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Paul on Baptism: Theology, Mission and Ministry in Context by Nicholas Taylor

May 11, 2017

Given how important baptism is, there is a dearth of accessible books to help clergy reflect on the implications of recent scholarship for contemporary issues of baptismal practice, pastoral care and mission.

The author examines Paul’s theology of baptism. Households, rather than individuals, were baptised. It was ‘in the name of Jesus’ rather that using the threefold formula. Neither submersion nor anointing were usual but signing with the cross was. Jesus’s disciples only underwent John’s baptism. There was no second stage rite for the reception of the Spirit.

Like W. Cantwell Smith, he points out that believing means far more in the biblical sense than in modern usage. The Greek verb pisteuo, commonly rendered into English as ‘I believe’, derives from the same root as the noun pistis, meaning ‘faith’. In English, ‘faith’ has a wider semantic range than ‘belief’ and entails commitment as well as intellectual assent. This applies also, and more emphatically, to the Greek pisteuo and pistis. To believe in the biblical sense means not merely to acknowledge the truth of certain teachings but to embody them through belong­ing to the community that represents those teachings, and through living in accordance therewith.

Although the author claims to deal with current pastoral issues, he does not address the request by some to be rebaptised.

There is some repetition.

Footnotes are kept to a minimum but there are detailed suggestions for further reading.

 Quotations:

the fruit of scholarship must be brought to bear upon all aspects of church life and ministry, including the pastoral care of one’s congregation, outreach to the local community, teach­ing the faith and administration of the sacraments.

Academic books are frequently inaccessible to the non-specialist and seem remote from specific pastoral situations. Many books tend also to reflect the compartmentalization of academic learning rather than connect the fruit of diverse disciplines to contemporary issues.

In most Christian traditions the sacrament of Baptism confers Christian identity and church membership. Baptism is theologically and sociologically fundamental to Christian life, and its implica­tions for the witness and ministry of the Church, and for the lives of its members, accordingly require continual theological reflection.

Among the most gratifying experiences of my own ministry have been those occasions on which I have baptized teenagers after months of catechetical instruction, shortly before presenting them to the bishop for confirmation.

Clergy face the dilemma of reducing Baptism to an all but secular social event that celebrates the birth of a child or rebuffing families who, notwithstanding expectations that may seem unreasonable, consumerist or superstitious, need to be drawn into the life of the Church..

His evident theological acumen and application of his theo­logical insights to pastoral and missionary situations, in documents available to be read today, render Paul’s letters a particularly use­ful source of early Christian teaching. A study of early Christian Baptism, therefore, cannot be undertaken without reference to the scattered allusions to the rite in the Pauline letters. These are not the only statements on Baptism in the New Testament, and Paul may not in all respects be representative of early Christian teaching and practice.

It is hoped that this book will provide pastoral ministers with the fruit of scholarship in an accessible and relevant form in the limited field of Paul’s teaching on Baptism.

The society in which Paul lived perceived the human being in a very different way. ‘Personal’ did not mean ‘individual’. The individual was not understood as autonomous and self-sufficient but as a dependent and integral part of a community, and in particular of the family or household into which he or she was born or was transferred to be a Christian in the world of Paul was primarily a matter of belonging, and only secondarily and consequently of believing in the sense of giving intellectual assent to a particular set of doc­trines.

The basic unit of society in the cities of the Graeco-Roman world was the family or household, oikos or oikia in Greek, domus in Latin. The notion of family is quite unlike the Western nuclear family or, for that matter, the African extended family. It is not defined by biological kinship at all but by the relationship of dependence and subordination between its members and the head or patron of the household.

Religious belief and practice were not matters of individual choice or conviction but were deter­mined by membership of the household. ‘It was ordinarily assumed that the subordinate members of a household, particularly the ser­vile ones, would share the religion( s) of the master.’ Personal con­viction was subordinate to the will of the all — powerful patron.

While household conversion and corporate integration into the community must be recognized as having been normative in the early Church, the situation was not as simple and uniform as Jeremias may be understood to suggest. Social relationships were much more complex than this, and there clearly were occasions on which the authority of the head of the household was less than bsolute. This could be the case when the wife was of higher social status than the husband, or married on terms that enabled her to retain some control of the wealth she brought into the marriage and the household. A woman in such a position might be able to exercise some autonomy, and even to influence the way her children I were reared, as may be the case where Paul addresses women in the church whose husbands are not Christian

Graeco-Roman householders were generally anxious not to see their estates divided or dissolved at their death, and their heirs lose status in society on account of re­duced circumstances. Hence the tendency to have few children of the marriage, and for the male householder to divert his sexual energies and desires away from the marital bed. The risk, of course, was that there might be no male heir at all, if the marriage were childless or the only son were killed in war or succumbed to disease. It was accordingly quite commonplace for heirs to be adopted so as to ensure the continuation of the household. An heir could be chosen from close relations, such as a nephew, or could be a son-in-law or the son of a friend who had ‘an heir and a spare’ or, exceptionally, could be chosen from the children born to the house‑holder out of wedlock. Roman law recognized a complete change in identity and legal status with adoption, and facilitated this pro­cess. An example that illustrates how widespread and accepted this custom was is that no Roman emperor until Titus (AD 79-81) was the legitimate biological son of his predecessor; Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius Caligula and Nero were all adopted heirs, and the remaining emperors all came to power through military coups. While status in the household could in principle be changed by legal means, we nevertheless need to recognize the privileged position of the family over against dependent members of the household, be they slaves, freed or freeborn, and of males over against females of otherwise comparable status in the household and in society.

The family was not the only unit but it was the foundational unit of society in urban Greece and Asia Minor. Other groups included trade guilds, burial societies and voluntary associations. There were also clubs for the various expatriate communities that gathered in the trading centres, and the cults of their deities, of which the Jewish synagogues are an example. All of these were likely to include cultic observances in their communal activities, and not only those established specifically to promote the cult of a particular deity. Corporate dining was another popular activity, which we need to understand as highly ritualized and as incorporating devotions to the patron deities of the group.

Spiritual beings were perceived to be present and controlling all aspects of the natural order. These spiritual powers were regarded as capable of doing good or harm to human beings. Rather than being governed by moral principles, they were understood to be amenable to human persuasion in the exercise of their power.

While Baptism undoubtedly became a rite in Christianity, whether at birth or at puberty or death, this is not how the rite functioned or was the earliest period. We cannot therefore simply equate Baptism with Jewish circumcision in Paul’s letters ….not as a rite of passage but as a conversion rite, representing not the continuum in the established life-cycle of a particular cultural group but rather the fundamental disruption in this cycle that saw some aspects of inherited identity repudiated and Christian identity conferred.

Therefore most conversions to Christianity during the early years of the Church would have been involuntary and collective rather than individual and voluntary.

While these cleansing rites are in no way initiatory and in this sense are unlike Baptism, they nonetheless illustrate just how integral to worship cleansing with water was in the ancient world. On the other hand, in that Christian life beyond the liturgy is often conceptual­ized as a ‘living sacrifice’ (Rom. 2.1 ), Baptism can in some sense be understood as preparing and purifying Christians for the lives of worship, witness and service that lie ahead of them.

Modern Western Christians tend to draw a distinction between `outward rite’ and ‘spiritual reality’ in Baptism, as in the other sacraments. But we need to recognize the close association between physical and moral or spiritual purity in the ancient mind, and that ritual reflects and reinforces this connection. Paul was fully aware that Baptism needed to be accompanied by transformation of the lives of those baptized but this does not mean that the Holy Spirit was not received in and through the rite of Baptism itself. As we shall see, modern distinctions between ritual and spiritual reality are a product of Western rationalism rather than being integral to the thought world of the first Christians. Modern biblical scholarship is a product largely of this rationalism, accompanied and perhaps sanctified by a Protestant suspicion of ritual, and is accord­ingly often blind to the conscious and subconscious function and power of ritual in ancient — and modern — societies.

The apostle Paul was more than simply an individual. His name represents a broader movement within early Christianity

While Paul does not develop the point, neither he nor the Galatian Christians would have been unaware that inheritance provisions almost invariably favoured male over female heirs. The status of Christians as children of God transcends their former identities, derived from their ethnic origins, social class and gender. This status and identity as children of God is of course what God intends in creation, as the broader context of this passage makes clear. The children of God are redeemed from slavery to sin, a state contrary to God’s intention. By implication, therefore, the social divisions abolished in Baptism are the product of sin and contrary to the created order as God envisaged it (Gen 1.27). The biological distinc­tions inherent in creation may remain unaltered but the ways they impact on relationships are transformed ‘in Christ’.

If Baptism has accomplished for Christians their adoption as chil­dren and heirs of God, then it is an immensely powerful ritual. Members of other nations who converted to Judaism during this period underwent, in the case of men and boys, circumcision. While this conferred membership of Israel, and the obligation to live according to the law of Moses, proselytes were considered inferior to Jews by birth. Their status was more akin to slaves who had been manumitted, but remained subordinate and dependent upon their former owners and forever tarnished by their former servile status. Their freedom was a chimera and they remained inferior members the household of God. Their children and grandchildren, born Israel, might enjoy the full status of children of God to which could not aspire.” Baptism into Christ is therefore a more powerful ritual than circumcision into Judaism, bringing greater more immediate benefits. Christians who chose to undergo the nor rite of circumcision would gain nothing but thereby lose their freedom (4.21-5.15).

Those who are baptized are described as having ‘put on Christ’. This is suggestive of clothing, as if with a garment, as a sign of spiritual transformation. This suggests that converts were stripped of their clothing in anticipation of the baptismal rite and dressed again on emerging from the water. Practical measures that would have accompanied bathing could quite naturally acquire a sym­bolic significance in a ritual context. The implication here is clearly that the clothing donned after Baptism is different from that worn before, and reflects something of the transformation undergone in the rite. In Graeco-Roman society, as in many others, clothing was not a matter of personal sartorial taste but rather an important indicator of social identity and rank. Their new identity, which Christians acquire at Baptism, abrogates the distinctions of race, social standing and gender that their clothing would normally indicate and emphasize, thereby identifying them in terms of their status in society

In a mercantile centre such as Corinth, any financial depen­dence on his converts would inevitably have drawn Paul into the com­plicated web of rival patrons with competing business and political interests, vying for status and influence in the city, and in the church.

Paul refers further to the Christians having been ‘sealed’. Imprinting an image in molten wax or making a mark on an object by other means served to indicate identity and ownership or the authority behind an official document. Livestock were often marked by branding with a recognizable symbol, and this could be extended to slaves, particularly escaped slaves who had been recaptured. Tattooing was another means of making an indelible mark on a person, and was used to mark slaves and soldiers. While used as a sign of allegiance in some cults of the period, tattooing was prohibited in the law of Moses (Lev. 19.28) and in Judaism was regarded as violating the body made in God’s image. While there may well have been dissent from this interpretation in some Jewish movements of Paul’s day, it is unlikely that he or other early Christians formed in Pharisaic and similar traditions of interpreta­tion of Scripture would have advocated such a custom. While the branding or tattooing of Christian symbols on the body, in particu­lar the cross, is attested or at least alleged by the end of the second century,” and was later to become customary among, inter alia, Coptic Christians, it is highly unlikely that this is what Paul envis­ages by having been ‘sealed’ by God.

In Romans 4.13, written probably not long after this letter, Paul describes the circumcision of Abraham as a ‘seal’, a visible sign that represents and endorses the righteousness he had previously received by faith.45 As we have noted already, there was at this time no correlation between the circumcision of male Jewish babies and Christian Baptism. However, Abraham is the archetypal proselyte, and proselyte circumcision is indeed analogous to the Baptism Christian converts. It is therefore entirely likely that Paul is referring to their Baptism in describing the Corinthian Christians having been ‘sealed’ by God. Following Baptism, no permanent physical or visible mark remains on the body, which leaves the question of whether Paul is alluding to a particular symbolic act that formed part of the baptismal ritual or to an invisible but fun­damental consequence of the rite as a whole. We have noted above that in Galatians 3.26-29, clothing is a visible symbol of the iden­tity received at Baptism. A seal corresponding to Jewish proselyte circumcision would be an invisible yet in a mystical sense indelible mark imposed on the body, permanently representing the transform­ation that Baptism had effected…..l In Ezekiel 9 a vision is recounted in which the righteous of Jerusalem are marked, with ink by a scribe, on their foreheads. The purpose of this marking is to set the righteous apart from the general populace so that the former might be spared when the lat­ter perish in the destruction God was about to bring on the city. The Hebrew word for ‘mark’ (Ezek. 9.4, 6) is tav, which is also the name of the final letter in the alphabet (n). The pun is intended, indicating that the mark took the form of the letter. This mark was interpreted as a sign of eschatological deliverance in Judaism of the Second Temple period and would have been available for Christian appropriation and reinterpretation from an early date.”

Paul describes himself as bearing ‘the marks of Jesus’ on his body (Gal. 6.17), almost certainly referring to the scars of torture and specifically flogging (cf. z Cor. 11.24-25) he had endured in the course of his missions. The marks of Jesus distinguish Paul both from the Galatian Christians and from his rivals in apostolic authority in those communities, to whom he imputes a concern to avoid perse­cution (Gal. 6.12). He is therefore not referring to any covenantal symbol, physical or otherwise. Nevertheless, Paul implies a con­nection between his scars and the wounds sustained by Jesus at his crucifixion, and in Romans 6.3-4, written shortly after his corre­spondence with the church in Corinth, he makes a ritual connection between the Christian and the death of Jesus in Baptism

In common with other Jewish teachers of his day, Paul recognized that salvation could not be earned through observance of the law, but this did not mean that the law was of no value.

A tank to a shaft grave, filled with water in which converts could be submerged, might allow a vivid analogy between baptism and interment of the dead. This image has been so vivid and seemed so obvious that it has been one of the arguments, among Baptists in particular, that submersion in water is essential to Christian baptism. However, the imagery was by no means as obvious ion Paul’s day, as funeral customs were quite different from what was traditional in northern Europe through most of its Christian history, and exported from there to North America. Irrespective of how many other cultures may have used, and continue to use, burial of their dead, this was not the prevailing custom in the world in which Paul wrote Romans. In Rome, during the first century, cremation of the dead was normative, and the ashes were placed in monuments generally located above ground. These might be family graves or those of one of the various associations that proliferated in the Roman world, often shaped like a columbarium. In Judaism, on the other hand, subterranean interment was normative, with corpses laid out on shelves carved out of the rock in caves or underground tunnels (cavity graves), such as the Roman catacombs and the smaller burial complexes found in many parts of Palestine; the entrances to these could be closed but the cavity was not filled in with earth. In the eastern Mediterranean regions, customs were much more varied, with cremation and interment in cavity graves both attested, the latter predominating. The analogy between the grave and the baptismal bath would therefore not have been at the level of physical structure and would not have been dependent upon the modalities of corpse disposal. We therefore need to seek a much more profound connection between Baptism and ancient funeral rites.

In the ancient world, interment in holes in the ground, filled in with earth directly over the body, was the fate of the poor. The bodies of executed criminals and other outcasts were routinely dumped in rubbish pits, if not left exposed for scavenging ani­mals to consume. If there is an analogy to be drawn between the shape of the grave and that of the baptismal bath, then the imagery Paul employs is not that of honourable and decent burial in either Jewish or pagan Roman custom but rather of dishonourable burial, as has been argued by Robert Jewett in his recent commentary on Romans.  Crucifixion, as a means of executing criminals, was a dishonourable death, and the burial that followed would of neces­sity be dishonourable. In invoking the image of death and burial, therefore, Paul is identifying the Roman Christians with the dishon­ourable nature of Jesus’ death and burial. However, the pits into which general refuse, including the corpses of executed criminals, were cast were not filled in with earth, and bodies dumped there would be covered only with other rubbish. While this would be a powerful reminder of the circumstances of Jesus’ death, to which Paul refers directly in Romans 6.6, the analogy is incomplete. This does not mean that Paul does not intend the readers and hearers of Romans to be reminded of the circumstances of Jesus’ death, which clearly he does, but we should seek a more adequate interpretation.

In the ancient world, death is the state of being that people attain after the demise of their physical bodies, when they begin a transition from one form of life to another, from one sphere of existence to another. While there was a great deal of diversity both in popular belief and in philosophical speculation, we need to approach the Romans passage with an understanding of death that envisages a process whereby the soul vacates the body and under­takes its journey to the netherworld and the life that it continues there. Funeral rites served to expedite this process; not simply a means of disposing of the corpse, the rites that accompanied death were intended to ensure that the deceased reached as congenial an afterlife as possible, as quickly as possible, and would not linger on earth and haunt home and family. The correlation between funeral rites and the quality of existence the deceased might enjoy in the afterlife meant that a great deal of expense was frequently dedicated to funerals and the construction of graves.

In this light we can understand the logic of Paul’s statement, ‘We were buried with him through baptism into death.’ This inverts the sequence of death and burial to which the modern world is accus­tomed, precisely- because the state of death is reached not at the point at which modern medicine would pronounce clinical death but when the body of the deceased has been deposited in the grave, accompanied by the performance of funeral rites, and the soul has departed from the body and completed the journey to the netherworld.

The circumcision undergone by the Colossian Christians is described as ‘not made by hands’. The opposite of this would of course be ‘made by hands’. Such an expression could be used to describe an object, or in this case a process, as the work of human artisanship in a descriptive and morally neutral sense, or even in a highly complimentary sense, implying that the handmade product is distinctive and qualitatively superior to an industrially produced object. However, in Judaism the expression ‘made by hands’ acquired pejorative connotations in certain contexts. In the Old Testament, idols and the accessories of pagan worship are described as ‘made by hands’; in other words, as having been manufactured by the very people who worship them, in contrast to the living God worshipped by Israel, who is no creature of human artistry (cf. Ps. 135.15-18). In the early Church this kind of polemic was on occasion applied to Jewish institutions, an example being Stephen’s condemnation of the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 7.48).

the cross was being used as a Christian symbol by the third quarter of the first Christian century, much earlier than previous scholarship believed.

The rite of Baptism in water is accompanied by ‘a word’, and the implication is that sanctification and cleansing are accomplished through the combination of speech and action. Some interpreters argue that the ‘word’ referred to here is the confession of faith of the individual Baptized, or of the Church as a whole. However, it is clear that ‘word’ and action alike derive from Christ and not from the recipient of baptism, which would exclude a creedal formulary as the referent in this text. This is not to say that those baptized made no profession of faith but that such an act of profession is not what accomplishes the cleansing and sanctification. Other inter­preters accordingly argue that the ‘word’ is the proclamation of the gospel. If this is the case, it could refer to a sermon or catechetical instruction accompanying the baptismal rite or to the proclamation of the gospel, through which those baptized were converted. This would indicate an essential unity in the conversion—incorporation process, of which the rite of Baptism is the culmination. While this is a possible interpretation, it is more likely that the ‘word’ is the liturgical formulary that accompanied and interpreted the ritual action of Baptism.” Although a Trinitarian formula cannot be excluded (cf. Matt. 28.19), it is more likely that the verse is referring to Baptism ‘in the name of Jesus’, as is reflected in Paul’s earlier references to Baptism ‘into Christ’ (cf. Rom. 6.3; r Cor. 1.13). In either event, the ‘word’ is the verbal counterpart to the act of administer­ing Baptism and is as such an integral part of the rite.

Most translations render the Greek huioi ‘sons’ but the masculine pronoun should in this and many other cases be understood inclusively. In Greek, grammatical and biological gender do not always coincide, and there is no ‘common’ gender as in English.

Circumcision of male converts was the defining ritual of incorporation into Israel, and ritual washing to remove the impurity of paganism was under­gone by male and female converts alike. Ritual washing is a well-known form of symbolic cleansing in Judaism and indeed in many other cultures, but these rites are seldom initiatory; rather, they are repeated from time to time as occasion requires. Precisely when the ritual washing that preceded the circumcision of proselytes acquired an initiatory significance is uncertain. It is unlikely that this development would have been introduced in Judaism after Baptism became an established and distinctive Christian initiatory rite. This suggests that Jewish proselyte baptism was already practised by the time this letter was written; or perhaps more accurately, that the ritual washing of proselytes had become part of the conversion—incorporation rite.

The Greek ek nekron means literally ‘from (among) dead [people”, the plural adjective referring not to an abstract condition of death but col­lectively to deceased humanity.

in the context of early Christianity, conversion was not always voluntarily undergone. For a slave or a child, or even a wife, conversion may have been no more than compliance with the regime of the householder who had, for whatever reason, decided to join the Church. For a house­holder or other person able to make an autonomous decision, conversion may have resembled much more closely the experi­ence as perceived in the modern world.

Even if submersion of the entire (naked) body beneath the surface of the water was normative, Baptism by immersion (partial submer­sion), affusion (pouring water over the head) and aspersion (sprink­ling) are all attested by the end of the first century.16 The desire to extrapolate a uniform ritual pattern from the biblical texts may well have more to do with later ecclesiastical controversies than with reconstructing early Christian practice. In reality diverse tradi­tions would have evolved in the light of such circumstances as the availability of water, and in what form and in what places, and of cultural conventions regarding nudity and the segregation of men from women, and whether or not the congregation was gathered to witness the rite. Precedents set at the time a particular church was founded may also have influenced subsequent developments in its customs.

The accounts in Acts discussed above indicate that Baptism was administered with some immediacy after conversion. There is no evidence of any catechumenate preceding Baptism; on the contrary, all the indications are that the rite of incorporation was admin­istered immediately upon conversion.

social scientific studies of religious  conversion have observed that incorporation into the community generally precedes the process of bringing the convert’s beliefs and way of life into conformity with the values of the Church

Wherever it is located and whatever the nature of its relationship with surrounding societies, the Church in its various manifestations needs to find ways it can both proclaim the gospel to the world, incorporating through Baptism those drawn into Christian fellow­ship, and baptize and nurture those born into the community so that they are sustained in the faith and remain committed members of Christ’s body. Mission, however effective, without retention sim­ply creates a proverbial revolving door and perpetuates if it does not hasten the decline of the Church.

In his analogy of Baptism as an adoption rite (Gal. 3.2.6-29), Paul does not merely emphasize a Christian identity that transcends all human divisions founded on race, class and gender but also identifies the Church as the family of God. There is little need to rehearse in detail the ways the Church has assimilated to societal and cultural patterns of domination and exploitation rather than transforming Christian societies in the light of the gospel. That Paul did not fully realize the profundity of his vision, still less implement it in his own day, in no way diminishes the obligation of the Church today to bring its life and values into conformity with the gospel.” Baptism is not merely a matter of incorporating individuals into the Church but of the earthly body of Christ ordering its life in accordance with God’s purposes. Being the family of God requires that the barriers of race, class and gender be overcome, as well as other forms of institutionalized violence, discrimination and exploitation that have all too easily been imported into the Church. The family of God must be a place in which human families can flourish and in which people whose family lives have been damaged and damaging may find healing and wholeness within the fellowship of the Church. Paul associates Baptism unequivocally and inextricably with the reception of the Holy Spirit, manifested in the complementary gifts Christians are given for the service of the Church (1 Corinthians 2). The authenticity of gifts is not measured by dramatic effect or sensational experience but embraces what in secular societies would be considered quite mundane competencies. These gifts do not function apart from human responsibility for the ways they are used. Nor is the Holy Spirit a substitute for competence and appro­priate training and formation. Baptism requires that the Church should not merely expect its members to be empowered by the Holy Spirit but also should encourage them to discern and to exercise their gifts and to mature in faith through learning to use them in the service of Christ and the community. Baptism is integral to Paul’s vision of a living body in which all members are active and the gifts of the Spirit are used collaboratively in and for the mission of the Church and in living in accordance with the gospel in the world.” This impacts directly on questions of church order and ministry. Paul recognizes that within the Church there are people called to particular roles and leadership (1 Cor. 12:8; Phil.1;1 1 Thess. 5.12) and endowed with the Holy Spirit accordingly. There is no precedent for charismatic anarchy. Nevertheless, those exercising leadership are to serve in such a way as to enable the entire body to function, with each member exercising the gifts of the Spirit received at their Baptism. Whatever ecclesiastical structures and orders of ministry have emerged in different Christian traditions, the body as a whole is empowered with the Holy Spirit. Whether Christians exercise their gifts within the life of the church or in service to the community, this is the realization of their Baptism.

Baptism defines the Church and Christian identity. For Paul, as for the culture of the societies in which he proclaimed the gospel, this identity was primarily corporate. This did not mean that indi­viduals did not matter, but they lived their lives within a network of social relationships that reinforced their identity. This had implications for the ways Baptism was administered and the gifts of the Spirit exercised in the life of the Church. In cultures that have become much more individualistic, this raises quite fundamental questions about the nature of Christian identity. These concern the ways the Church relates to families and to individual members. The Liturgical Movement has emphasized the presence and role of the gathered congregation in the celebration of Baptism, and iden­tified the Eucharist as the most appropriate setting for the rite. This represents a significant departure from what had been customary in most parts of the Church for centuries, where a private ceremony in the church building or in the family home had been normative, with only the immediate family and close friends present.

We have noted the evidence that the immersion rite would fre­quently have been administered away from the gathered congrega­tion during the early Christian centuries, and for reasons of decorum and practicality this may well have been the prevailing custom during Paul’s day. The privacy with which converts were stripped, immersed and clothed does not constitute a private ceremony, however, as the newly baptized were immediately integrated after Baptism into the Christian community and shared in the Eucharist. The administration of private Baptism, apart from the worship of the gathered congregation, is favoured where there is no intention that those baptized would become part of the worshipping commu­nity of the church. While this custom is defended, particularly in national churches with a ‘Christ of culture’ outlook, in terms of Paul’s theology the practice is aberrant and serious questions need to be asked as to how the mission of the Church is furthered by it. At best it sustains the most tenuous of links with the Church and Christian values, at worst it panders to superstition and, in denuding Baptism of much of its meaning, makes it less likely that those baptized will experience Christian life to the full, discover the gifts bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit and be encouraged to exercise these in the life of the Church.

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