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You could always cheer things up a bit by writing about baptism. Your comment on my infant baptism thread was outstanding, and deserves better than being lost on a thread that will probably get “buried” quite quickly. :-)

Did anyone try that test on the bible?

It works fine with Dutch blog’s: as long as they don’t use (bad) English words, they are rated as ‘G’.

But clearly Alastair, when you publish about a dead seal and that sort of thing, you cross a number of lines :)

John, you’ve just led to me being sacked from my BHT resident theologian position! ;) I guess that it is one of those ‘one strike and you are out’ type things.

I had no intention on blogging the comment. Perhaps sometime in the future I might work some of the comment into a post.

To be honest with you, I am a little surprised by Michael’s reaction to my comment. He writes:

There is a reason that David Wright singles out Scottish Presbyterianism for its particularly vociferous defense of infant baptism and rhetorical flourishes in placing infant baptism in the dominant position throughout Christian history and in denouncing Baptists with particular animus. Alastair’s comment could be exhibit “A.”

I’m sorry, but is he reading the same comment as I wrote? In the comment I spoke of a ’significant change’ in the Church’s experience of Baptism, of an ‘ambiguous’ historical record and of ‘theological confusion’ surrounding the practice. I strongly reject any argument from Church history that presents a straightforward Church-wide consensus on the theology and practice of infant Baptism from day one.

The practice has a very complicated history and in a recent post I commented on certain aspects of this history and argued that God has quite possibly given the Church Anabaptists and Baptists in order to bring back to its consciousness certain biblical truths that had been forgotten due to the history of infant Baptism. I also believe and have argued that there is a general evolution from a form of Baptism in which mature faith is prominent to a form of infant Baptism that obscures this. I just don’t believe that this development is a development from a situation in which no infant Baptisms were practiced.

If this is what Michael regards as the classic example of a ‘vociferous’ argument for infant Baptism from Church history I suspect that he is just dismissing any paedobaptist reading of the evidence altogether.

The arguments from people like Wright are helpful in many respects; I agree with much that he has to say. However, the material that we have to go on is quite limited and there are a number of possible readings of the historical data. I am unpersuaded by the reading that people like Michael advocate.

The later part of my comment was a theological argument, rather than an argument from Church history. ‘Baptist-bashing’ was not the purpose. Rather, my point is that the whole ‘faith-Baptism’ argument is problematic when one appreciates that the definition of ‘faith’ in terms of which Baptists operate is hardly a self-evident or neutral one. The connection between faith and Baptism is very important, but faith may well be a considerably broader than Baptists generally conceive it to be.

It is no accident that Anabaptism and Baptist theology arise alongside the rise of the modern notion of the autonomous individual. In the past the person would be defined far more in terms of their place within the community. The individual was not regarded as the source of their own values and identity. Once the modern notion of the autonomous individual arises, however, the practice of paedobaptism has to be radically reconsidered. Even among those who did not reject the practice altogether, the understanding of the practice went through significant changes.

The point about nature and supernature is quite straightforward. There is a dualism that is found in much Baptist thought and practice in which Christian life and nurture is overlaid upon natural life and nurture.

If man had not sinned in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve would not have had to wait for their children to make a voluntary decision in order to enter into the life in fellowship with God in the Garden. God would not relate to their children as autonomous individuals, but as those whose identities were formed in communion. Their children would be raised, not as people whose identity was in question until they made their own decision, but as children of God. God is a friend of the family; nature and grace do not run on separate ‘tracks’. Grace restores and perfects the tracks of nature.

Baptist theology, however, operates in terms of a voluntaristic understanding of religion, which results in an alienation of natural life (much of which is radically unvoluntaristic in character), from the redeemed life of the new creation. The religious identity of the Baptist child is generally in question until they arrive at their own personal decision for Christ (and I speak from plenty of personal experience here).

The Church, as conceived by Baptist theology, is generally understood to be comprised of those who have voluntarily confessed personal faith in Christ. If this is a ‘new humanity’, it must be acknowledged that it looks quite different from the original humanity that God created. A voluntary conception of the Church makes the Church more like a ‘Christian club’ than a genuine new society that takes all of the fabric of humanity into it. How such a community can be a genuine alternative and challenge to the empire is not clear.

Also, if Michael had read my comment more carefully, he would have seen that I nowhere deny that Baptists believe that ‘God is truly forming a new restored humanity in the Church, drawing all of the fabric of human life into His kingdom.’ My point is that this claim is inconsistent with the theological basis on which they reject the practice of paedobaptism.

Alastair: sorry to get you fired. ;-) Actually, I don’t think Michael’s fired you as such - look on it more as what governments call “mid-term blues”. I’m sure he’ll be back voting for you when the only other candidate is Phil Johnson…

PS: do you know anything about this Beasley-Murray chap? The stuff Michael’s quoted from him appears to take a surprisingly “high” view of baptism.

Though, equally, I am sceptical of the extent to which such views have filtered down into church practice and individual experience.

While I was writing my thesis on Yoder and O’Donovan I came across something in Yoder that I found interesting; at the time I just left a note in the margin, but I wonder if it would be profitable to mention now.

Here’s a longish quote from Yoder’s work, The Original Revolution:

But what then is Jesus to do if He rejects at the same time the established order of the Herodians and the holy, violent revolution with which the Zealots sought to change that order: both the outward emigration of the Essenes and the inward emigration of the Pharisees? We need not meditate long to see that this question is our own.

To answer our question as it has been sharpened by a survey of available social strategies in Jesus’ time and in ours, we must look back to what God had been doing or trying to do for a long, long time. The Bible story really begins with Abraham, the father of those who believe. Abraham was called to get up and leave Chaldea, the cultural and religious capital of the known world in his age, to go he knew not where, to find he knew not what. He could not know when or whether or how he could again have a home, a land of his own. And yet as he rose to follow this inscrutable promise, he was told that it was through him that the nations of the world would be blessed. In response Abraham promised his God that he would lead a different kind of life: a life different from the cultured and the religious peoples, whether urban or nomadic, among whom he was to make his pilgrim way.

“From the rock heights I see them, I watch them from the rounded hills. I see a people that dwells alone, that has not made itself one with the nations.” – Numbers 23:9

Yet in that apartness how present!

This is the original revolution; the creation of a distinct community with its own deviant set of values and its coherent way of incarnating them. Today it might be called and underground movement, or a political party, or an infiltration team, or a cell movement. The sociologists would call it an intentional community. Then they were called “Hebrews,” a title which probably originally meant, “the people who crossed over.”

Abraham’s children did not always keep His promises, but God remained steadfast in His loyalty to them. His promises of righteousness to be brought to the nations through His servant Israel were from year to year reiterated, reinforced, clarified, even though the likelihood that the Israelites would become the instrument of their fulfillment seemed less and less evident. These were the promises, Christians believed, which Jesus came to keep.

Jesus did again what God had done in calling Abraham or Moses or Gideon or Samuel: He gathered His people around His word and His will. Jesus created around Himself a society like no other society mankind had ever seen:

1. This was a voluntary society: you could not be born into it. You could come into it only by repenting and freely pledging allegiance to its king. It was a society with no second generation members.

I find it highly ironic that Yoder misses the fact that in all these “intentional” communities that existed before Jesus, the children of those people who were called, gathered, etc. were always considered part of that intentional community. Circumcision enlisted infants in the priesthood; the Psalms talk of infant faith.

I find it very ironic because this is basically the main theological reason behind Yoder’s opposition to infant baptism. (And surely, those baptists today who have recognized the importance of community in God’s new creation are indebted to Yoder’s works.) And yet, even while going to the point of saying Jesus fulfilled this Abrahamic promise and calling, he immediately says that the community of Jesus is a community with “no second generation members”.

Now, either God forgot the fact that (apparently) infants can’t be part of an intentional community in the Old Testament, or something else is going on here.

I was also a little surprised that Michael took your comments so negatively; surely he can’t get mad at you for saying that baptist theology is inconsistent. To anything else you’d have to become a baptist.

Ah well.

John,
Beasley-Murray wrote Baptism in the New Testament, a book which is rather good in many respects. He writes in defence of the Baptist position and advocates quite a high view of Baptism.

The reference to Beasley-Murray suggests to me that Travis and Michael might be misunderstanding my comments slightly. I do not deny that Baptists can (and a number do) hold to high doctrines of Baptism. I have read Beasley-Murray and others. Nor do I deny that some Baptists strongly resist certain forms of individualism. Some of the most vocal communitarians are anti-paedobaptists. [That said, even Baptist groups that are very communitarian and anti-individualism in their thinking tend to capitulate to another form of individualism in their voluntaristic emphasis.]

The problem is that, high views of Baptism and doctrines of the Church among Baptists only serve to make my critique of anti-paedobaptism more pressing. If Baptism is truly our entry into the new humanity, are we saying that infants are not included in God’s new humanity? If the Church is a voluntaristic community then it is a community that leaves much of the humanity that God created outside of the redeemed community. This, it seems to me, is a serious problem.

There are ways in which this problem is mitigated to some extent by Baptists. For some a low, merely functional, ecclesiology is adopted and it is presumed that all below some ‘age of accountability’ go to heaven if they die. Another possible way to mitigate this is to see the infant children of believers as being in a sort of catechumenate state, awaiting Baptism. They belong to the community of faith and have a right and title to Baptism, but they need to wait until they have been prepared for it. Perhaps this is not too different from the sort of position held by Tertullian.

I would have less problem with such a position. It is not actually that far removed from the position of those who resist infant and child communion. There is a sort of distinction made within the Church between two levels of membership. The problem that I see with this is that it doesn’t seem to be biblical. There is no justification for a two-tier Church (baptized and catechumens, communing and non-communing). The pre-baptismal (or pre-communing) state is never seen as a state where one hangs around for any period of time. It is a liminal state that one passes through relatively quickly.

Andrew,
Thanks for that quote. It is interesting. I suspect that people like Yoder really recognize the significance of the voluntaristic communities that one finds in Scripture, whilst failing to appreciate the way that these communities function as ‘churches within the Church’. The Scriptures never abstract ‘intentional’ and ‘voluntaristic’ communities from the life of the wider community, which includes many who could not belong to the voluntaristic community for various reasons.

When, for example, Jesus forms a community around Himself in the gospels, it is a more voluntaristic community, formed predominantly of adult male disciples. However, this group of disciples was not the same as the Church that would later be formed. The Church has the commited mature disciples of Jesus’ original followers at its heart, whilst including many that did not and could not belong to this group.

Al,

Though I agree with you, it might be helpful to clarify the distinction between a two-tier church and a church-within-a-church idea.

Andrew,
In answer to your question, the ‘church-within-the-Church’ concept that I am speaking of is a community within the larger community, committed to a life of common faithfulness as a witness, pattern and service to the larger community that it is part of. In an unfaithful larger community (like Israel in the days of Elijah and Elisha), this smaller community can faithfully preserve the wisdom and identity of the larger society, as the larger society is in serious declension. The smaller community does not rob the larger community of its identity, but bears witness to the larger community and is faithful for the sake of the wider community.

In other times the ‘church-within-the-Church’ could be a monastic community, commited to a common life, not as an alternative to the larger Church, but within the larger Church and for its sake. Such groups generally provide a pattern of faithfulness that the wider Church can aspire to. Ideally the small ‘church’ will become increasingly unnecessary as its concerns and wisdom are fed into the wider Church.

The smaller church is a sort of prophetic community, fulfilling the prophetic task of internal critique within the Church. It is not a substitute for the Church.

A two-tier Church is different. A two-tier Church has different levels of membership. A ‘church-within-the-Church’ is not an extra level of membership, but is a matter of part of the Church’s membership modelling faithfulness for the sake of other members. The monk, for instance, should have no higher level of membership in the Church than the average layman.

BTW, for anyone confused by the above discussion, the comment that started this whole discussion off can be found here.

I got a PG rating because I used the word ‘dick’ (Gaffin). Oh dear me….

BTW, for some reason, your blog jumbles up when viewing via the Mac OSX version of Firefox. Everything that it’s embedded gets hung up. Of course, it’s easy to work around…because it looks great in Safari.

I thought I would also be an NC17 due to many discussions of death, but it seems mine only warrant an R.

Genisis (KJV) alone is rated NC-17. Apparently, the act of breastfeeding babies is also a topic that the young should not be confronted with…

My blog is rated G. That must certainly mean blog death. I should throw in some gratuitous nudity and profanity to boost my rating. Maybe a gunfight. Maybe more discussion of the views of N.T. Wright (and adversaria links).

I’m skeptical about that ratings thingummy. I tried it on a webpage of mine that include the words “dangerous,” “perverse,” “wanking,” “misogyny,” “masturbation,” “decadence,” and “pornography” and it still gave it a G rating!

Hi Alastair,

I made a response to your first post on ecumenism, a ways below (dealing with one particular point that interests and perplexes me). I just wanted to make sure you were aware of it. As per my usual custom, I posted my reply on my blog, and anyone is welcome to come discuss the matter. I hope some will.

Thanks for your continuing excellent writing.

Talking about death is one thing; faking your own death is another. Have you nothing to post about? Your fans are getting restless.

Fear not, I am not dead. However, for reasons that I had not entirely foreseen, this blog will probably be very quiet over the next few months. I might post some update soon, explaining why.

You should get more guest posters.

Michael,
Yes, you are right. If you or anyone else is interested in guest-posting, please contact me.

I think alot about death but seldom talk or blog it. Perhaps, i should too :)



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You could always cheer things up a bit by writing about baptism. Your comment on my infant baptism thread was outstanding, and deserves better than being lost on a thread that will probably get “buried” quite quickly. :-)

Did anyone try that test on the bible?

It works fine with Dutch blog’s: as long as they don’t use (bad) English words, they are rated as ‘G’.

But clearly Alastair, when you publish about a dead seal and that sort of thing, you cross a number of lines :)

John, you’ve just led to me being sacked from my BHT resident theologian position! ;) I guess that it is one of those ‘one strike and you are out’ type things.

I had no intention on blogging the comment. Perhaps sometime in the future I might work some of the comment into a post.

To be honest with you, I am a little surprised by Michael’s reaction to my comment. He writes:

There is a reason that David Wright singles out Scottish Presbyterianism for its particularly vociferous defense of infant baptism and rhetorical flourishes in placing infant baptism in the dominant position throughout Christian history and in denouncing Baptists with particular animus. Alastair’s comment could be exhibit “A.”

I’m sorry, but is he reading the same comment as I wrote? In the comment I spoke of a ’significant change’ in the Church’s experience of Baptism, of an ‘ambiguous’ historical record and of ‘theological confusion’ surrounding the practice. I strongly reject any argument from Church history that presents a straightforward Church-wide consensus on the theology and practice of infant Baptism from day one.

The practice has a very complicated history and in a recent post I commented on certain aspects of this history and argued that God has quite possibly given the Church Anabaptists and Baptists in order to bring back to its consciousness certain biblical truths that had been forgotten due to the history of infant Baptism. I also believe and have argued that there is a general evolution from a form of Baptism in which mature faith is prominent to a form of infant Baptism that obscures this. I just don’t believe that this development is a development from a situation in which no infant Baptisms were practiced.

If this is what Michael regards as the classic example of a ‘vociferous’ argument for infant Baptism from Church history I suspect that he is just dismissing any paedobaptist reading of the evidence altogether.

The arguments from people like Wright are helpful in many respects; I agree with much that he has to say. However, the material that we have to go on is quite limited and there are a number of possible readings of the historical data. I am unpersuaded by the reading that people like Michael advocate.

The later part of my comment was a theological argument, rather than an argument from Church history. ‘Baptist-bashing’ was not the purpose. Rather, my point is that the whole ‘faith-Baptism’ argument is problematic when one appreciates that the definition of ‘faith’ in terms of which Baptists operate is hardly a self-evident or neutral one. The connection between faith and Baptism is very important, but faith may well be a considerably broader than Baptists generally conceive it to be.

It is no accident that Anabaptism and Baptist theology arise alongside the rise of the modern notion of the autonomous individual. In the past the person would be defined far more in terms of their place within the community. The individual was not regarded as the source of their own values and identity. Once the modern notion of the autonomous individual arises, however, the practice of paedobaptism has to be radically reconsidered. Even among those who did not reject the practice altogether, the understanding of the practice went through significant changes.

The point about nature and supernature is quite straightforward. There is a dualism that is found in much Baptist thought and practice in which Christian life and nurture is overlaid upon natural life and nurture.

If man had not sinned in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve would not have had to wait for their children to make a voluntary decision in order to enter into the life in fellowship with God in the Garden. God would not relate to their children as autonomous individuals, but as those whose identities were formed in communion. Their children would be raised, not as people whose identity was in question until they made their own decision, but as children of God. God is a friend of the family; nature and grace do not run on separate ‘tracks’. Grace restores and perfects the tracks of nature.

Baptist theology, however, operates in terms of a voluntaristic understanding of religion, which results in an alienation of natural life (much of which is radically unvoluntaristic in character), from the redeemed life of the new creation. The religious identity of the Baptist child is generally in question until they arrive at their own personal decision for Christ (and I speak from plenty of personal experience here).

The Church, as conceived by Baptist theology, is generally understood to be comprised of those who have voluntarily confessed personal faith in Christ. If this is a ‘new humanity’, it must be acknowledged that it looks quite different from the original humanity that God created. A voluntary conception of the Church makes the Church more like a ‘Christian club’ than a genuine new society that takes all of the fabric of humanity into it. How such a community can be a genuine alternative and challenge to the empire is not clear.

Also, if Michael had read my comment more carefully, he would have seen that I nowhere deny that Baptists believe that ‘God is truly forming a new restored humanity in the Church, drawing all of the fabric of human life into His kingdom.’ My point is that this claim is inconsistent with the theological basis on which they reject the practice of paedobaptism.

Alastair: sorry to get you fired. ;-) Actually, I don’t think Michael’s fired you as such - look on it more as what governments call “mid-term blues”. I’m sure he’ll be back voting for you when the only other candidate is Phil Johnson…

PS: do you know anything about this Beasley-Murray chap? The stuff Michael’s quoted from him appears to take a surprisingly “high” view of baptism.

Though, equally, I am sceptical of the extent to which such views have filtered down into church practice and individual experience.

While I was writing my thesis on Yoder and O’Donovan I came across something in Yoder that I found interesting; at the time I just left a note in the margin, but I wonder if it would be profitable to mention now.

Here’s a longish quote from Yoder’s work, The Original Revolution:

But what then is Jesus to do if He rejects at the same time the established order of the Herodians and the holy, violent revolution with which the Zealots sought to change that order: both the outward emigration of the Essenes and the inward emigration of the Pharisees? We need not meditate long to see that this question is our own.

To answer our question as it has been sharpened by a survey of available social strategies in Jesus’ time and in ours, we must look back to what God had been doing or trying to do for a long, long time. The Bible story really begins with Abraham, the father of those who believe. Abraham was called to get up and leave Chaldea, the cultural and religious capital of the known world in his age, to go he knew not where, to find he knew not what. He could not know when or whether or how he could again have a home, a land of his own. And yet as he rose to follow this inscrutable promise, he was told that it was through him that the nations of the world would be blessed. In response Abraham promised his God that he would lead a different kind of life: a life different from the cultured and the religious peoples, whether urban or nomadic, among whom he was to make his pilgrim way.

“From the rock heights I see them, I watch them from the rounded hills. I see a people that dwells alone, that has not made itself one with the nations.” – Numbers 23:9

Yet in that apartness how present!

This is the original revolution; the creation of a distinct community with its own deviant set of values and its coherent way of incarnating them. Today it might be called and underground movement, or a political party, or an infiltration team, or a cell movement. The sociologists would call it an intentional community. Then they were called “Hebrews,” a title which probably originally meant, “the people who crossed over.”

Abraham’s children did not always keep His promises, but God remained steadfast in His loyalty to them. His promises of righteousness to be brought to the nations through His servant Israel were from year to year reiterated, reinforced, clarified, even though the likelihood that the Israelites would become the instrument of their fulfillment seemed less and less evident. These were the promises, Christians believed, which Jesus came to keep.

Jesus did again what God had done in calling Abraham or Moses or Gideon or Samuel: He gathered His people around His word and His will. Jesus created around Himself a society like no other society mankind had ever seen:

1. This was a voluntary society: you could not be born into it. You could come into it only by repenting and freely pledging allegiance to its king. It was a society with no second generation members.

I find it highly ironic that Yoder misses the fact that in all these “intentional” communities that existed before Jesus, the children of those people who were called, gathered, etc. were always considered part of that intentional community. Circumcision enlisted infants in the priesthood; the Psalms talk of infant faith.

I find it very ironic because this is basically the main theological reason behind Yoder’s opposition to infant baptism. (And surely, those baptists today who have recognized the importance of community in God’s new creation are indebted to Yoder’s works.) And yet, even while going to the point of saying Jesus fulfilled this Abrahamic promise and calling, he immediately says that the community of Jesus is a community with “no second generation members”.

Now, either God forgot the fact that (apparently) infants can’t be part of an intentional community in the Old Testament, or something else is going on here.

I was also a little surprised that Michael took your comments so negatively; surely he can’t get mad at you for saying that baptist theology is inconsistent. To anything else you’d have to become a baptist.

Ah well.

John,
Beasley-Murray wrote Baptism in the New Testament, a book which is rather good in many respects. He writes in defence of the Baptist position and advocates quite a high view of Baptism.

The reference to Beasley-Murray suggests to me that Travis and Michael might be misunderstanding my comments slightly. I do not deny that Baptists can (and a number do) hold to high doctrines of Baptism. I have read Beasley-Murray and others. Nor do I deny that some Baptists strongly resist certain forms of individualism. Some of the most vocal communitarians are anti-paedobaptists. [That said, even Baptist groups that are very communitarian and anti-individualism in their thinking tend to capitulate to another form of individualism in their voluntaristic emphasis.]

The problem is that, high views of Baptism and doctrines of the Church among Baptists only serve to make my critique of anti-paedobaptism more pressing. If Baptism is truly our entry into the new humanity, are we saying that infants are not included in God’s new humanity? If the Church is a voluntaristic community then it is a community that leaves much of the humanity that God created outside of the redeemed community. This, it seems to me, is a serious problem.

There are ways in which this problem is mitigated to some extent by Baptists. For some a low, merely functional, ecclesiology is adopted and it is presumed that all below some ‘age of accountability’ go to heaven if they die. Another possible way to mitigate this is to see the infant children of believers as being in a sort of catechumenate state, awaiting Baptism. They belong to the community of faith and have a right and title to Baptism, but they need to wait until they have been prepared for it. Perhaps this is not too different from the sort of position held by Tertullian.

I would have less problem with such a position. It is not actually that far removed from the position of those who resist infant and child communion. There is a sort of distinction made within the Church between two levels of membership. The problem that I see with this is that it doesn’t seem to be biblical. There is no justification for a two-tier Church (baptized and catechumens, communing and non-communing). The pre-baptismal (or pre-communing) state is never seen as a state where one hangs around for any period of time. It is a liminal state that one passes through relatively quickly.

Andrew,
Thanks for that quote. It is interesting. I suspect that people like Yoder really recognize the significance of the voluntaristic communities that one finds in Scripture, whilst failing to appreciate the way that these communities function as ‘churches within the Church’. The Scriptures never abstract ‘intentional’ and ‘voluntaristic’ communities from the life of the wider community, which includes many who could not belong to the voluntaristic community for various reasons.

When, for example, Jesus forms a community around Himself in the gospels, it is a more voluntaristic community, formed predominantly of adult male disciples. However, this group of disciples was not the same as the Church that would later be formed. The Church has the commited mature disciples of Jesus’ original followers at its heart, whilst including many that did not and could not belong to this group.

Al,

Though I agree with you, it might be helpful to clarify the distinction between a two-tier church and a church-within-a-church idea.

Andrew,
In answer to your question, the ‘church-within-the-Church’ concept that I am speaking of is a community within the larger community, committed to a life of common faithfulness as a witness, pattern and service to the larger community that it is part of. In an unfaithful larger community (like Israel in the days of Elijah and Elisha), this smaller community can faithfully preserve the wisdom and identity of the larger society, as the larger society is in serious declension. The smaller community does not rob the larger community of its identity, but bears witness to the larger community and is faithful for the sake of the wider community.

In other times the ‘church-within-the-Church’ could be a monastic community, commited to a common life, not as an alternative to the larger Church, but within the larger Church and for its sake. Such groups generally provide a pattern of faithfulness that the wider Church can aspire to. Ideally the small ‘church’ will become increasingly unnecessary as its concerns and wisdom are fed into the wider Church.

The smaller church is a sort of prophetic community, fulfilling the prophetic task of internal critique within the Church. It is not a substitute for the Church.

A two-tier Church is different. A two-tier Church has different levels of membership. A ‘church-within-the-Church’ is not an extra level of membership, but is a matter of part of the Church’s membership modelling faithfulness for the sake of other members. The monk, for instance, should have no higher level of membership in the Church than the average layman.

BTW, for anyone confused by the above discussion, the comment that started this whole discussion off can be found here.

I got a PG rating because I used the word ‘dick’ (Gaffin). Oh dear me….

BTW, for some reason, your blog jumbles up when viewing via the Mac OSX version of Firefox. Everything that it’s embedded gets hung up. Of course, it’s easy to work around…because it looks great in Safari.

I thought I would also be an NC17 due to many discussions of death, but it seems mine only warrant an R.

Genisis (KJV) alone is rated NC-17. Apparently, the act of breastfeeding babies is also a topic that the young should not be confronted with…

My blog is rated G. That must certainly mean blog death. I should throw in some gratuitous nudity and profanity to boost my rating. Maybe a gunfight. Maybe more discussion of the views of N.T. Wright (and adversaria links).

I’m skeptical about that ratings thingummy. I tried it on a webpage of mine that include the words “dangerous,” “perverse,” “wanking,” “misogyny,” “masturbation,” “decadence,” and “pornography” and it still gave it a G rating!

Hi Alastair,

I made a response to your first post on ecumenism, a ways below (dealing with one particular point that interests and perplexes me). I just wanted to make sure you were aware of it. As per my usual custom, I posted my reply on my blog, and anyone is welcome to come discuss the matter. I hope some will.

Thanks for your continuing excellent writing.

Talking about death is one thing; faking your own death is another. Have you nothing to post about? Your fans are getting restless.

Fear not, I am not dead. However, for reasons that I had not entirely foreseen, this blog will probably be very quiet over the next few months. I might post some update soon, explaining why.

You should get more guest posters.

Michael,
Yes, you are right. If you or anyone else is interested in guest-posting, please contact me.

I think alot about death but seldom talk or blog it. Perhaps, i should too :)



Leave a comment
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You could always cheer things up a bit by writing about baptism. Your comment on my infant baptism thread was outstanding, and deserves better than being lost on a thread that will probably get “buried” quite quickly. :-)

Did anyone try that test on the bible?

It works fine with Dutch blog’s: as long as they don’t use (bad) English words, they are rated as ‘G’.

But clearly Alastair, when you publish about a dead seal and that sort of thing, you cross a number of lines :)

John, you’ve just led to me being sacked from my BHT resident theologian position! ;) I guess that it is one of those ‘one strike and you are out’ type things.

I had no intention on blogging the comment. Perhaps sometime in the future I might work some of the comment into a post.

To be honest with you, I am a little surprised by Michael’s reaction to my comment. He writes:

There is a reason that David Wright singles out Scottish Presbyterianism for its particularly vociferous defense of infant baptism and rhetorical flourishes in placing infant baptism in the dominant position throughout Christian history and in denouncing Baptists with particular animus. Alastair’s comment could be exhibit “A.”

I’m sorry, but is he reading the same comment as I wrote? In the comment I spoke of a ’significant change’ in the Church’s experience of Baptism, of an ‘ambiguous’ historical record and of ‘theological confusion’ surrounding the practice. I strongly reject any argument from Church history that presents a straightforward Church-wide consensus on the theology and practice of infant Baptism from day one.

The practice has a very complicated history and in a recent post I commented on certain aspects of this history and argued that God has quite possibly given the Church Anabaptists and Baptists in order to bring back to its consciousness certain biblical truths that had been forgotten due to the history of infant Baptism. I also believe and have argued that there is a general evolution from a form of Baptism in which mature faith is prominent to a form of infant Baptism that obscures this. I just don’t believe that this development is a development from a situation in which no infant Baptisms were practiced.

If this is what Michael regards as the classic example of a ‘vociferous’ argument for infant Baptism from Church history I suspect that he is just dismissing any paedobaptist reading of the evidence altogether.

The arguments from people like Wright are helpful in many respects; I agree with much that he has to say. However, the material that we have to go on is quite limited and there are a number of possible readings of the historical data. I am unpersuaded by the reading that people like Michael advocate.

The later part of my comment was a theological argument, rather than an argument from Church history. ‘Baptist-bashing’ was not the purpose. Rather, my point is that the whole ‘faith-Baptism’ argument is problematic when one appreciates that the definition of ‘faith’ in terms of which Baptists operate is hardly a self-evident or neutral one. The connection between faith and Baptism is very important, but faith may well be a considerably broader than Baptists generally conceive it to be.

It is no accident that Anabaptism and Baptist theology arise alongside the rise of the modern notion of the autonomous individual. In the past the person would be defined far more in terms of their place within the community. The individual was not regarded as the source of their own values and identity. Once the modern notion of the autonomous individual arises, however, the practice of paedobaptism has to be radically reconsidered. Even among those who did not reject the practice altogether, the understanding of the practice went through significant changes.

The point about nature and supernature is quite straightforward. There is a dualism that is found in much Baptist thought and practice in which Christian life and nurture is overlaid upon natural life and nurture.

If man had not sinned in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve would not have had to wait for their children to make a voluntary decision in order to enter into the life in fellowship with God in the Garden. God would not relate to their children as autonomous individuals, but as those whose identities were formed in communion. Their children would be raised, not as people whose identity was in question until they made their own decision, but as children of God. God is a friend of the family; nature and grace do not run on separate ‘tracks’. Grace restores and perfects the tracks of nature.

Baptist theology, however, operates in terms of a voluntaristic understanding of religion, which results in an alienation of natural life (much of which is radically unvoluntaristic in character), from the redeemed life of the new creation. The religious identity of the Baptist child is generally in question until they arrive at their own personal decision for Christ (and I speak from plenty of personal experience here).

The Church, as conceived by Baptist theology, is generally understood to be comprised of those who have voluntarily confessed personal faith in Christ. If this is a ‘new humanity’, it must be acknowledged that it looks quite different from the original humanity that God created. A voluntary conception of the Church makes the Church more like a ‘Christian club’ than a genuine new society that takes all of the fabric of humanity into it. How such a community can be a genuine alternative and challenge to the empire is not clear.

Also, if Michael had read my comment more carefully, he would have seen that I nowhere deny that Baptists believe that ‘God is truly forming a new restored humanity in the Church, drawing all of the fabric of human life into His kingdom.’ My point is that this claim is inconsistent with the theological basis on which they reject the practice of paedobaptism.

Alastair: sorry to get you fired. ;-) Actually, I don’t think Michael’s fired you as such - look on it more as what governments call “mid-term blues”. I’m sure he’ll be back voting for you when the only other candidate is Phil Johnson…

PS: do you know anything about this Beasley-Murray chap? The stuff Michael’s quoted from him appears to take a surprisingly “high” view of baptism.

Though, equally, I am sceptical of the extent to which such views have filtered down into church practice and individual experience.

While I was writing my thesis on Yoder and O’Donovan I came across something in Yoder that I found interesting; at the time I just left a note in the margin, but I wonder if it would be profitable to mention now.

Here’s a longish quote from Yoder’s work, The Original Revolution:

But what then is Jesus to do if He rejects at the same time the established order of the Herodians and the holy, violent revolution with which the Zealots sought to change that order: both the outward emigration of the Essenes and the inward emigration of the Pharisees? We need not meditate long to see that this question is our own.

To answer our question as it has been sharpened by a survey of available social strategies in Jesus’ time and in ours, we must look back to what God had been doing or trying to do for a long, long time. The Bible story really begins with Abraham, the father of those who believe. Abraham was called to get up and leave Chaldea, the cultural and religious capital of the known world in his age, to go he knew not where, to find he knew not what. He could not know when or whether or how he could again have a home, a land of his own. And yet as he rose to follow this inscrutable promise, he was told that it was through him that the nations of the world would be blessed. In response Abraham promised his God that he would lead a different kind of life: a life different from the cultured and the religious peoples, whether urban or nomadic, among whom he was to make his pilgrim way.

“From the rock heights I see them, I watch them from the rounded hills. I see a people that dwells alone, that has not made itself one with the nations.” – Numbers 23:9

Yet in that apartness how present!

This is the original revolution; the creation of a distinct community with its own deviant set of values and its coherent way of incarnating them. Today it might be called and underground movement, or a political party, or an infiltration team, or a cell movement. The sociologists would call it an intentional community. Then they were called “Hebrews,” a title which probably originally meant, “the people who crossed over.”

Abraham’s children did not always keep His promises, but God remained steadfast in His loyalty to them. His promises of righteousness to be brought to the nations through His servant Israel were from year to year reiterated, reinforced, clarified, even though the likelihood that the Israelites would become the instrument of their fulfillment seemed less and less evident. These were the promises, Christians believed, which Jesus came to keep.

Jesus did again what God had done in calling Abraham or Moses or Gideon or Samuel: He gathered His people around His word and His will. Jesus created around Himself a society like no other society mankind had ever seen:

1. This was a voluntary society: you could not be born into it. You could come into it only by repenting and freely pledging allegiance to its king. It was a society with no second generation members.

I find it highly ironic that Yoder misses the fact that in all these “intentional” communities that existed before Jesus, the children of those people who were called, gathered, etc. were always considered part of that intentional community. Circumcision enlisted infants in the priesthood; the Psalms talk of infant faith.

I find it very ironic because this is basically the main theological reason behind Yoder’s opposition to infant baptism. (And surely, those baptists today who have recognized the importance of community in God’s new creation are indebted to Yoder’s works.) And yet, even while going to the point of saying Jesus fulfilled this Abrahamic promise and calling, he immediately says that the community of Jesus is a community with “no second generation members”.

Now, either God forgot the fact that (apparently) infants can’t be part of an intentional community in the Old Testament, or something else is going on here.

I was also a little surprised that Michael took your comments so negatively; surely he can’t get mad at you for saying that baptist theology is inconsistent. To anything else you’d have to become a baptist.

Ah well.

John,
Beasley-Murray wrote Baptism in the New Testament, a book which is rather good in many respects. He writes in defence of the Baptist position and advocates quite a high view of Baptism.

The reference to Beasley-Murray suggests to me that Travis and Michael might be misunderstanding my comments slightly. I do not deny that Baptists can (and a number do) hold to high doctrines of Baptism. I have read Beasley-Murray and others. Nor do I deny that some Baptists strongly resist certain forms of individualism. Some of the most vocal communitarians are anti-paedobaptists. [That said, even Baptist groups that are very communitarian and anti-individualism in their thinking tend to capitulate to another form of individualism in their voluntaristic emphasis.]

The problem is that, high views of Baptism and doctrines of the Church among Baptists only serve to make my critique of anti-paedobaptism more pressing. If Baptism is truly our entry into the new humanity, are we saying that infants are not included in God’s new humanity? If the Church is a voluntaristic community then it is a community that leaves much of the humanity that God created outside of the redeemed community. This, it seems to me, is a serious problem.

There are ways in which this problem is mitigated to some extent by Baptists. For some a low, merely functional, ecclesiology is adopted and it is presumed that all below some ‘age of accountability’ go to heaven if they die. Another possible way to mitigate this is to see the infant children of believers as being in a sort of catechumenate state, awaiting Baptism. They belong to the community of faith and have a right and title to Baptism, but they need to wait until they have been prepared for it. Perhaps this is not too different from the sort of position held by Tertullian.

I would have less problem with such a position. It is not actually that far removed from the position of those who resist infant and child communion. There is a sort of distinction made within the Church between two levels of membership. The problem that I see with this is that it doesn’t seem to be biblical. There is no justification for a two-tier Church (baptized and catechumens, communing and non-communing). The pre-baptismal (or pre-communing) state is never seen as a state where one hangs around for any period of time. It is a liminal state that one passes through relatively quickly.

Andrew,
Thanks for that quote. It is interesting. I suspect that people like Yoder really recognize the significance of the voluntaristic communities that one finds in Scripture, whilst failing to appreciate the way that these communities function as ‘churches within the Church’. The Scriptures never abstract ‘intentional’ and ‘voluntaristic’ communities from the life of the wider community, which includes many who could not belong to the voluntaristic community for various reasons.

When, for example, Jesus forms a community around Himself in the gospels, it is a more voluntaristic community, formed predominantly of adult male disciples. However, this group of disciples was not the same as the Church that would later be formed. The Church has the commited mature disciples of Jesus’ original followers at its heart, whilst including many that did not and could not belong to this group.

Al,

Though I agree with you, it might be helpful to clarify the distinction between a two-tier church and a church-within-a-church idea.

Andrew,
In answer to your question, the ‘church-within-the-Church’ concept that I am speaking of is a community within the larger community, committed to a life of common faithfulness as a witness, pattern and service to the larger community that it is part of. In an unfaithful larger community (like Israel in the days of Elijah and Elisha), this smaller community can faithfully preserve the wisdom and identity of the larger society, as the larger society is in serious declension. The smaller community does not rob the larger community of its identity, but bears witness to the larger community and is faithful for the sake of the wider community.

In other times the ‘church-within-the-Church’ could be a monastic community, commited to a common life, not as an alternative to the larger Church, but within the larger Church and for its sake. Such groups generally provide a pattern of faithfulness that the wider Church can aspire to. Ideally the small ‘church’ will become increasingly unnecessary as its concerns and wisdom are fed into the wider Church.

The smaller church is a sort of prophetic community, fulfilling the prophetic task of internal critique within the Church. It is not a substitute for the Church.

A two-tier Church is different. A two-tier Church has different levels of membership. A ‘church-within-the-Church’ is not an extra level of membership, but is a matter of part of the Church’s membership modelling faithfulness for the sake of other members. The monk, for instance, should have no higher level of membership in the Church than the average layman.

BTW, for anyone confused by the above discussion, the comment that started this whole discussion off can be found here.

I got a PG rating because I used the word ‘dick’ (Gaffin). Oh dear me….

BTW, for some reason, your blog jumbles up when viewing via the Mac OSX version of Firefox. Everything that it’s embedded gets hung up. Of course, it’s easy to work around…because it looks great in Safari.

I thought I would also be an NC17 due to many discussions of death, but it seems mine only warrant an R.

Genisis (KJV) alone is rated NC-17. Apparently, the act of breastfeeding babies is also a topic that the young should not be confronted with…

My blog is rated G. That must certainly mean blog death. I should throw in some gratuitous nudity and profanity to boost my rating. Maybe a gunfight. Maybe more discussion of the views of N.T. Wright (and adversaria links).

I’m skeptical about that ratings thingummy. I tried it on a webpage of mine that include the words “dangerous,” “perverse,” “wanking,” “misogyny,” “masturbation,” “decadence,” and “pornography” and it still gave it a G rating!

Hi Alastair,

I made a response to your first post on ecumenism, a ways below (dealing with one particular point that interests and perplexes me). I just wanted to make sure you were aware of it. As per my usual custom, I posted my reply on my blog, and anyone is welcome to come discuss the matter. I hope some will.

Thanks for your continuing excellent writing.

Talking about death is one thing; faking your own death is another. Have you nothing to post about? Your fans are getting restless.

Fear not, I am not dead. However, for reasons that I had not entirely foreseen, this blog will probably be very quiet over the next few months. I might post some update soon, explaining why.

You should get more guest posters.

Michael,
Yes, you are right. If you or anyone else is interested in guest-posting, please contact me.

I think alot about death but seldom talk or blog it. Perhaps, i should too :)



Leave a comment
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You could always cheer things up a bit by writing about baptism. Your comment on my infant baptism thread was outstanding, and deserves better than being lost on a thread that will probably get “buried” quite quickly. :-)

Did anyone try that test on the bible?

It works fine with Dutch blog’s: as long as they don’t use (bad) English words, they are rated as ‘G’.

But clearly Alastair, when you publish about a dead seal and that sort of thing, you cross a number of lines :)

John, you’ve just led to me being sacked from my BHT resident theologian position! ;) I guess that it is one of those ‘one strike and you are out’ type things.

I had no intention on blogging the comment. Perhaps sometime in the future I might work some of the comment into a post.

To be honest with you, I am a little surprised by Michael’s reaction to my comment. He writes:

There is a reason that David Wright singles out Scottish Presbyterianism for its particularly vociferous defense of infant baptism and rhetorical flourishes in placing infant baptism in the dominant position throughout Christian history and in denouncing Baptists with particular animus. Alastair’s comment could be exhibit “A.”

I’m sorry, but is he reading the same comment as I wrote? In the comment I spoke of a ’significant change’ in the Church’s experience of Baptism, of an ‘ambiguous’ historical record and of ‘theological confusion’ surrounding the practice. I strongly reject any argument from Church history that presents a straightforward Church-wide consensus on the theology and practice of infant Baptism from day one.

The practice has a very complicated history and in a recent post I commented on certain aspects of this history and argued that God has quite possibly given the Church Anabaptists and Baptists in order to bring back to its consciousness certain biblical truths that had been forgotten due to the history of infant Baptism. I also believe and have argued that there is a general evolution from a form of Baptism in which mature faith is prominent to a form of infant Baptism that obscures this. I just don’t believe that this development is a development from a situation in which no infant Baptisms were practiced.

If this is what Michael regards as the classic example of a ‘vociferous’ argument for infant Baptism from Church history I suspect that he is just dismissing any paedobaptist reading of the evidence altogether.

The arguments from people like Wright are helpful in many respects; I agree with much that he has to say. However, the material that we have to go on is quite limited and there are a number of possible readings of the historical data. I am unpersuaded by the reading that people like Michael advocate.

The later part of my comment was a theological argument, rather than an argument from Church history. ‘Baptist-bashing’ was not the purpose. Rather, my point is that the whole ‘faith-Baptism’ argument is problematic when one appreciates that the definition of ‘faith’ in terms of which Baptists operate is hardly a self-evident or neutral one. The connection between faith and Baptism is very important, but faith may well be a considerably broader than Baptists generally conceive it to be.

It is no accident that Anabaptism and Baptist theology arise alongside the rise of the modern notion of the autonomous individual. In the past the person would be defined far more in terms of their place within the community. The individual was not regarded as the source of their own values and identity. Once the modern notion of the autonomous individual arises, however, the practice of paedobaptism has to be radically reconsidered. Even among those who did not reject the practice altogether, the understanding of the practice went through significant changes.

The point about nature and supernature is quite straightforward. There is a dualism that is found in much Baptist thought and practice in which Christian life and nurture is overlaid upon natural life and nurture.

If man had not sinned in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve would not have had to wait for their children to make a voluntary decision in order to enter into the life in fellowship with God in the Garden. God would not relate to their children as autonomous individuals, but as those whose identities were formed in communion. Their children would be raised, not as people whose identity was in question until they made their own decision, but as children of God. God is a friend of the family; nature and grace do not run on separate ‘tracks’. Grace restores and perfects the tracks of nature.

Baptist theology, however, operates in terms of a voluntaristic understanding of religion, which results in an alienation of natural life (much of which is radically unvoluntaristic in character), from the redeemed life of the new creation. The religious identity of the Baptist child is generally in question until they arrive at their own personal decision for Christ (and I speak from plenty of personal experience here).

The Church, as conceived by Baptist theology, is generally understood to be comprised of those who have voluntarily confessed personal faith in Christ. If this is a ‘new humanity’, it must be acknowledged that it looks quite different from the original humanity that God created. A voluntary conception of the Church makes the Church more like a ‘Christian club’ than a genuine new society that takes all of the fabric of humanity into it. How such a community can be a genuine alternative and challenge to the empire is not clear.

Also, if Michael had read my comment more carefully, he would have seen that I nowhere deny that Baptists believe that ‘God is truly forming a new restored humanity in the Church, drawing all of the fabric of human life into His kingdom.’ My point is that this claim is inconsistent with the theological basis on which they reject the practice of paedobaptism.

Alastair: sorry to get you fired. ;-) Actually, I don’t think Michael’s fired you as such - look on it more as what governments call “mid-term blues”. I’m sure he’ll be back voting for you when the only other candidate is Phil Johnson…

PS: do you know anything about this Beasley-Murray chap? The stuff Michael’s quoted from him appears to take a surprisingly “high” view of baptism.

Though, equally, I am sceptical of the extent to which such views have filtered down into church practice and individual experience.

While I was writing my thesis on Yoder and O’Donovan I came across something in Yoder that I found interesting; at the time I just left a note in the margin, but I wonder if it would be profitable to mention now.

Here’s a longish quote from Yoder’s work, The Original Revolution:

But what then is Jesus to do if He rejects at the same time the established order of the Herodians and the holy, violent revolution with which the Zealots sought to change that order: both the outward emigration of the Essenes and the inward emigration of the Pharisees? We need not meditate long to see that this question is our own.

To answer our question as it has been sharpened by a survey of available social strategies in Jesus’ time and in ours, we must look back to what God had been doing or trying to do for a long, long time. The Bible story really begins with Abraham, the father of those who believe. Abraham was called to get up and leave Chaldea, the cultural and religious capital of the known world in his age, to go he knew not where, to find he knew not what. He could not know when or whether or how he could again have a home, a land of his own. And yet as he rose to follow this inscrutable promise, he was told that it was through him that the nations of the world would be blessed. In response Abraham promised his God that he would lead a different kind of life: a life different from the cultured and the religious peoples, whether urban or nomadic, among whom he was to make his pilgrim way.

“From the rock heights I see them, I watch them from the rounded hills. I see a people that dwells alone, that has not made itself one with the nations.” – Numbers 23:9

Yet in that apartness how present!

This is the original revolution; the creation of a distinct community with its own deviant set of values and its coherent way of incarnating them. Today it might be called and underground movement, or a political party, or an infiltration team, or a cell movement. The sociologists would call it an intentional community. Then they were called “Hebrews,” a title which probably originally meant, “the people who crossed over.”

Abraham’s children did not always keep His promises, but God remained steadfast in His loyalty to them. His promises of righteousness to be brought to the nations through His servant Israel were from year to year reiterated, reinforced, clarified, even though the likelihood that the Israelites would become the instrument of their fulfillment seemed less and less evident. These were the promises, Christians believed, which Jesus came to keep.

Jesus did again what God had done in calling Abraham or Moses or Gideon or Samuel: He gathered His people around His word and His will. Jesus created around Himself a society like no other society mankind had ever seen:

1. This was a voluntary society: you could not be born into it. You could come into it only by repenting and freely pledging allegiance to its king. It was a society with no second generation members.

I find it highly ironic that Yoder misses the fact that in all these “intentional” communities that existed before Jesus, the children of those people who were called, gathered, etc. were always considered part of that intentional community. Circumcision enlisted infants in the priesthood; the Psalms talk of infant faith.

I find it very ironic because this is basically the main theological reason behind Yoder’s opposition to infant baptism. (And surely, those baptists today who have recognized the importance of community in God’s new creation are indebted to Yoder’s works.) And yet, even while going to the point of saying Jesus fulfilled this Abrahamic promise and calling, he immediately says that the community of Jesus is a community with “no second generation members”.

Now, either God forgot the fact that (apparently) infants can’t be part of an intentional community in the Old Testament, or something else is going on here.

I was also a little surprised that Michael took your comments so negatively; surely he can’t get mad at you for saying that baptist theology is inconsistent. To anything else you’d have to become a baptist.

Ah well.

John,
Beasley-Murray wrote Baptism in the New Testament, a book which is rather good in many respects. He writes in defence of the Baptist position and advocates quite a high view of Baptism.

The reference to Beasley-Murray suggests to me that Travis and Michael might be misunderstanding my comments slightly. I do not deny that Baptists can (and a number do) hold to high doctrines of Baptism. I have read Beasley-Murray and others. Nor do I deny that some Baptists strongly resist certain forms of individualism. Some of the most vocal communitarians are anti-paedobaptists. [That said, even Baptist groups that are very communitarian and anti-individualism in their thinking tend to capitulate to another form of individualism in their voluntaristic emphasis.]

The problem is that, high views of Baptism and doctrines of the Church among Baptists only serve to make my critique of anti-paedobaptism more pressing. If Baptism is truly our entry into the new humanity, are we saying that infants are not included in God’s new humanity? If the Church is a voluntaristic community then it is a community that leaves much of the humanity that God created outside of the redeemed community. This, it seems to me, is a serious problem.

There are ways in which this problem is mitigated to some extent by Baptists. For some a low, merely functional, ecclesiology is adopted and it is presumed that all below some ‘age of accountability’ go to heaven if they die. Another possible way to mitigate this is to see the infant children of believers as being in a sort of catechumenate state, awaiting Baptism. They belong to the community of faith and have a right and title to Baptism, but they need to wait until they have been prepared for it. Perhaps this is not too different from the sort of position held by Tertullian.

I would have less problem with such a position. It is not actually that far removed from the position of those who resist infant and child communion. There is a sort of distinction made within the Church between two levels of membership. The problem that I see with this is that it doesn’t seem to be biblical. There is no justification for a two-tier Church (baptized and catechumens, communing and non-communing). The pre-baptismal (or pre-communing) state is never seen as a state where one hangs around for any period of time. It is a liminal state that one passes through relatively quickly.

Andrew,
Thanks for that quote. It is interesting. I suspect that people like Yoder really recognize the significance of the voluntaristic communities that one finds in Scripture, whilst failing to appreciate the way that these communities function as ‘churches within the Church’. The Scriptures never abstract ‘intentional’ and ‘voluntaristic’ communities from the life of the wider community, which includes many who could not belong to the voluntaristic community for various reasons.

When, for example, Jesus forms a community around Himself in the gospels, it is a more voluntaristic community, formed predominantly of adult male disciples. However, this group of disciples was not the same as the Church that would later be formed. The Church has the commited mature disciples of Jesus’ original followers at its heart, whilst including many that did not and could not belong to this group.

Al,

Though I agree with you, it might be helpful to clarify the distinction between a two-tier church and a church-within-a-church idea.

Andrew,
In answer to your question, the ‘church-within-the-Church’ concept that I am speaking of is a community within the larger community, committed to a life of common faithfulness as a witness, pattern and service to the larger community that it is part of. In an unfaithful larger community (like Israel in the days of Elijah and Elisha), this smaller community can faithfully preserve the wisdom and identity of the larger society, as the larger society is in serious declension. The smaller community does not rob the larger community of its identity, but bears witness to the larger community and is faithful for the sake of the wider community.

In other times the ‘church-within-the-Church’ could be a monastic community, commited to a common life, not as an alternative to the larger Church, but within the larger Church and for its sake. Such groups generally provide a pattern of faithfulness that the wider Church can aspire to. Ideally the small ‘church’ will become increasingly unnecessary as its concerns and wisdom are fed into the wider Church.

The smaller church is a sort of prophetic community, fulfilling the prophetic task of internal critique within the Church. It is not a substitute for the Church.

A two-tier Church is different. A two-tier Church has different levels of membership. A ‘church-within-the-Church’ is not an extra level of membership, but is a matter of part of the Church’s membership modelling faithfulness for the sake of other members. The monk, for instance, should have no higher level of membership in the Church than the average layman.

BTW, for anyone confused by the above discussion, the comment that started this whole discussion off can be found here.

I got a PG rating because I used the word ‘dick’ (Gaffin). Oh dear me….

BTW, for some reason, your blog jumbles up when viewing via the Mac OSX version of Firefox. Everything that it’s embedded gets hung up. Of course, it’s easy to work around…because it looks great in Safari.

I thought I would also be an NC17 due to many discussions of death, but it seems mine only warrant an R.

Genisis (KJV) alone is rated NC-17. Apparently, the act of breastfeeding babies is also a topic that the young should not be confronted with…

My blog is rated G. That must certainly mean blog death. I should throw in some gratuitous nudity and profanity to boost my rating. Maybe a gunfight. Maybe more discussion of the views of N.T. Wright (and adversaria links).

I’m skeptical about that ratings thingummy. I tried it on a webpage of mine that include the words “dangerous,” “perverse,” “wanking,” “misogyny,” “masturbation,” “decadence,” and “pornography” and it still gave it a G rating!

Hi Alastair,

I made a response to your first post on ecumenism, a ways below (dealing with one particular point that interests and perplexes me). I just wanted to make sure you were aware of it. As per my usual custom, I posted my reply on my blog, and anyone is welcome to come discuss the matter. I hope some will.

Thanks for your continuing excellent writing.

Talking about death is one thing; faking your own death is another. Have you nothing to post about? Your fans are getting restless.

Fear not, I am not dead. However, for reasons that I had not entirely foreseen, this blog will probably be very quiet over the next few months. I might post some update soon, explaining why.

You should get more guest posters.

Michael,
Yes, you are right. If you or anyone else is interested in guest-posting, please contact me.

I think alot about death but seldom talk or blog it. Perhaps, i should too :)



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