The New Testament, particularly the book of Acts, indicates that the usual procedure in the first century was for recent converts to Christianity to be baptized first and then instructed in the Christian faith. By the second century (i.e., the Didache), the procedure was largely reversed. Teaching came first, and then one was baptized.
Why the change? Alan Kreider suggests four possible reasons. The words are his; the headers are mine:
1. Because Old Habits Die Hard
Contemporaries did not discuss it, at least in writing, but one scholar, Joseph Lynch, has proposed several reasons. Lynch has observed that Christianity’s earliest converts were primarily Jews or god-fearers who already shared in the Jewish heritage of story, morality and world-view; the second-century converts, in contrast, were ex-pagans who needed a far-reaching programme of instruction and resocialisation.
2. Because Bad Theology Must Be Addressed
Lynch has also hypothesised that a longer catechetical process as a precondition for baptism was a result of the theological disputes which were present in the second century.
3. Because the Church Has Enemies
A third reason, which Lynch did not mention, had to do with the need, in an age of persecution, of screening out possible spies and informers.
4. Because Discipleship Costs
A final possible reason is that pastoral experience indicated that the teachings of Jesus, which the movement was committed to incarnating and practising, were sufficiently strenuous as to require a process of resocialisation on the part of all would-be converts, Jew or Gentile.
(Alan Kreider, “Baptism, Catechism, and the Eclipse of Jesus’ Teaching in Early Christianity,” Tyndale Bulletin 47/2 [Nov 1996] 318).
What reasons for diligence in instructing new converts seem most convincing to you? Does it make more sense to give these instructions before or after baptism? In what should this instruction consist?
I’m thinking of this schema in light of a couple of things. First, I’m teaching my Sunday school’s Lenten series this year. We’re looking at some of the early catechetical texts Kreider mentions in his paper and how they lay out some of the building blocks of discipleship. I expect that for most members of my class, reason #4 is the most personally relevant. We are mainly folks who have been in church a good long time, and still feeling the need to hear again Jesus’ call to follow him—and to hear some encouragement and guidance on the journey.
Second, somebody told my wife the other day that a young person, formerly a member of my church, had since joined a different Baptist church in town. This second church apparently required their new member to be rebaptized. I can’t think of an interpretation of this requirement that doesn’t sound like a grave insult to the spiritual validity of the church of which I am a member. I can only assume this church’s thinking process included healthy doses of reason #2. (Not that it’s never appropriate to give folks a heads-up about some of the more off-the-wall interpretations of Christianity that are going around—a certain faith community in Kansas springs violently to mind.)
I expect reason #1 may eventually encroach on the post-Christian American church as mainstream cultural mores and the values of Christ drift further away from each other. To be sure, even in my grandparents’ day the church (on its better days) had its hands full confronting racism, materialism, pride, greed, envy, and other besetting sins. Unless I’m mistaken, however, they didn’t have too much trouble with society itself applauding the sexualization of children, drug abuse, or the crippling inability to admit that there ought to be community standards of any kind.
As for reason #3, I expect this is on the minds of many Christians in countries and regions where Christianity is actively opposed. I won’t comment other than to suggest that—perhaps with a few particular and highly localized exceptions—any Christian in the USA who laments that they are being persecuted does a disservice to millions of their fellow believers around the world who know what real persecution looks like.
Points to make? Rocks to throw?
“It is hard to think of a teaching that is more evidence-based than the doctrine of original sin” (John Hobbins)
Or, as the old joke says, “I believe in total depravity because it’s the only doctrine I can truly live up to.”
“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.” (Mt 21:31-32)
Elder Pophyrios spoke of the following experience:
In the old days, during the feast of the Theophany, we used to sanctify homes. One year I also went to sanctify. I would knock on the doors of the apartments, they would open for me, and I walked in singing “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord….”
As I went along the road called Maizonos, I saw an iron door. I opened it, walked into the courtyard which was full of tangerine, orange and lemon trees, and proceeded to the stairs. It was an outdoor staircase that went up, and down was the basement. I climbed the stairs, knocked on the door, and a lady appeared. Since she opened I began my common practice singing, “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord….” She stopped me abruptly. Meanwhile, girls began to emerge from their rooms after hearing me from the left and right of the hallway. “I see that I fell into a brothel,” I said to myself. The woman walked in front of me to stop.
“Leave”, she told me. “It is not right for them to kiss the Cross. I will kiss the Cross and then you should leave, please.”
I took seriously her disapproving attitude and said: “I cannot leave! I am a priest, I cannot go! I came here to sanctify.”
“Yes, but it is not right for them to kiss the Cross.”
“But we don’t know if it is right for them or you to kiss the Cross. Because if God asks me for whom it is more right to kiss the Cross, the girls or you, I probably would say: ‘It is right for the girls to kiss and not you. Their souls are much better than yours.'”
With that she became a bit red in the face, so I said: “Leave the girls to come kiss the Cross.” I signalled for them to come forward. I began to chant more melodically than before: “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord…” because I had such joy within me, that God had ordained things so that I may also come to these souls.
They all kissed the Cross. They were all made-up, with colorful skirts, etc. I told them: “My children, many years! God loves us all. He is very good and ‘allows the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (Matt. 5:45). He is the Father of everyone and God cares for everyone. Let us make sure to come to know Him and for us to also love Him and to become good. May you love Him, and then you will see how happy you will be.”
They looked at me, wondering. Something took a hold of their tired souls.
Lastly I told them: “I rejoice that God has made me worthy to come here today to sanctify you. Many years!”
“Many years!” they also said, and I left.
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Matt Flanagan’s “Fallacy Fridays” feature that he’s been running since January. (I regret not having mentioned it before now!) It’s not quite a full-blown course in logic, but it is an excellent introduction to what counts as logical thinking—and what doesn’t—and why.
How to read a scholarly journal, and how to teach students to do so. There is much to learn here, but this is the best part because it’s the most honest:
Students register surprise when I confess that I share some of their frustrations over academic writing. Quite a few scholars are dreadful writers. There is, in my view, entirely too much pretentiousness, jargon, and affected weightiness oozing from journal pages.
(H/T: James McGrath)
Why is it that the more trivial something is, the easier it is to explain?
Should we be concerned when we can’t put the things that matter most in language a preschooler could understand? Or are some things simply unexplainable until we reach a certain level of cognitive development (which isn’t anything like reaching a certain level of educational achievement)?