Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Baptismal Regeneration 10 -- Epiphany Not Cause and Effect

It is understandable that when discussions of sacraments in general and baptism specifically happen that we tend to think in cause and effect terms. E.g., Does baptism cause regeneration or not? Since the middle ages debates about baptism have followed this approach -- especially in western Christianity.

But what if we thought of sacraments not in terms of instruments that cause something but thought of them as epiphanies, manifestations, revelations. In terms of regeneration, what if we said baptism is an epiphany of regeneration? And if we framed regeneration in primarily eschatological terms, as Matthew 19:28 tells us? The eschaton can be spoken of as the regeneration and our personal experience of regeneration is a participation in the eschatological dimension of regeneration.

So then baptism does not "cause" regeneration, baptism unveils/manifests/reveals/pulls the curtain back on the regeneration. It is means of our participation now in God's future.

And what if the revelatory nature of baptism does not just take place the moment we are baptized, but "speaks" to us for the whole of our life in Christ? In other words, we continually participate in God's future (the regeneration) throughout our lives by remembering and embracing our baptism over and over and over ...

Baptism then is a symbol -- but not in the modern sense of being something less than the reality it points to. Instead it is symbol in the ancient sense -- something that unveils and sets forth and offers an unseen reality.

Actually, in many ways, this manner of conceiving a sacrament is much like the way we conceive of the scriptures as God's way of unveiling himself to us that we might participate in him. The reading and preaching of scripture does not cause regeneration, but it does unveil it and set it forth that we might enter into it.

More to come ....


+ simonas said...

Here I risk showing my ignorance, but precisely because baptism is a symbol that reveals God to us, it should be bestowed on adults. It is like an Israelite altar: God acts -> People respond -> People remember.

I object to the direct parallel between circumcision and baptism. Circumcision was a sign of a covenant that was based on national basis, and baptism is a sign of a covenant that is based on belief - that is how one enters into the new and everlasting covenant with God in Christ's death and resurrection. Both Communion and Baptism point to the same reality.

Peter said...

I am going move into infant/child baptism in detail later.

To make what I am saying clear -- by calling sacraments epiphanies I am not saying they point to another reality. They disclose that reality. This really is a crucial distinction. They disclose the reality because they actually participate in it. The sign and the thing signified can be distinguished, but they deeply interpenetrate each other.


+ Alan said...

I do like this language a bit - we've talked about this before. I think the trouble with it can be (can be) that people still read into it, from certain protestant perspectives, mere symbolism. Revealing something is just about a symbol making something more mentally "real" to an onlooker. that's how it's going to be read by many I think.

The disclosing by participating is a different thing. I'll drag my weird wormholes analogy in here - I like it, I can't help it. Sacraments are like wormholes, they are openings through the dimensional fabric - they open up and allow God's Life Essence to pour through into us. And there are specific ways that these things happen. When the Church is faithfully performing these and participating in these, the given wormholes open and amazing "stuff" happens.