If you stop by this blog often, you’ll remember that I wrote a post last week advocating the idea that in order to form a culture of discipleship in the local church, we should preach and teach our baptismal vows instead of relying solely on our membership vows to the job. I got a lot of great feedback through a number of forums including the comment section on this blog, Facebook, and Twitter. In fact, there was so much mixed feedback I feel the need to come back with a follow up post on the topic.
Baptismal Vows and Membership Vows: A Review
Our Baptismal Vows are as follows:
1. Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
2. Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
3. Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?
**According to the grace given you, will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy Church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world? [More on this one later…]
And our Membership Vows:
As members of Christ’s universal Church, will you be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church, and do all in your power to strengthen its ministries? [Membership Vows for the UMC]
Will you participate in the ministries of this church with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness? [Membership Vows for the local congregation]
Addressing the Criticism
I had a number of people question the necessity of rooting a ministry of discipleship in our baptismal vows. One of the common responses went something like this: “If people actually their vows of membership seriously, then we wouldn’t have a discipleship problem.”
I’d like to address that comment with some follow up thoughts…
First, I should remind readers that in order to make the case for the importance of baptismal vows I had to argue they were at least as important if not more important than our membership vows. By no means do I think we should do away with the vows of membership to the local church. This is not an either/or sort of thing. I’m simply saying that our current culture has not done an adequate job of forming disciples when we’re talking only about what it means to be a member in a local church. Doubling down on a system that’s already proven to yield a low capacity for discipleship doesn’t make sense. Adding an emphasis on baptismal vows as the basis for discipleship only enhances one’s life as a church member.
Secondly, membership vows alone are not enough to form Wesleyan disciples. If we’re honest with ourselves we know that we can be 100% active in our local church through prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness and remain nominally Christian. “Participating in the ministries of the church” is a far cry from the language of Wesleyan holiness. Agreeing to pray, be actively engaged in a local church, give of our financial gifts, and encouraging others to do likewise is not on the same level as renouncing and repenting of sin, accepting the grace to reject evil and injustice, and confessing Jesus as Lord. That doesn’t make membership vows something to scoff at. But it does remind us that are active members of a local church because we are first baptized into God’s mighty acts of salvation. The accountability we hold one another to should include whether or not we participate in the transformative ministries of our local church but it should not end there. Accountable discipleship asks whether or not we’re growing in grace, moving on towards perfection, and becoming more and more holy. Wesleyan disciples are active church members as a result of this journey towards entire sanctification.
This is precisely what it means to “remain faithful members of Christ’s holy Church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?”
A (Short) Personal Testimony
My daughter was baptized today during our 11:00 worship service. I had the great pleasure of not robing up as a preacher because it was more important I be a dad today. As my wife and I stood next to the font holding our daughter, I thought about the water inside and the precious life in my arms. Our senior pastor asked us — in front of about 350+ members of our local church family — the questions of baptism I wrote above. It occurred to me this was probably the first time since my confirmation that I had renewed my baptismal vows. So there I stood, before God and a full congregation as both pastor and dad, and I tried to answer each question in as best as I could — slowly and intentionally because I was not only answering for myself but also as a promise to raise my daughter likewise.
For me, discipleship must include a continual reminder of these vows of baptism because I refuse to set the bar so low as to let my daughter think that as long as she’s active in a local church everything is okay. I answered those questions knowing that one day she’ll answer them for herself. When that day comes I hope she knows that should not be the last time she hears those questions. Through the ups and downs of her life, I hope those questions echo in her ears just like I hope the waters of her baptism keep her feet a little damp no matter where she goes. If her baptism is to mean anything, it ought to mean that by God’s unfailing grace she’ll live into a life that seeks to model these vows. And in doing so, I hope she knows that also means she must be active and faithful to a local church. But that faithfulness comes out of the fact that on a day she can’t personally remember, her mom and dad stood before a group of folks and declared that, by grace, she would raised as a disciple of Jesus Christ come hell or high water. If even and ounce of that comes true two things will happen: First, she’ll know that grace alone is responsible; and secondly, there will be no question at all over if she’ll be active in a local church — by grace, that will come as a natural result.