Baptism and our ultimate citizenship in the temple of relevance!

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Our Restoration Heritage is undergoing a number of divisive influences in 2005: (1) Resurgent Open Membership; (2) “Sinless Perfectionism;” (3) “Openness Theology;” and (4) many voices of Pragmatic Success in Church Growth which often jeopardizes the biblical foundation (of course, Post Modernism rejects Foundationalism, True Truth, Objectivity and Universality) as cultural relativism has lifted its voice with enormous negative impact. So why in the milieu another word about “Christian Baptism?” Without understanding the cultural relativism thesis which makes cultures and languages inseparable, therefore all belief systems are locked in their cultural/linguistic cages. If this is the case, any discussion of Baptism is a futile effort. The following brief essay is a superficial effort to negotiate the path over Troubled Waters in our Post Modern Global Village.
What? Not the Baptism question again! I dare to discuss this biblically crucial issue by placing it in three different contexts: (1) Christian Baptism in the Roman Empire was a treasonable offense; (2) Baptism after the Augustinian/Calvinistic Theological revolution (e.g. controversy concerning faith and works), the Augustinian misinterpretation concerning The Fall and The Imago Dei. The issues are far beyond the Calvinist Tulip and the neo-evangelical misreading of the conflict as between Calvinism and Armenianism; and (3) which supposedly opened the cultural gate of Liberalism by way of The Enlightenment and Scientifically grounded Modernism and its claim to autonomous reason, which is the mantra of postmodern neo-evangelicalism. Fused also with the claim that our heritage is grounded in Baconian “common sense” and the Rationalizing of The Enlightenment (Descartes’ Rationalism was grounded in his claim to autonomy of mathematics)no longer needed the creator of the universe as a foundation for reason and certitude. This was all falsified by Goedel’s Theorem contra the autonomy of mathematics of Russell and Whitehead’s Principia).
In our Postmodern culture Doctrine and Theology are idols, and True Truth, Objectivity and Universality have been replaced by the subjectivity of relevance. All propositional linguistic expressions are idols. Revelation is relational, not linguistic expressions of truth. This is an irrational effort to escape legalism.
The impact of “Deconstructionism” (in its death throes in France but much alive in America—especially in university studies where irrationality plays well) rejects the availability of “authorial intentionality,” therefore the readers or audience is the source of textual meaning.” The issue of relevance appears in the question—what does the text mean to me—now? It is clear that what the Bible asserts is irrelevant to postmodern auditors. Neo evangelicals (Webber, Grenz, McLaren, Stakehouse, claim to believe the Bible but they only espouse a Barthian faith which claims that the community creates the faith, which is pure Gnosticism. The exact opposite of the Scriptures which consistently declare the Christ created the community, while the community creates the alternative post modern Christologies (e.g. African America, Liberation, Feminists – every “biased community creates Christ in its own image” Here postmodernism, revisionist history, anti science and cultural/epistemological relativism is the culmination of Kantian perspectivism.
Idols in the Temple of Relevance are multicultural pluralism, diversity and the Sociology of Knowledge Thesis, which claims that the Social Structures are the origins of diverse “World Views” which are “caged” in Wittgenstein’s “Language Games.” This claims the inseparability of Language and Culture, which is linguistically falsifiable. Therefore, the biblical doctrine of baptism, or anything regarding biblical doctrine, is culturally “caged,” i.e., not universally relevant. Here is the death of Missions and Evangelism! In the postmodern world there is no difference between “It is true that I believe X and whether what I believe is true. This does not play well in the “hard sciences,” but it reigns as sovereign in most humanities departments of the academy and is the essence of postmodern, multicultural education.
Where Post Modernism is the prevailing mode, Christian baptism is irrelevant (or true only for the community of believers). Christian baptism is not dependent on Calvinism (Augustinianism), Armenianism, Lockean Scottish Common Sense rationality, nor is rationality contingent to the Enlightenment of 19th century Positivism.
A biblically grounded worldview rejects both autonomous reason and scientific methodology. Another serious error is the supposed tension between Deduction and Induction. To locate this false dichotomy would entail the history of the Narrative Displacement in the History and Logic of Science which would bring us to the narrative displacement between Aristotle, Newton, Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, Crick, Monad,, prophet of Postmodern scientific relativism of The Copenhagen School, and the bible of Pantheistic efforts to rehabilitate science for postmodern anti science and of The Center of Culture along with Hawking’s Brief History of Time (e.g. Time is a creation; therefore, our creator God is not bound in our four dimensional universe) which leads us directly into the pragmatism (From Darwin and Dewey, of the consumer culture. Pragmatism was to replace the classical epistemologies of Rationalism (all claims to knowledge have their origin and validation within this finite mind) that was supposedly the scientific method, while Empiricism is “open ended” never ending dialogue because there can be no true universal laws of physics on the basis of finite induction. Any scientific investigation and conclusion carries a mega narrative for data selection for laboratory investigation (see my essays on mathematics and scientific theories on the web site Also the relativism of the development of cultural and epistemological relativism, especially in the Social Sciences, e.g. Cultural Anthropology, Psychology, Economics, Historiographical, Hermeneutical, and Linguistic revolutions runs rampant in the academy. This foundational error stems from confusing Description with Explanation, i.e., mere description of alternative cultures are of course relative. Thus we live in the cultural cage, believing that their worldview is true or they could not function, but this is a far cry from claiming that pantheism, i.e., that which is believed as a closed system, is True Truth; it is true that they are true believers—Hindu, Animistic (75% of the world) Buddhist, Shinto,, but that X believes something to be true is a long way from necessarily proving that what is believed is true.
True Truth claims are divisive and here lies the ground of the pragmatic acceptance of postmodern multicultural pluralism in the academy. But there are no postmodern relativists flying our airplanes, practicing medicine, or performing brain surgery. Now what, if anything, does this have to do with the biblical teaching concerning Christian baptism and its significance in our pragmatic seeker-friendly culture? If postmodernism is held to be the case, there can be no rational controversy between alternative “cages of belief.” If the scriptures are “community constructed theological systems,” they are totally contingent to the interpreting community. Therefore, there cannot be any normative theology of baptism or anything/one else, even Christ is socially constructed by the community, at least by the 4th-5th century Christian experience. This is why Webber, talks of Eastern Orthodoxy as normative. The scriptures claim that Christ created the community, not that the community created Christ. The entire programs of modern and post modern biblical criticism and hermeneutics rests on this “relativistic foundation.” The emphasis is no longer on biblical theology, but the Grenz heresy ( claim that the community created the Christ, doctrine divides, loving relationships unify – that is why we live in a totally unified global village! What? Where True Truth is rejected, only power remains for decision making between alternatives. We dare say “Contradictory alternatives” because this would be grounded in The Enlightenment/Modernism and Rationality. Philip Yancey is correct—it is that postmodernism has no “meta narrative to call in question, challenge, or deny any alternatives, if all alternatives are locked in a Wittgensteinian cage. When cross-cultural “cage” communication is imposed, it is not merely fruitless but divisive. The idol of relevance must be brought down. The incarnate God alone can empower us to escape idolatry.
These brief suggestions now must be placed in any discussion of Baptism and our Ultimate Citizenship (note the influence of post modernism on mega churches and their pragmatic agenda—it works, therefore it is true, and God blesses the efforts). We need to hear Neil Postman again for the first time—that we are “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” “We are all called to be prophets in interpreting events from the perspective of faith and under the aspects of eternity, and always with an eye to what we must do, not simply know.” (Oz Guinness) We must always keep a creative balance between Faithfulness and Relevance!
The Authority of Scripture—Nature, Form, and Function

Texts: Colossians 2.11ff; Romans 6.1ff; Galatians 3.26ff.

Throughout our heritage there have been times during which we have affirmed both too much and too little regarding Christian baptism. For over 150 years we have participated in a running debate with the religious world over three important theological issues:
1. The Action of Baptism – whether or not it means sprinkling, pouring, immersion, or any one of the three actions.
2. The Subject of Baptism – whether or not infants and/or adults are the subjects of the biblical invitation to “repent and be baptized every one of you” (Acts 2.38).
3. The Results of Baptism – whether or not it is one of the steps in God’s appointed process for our attaining the ‘forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 2.38) or is it merely a public sign of what has already taken place by our faith in Jesus Christ.
It is vital to note that Romans 6 is specifically the center of the literary structure of Romans 4-8. The unifying theme of this unit of scripture is Justification, e.g. Baptism is a crucial factor in Justification! (Not even a Harvard redactor can remove this “strong” inclusion of the singly most important passage on Baptism in the New Testament. See the book The Waters That Divide by A. Bridge and D. Phypers (IVP, 1977).
A comparison of Paul’s teaching in Colossians 2.11ff. and Romans 6.1ff. will clearly set forth the content of his preaching and teaching, which we here affirm. We must remember two factors: (1) that the passages are not accounts of Paul’s efforts to persuade non believers to be baptized into the body of Christ, and (2) that Paul’s preaching and teaching Christ is inseparably related to His body, the Church. The Scriptures claim that one cannot be a Christian without being a member of Christ’s Church. In these two great scriptures, Paul describes the efficacy of the integration of faith and baptism. “In baptism the baptized is raised through faith.” And this entails—

. . .(1) The unity of the believer with Christ in His suffering of death on the cross. ‘You were circumcised. . .by the s tripping off the body of flesh in Christ’s circumcision’ is brutally candid. All that circumcision stands for, and more, has been fulfilled in the baptized believer through his union with Christ in His passion. The primary significance of baptism is its relating the believer to the once-for-all reconciliation that took place on Golgotha. (2) The unity of the believer with Christ in His rising at the first Easter but participation as an experienced factor in the life of the Christian now. We saw that this conviction underlies the ethical application of Romans 6.4,11: ‘We were buried with Him through baptism. . .that we might walk in newness of life. . . . Reckon yourselves then as dead indeed to sin but living to God in Christ Jesus’ - for this presumes present experience of the resurrection life in Christ; but the lack of clarity on this point left sufficient room for doubt for some to deny it in Romans 6. In the present passage there is no possibility of misunderstanding; the resurrection is a power in the life of the Christian now. (G.P. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1962), pg. 155)

Paul preaches that our unity in the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord provides Christian believers with an Ultimate Citizenship, which in the eyes of the Roman Empire was a treasonable affirmation. To be baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8.16; 19.5; I Corinthians 6.11) was and is a repudiation of Caesar as lord and Roman citizenship as of ultimate value.
In the first century, public religious assembly required an imperial certificate, and in order to gain that certificate meant an affirmation of the subjection to the Empire; the required confession was, “Caesar is Lord” (cf. Matthew 16.16ff.). Idolatrous Rome conquered the world and claimed that its emperors were gods (cf. John 4.5; Acts 17.31; I John 5.5; Revelation 11.15). Even this brief background is adequate to show what baptism meant in the early Church and in the Roman Empire. Baptism into Christ was public, voluntary acts of membership (citizenship) in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was and is:
I. The Public Declaration of a Higher Loyalty and a Higher Obedience:
A. The local congregation of the Church was a visible outpost of God’s cosmic Lordship.

B. Kingdom Citizenship was contingent on radical obedience to the Word and Will of God expressed in the Word incarnate and inscripturated.

II. A Privilege Highly Prized:
A. Most people were subjects (cf. slaves), not citizens.

B. Paul’s defense grounded in this privileged status. . .”I was freeborn;” “with a great sum I obtained this freedom.” (Acts 22.28)

C. Yet Christian Citizenship is higher prized than even Roman citizenship.
III. A Loyalty Not Lightly Affirmed:
A. Paul affirms that “our citizenship (politeuma—conversion is a dimension of the common life of a citizen) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

B. A call to baptism is a call to regeneration and citizenship in His Kingdom. Peter declares on the day of Pentecost, “Repent, and be immersed every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin. . . .” (Acts 2.38) No one can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12.3).

C. Kingdom Citizenship requires loyalty and loyalty requires allegiance. Allegiance entails faithfulness; faithfulness engendered holiness. “. . .Let every one that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (II Timothy 2.19)

D. All believers are by baptism members of Christ and citizens of the Kingdom of God and participants in the body of Christ, His Church “those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” and are thus” more than conquerors.” (Romans 8.37)

In the Graeco-Roman world, men wore the garb of their rank, i.e., their clothing was a visible badge indicating who they were and what their status was. Paul is in all probability referring to Sumptuary laws (cf. dressing above social rank) in Galatians 3.27 as he asserts, “For as many of you have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This clearly refers to marks of rank and citizenship (cf. Matthew 22.1-14, the parable of the Wedding Feast). Christian baptism is the act of membership in our Lord’s royal court. Our baptism is not for the state’s sake, but “for conscience’s sake” (Romans 13.5) – “a good conscience toward God.” (I Peter 3.21)
Dr. James Strauss, Lincoln, IL 62656

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