center. In each case, seeing what is visually central helps indicate what is theologically central.

We can begin to ask questions at this point a the the relationships between theological elements. For example: in the early centuries of the church, baptism was the entry to all the other mysteries of the liturgy. You were not alowed to fully participate, or even see, most of the church service until you had been baptized. As a result, these early churches would often have the baptistery towards the back, by the door. Inmore contemporary traditions, baptism might be something you do 'on the way', and you can see this reflected in the font with water, set off to the side, with the Lord's Table occupying the central place. For Baptists, as we've noted above, the central matter of baptism is guarded by the Word - we find out about our need to be baptized through the preaching of the Word. Baptist church architecture will reflect these theological commitments, just as other church architectures will.

One of the goals of this course is to teach you how to walk into any church in the world and be able to describe - from architecture alone - the theology of that congregation.

Requirements before and after? Again, we see here a great variety. Often, the washing of baptism accompanies teaching about the faith, and certain responsibilites for the practice of Christian life.

Discussion of the Didache

Probably written sometime between 150 and 200 CE, very likely in Egypt. Discovered in 1873 as a complete manscript, though fragments have also been found. It draws from Matthew as its primary source, with later insertions from the Gospels of Luke and Mark. It also incorporates portions from the extracanonical sources The Shepherd of Hermas and The Letter of Barnabas. (particularly the 'two ways' portions comes from Barnabas).

Chapter 7 specifically discusses baptism. It does not say much, and what it says is varied and flexible ('if you lack running water, use standing water, lacking that, then sprinkle...' etc.). There is a curious logic that seems to wind back on itself, revising as it goes. It makes definite statements, but immediately revises them, allowing for limitations and difficulties. Instead of giving hard and fast rules, the Diacist seems to accounting for many possibilites. But there is still a formula here.

We have a sense that the writer is writing at a time when the church is still not competely stable, accounting for the great variety of religious practice. It might be argues that, in the discussion we had above, there is a similar variety reflected in our own church practices today.

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Theology 302 SPRING 2006