In, “Troubling Waters,” Timothy’s George writes on the the trend of the decline of baptisms in Souther Baptist-cooperating churches. George suggests that the problem may be related to our theology of baptism, going so far as to breathe out the possible connection between catechesis and baptism in church life. He writes,
Strikingly, the taskforce says nothing in its report about the act of baptism itself, its meaning and theology, what kind of catechesis should precede or follow from it, how baptism is related to the covenantal commitments of the congregation, or the ethical implications of being “buried with Christ and raised to walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Admittedly, such things were not in its brief. Its aim was to issue an urgent SOS—to stop the bleeding before it is too late—and the report does this very well. Yet is it just conceivable that the decline in baptismal statistics is masking another, more basic problem: the downgrading of baptism itself?
Two items in the report suggest as much. “We have a celebration problem,” the report frankly admits. Baptism has lost its place as a central act of Christian worship in many Baptist churches. No longer promoted as the decisive, life-transforming confession, witness, and event it is supposed to be, baptism is now often tagged on as a prequel to worship or added later in the service as an appendix to the “main event.” Although Baptists still perform baptism by total immersion, they do so in a prim, proper and quite decorous manner. Some churches have installed a newfangled baptistry in which the minister does not even enter the water but, standing behind a plastic shield simply reaches over and submerges the baptismal candidate who is seated on a reclining chair! But baptism should not be such a neat and tidy event. It ought to convey something of the trauma of death and resurrection, with real commotion and real water getting splashed around a bit.
It would be great to see the recovery of catechesis as warp-and-woof of what it means to walk as a Christian in Baptist churches. It might require us to rethink the nature of “Christian education,” and what the “Christian” modifier means for the mode(s), contents, and goal(s) of education in our churches. However, it would be a tremendous blessing to our congregations.
Related Article: Molly Worthen, “Did the Southern Baptist ‘Conservative Resurgence’ Fail?” (The Daily Beast)
John Piper, “A Baptist Catechism“
Charles Spurgeon, “A Puritan Catechism” (Free download from philmorgan.org)
S. M. Houghton, A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of 1689 (Carey Publications)
Clinton E. Arnold, “Early Church Catechesis and New Christian’s Classes in Contemporary Evangelicalism” JETS 47/1 (March 2004) 39-54.