I always appreciate people who present a familiar image in a creatively different way – turning our usual ways of viewing things inside-out, upside-down. In the recent so-called Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (I say “so-called”, because we Christians are not even united enough to agree on the same week to pray for unity!) Rev. Roger Ferlo (president of the Bexley Seabury Federation) reflected on turning our common way of speaking about baptism (which, surely, is one of the uniting things for Christians) inside-out:
Baptism is not necessarily a rite of inclusion, nor perhaps should it be. As Bexley Seabury Board member Bishop Tom Breidenthal has argued, we should learn to regard baptism not as a rite of inclusion but as a rite of expulsion. That word expulsion comes as something of a shock. Embracing our common baptism is not about finding a peaceful center where we can all feel comfortable and friendly and polite. To embrace our common baptism is to allow the Spirit to blast our centers apart. Jesus was baptized by John, and immediately the Spirit expelled him into the wilderness. Nicodemus wants to follow Jesus, but to his horror he’s told he needs to be expelled from the womb a second time. Andrew and Peter, James and John, abandoned the everyday world they knew, expelled by the Spirit into the presence of this strange man Jesus, following him even to Calvary, leaving a puzzled and scandalized father Zebedee to ponder his lonely fate in the dust of their sudden departure.
The baptized community is not about inviting people in, which is what our ecumenical discussions try so hard to do, and to such frustrating and feeble effect. Baptism is not about widening the circle of insiders and distinguishing them from outsiders. Baptism makes us all outsiders, expelled from the center to inhabit the margins, driven by the Spirit out of our places of safety—whether it’s our fishing boats or our churches, our racial prejudices or our economic comforts—to make common cause with the poor and the isolated, the refugee and the captive. One reason we may have entered an ecumenical winter is that there has just been too much talk of safety, or simply too much talk. Perhaps in this troubled season we might just let the Spirit empty us of churchy eloquence so that the cross, that ultimate sign of expulsion, might be revealed in all its power to save. Perhaps it’s time for our churches in their ecumenical discussions to stop jockeying for position at the foot of the cross, and instead for the sake of all outsiders empty ourselves of our denominational certainties so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
Read the full text here.
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