Tag Archive: Baptism

Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit

In chapter six the authors turn to the role of the Holy Spirit in creating missional communities.  Above all, the Holy Spirit, the source of all life in creation, is the community-forming grace present in missional communities.  “The church owes its origin, its destiny, its structure, its ongoing life, its ministry to the divine Spirit of life, truth, and holiness” (145).  Specifically, the Spirit calls together a community for holy living, mutual support, and sacrificial service.  Through the creation, cultivation and sustenance of the Spirit missional communities form a culture “radical hope” for a “new way of life that has become a reality in Jesus Christ” (153).

How is a Spirit-formed community sustained? By the Spirit in ecclesial practices (prayer, fellowship, singing praise).  The authors claim that the strength of such practices comes as a result of the Spirit’s historical, communal, experiential, and dynamic presence in the life of the community.  First, the authors point to the ecclesial practice of baptism, in which persons are  “incorporated into the new humanity of God’s reign” (159).  Baptism is a public declaration of a new identity and a transformed way of life.  One’s baptismal formation bounds the person’s identity as a “sent” person of God’s mission.  Likewise, the ecclesial practice of Eucharist sustains and nourishes the baptized community in their mission.  Through the sharing of everyday elements (bread/wine) around common table (companionship), the community models for the world the “sharing and receiving the basic necessities of life” (166).

Non-sacramental practices also form and sustain missional communities.  Through reconciliation we participate in acts of accountability, repentance, honesty, forgiveness, and love.  In discernment we learn to listen, hear, test, and plan our participation in God’s mission together in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Through hospitality we exhibit peace, cross boundaries, and open ourselves to others.

As the authors describe it, the missional community’s ecclesial practices are the antidote to the competitive and alienating individualism of the world.  In these practices the church is not just one more civic institution offering religious goods.  The church is a community that takes time to be gracious, reaching out to invite fellow human beings into a relationship with God.

I greatly appreciate the authors’ emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in mission.  Often it seems evangelism is reduced to proclaiming Jesus or showing God’s love.  Evangelism is something we, Christians, do.  As a community of people we walk with the Spirit, are lead by the Spirit, and sow the Spirit so that it (now us!) might manifest the fruit of the Spirit (147, Galatians 5.22).  Evangelism is a Trinitarian endeavor.  We are not alone.  We worship and proclaim one God in three persons.  Just as evangelism requires the whole of our being, it also involves the fullness of God.

This is the sixth review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.


Stained glass window at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church (Downers Grove, IL)

The logic of discipleship

In chapter three Jones argues that Christian discipleship is the core of any evangelistic outreach.  He believes that evangelism is the part of the church’s mission that seeks to help persons enter into Christian discipleship.  Jones contrasts his emphasis on discipleship with William Abraham’s focus on evangelism as initiation into the kingdom of God (The Logic of Evangelism, 1989).

Abraham claims that evangelism seeks to initiate persons into God’s saving work, the reign of God.  The Triune God first initiated this mission, and Christians are called to evangelize others into the mission.  Discipleship occurs after initiation into the kingdom.  Naturally, Abraham believes that the church plays an active role in the initiation process.

Jones counters Abraham on several key points.  First, Jones argues that while humans respond to the reign of God, it is not the reign of God into which they are initiated.  Rather,  humans are initiated into disciples after a faithful response to the reign of God.  Discipleship, not entry into the reign of God, is the aim of evangelism.  Second, Jones critiques Abraham’s stance on evangelism and initiation outside the church.  Jones believes that Abraham’s view establishes a position in which God only acts, or initiates, with the help of Christians in the Church.  Jones suggests that Abraham narrows the scope of God’s reign by limiting it to the church’s ministry.  The reign of God is wider than the ministry of the church.  Jones writes, Abraham “limits God’s sovereign action on earth to be no larger than the ministry of the church” (70).

Jones rearticulates the logic of evangelism as initiation into Christian discipleship in Wesleyan soteriological terms.  First, evangelistic outreach calls people to repentance, seeking ways in which God is already working to turn around others.  He writes, “In modern evangelism, one of the most crucial tasks of discernment is to discover the ways in which a non-Christians might be responding already to God’s grace” (79).  Additionally, justification comes as the point of entry into the Christian life where one’s relationship with God changes.  Jones highlights one’s baptism and cognitive commitment (intellectual acceptance of the gospel) as marks of justification.

Finally, Jones examines sanctification within evangelistic outreach.  He argues that from the moment of justification, sanctification begins through worship, spiritual disciplines, formation (conversion), witness, spiritual gifts, and faith-sharing.  Through a congregation – a gathered community of believers in which persons live the Christian life together – sanctifying grace works to perfect believers in love of God and neighbor.

Throughout Jones’s discussion of initiation and discipleship he could have devoted more time to baptism.  He quickly gives a nod to baptism’s role in discipleship, but his thought in this area appears short-changed.  It only seems appropriate to connect our baptismal vows with evangelism.  As baptized persons we are initiated into God’s family (Church Universal).  Also, through the water and the Spirit we are incorporated into God’s saving mission in the world.  To speak of our evangelistic motivation without tying that motivation to baptism seems to not fully portray our baptismal identity and calling.

This is the third review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Faith because of us…Faith in spite of us…

Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism provides an interesting, helpful, and insightful angle for the study and practice of mission and evangelism.  From the start, Brueggemann identifies attitudes towards evangelism from both ends of the “conservative/liberal” spectrum.  He claims that traditional conservative approaches to evangelism are nothing more than a reduction of biblical “news” that Christians “should/ought/must” proclaim.  On the other hand, liberals, he argues, have become so embarrassed by the word “evangelism” they cower in fear at the very utterance of the word and would rather talk about “social action.”  In his work Brueggemann holds together these concepts in his evangelistic model of “announcing good news” (conservative evangelism) and “appropriating the good news” (liberal social action).

Throughout Biblical Perspectives Brueggemann uses a copious amount of scripture.  His exegesis and interpretation of scripture is brilliant and enlightening.  He views the biblical text not as a handbook, but as an articulation of an imaginative model of reality into which we are invited to participate.  Specifically, Brueggemann’s ability to draw upon the Old Testament for evangelistic insights is wonderful.  His use of Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, the Psalms, and the prophets broadens the scope of the biblical witness and model of evangelism.  His illumination of the OT pushes the reader to imagine and explore evangelism beyond Matthew 28.

However, Brueggemann does not neglect the New Testament.  In fact, he offers a beautiful reading of the importance of baptism.  He argues that baptism is a subversive act in which “the claims of the gospel of God’s hidden, decisive victory are fully voiced” (45).  Through baptism we are embraced and incorporated in to God’s story, putting away the former self (Eph. 4.22-24).  The putting away of other gods, other desires, and other selves, Brueggemann suggests, is to totally commit one’s self to God.  This commitment of self and a desire to hear other’s commitment is the drama of evangelism.

Brueggemann calls all Christians back to the canonical witness for evangelism.  He invites us to imagine ourselves as part of a larger, cosmic story, a story in which we are not fully in control.  Brueggemann’s invitation for all to participate in the urgent, on-going work of evangelism is accessible and practical.  It successfully moves our hope for the future of evangelism beyond our own schemes and strategies and into the heart of a God who has already done great things.  Brueggemann reminds us that when faith does arise, sometimes it is because of us and sometimes it is in spite of us.

This is the fifth review in a five-part series looking at Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism.

Flannery O’Connor & Preaching

In “Novelist and Believer” in Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners, she writes:

“When I write a novel in which the central action is a baptism, I am very well aware that for a majority of my readers, baptism is a meaningless rite, and so in my novel I have to see that this baptism carries enough awe and mystery to jar the reader into some kind of emotional recognition of its significance.  To this end, I have to bend the whole novel– its language, its structure, its action.  I have to make the reader feel, in his bones if nowhere else, that something is going on here that counts.”

Wow!  What powerful words.

While O’Connor is speaking of her writing approach and technique, I wonder if her desire “to make it meaningful” does not also apply to sermons.

The Baptism motif aside…O’Connor’s words speak directly to the preacher in me.  I want to say something meaningful.  I want to my congregation to sense the importance of God’s words.  I long for them to “feel it in their bones.”  I yearn for them to realize that “something is going on here that counts.”  Inciting this mood is both the challenge and the reward of preaching.

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for this week:

Genesis 1:1-5

Psalm 29

Acts 19:1-7

Mark 1:4-11

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