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A dialogue on believers' baptism.

Since the 16th century, baptism has been a dividing issue among churches, especially (but not only) between churches which practice infant baptism and churches which do not. More than 30 years ago, the convergence text of Faith and Order on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEAT) tried to bring churches closer together by proposing (a) that infant baptism and believers' baptism are two different forms or practices of the one baptism and (b) to understand baptism as "related not only to momentary experience, but to life-long growth into Christ" (BEM, par. 9). On the basis of this work, a growing number of agreements on mutual recognition of baptism in different countries were reached between different churches during the last decades. But only in rare cases were such agreements signed by churches that do not practice infant baptism.

This issue of The Ecumenical Review presents papers given at a consultation held on 7-11 January 2015 in Kingston, Jamaica, where representatives of Christian traditions that do not practice infant baptism consulted for the first time among themselves. They discovered differences concerning their baptismal practices and understanding as well as concerning the practice of baptizing or not baptizing persons who had been baptized as infants.

David M. Thompson, Emeritus Professor of Modern Church History in the University of Cambridge, UK, having been involved in ecumenical work locally, nationally, and internationally for more than fifty years, stands at the origins of the aforementioned consultation. In his contribution, he asks the believers' baptism churches some important questions that might lead forward in the question of mutual recognition of baptism with churches that practice infant baptism. Neville Callam, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance--through a substantial overview on the developments in the bilateral discussions around baptism, in which the Baptists are involved-- comes to the conclusion that there is now a need to promote reception of the fruits of the discussions rather than a need for further bilateral dialogue on baptism.

Denise Kettering-Lane, Assistant Professor of Brethren Studies at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, USA, shows a clear shift in Brethrens' understanding of baptism during the 20th century as a result of ecumenical relationships. While the traditional theological emphasis remains on the importance of obedience to Christ, the covenant with the community of faith and the ordination of the individual into the priesthood of all believers, especially the requirement of rebaptism and of a specific mode of baptism, have changed.

John Mark Hicks and Mark Weedman, together with Robert K. Welsh, present the two traditions resulting from the Stone-Campbell or American Restoration movement in the 18th and 19th centuries. Hicks describes the understanding and practice of baptism in the Churches of Christ, while Weedman's contribution presents the perspective of Independents or Churches of Christ/Christian Churches. Both traditions agree on the insistence on baptism of believers and would welcome a mutual recognition of the Christian faith among immersed believers. Welsh, the general secretary of the Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council, explores the development of the Disciples of Christ by examining some key ecumenical dialogues in which the Disciples are involved. He points out the approach of Disciples to baptism of believers and baptism of infants as "both/and" rather than "either/or."

The position(s) of the Mennonites is given in two contributions: Fernando Enns, Professor of Peace-Theology and Ethics at Free University Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Director of the Institute of Peace Church Theology, University of Hamburg, Germany, focuses on the relations of Mennonites with Lutherans and Catholics. He points to the fact that some of the decisive factors for the divisions of the 16th century have completely changed, and therefore one can speak nowadays of far-reaching convergences in the understanding of the church, especially between Mennonites and Lutherans. Alfred Neufeld, rector of the Universidad Evangelica del Paraguay, reflects on some key issues from his experience in the tri-lateral dialogue between Mennonites, Lutherans, and Catholics on baptism.

Dan Tomberlin, an ordained bishop in the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), is developing a Pentecostal response to BEM, something which is still missing in the multilateral discussions on the level of Faith and Order. The question of the role of the Holy Spirit becomes crucial; especially, the discussion on the issue of sacramentality becomes important and needs to be taken up not only by churches that practice infant baptism, but also by Pentecostal churches.

I was invited as an outsider to give input from the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on Faith and Order. My paper offers an overview of the work of Faith and Order in this area and gives input for a new approach by proposing to understand the different modes of baptism as different entries to the "house," which is the body of Christ.

The report of the consultation summarizes the findings made in the papers. Ecumenically important is the observation that in some churches that practice believers' baptism, one can find "a growing acceptance ... within the process of Christian initiation of a place for infant baptism." The "new insights" mentioned in the report may well lead to further reflections within churches practicing believers' baptism, but it also includes an invitation to "all churches within the ecumenical movement" to consider various questions. The publication of these papers is meant to motivate a new and wider discussion on baptism between churches that practice infant baptism and those that practice believers' baptism.

DOI: 10.1111/erev.12167
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Author:Heller, Dagmar
Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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