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TH 302 06 Week 4

Some matters for review:

Lathrop talks a lot about juxtaposition. This is a word for what happens when you put two different things next to each other, and meaning arises out of their interaction. For Lathrop, the different elements of the liturgy combine to form wholes which are more than the sums of their parts. Friction happens, sparks fly, and we get new meanings out of common, everyday things.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, in Lathrop's analysis, Baptism is a complex meaning that arises out of such juxtapositions. In particular he lifts up the two parts, teaching and washing. Now, sometimes (as he says) we teach, then we wash. At other points we wash, then we teach. The order is not as vital as having both elements there, with a new meaning(Baptism) arising out of the two parts together (teaching and washing). He is accounting, of course, for the fact that across the Christian tradition there are so many different ways of combining and utilizing these same two elements in the act of Baptism. Teaching, washing, and the seal of the Spirit: It is not a question of which comes first, so long as they are all present.

Chronos and Kairos: Which Time Zone are you In?

We see, in the Gospels, the example of Peter slipping - for a moment - into a Kairos reality: he walsk on the water, just like Jesus. Now we might question why he slips back out of this state so quickly, back into Chronos time. We might find psychological or ontological (dealing with one's being) breasons for this, or perhaps it is as simple as his fear to be too much like Jesus. Regardless of these reasons, we know from the text that Peter glimpses, for a moment, a wholly different world - one where the Jesus reality is the reality.

Now Peter also falls. But for a moment, he was in the 'right' time - Kairos time. What was going on with Peter in the midst of that moment? How does this have consequences for Baptism? If time affects your body, and changes who you are depending on when you live in history, then before us we have some options.

  • We might set it up like this, saying, "When you are baptized, nothing happens." Why, then, should we be baptized? Perhaps for the sake of tradition, or belonging to the community. I go into the water, and I come out of the water the same.

  • Or we might say, "In Baptism, something changes." What changes might be your mindset, or the activation of Grace, or your state with regards to sin. I go into the water, and I come out a different person.

  • Or we might say, "In baptism, everything changes." In this possibility, it is not just the condition of the individual that changes, but in fact the whole situation in which the person was living changes as well. What was death is now life, what was lost is now found. I go into the water, and I come out in a different time (Kairos?) and a different world (the "New Creation"?)

    In this discussion, we are speaking specifically of the physical action of baptism, the washing. We might also want to include the second part, the teaching, in a wider consideration of these matters. The teaching causes its own sort of changing, as well.

    Each of the above options has been a position of some part of the Christian church at one time or another. For the portions of the church which proclaim 'nothing changes,' baptism, like the Lord's Supper, is more a remembrance and an ordinance. It does not affect us at the level of our souls or our salvation. For other parts of the tradition, there has been a strong sense that the action of baptism itself changes the nature of the one washed, altering in some way the state of sin or the operation of grace in one's life. At its 'highest' estimation, baptism is itself the enactment of a new world and a new reality - what Paul called kata pneuma, 'seeing with the eyes of the spirit, rather than the eyes of the flesh.'

    Some Theological Reflection

    Holding any one of these positions stated above has theological consequences which can be explored. Where you plant your flag in the question "what changes?" point you to consequences regarding the nature of God, Sin, Grace, Creation, etc.

    For example, Sin might change within us (our 'Original Sin' is removed; past sins might be fully forgiven; the state of bondage to sin is broken; our feeling of guilt over sin might be psychologically removed, etc.) when we are baptized. But to make one of these claims, you have to already have a notion of how sin affects us in the first place. When you talk about baptism, you are pushed to ask, 'How does sin affect us?'

    Talking about what happens in baptism also pushes us toward Jesus Christ. The whole doctrine of atonement deals with how what Jesus accomplished on the cross might be transferred to each of us as believers. How might baptism be part of the mechanism of this transference? Your views about baptism will need to be connected to these notions of atonement and justification , the way in which we are allowed to stand as righteous before a wholly just and holy God.

    Furthermore, the Christian notion of Sanctification (growing in grace and charity throughout one's life) is connected not only to the physical act of washing, but to the teaching which (as Lathrop reminds us) always must accompany the washing. The Holy Spirit is often seen as intimately connected to this teaching and sanctification.

    Taken to the extreme, then, baptism (through the change brouht about through washing and teaching) restores to us our ability to see the world, that is, to see the grace of God that is always at work in creation. It restores us, in small and great ways, to a 'kairos' reality - the reality where God is choosing to come near to us and redeem us to our created (not fallen) state. Jesus is often referred to as the 'New Adam,' he came to restore the original grace with which we were created.

    This is refelcted in, for example, Isaiah 46:3 - "I will bear you and I will carry you..." God's faithfulness to the world is reflected in the promise of redemption - both for the whole world, and for us individually. Creation apart from grace does not make sense to the believing Christian, and this is the reality which we aproach and reflect upon in trying to talk about baptism.

    Theology bubbles up in trying to consider what sort of world that we live in, what time we are living in, and what sort of God created and preserves this creation.

  • (last modified 2006-02-07)       [Login]
    This page is referenced by the following pages:
    Theology 302 SPRING 2006