Friday, June 29, 2007

This week's listening and reading

Good week for music this week.

Having seen the Who on Tuesday evening (see previous post), I've been listening to the new offering from Editors, An end has a Start.

Editors were last year's surprise band. Coming from nowhere, almost unnoticed, their album The Back Room was stunning, full of edgy Joy Division-esque short, snappy songs driven by sharp guitars and Tom Smith's rich baritone.

The new album sees them stepping up a gear, the songs becoming more expansive, the arrangements more varied. The writing is excellent, Smith dealing with death, hope, social breakdown and love with a neat turn of phrase and a perceptive take on life.

It's the perfect accompaniment to Peter Oakes' Philippians book (now halfway through) and Andrew Clarke's Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth ( a third of the way into).

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The kids are alright

Went to see the Who last night at Wembly - ably supported by the Charlatans - and they were amazing. Having joked earlier in the day when asked who was supporting them and replying 'their zimmers', it was one of the freshest, tightest and most energetic performances I've seen in ages. And yes, they did play all three CSI theme tunes!

They played a selection of greatest hits and a medley from last year's Endless Wire album (those songs suggest that Pete Townshend has lost of none of his song writing faculties).

As well as great playing from a band that included Ringo Star's boy on drums, the show incorporated wonderful video material, the best of which was montages from the Who's 40+ year career.

There were spine-tingling moments such as 'Won't get fooled again' which was almost revivalist in its passion, the audience rising to the anthem of not being taken for a ride by those who promise change. Daltry was singing this the evening before Gordon Brown takes over at number 10 and I wondered for a moment how many prime ministers have come and gone while the Who have been singing that song.

Other great moments included the opener, the Seeker, wonderfully up-to-date 30 years on, Townshend's solo performance of a couple of tracks from Quadrophenia, showcasing the fact that he is an extremely tidy guitarist and the show's closer, just Daltry and Townshend singing a song - I assume off the recent album - about growing old and being reconciled to one's past, Daltry holding aloft a mug of tea!

The Who have been around as long as I've been a music fan - longer actually - and to some extent have provided a smattering of the musical accompaniment to my journey. The video backdrop reminded me of the heady days of the late 60s and especially the early 70s when both surviving members of the band had hair and there was an optimism abroad that this music might be the soundtrack to lasting and significant social change. It was poignant to see the video to their latest work still pre-occupied with the themes of war and social isolation that informed their best work of 30 years ago.

But it wasn't a lecture, a history lesson or a meditation on human frailty and duplicity, it was a storming gig and my ears are still ringing this morning with the joy of it.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Scottish thoughts

Back from Scotland. We has a really wonderful time - the sun even shone for part of a day!

We received fabulous hospitality from Margaret and Andrew; Stuart guided us effortlessly around the working bits of our trip (thanks to them for their kindness and generosity); and it was good to catch up with friends and family.

The Scottish Baptist College's thanksgiving service went really well and what I said seemed well received (I had been somewhat wound up about it...) And cafe church at St Ninians in stirling was a blast. People joined in the conversation about shining as stars (from Philippians 2) and helped one another dream about the difference they could make in their neighbourhood.

This is what cafe gatherings are all about, it seems to me. It's a more democratic way of being church and Stuart is right (on his blog) to suggest that you wouldn't get an 'I have a dream speech' at a cafe church. This is not to say that the person leading a cafe-style gathering doesn't need to prepare and be pretty clear what they want to communicate and how they want the conversation to go.

But I find the unpredictability of the cafe format exhilarating. While I have prepared what I want to say, the table talk can often raise issues that I hadn't thought of or which force me to explain or unpack an idea I've just shared. this means people get what I'm trying to say and have begun to work with it. It also means that I learn. It was great to hear the insights of people yesterday as they processed what I'd said and applied what I'd shared to their lives.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Off to Scotland

Linda and I are off to Scotland in the morning.

I'm speaking at the graduation service of the Scottish Baptist College tomorrow evening. I'm really looking forward to it - though I am also gripped by entirely understandable panic!

Then we hope to see family, catch up with friends, see some sites and generally relax before pitching up at St Ninians church in Stirling on Sunday morning where I'm going to talk about new ways of being church in a sort of cafe-style, conversationally-based morning service.

So, no blogging until next week.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

cafe church thoughts on baptism as relocation

It's good to know there's lots of people out there thinking about this issue. I've found all the contributions really helpful.

It was cafe church on Sunday and we did a very simple meditative evening on location, location, location. Taking Romans 6 as our spring board, we thought about our life of faith in terms of location and journey. We ended by signing a covenant, committing ourselves to being family to one another, helping each other walk in newness of life (the words came from Gathering for Worship). Of course, we didn't link signing the covenant with joining the church!

The interesting thing for me was the reaction of most of the worshippers - a mature crowd as most of our young adults were away at the wedding of one of their own. Many said it was the best cafe church we'd ever had. some talked of the profound way it helped them to think about their journey. One person said it took them back to their baptism and made them think about what it had meant then (a long time ago) and what it means now.

I think through the course of this conversation - both through this blog and with my team and others in church - I have become much more aware of how important baptism as a theological tool was to Paul as he explained the life of faith to his converts around the Eastern end of the empire.

Unpacking Romans 6 on Sunday evening, we looked at baptism as emigration - moving from one location (the land of sin and death) to another (the land of grace and resurrection). We looked at Jesus as the means of that emigration - the one able to pay the fare, get the exit visa, manage the crossing. We reflected on Paul's likening of baptism to the exodus (cf 1 Cor 10:2) and hence of the baptised being God's new pilgrim people, walking the journey of freedom from slavery to the promised land - in our case the redeemed world (Romans 4:13, 8:17).

All this being true, the obvious response was that we committed ourselves to journey together, watching over one another in love. I have been struck time and time again as I have read Paul over the past few weeks how close the link is between personal response in baptism and the group life of the followers of Jesus. There is no personal response to Jesus without equally personal commitment to his followers.

So, I left Sunday evening thinking that we must forge a closer link between baptism, discipleship and our life together and that the most obvious way of doing this was to link 'membership' to some kind of commitment to walk together as disciples.

For me this offers the opportunity to empty membership of all the stuff that associates it with status, being an insider over against outsiders, being more important to the church than attending non-members, while at the same time filling membership with helpful connotations of covenant commitment to God and one another, of active participation in the life of the church so that we are built up and help to build up others.

The only hurdle left is: how do you introduce such thinking into a pretty traditional baptist church that has at best an ambivalent attitude to embracing change?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Yet more on membership

Andy's comment about baptism making us ecclesial beings is quite helpful. I think baptists have tended to separate baptism and church membership to an unhealthy degree.

If that sounds odd, let me explain. In our church, ministers prepare candidates for baptism and carry out baptisms; membership is handled by the church meeting on the advice of interviewers appointed by the leaders. It means that while I can baptise someone into Christ, I can't at the same time declare that person by virtue of what's happened in the pool, to be a member of the local body of Christ where he or she has been baptised.

I think this is a nonsense and Andy has given the language with which to talk about it. Thanks.

His other comment and quote from Colin Gunton is also important. Joining a church is not another consumer choice we make between moving house and buying a three piece suite. It is important to realise that in joining a church, we are joining people we don't choose, people God says are our brothers and sisters. Part of our commitment in joining is that we're saying we are going to be family to and for and with these people we didn't choose. this is why I'm so keen on some kind of renewable covenant forming the basis of how we do membership.

Graham's point about there not being much distinction between members and non-members in terms of commitment or levels of discipleship is spot on. We have non-members who attend more frequently, give more sacrificially and volunteer more effectively and energetically than a good many of our members. And this raises a major issue about what 'membership' is and what it means.

I guess a parody of the traditional Baptist view suggests that membership is about belonging to a club of people like us which confers special privileges - most notably telling the minister how to do his job! This is probably why some churches have abandoned membership altogether; they feel it bears no relationship whatsoever to discipleship and just forms unhelpful fault lines in the church.

I hope that basing membership on an annually renewable covenant would help us deal with this issue. It says to everyone who's attending the church regularly that membership is about being committed to God, to one another and to the mission and ministry of the church; it says that the commitment being made is up-to-date - that is, it's not based on where I was with God 10, 20 or 30 years ago - which means that it's commitment to be in accountable and supportive relationships with the people who are currently gathering with this church.

It's probably not the whole answer. we'll probably still have members who rarely attend and active attenders who don't become members. But it could well lead to us having a membership that better reflects the current committed core of the church.

I'd be interested to know what people think.

I think Graham's point about our practice giving us ecumenical headaches is answered by Sean Winter's article on ambiguous genitives in Romans. I appreciate that this article is not yet in the public domain - but will be soon, I gather. One point he makes is that Baptists can't be part of ecumenical relationships while at the same time arguing that all forms of baptism that don't involve the total immersion of believers are invalid.

He argues from Romans 6 that we all need to pay greater attention to the relationship between grace and faith, laying more emphasis on God's prevenient grace. In Baptism we participate in what Christ has done for us rather than do something ourselves that has salvific significance. This means that we can acknowledge various forms of baptism administered at various stages in people's life of faith.

I think that works for me. What do others think?

More on baptism and membership

This has been a fascinating conversation so far - long may it continue cause I'm learning loads!

It seems clear to me that there are two broad groups of people who are in mind as we think about baptism and membership - and sometimes we get them confused. The first group are Christians who are looking to join our churches because they've moved into the area or have decided to move on from the church they've been attending for a while for a variety of reasons.

I feel it's obvious that we take seriously their journey with God over how ever long it's taken. This must include acknowledging the validity of whatever initiation they have undergone assuming that that initiation was accompanied along the way by faith on the part of the person. This an area that Baptists seem divided over. I'll return to it.

The second group are those who are finding faith through the activities of our churches. Regarding this group, I have long been influenced by the simple thought that belonging precedes believing. For me this has always meant that people need to be welcomed and feel accepted before they are likely to be able to sort out what they believe. This in itself raises all kinds of questions about membership (which I'll also return to - though probably not in this post)

For these folk, it seems to me, baptism is a crucial part of that journey and a creative approach to preparing them for that moment is essential.

This leads me to reflect on one point in Alan Kreider's stimulating essay in Remembering Our Future. He lays great emphasis on baptismal preparation - what he calls catechesis. Taking his cue from the patristic period - while eschewing charges of patristic fundamentalism (p177) - he argues strongly that 60 or even 90 weeks of baptismal preparation is essential.

His reason for this is that it has to undo a lot of the learning that our culture has forced on us; the billions of dollars spent on advertising, the hours spent in front of the TV - all this has to be undone and Christian learning put in its place.

I have two problems with this. The first is entirely practical - while it might say to people how seriously we take baptism and discipleship, it raises the bar so high that few people are likely to stick around to jump it. The second is that he seems casually dismissive of all the teaching efforts of churches: Sunday school, youth groups, camps, home groups, Sunday adult teaching, midweek Bible studies - all these are apparently dismissed as incapable of countering the impact of the world. And yet, surely, this is precisely what such programmes are geared to do. Our church's teaching programme aims to make disciples, aims to help those disciples navigate their way through a difficult world.

I've not had time to reflect on his twelve steps - I will and will blog about it - but my immediate reaction is that these steps describe what good churches teach week-in, week-out and to suggest that it all needs to be reiterated in detail as part of baptismal preparation seems redundant.

And would he argue that folk joining us from other traditions would need to go through a similar catechetical process? What would this say about our acceptance of their journey of faith? I can't help but think that it would send out negative and exclusivist vibes of the most unhelpful kind.

I'll reply to a couple of comments left earlier in the discussion in the next post

Monday, June 11, 2007

A musical footnote

One new album I forgot to mention yesterday is Bjork's Volta. I suspect that the Icelandic elf singer is like Marmite - you either love or loathe her. I fall into the former category (though I have to be in the mood)

I watched her performance on Later with Jools at lunchtime (the wonder of video tape and an empty home during the day) which was just wonderful - who else would have an all female brass band dressed in primary coloured crepe jump suits? The two songs - one off the new album - were cracking.

Volta opens with two blinders - Earth Intruders and Wanderlust - but every track is interesting, a fascinating blend of sounds, instruments, voices and good tunes. Reviewers have said that it's her angriest and most direct album lyrically but I have to admit that for the most part I haven't a clue what she's on about - but she does it beautifully.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

This month's good listening

All good theological discussions should be fuelled by a variety of stimuli. As well as reading scripture, Sean Winter's stimulating Whitley lecture, Alan Kreider's essay on baptism in Remembering our Future (which I'll blog on later because although it's full of interesting things, I'm not sure I buy his argument) and a host of other good, solid theological tomes, I've also been listening some really good music.

Top of the pile is Modest Mouse's wonderfully titled new album, We were dead before the ship even sank. The American indie popsters are joined here by Johnny Marr, formerly of the Smiths and arguably Britain's best guitarist of the past generation. He adds wonderful subtlety to the heady and turbulent mix of the band.

Bonobo's new album Days to Come is an absolute delight. Si Green has made the transition from bedroom-based sampler to full band delivering up the perfect album to listen to in the garden on a warm summer evening with a chilled Chablis and loved one.

Laura Veirs' two albums Year of Meteors and Saltbreakers are worth checking out. She has a great voice, lovely turn of phrase and the playing is tight and immaculate.

And finally Richard Thompson's Sweet Warrior is an amazing collection of songs from the British troubadour, veteran of Fairport Convention and the English folk scene. Almost qualifying for his bus pass and casting his eye over our troubled world, he's turning out songs as good as any in his career.

Making the link between blogging and church

The great thing about blogging is the freedom one has to express thoughts and feelings about a subject and the free exchange of ideas with those who join in the conversation. At some stage for me, as a minister responsible for leading a similar conversation in my church and helping us all to discern where God's leading us as a particular community at a particular moment, the ideas generated in the freedom of blogging have to be earthed in actual church practice.

I've been pondering how this might happen in the light of the stimulating exchange that happened on this site in the past few days (thanks to all who've visited and posted both here and elsewhere. Those wanting to check out Andy's thoughts should go to )

The thing about bloggers is that we are keen to exchange ideas, explore theology and can be somewhat detached in our conversation. In churches these issues come with all kinds of baggage attached.

Some people feel that having the conversation at all is an assault on their deeply cherished and long-held feelings about church life. Others want a debate providing nothing substantial changes and still others are convinced that only the leadership want change for reasons best known to themselves.

Others, of course - perhaps a majority - just want to ensure that the way we do things according to our rules reflects the way things are in the world we actually live in. In the best possible sense, they don't really care what system we propose for membership and baptism providing it helps us be the community they think we need to be in order to be effective in mission and pastoral care.

So over the next few days my team and I will be drawing up a proposal for a way forward to share with the leadership and church next month with a view to easing change in our way of doing things that everyone will be able to live with.

I'll post the broad outline as I'd be interested in your views. After all, as a good baptist, I don't believe we have a monopoly of wisdom in our fellowship; the Lord can bring more light and truth to us out of the blogosphere. So, stick around...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Baptism revisted

I might be shot down as a heretic for saying this but I'm not sure that the idea of the universal church helps us much. I certainly don't think that the New Testament separates belonging to Christ (and hence the universal church) from relating to a local group of his followers.

All the great baptismal texts in Paul's letters - Galatians 3, 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 6, Colossians 2 - are rooted in local church experience even though they have a cosmic sweep to them.

But I agree with Marcus that we need to get rid of the rules that restrict our membership on any grounds other than discipleship.

I'm just reading Alan Kreider's chapter in Deep church and will comment in due course. I am grateful to Andy for reminding me of Stuart Blythe's description of baptism as a political act - that is something we have lost.

I'd be interested in Andy unpacking his thoughts on having a more theological understanding of membership in relation to covenant. I wonder if this is the category that helps us make the best sense of what membership is and how it works.

If that's the case, then I think what I'm suggesting is that we see membership as a covenant with one another in our churches. Furthermore I'd be interested in exploring ways of regularly renewing that covenant commitment - possibly through an annual covenant service or renewal period (say in January). I know there are one or baptist churches that practice this kind of thing - maybe someone out there can give us chapter and verse.

By bringing the covenant aspect of membership to the fore I think it offers us the chance to have a deeper and richer theology of membership, while at the same time removing some of the unhelpful hurdles we make prospective members jump through before we let them aboard.

Further baptism thoughts

Wulf's comment to the previous post on baptism is spot on. What matters is what happens after baptism - the months and years and lifetime that follows it.

And his likening it to marriage in some way helps to answer Graham's point. I agree that 'membership' is an extra-biblical idea. But relationship isn't. And it seems to me that Baptism in the New Testament always has an eye on our relationships with one another as well as with Christ. We are baptised into the body of Christ - always understood as a local community of followers of Jesus.

Membership - if it has any value at all (and I share Graham's scepticism about it as a thing in its own right) has value because it is our way of ordering those relationships.

In the New Testament churches functioned as households or as meal time symposia and thus operated according to a set of unspoken relational rules. People belonged to something and felt as though they belonged. And the NT adds to that advice on how to ensure those relationships function well.

So Philippians 2:1-18 tells us how we need to live together in a hostile environment in a way that will ensure mutual support and accountability and corporate, communal witness to the wider world. Or Ephesians 4:11ff talks about relating well within the household of God (outlined in chapter 2).

For me membership needs to function as our contemporary equivalent of those ordered relationships. if it doesn't we should scrap it. Membership is about us saying I want to be accountable to and supported by this group of people, I want to walk with them on my journey of discipleship, I desire their companionship and insight.

For this reason, I think membership should be something we opt into rather than get invited into (as in, 'do you want to join my club'); something that is focused on me agreeing to a way of life that enables me to walk with the brothers and sisters that I've met at this particular church. In other words, membership should be a covenant that we freely and regularly enter into.

I'm not sure that answers Graham's question. I'd be interested to hear how his church and others do this.

Marcus' comment about our rules flying in the face of what God is doing by calling people to be a part of our community is also spot on. He uses examples of Calvin, the wesleys and Jim Packer. I've used the example of John Stott. none of these people can join my church - or Marcus' by the sound of it - because they haven't got wet enough. I think it indicates a weakness of our position.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Two tribes in step

At our recent church conference, we concluded our conversations together thinking about how the two big tribes in our churches - the inheritors and the emergents - can walk together for the benefit of the future. I thought I'd share my thoughts with a wider audience. Be interested to know what you think...

Frankie (who remembers FGTH?) says ‘when two tribes go to war, a point is all that you can score’ How true! But if two tribes walk in step, think of what they could achieve…

We live in a world of constant and unpredictable change. Not a world where things develop – such as the world our parents and grand-parents grew up and handed on to us – but a world that lurches and jumps, where new ways of doing things are swept away by even newer ones for no reason other than they can be. This is a disorienting place to be for pretty much everyone – whatever age we are, whichever tribe we belong to.

There are two broad tribes in our churches – including this one. They respond to this whirlwind of change in two broad ways:

Tribe 1 – we’ll call them the inheritors – consists of people who’ve inherited, taken to heart and owned a way of doing church that seems to have been around forever (in fact it’s about 100-150 years old).

They like the inherited ways of doing things for a number of reasons: first, they have stood the test of time – at least for as long as their memory stretches back; second they provide a predictable and comfortable place in a world of uncomfortable and unpredictable change; and third it’s a way of doing things we have found beneficial in our development as Christians and thus we suppose others will as well

But change is provoking all kinds of uncomfortable feelings. The world they knew and loved is passing away, a new world seems constantly on the threshold of being born but we can’t see what shape it is yet – but we know we won’t really like it.

Tribe 2 – we’ll call them the emergents – consists of people who have not inherited the classical ways of doing things. Indeed, they find them to be unsatisfactory, unhelpful, a distraction from living faithful Christian lives in a world of rapid and unpredictable change

They are looking for new ways of doing things for a number of reasons: first, they have always lived in this world of unpredictable change and the old ways don’t help then to find a place in it; second, they have increasingly found the inherited ways difficult to access because their lives do not allow them the time or space to do things previous generations did; and third they find inherited ways of doing things no longer help them in their witness to their peers and neighbours

They are impatient to see the church change as the world around them has, so that it helps them to live their Christian lives and do mission in this world, not a world that has disappeared. They are looking for new ways of being church to emerge but it hasn’t happened yet and they aren’t entirely sure how to make it happen

Two tribes caught up in a world of rapid and unpredictable change. Two tribes with the same call – to live faithful Christian lives, create communities that embody Christian values and engage in mission to bring the life-giving message of Jesus to those around them lost and floundering in this world of rapid and unpredictable change.

Here are two suggestions about how these two tribes might engage with one another:

1) dialogue: if we talk to each other – and listen carefully to what each other is saying – we will quickly see that each tribe has insights that the other needs to live faithfully in today’s world: the inheritors will see that the emergents actually have to the tools to cope with the world as it is. They also have a holy restlessness to see the church rise to the challenge of making Jesus known in this world and the gifts of creativity to make it happen

The emergents will see that the inheritors’ have a history of faithfulness over the long-haul, traditions that have been handed down over generations of teaching and theology, the skills of organization, the commitment to stick at things over long periods of time – qualities that will be needed in whatever world is emerging.

2) diffusion: if we talk to each other, we’ll hopefully offer two things: first the grace of honouring each other’s ways of doing things. There is not one right way of being and doing church. The gospel can be earthed in any culture and will look different in every culture in which it is properly and faithfully earthed. Second the space to allow each tribe to do church in a way that meets their needs and that of their peer group outside the church. This means groups of various kinds meeting in various ways and at various times to be and do church in a way that builds their faith and equips them to reach out to the world. It might mean several things happening at once targeted at different groups – even on a Sunday morning.

Constant, rapid and unpredictable change is here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future – if we retreat into our tribes and defend our turf, the church will shrink, consumed in a swirl of irrelevance and infighting. If two tribes talk to each other, share their hopes and fears, the church that emerges will be strong and faithful to the gospel.

Plumbing the depths of baptism

Following April's church conference we are moving ahead on a number of fronts. And the big debate at our elders' gathering yesterday was the link between baptism and church membership.

At the moment only those baptised by immersion can be full members of the church and hence leaders. It means that those initiated in evangelical Anglican or Methodist traditions, for example, can only become associate members and never be leaders. This has led to a feeling that we have first and second class membership, with one or two not taking associate members as seriously as others.

So we talked about two possible alternative models. One is to recognise all forms of Christian initiation where it includes a step taken as a believer - so confirmation as a believing adult following infant baptism would count. The other is to allow anyone to become a member - to decouple membership and baptism - but to insist that leaders can only be selected from among those who have been baptised by immersion.

I am torn between the two options. And would like to find a third...

I am, however, more convinced than ever that baptism is an important marker for us. I have just reread Sean Winter's provocative paper 'Ambiguous Genitives, Pauline Baptism and Roman Insulae: exegetical resources from Romans for Pushing the Boundaries of Unity' written in response to the report produced by a group of Anglicans and Baptists which met over a number of years looking at issues that divide and unite us. Their report was published by Church House in 2005 under the title Pushing at the boundaries of unity.

Sean argues (I think) that the one baptism of Ephesians 4 is Jesus' baptism and that Paul's baptismal theology in Romans 6 is an outworking of his understanding that discipleship is based on the faith of Jesus - articulated most clearly and dramatically in Galatians 2:15-21 (though to see it you do need to note that three times - twice in v16 and again in v19 - Paul speaks not of our faith in Jesus but of Jesus' faith in which we participate by our faith. I've argued this at length in my Crossway Bible Guide on Galatians - this is one of the ambiguous genitives of Sean's title; the other is 'the righteousness of God').

This means that while we might argue that believers' baptism is the best picture of the drama of faith, all baptism is valid theologically because it takes its power from Jesus' baptism - understood not just as his initiation into ministry at the Jordan but his suffering, death and resurrection (the very things pictured in our baptism).

One thing that I am thinking about, in the context of membership as well as baptism, is that baptism marks a key stage in our life of discipleship but that maybe it marks neither the start nor the end of the beginning of it as some of us often emphasise as we prepare candidates for the pool. There is a tendency to see it as the beginning, something you need to do as a first step and then move on from.

Yet, I have been struck forcibly over the past few weeks by how often Paul calls his readers to remember their baptism as a significant picture of what happened to them as they chose to be disciples of Jesus, a picture that continues to shape their lives as disciples, especially within the community of believers.

So, for example, he talks of baptism in 1 Cor 12:13 (where I take him to be talking about baptism in water) ahead of his conversation about how we treat one another in the church. Because each of us has marked our determination to be a disciple by a baptism that is both a sharing of Jesus' and a picture of our desire to live a new life, we should therefore recognise one another in the church as equals - regardless of class, education, race or anything else that in the world would divide us. And hence we need to recognise one another's giftedness.

Or Galatians 3:26-29 where midway through the amazing Bible study that he is using to demonstrate the truth of his gospel against that of his rivals in Galatia, Paul takes his first hearers back to their baptism. Being clothed in Christ (a picture of sharing Jesus' baptism, life, death and resurrection? I think so), we are now one in the community of disciples. And through belonging to Christ in this way, we are heirs of the promise, Abraham's seed (as Jesus is - 3:16 - we can only be seed - singular - if we are 'in Christ' through baptism and living out of his faith) so we do not need to add anything to ensure that we either get in or stay in God's people (works of the Law, for example), neither do we need to impose such things on one another. We are one in Christ through faith and baptism - primarily that of Jesus and secondarily our own.

So, while I am more than ever convinced how important baptism is, I am less bothered about its administration - how wet people get and when. I am more concerned that we see baptism not only as a picture of how our Christian lives start but also of how they continue.

Am I missing something?