The topic of this post might be denominationally narrow, but I think it will illustrate and make a general point for everyone.

I've been writing about baptism all week, and it caused me to reflect on baptism in the Churches of Christ, my faith tradition. Traditionally, Churches of Christ have said that if you have not been immersed for the remission of sins you have not been properly baptized. And more, that if you haven't been properly baptized, then you haven't been saved. This teaching created a sectarian impulse within the CoC: We, with our "proper" understanding of baptism, were the only ones who were truly saved.

Again, this might be a narrow issue from my faith tradition, but I expect most readers can identify. Most Christian traditions have some issue or other that separates the elect from the lost, some issue that would involve breaking fellowship between fellow Christians, from baptism, to gender roles, to sexual ethics, to evolution, to beliefs about hell. And on and on.

However, as I've written about before, a large number of Churches of Christ have moved away from our historical sectarianism to embrace an ecumenical position regarding other Christian traditions. That is, you might baptize and understand it differently than we do, but we're all brothers and sisters in Christ.

That's been a welcome change in the Churches of Christ, but it has thrown our theology of baptism into some confusion. Specifically, if baptism is no longer a bright red line separating the Saved from the Lost then what, exactly, does baptism mean?

As best I can tell within the ecumenical Churches of Christ, and my own church is an example, no one really knows.

What seems to be happening is this. Since our understanding of baptism has been such a source of sectarian judgmentalism in our history, we've watered down the importance of baptism. To be more inclusive and ecumenical, baptism now means less for us, almost to the point of baptism being optional and unnecessary.

Again, while this is a specific example from a particular faith tradition I think it illustrates what happens in a lot of churches as they grow more "liberal" or "progressive." Wanting to be more inclusive and welcoming we water things down to make them mean less and less.

The worry is that if we make things important they become necessary, and if they become necessary they become lines in the sand that create rifts of fellowship, locations of judgmentalism and exclusion. So in my tradition, for example, the worry is that if we start making baptism mean more we'll drift back toward our traditional sectarian stance. And since we don't want that, we just downplay the importance of baptism. 

And that brings me to the issue I really wanted to think about.

Is believing less the only path toward being inclusive? That is, is the only way to cultivate a welcoming and hospitable posture toward others to hold your beliefs so lightly that, in the end, you really don't believe anything anymore?

Phrased differently, is there a way in believing more that doesn't lead us back into judgmentalism and sectarianism?

I've been thinking about baptism a lot this week, especially how it was practiced among the early Christians. And if you've read all the posts this week I'm sure you've been struck by all the embellishments the early Christians tacked on to baptism. Ritually, liturgically and symbolically early Christian baptism meant more than it does today in most churches.

Seriously, if you were to jump into a time machine to go back and get yourself baptized in the early church it would be the biggest experience of your life. Bigger than your graduation. Bigger than your wedding. Bigger than any party you've ever thrown or had.

And what that suggests to me is that there are ways to make baptism mean more without that meaning we have to retreat back to fundamentalism and sectarianism. Specifically, baptism can mean more experientially, through more liturgy, more ritual, more deliberateness, more pageantry, more community, more celebration. Baptism could become, as it was in the early church, the biggest event of your life.

I want to suggest that there is a way to make Christian beliefs, practices, and rituals mean more and more and more without that becoming sectarian and fundamentalist. I think the tendency has been for things to mean less and less and less, to the point that anything particularly or distinctively Christian about ourselves becomes a point of embarrassment. We keep diluting and diluting our faith until it becomes so watered down it holds no interest for anyone, ourselves included.

What I'm suggesting is that instead of being increasingly bland, innocuous, and colorless in the public sphere, why don't we become quirkier and more flamboyant? Why don't we get into the business of creating ritual and pageantry that makes weddings pale by comparison? Why can't baptism be the most profound, mysterious, evocative, emotional and meaningful experience of your life? Why couldn't an invitation to a Christian baptism be the strangest, hottest ticket in town?

Why couldn't it--all of it--mean more?

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