Baptism, mission and human geography (thanks ++Rowan).

I like Rowan Williams!

I think that in his time as ABC he was frequently given an unbelievably hard time by some of the secular atheists. I remember Polly Toynbee writing about him with the most astonishing lack of grace, confident that the object of her ‘critique’ would never answer back, or complain about the unfairness of the vitriol in such attacks.

Equally, Rowan (in my opinion) seldom received the love and loyalty he might have expected from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I am not saying he was perfect, far from it, but I am saying he was and remains fully human, and therefore deserving of respect, dignity and grace. And, so I was delighted to read his book ‘Being Christian.’ It is brilliant. I thought that some of his comments on what it means to be a baptised Christian are well worth reflecting on. But, just one thought from me:

Williams clearly understands two of Christianity’s  most important motifs; solidarity and community. The question is do we? Baptism requires us to help build, shape and restore (Christian) community, we are able to do so because baptism invites us to stand in solidarity with each and every person. Solidarity and community are two of the hoped for manifestations of grace bestowed on us, through the sacrament of baptism.

So here are six short quotes from Chapter 1 of Being Christian:

‘It means that you might expect to find Christian people near to those places where humanity is most at risk, where humanity is most disordered, disfigured and needy. Christians will be found in the neighbourhood of Jesus – but Jesus is found in the neighbourhood of human confusion and suffering, defencelessly alongside those in need. If being baptised is lead to being where Jesus is, then being baptised is being led towards the chaos and neediness of a humanity that has forgotten its own identity.’

C.T. Stubbs is reputed to have said that geographically speaking:‘True mission takes place a yard from the gates of hell.’ I am sure Rowan would agree.

‘The baptised life is characterised by solidarity with those in need, and sharing with all others who believe. And, it is characterised by a prayerfulness that keeps courageously going, even when things are difficult and unpromising and unrewarding, simply because you cannot stop the urge to pray. Something keeps coming alive in you never mind the results.’

Williams uses three biblical motifs to illustrate the ‘baptised identity,’ which he also calls the ‘new humanity:’ prophet, priest and king.

Prophet:

‘The prophet, therefore is someone whose role is always to be challenging the community to be what it is meant to be – to live out the gift that God has given to it. And so the baptised person, reflecting the prophetic role of Jesus Christ, is a person who needs to be critical, who needs to be a questioner. The baptised person looks at the Church and may be quite often prompted to say: ‘Have you forgotten what you are here for.’

Priest:

‘Baptised people are drawn into the priestliness of Jesus; they are called upon to mend shattered relationships between God and the world, through the power of Christ and His Spirit. As baptised people we are in the business of building bridges. We are in the business, once again, of seeing situations where there is breakage, damage and disorder, and bringing into these situations the power of God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to rebuild something.’

 King:

‘And, that ‘royal’ calling is about how we shape our lives and our human environment in the direction of God’s justice, showing in our relationships and our engagement in the world something of God’s own freedom, God’s own liberty to heal and restore.’

Finally, ++Rowan reminds us that we are called on to fulfil the destiny ‘offered’ to us through the sacrament of baptism whilst ‘still sinners’ and, that this is possible because through the work of the Spirit we are empowered to: ‘be somewhere near, somewhere in touch with, the chaos in our own lives – because we all live not just with a chaos outside ourselves but with quite a lot of inhumanity and muddle inside us. A baptised Christian ought to be someone who is not afraid of looking with honesty at the chaos inside, as well as being where humanity is at risk, outside.’ Does this characterise your life, individually and communally, in Christ?

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