Thursday, October 18, 2007

Q: Baptism and communion

This question came in from Bill, a reader in Australia:

i have only been to the christian science meetings here a few times and i'm having a hard time understating why mary baker eddy had a completely different view than most other bible believing churches regarding baptism, communion, etc. please explain your reason for believing she was right!

That's an interesting question, I had to think about it for a while. Why do I think MBE's take on baptism, communion, and other rituals is right?

I have to say first that it's not that I think the others are wrong. I think there's a lot of validity in rituals that have meaning for the people participating in them. If your baptism ritual involves water, if your communion involves bread and wine, these symbols can open your heart to the spiritual meaning.

The problem for me comes when the rituals become *all* that's happening. When people assign the ritual itself spiritual import, or think the Almighty is influenced by participation in the ritual. For example, does participating in a water baptism actually send a message to the Divine that a creation of His is now sanctified? He sanctified it already, upon creation. I guess I don't believe human rituals have an effect on our true being. At most, they are our own outward indication of something we're realizing from within.

Also, there have been lots of arguments over the course of history about the outward rituals that have little to do with the spiritual meaning. Wars have been fought over the significance of the bread, for example. Thousands—millions—have died fighting over whether baptism leads straight to salvation or if deeds are also required. Human nature gets hung up on the outward expressions far too easily. You can find fault with someone who does things differently than you do. It's hard to find fault with something that's happening within.

For that reason, I've always loved how MBE stripped the rituals of any material expression, making them entirely spiritual. It's hard to fight over that. Here are a couple definitions from Science and Health:

BAPTISM. Purification by Spirit; submergence in Spirit. (p. 581)

Our baptism is a purification from all error. ... Our Eucharist is spiritual communion with the one God. Our bread, "which cometh down from heaven," is Truth. Our cup is the cross. Our wine the inspiration of Love, the draught our Master drank and commended to his followers. (p. 35)

Christian Scientists have baptism and communion, which is celebrated daily, hourly, moment-by-moment. These spiritual practices are intense, personal, deeply transformative, and ongoing. They're not one-time or periodic events. It's our obligation to continually submerge ourselves in Spirit, to dig deeper into the Truth, to commune wholeheartedly with God.

What do baptism and communion mean to you?

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 10/18/2007 03:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Laura,

I don’t look on people taking “communion” or being “baptized” as if they are participating in acts of a Christian ritual. I look on them as forms of Christian love for God, showing their/our willingness to be obedient to God whether we have to do so or not. Christians do these things because Jesus said to do them. That’s all. Following Jesus is voluntary, free-will.

Jesus said, “If a man loves me he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our home in him” (John 14:23). If you’ve ever seen a “red-letter” edition of the Bible where all of Jesus words are printed in red letters, you no doubt are aware that Jesus’ words are many, are a blessing when heeded, and that there’s a lovely promise that comes alive (within) in the process of obedience - as the person continues to trust in Jesus’ word.

We are all familiar (I think) with Jesus’ word that goes, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Often I’ve heard this verse quoted minus the “If” at the beginning. Continuing in Jesus’ teachings is important, I believe. But one time is enough when being baptized with water.

After many years of being full of life as a new-age Christian who didn’t think much about being baptized because I had been baptized – sort of – at my mothers request - when I was a youth and didn’t know any Bible teachings about baptism. At the time I was home on leave from the Air Force and was being obedient to my concerned mom when I was baptized, not being obedient to God. I was sprinkled with water, given a certificate, and went on my way with no seeming change of mindset.

But then later on in my mid-forties I became connected – part time only - with a “very fundamental” local church, learned about the Bible’s teachings on baptism, and was baptized by being dunked – completely submerged – in a local river that runs through the valley where I am living now. Man, there was power to transform present in this baptism, and my new-age mindset was given a tweak into a fuller understanding of spiritual matters (in my opinion). I recommend water baptism, even if you don’t feel you have to do so to please God.

One man cannot baptize another man with the Spirit, God has to do this. Men are baptized with water as a sign of willing obedience to divine protocol, if this is what you might call it, or ritual.

Where did Jesus say to baptize? One place is Mat 28:19, “Go and make disciples…baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” Regarding the taking of Eucharist Jesus said, “This do in remembrance of me, as often as you meet.” Taking the Eucharist is a spiritual blessing if it is entered into with devotion and love for God, but not if one is questioning its validity. The symbols may have changed from real wine and a small loaf of bread that was completely distributed, to a platter full of soda-crackers and some fruit punch given in a mini plastic cup, however this is where the mind’s devotion has to enter in – we get out of it spiritually what we put in to it spiritually.

I know Mrs. Eddy equated ritual with “dead works” that should be avoided. And I can see that Christian Scientist’s who follow her advice instead of Jesus’, appear to be none the worse for obedience to what is found in the S&H textbook. I’ve studied Mary Baker Eddy’s writings – as well as the Bible - for a number of years and my conclusion is that she was a grand woman of the Spirit and I should hold my judgment when it comes to points of difference in our viewpoints. But I opt to follow Jesus when/if it comes down to either/or.

You have a first-rate blog here, Laura, with an appropriate name of Reasoning Together.


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