Thursdays' USA Today had an article about the declining observance of baptism entitled, "Rite of baptism trickles away" (who thinks up these newspaper headlines?). I am sure that this is breaking news, and only coincidentally published during Passion-tide (just like the Gospel of Judas and ABC's Ten Commandments miniseries; when are the mass media going to realize that we Christians are totally on to this whole banal "timing" ploy?). I have two remarks about this article:
1. The article insinuates that the declining baptisms in the SBC is attributed to "the ultra-conservative leadership takeover." That's cute. What about the Methodists and Lutherans? It's their "extreme-ultra-hyper-'not-even-Christian' liberal takeover," right? Wrong. For the mainline denominations, it's merely their struggling "with a contemporary culture that rejects the very idea that humanity is born into sin or that parents should steer children's spiritual development." You know it's funny–the word "liberal" doesn't even appear in the article, but, for the SBC, it's not just "conservative–no, it's ultra conservative. Cute.
2. I love the end of the article's little section on "non-traditional paths to God." Evidently, "seeker" churches were part of the reason the amount of baptisms was declining–for them baptism really didn't matter. Emergent icon Brian McLaren explains, "We focused so much on the personal decision, the big deal of turning your life over to Christ, that the public, external identification — baptism — was less important in practice." Hmmm. This kind of reasoning, that the outward signs don't matter compared to the "personal" sincerity of the individual, reminds me a great deal of the "worship" debate.
But then McLaren sees "change in the air" (warning: this is a bad sign). It seems that fellow emergent Rob Bell (isn't he a fundamentalist?), "who Christianity Today once said 'puts the hip in discipleship'," is baptizing a whole bunch of people. Ummm . . . "Hip" . . . in "discipleship"? PLEEEEEEEEASE.
Isn't that what baptism is about, repenting and following Jesus Christ, not the "hip" world? Doesn't baptism signify regeneration? And why, praytell, must we even be regenerated, or "born again," if not to die, in part, to the world (Gal 6). To borrow the words of the well-known hipster the Apostle Paul,
"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).
Somehow I just don't think that "newness of life" part matches with "being hip." News flash for CT: God is not hip.
And why does the "Hipster" Dude Rob Bell say all these people are being baptized in his Mar's Hill Church? Because "people are desperate for something ancient and lasting and meaningful." Okay. That explains it. This totally matches up with the reasons the New Testament gives for the early Christians' being baptized. Not as a sign of their new life in Christ, not as a sign of forgiveness of sins, not in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not as identification with Jesus Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection, not as a sign of the "circumcision made without hands," not as a sign of the salvation God has worked in us, but as a cutsy kind of amusement-park-novelty, where baptism is something "cool" and "neat." Don't bother telling me what the "meaning" behind the "meaningful" is, just as long as it is "meaningful." "Lasting" in the sense of . . . ? Oh, yeah, "ancient," like an old fertility rite is ancient. Cool. This matches perfectly with my sense of "spirituality."