Becoming a Christian

As part of the preaching class that I am taking, I had to do an assignment consisting of a short (4-minute) speech answering the question “How does one become a Christian?”  We each had to answer the question to a specific audience, and I chose the High School ‘World Religions’ class.  The assignment was not a gospel pitch per se, but primarily informative.  We didn’t have to convince people why they should become Christians, only tell them what they needed to know in order to do it.

I decided to start off by way of comparative religion.  Since most religions deal with a dichotomy of physical and spiritual realities, I used that as an introduction: most religions tend to emphasize one over the other, especially the spiritual one (such as one’s goal being to achieve Nirvana, to shed the body, etc.).  But Christianity, I pointed out, upholds both the physical and the spiritual on an equal level, as far as human beings are concerned.  This would have opened me up to talk about creation, good & evil in human nature, even set up a decent platform to start talking about Jesus’ two natures, but those were all extraneous to this talk.  Instead I pointed out that both the physical and the spiritual worlds are summed up together in the one central act of becoming a Christian, which is called Baptism, a Greek word for “washing.”

The physical aspect of Baptism is pretty simple and straightforward – one gets dunked in water, or at least gets water poured or sprinkled onto him or her.  Along with this action comes some necessary words: the invocation of God’s three-fold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The spiritual aspect of Baptism is more complicated.  The key term for this is “Regeneration,” meaning “being re-born” or “getting a new life” and such.  Regeneration involves three main pieces, matching up with the three-fold name of God.  The first piece is the reign of God the Father: we have to accept that to be a Christian we must live according to God’s law; his will is to be obeyed above all others’.  In fact, not following God’s will (aka rebellion against him) is precisely the same as following Satan’s will.  This brings us to the second point: the Son of God (better known as Jesus) paid off the devil to ransom us back from following him.  Becoming a Christian includes accepting Jesus’ payment on our behalf.  Incidentally, this is where the physical aspect of Baptism draws its imagery and power, for Jesus ransomed us by dying for us, and then proceeded to conquer to devil by coming back to life again.  Being dunked in water is a physical symbol of being buried with Jesus and coming back to life with him.  Thirdly, though, is that Regeneration culminates with the Spirit of God entering our hearts.  All this regeneration stuff is spiritual reality, it’s not physically observable.  So accepting God’s ‘fatherhood’ over us, accepting Jesus’ payment on our behalf, and being filled with the Spirit all happen with regard to one’s spirit or soul.  For the most part, the physical act of baptism is the work of humans and the spiritual act of regeneration is the work of God.

I had a hard time fitting this into a four minute talk.  In fact, I went a little over time and lost three points for it.  But all in all, I got a pretty decent grade for this presentation.  What surprised me, though, is that the professor said that in the past several years that he has taught this class, and the hundreds of students he’s heard on this assignment, I am the first one ever to center “how to become a Christian” on Baptism.  Many have mentioned it, but never before as the central point of exposition.  Now, I’m not surprised that at a Protestant seminary, people are focusing on “repent of the old life, accept Jesus, believe in Him” themes, but on the other hand, this is (mostly) a Reformed tradition seminary, where at least the infant-baptism-favoring Presbyterians should in theory have a high view of Baptism with regards to entrance into the covenant community.  Albeit not a Presbyterian, nor terribly enamored with covenant language, that is very much akin to my view towards Baptism.  So I can’t help but feel a little concerned about the Evangelical stream of Christianity right now; it’s gotten so over-spiritualized that there’s a growing divorce between our spiritual life and our physical life.  Sure, Western/American individualism can once again shoulder some blame for this, but I suspect there’s something deeper going on here.  Neo-platonism has made yet another comeback.  Boo.

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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2 Responses to Becoming a Christian

  1. Stephen says:

    This reminds me of a point Thomas Howard (a former evangelical whose sister, Elizabeth Elliot, is a bit famous in evangelical circles) makes in his book On Being Catholic. In trying to explain why he became Catholic and how evangelicals have lost something of the Christian tradition, he asks how one, as a pagan in the second century, might become a Christian. Obviously, the answer would involve consulting with a bishop or priest, beginning cathechesis, and – the actual act itself – being baptized at the end of this process.

    Why most evangelicals today don’t bother to think about this, I don’t know. I would blame it on a Lutheran sola fide emphasis, except that Lutherans themselves have maintained the sacramental emphasis on, as you point out, both physical and spiritual aspects of baptism. Given the degree to which North American society has de-emphasized institutions like churches and the importance of formally belonging to institutions, you would think that serious Christians of all traditions would be re-emphasizing the importance of baptism as a holistic experience and action of commitment. Even among the more sacramental traditions, I haven’t noticed that so much, though (but maybe among the Reformed?). Maybe Billy Graham and his emphasis on praying to receive Christ in a stadium is indirectly to blame?

  2. Pingback: How we relate to God | Leorningcnihtes boc

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