Consultation Explores “Believers Baptism”

Kingston, Jamaica — A three-day consultation took place involving representatives of six different “believers baptism” church traditions to share their understandings and practices of baptism and to explore how their thinking has changed in light of the emerging theological convergence on baptism and growing ecumenical encounter over the past 50 years. This was the first time such a gathering has taken place, and thus represents a historic moment in the life of these traditions.

The traditions represented were the Baptists, Brethren, Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Mennonites, and Pentecostals, including Church of God. The 18 participants included persons from Jamaica, Kenya, Germany, Paraguay, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The initiative for the consultation grew out of the annual meeting of Secretaries of Christian World Communions in 2012 where fresh thinking and official agreements around the mutual recognition of baptism between churches who practice “infant baptism” and those who have practiced “believers baptism.”

The agenda of the consultation included presentations from each of the church traditions on their historic and current teaching and practice of baptism, with attention to how their understandings have changed or developed, along with the opportunity to discuss the presentations. A representative of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches was also present, who gave an input from the perspective of the wider global discussion in the ecumenical movement on baptism.

The highlights of the consultation, as stated in a report on the meeting, included:

– gratitude for the opportunity to have an open and honest reflection on the meaning, practice and shared understandings of baptism among the participants;
– naming the potential of the image of “being on a journey” for the Christian life, with different forms and expressions of initiation and confession, while sharing a similar call to discipleship and a shared end;
– the significance of understanding the Holy Spirit as a source both of our diversity as well as our unity in Christ;
– the need for a re-examination of the language of ‘sacrament’, ‘ordinance’, ‘sign’ and ‘symbol’ as ways acknowledge that God is the primary actor in baptism;
– the need to view the continuity between ecumenical reception of other traditions as church and the practice that mark each tradition as a unique expression of the body of Christ.

The full text of the report on the meeting will be shared with both the Conference of Secretaries of Christian World Communions and the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC in hopes of moving the discussion and work on the mutual recognition of baptism and Christian unity.

Participants in the Consultation:

Baptist World Alliance
Rev. Neville Callam, General Secretary, Baptist World Alliance (Washington, D.C.)
Rev. Dr. Glenroy Lalor, Lecturer, United Theological College of the West Indies (Kingston, Jamaica)
Rev. Dr. Jim Somerville, Pastor, First Baptist Church (Richmond, Virginia)

Church of the Brethren
Rev. Dr. Jeff Carter, President, Bethany Theological Seminary (Richmond, Indiana)
Dr. Denise Kettering-Lane, Assistant Professor of Brethren Studies, Bethany Theological Seminary (Richmond, Indiana)

Churches of Christ
Dr. John Mark Hicks, Professor of Theology, Lipscomb University (Nashville, Tennessee)
Dr. Gary Holloway, Executive Director, World Convention of Churches of Christ (Nashville, Tennessee)
Dr. Mark Weedman, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, Johnson University, (Knoxville, Tennessee)

Disciples 0f Christ
Rev. Dr. Marjorie Lewis, President, United Theological College of the West Indies (Kingston, Jamaica)
Rev. Professor David M. Thompson, United Reformed Church (Cambridge, England)
Rev. Dr. Robert K. Welsh, General Secretary, Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council (Indianapolis, Indiana)

Rev. Dr. Fernando Enns, Professor of (Peace-)Theology and Ethics, Free University Amsterdam (Netherlands) and University of Hamburg (Germany), member of Central Committee of World Council of Churches
Dr. Alfred Neufeld, Rector, Protestant University of Paraguay (Ascension, Paraguay)
Rev. Rebecca Osiro, Mennonite Regional Representative in Eastern Africa, and pastor of Mennonite Church in Nairobi, Kenya

Dr. Cecil M. Robeck, Professor of Church History and Ecumenics, Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, California)
Rev. Dr. Tony Richie, Pastor, New Harvest Church of God (Knoxville, Tennessee) and Adjunct Professor of Pentecostal Theology (Cleveland, Tennessee)
Rev. Dr. Daniel Tomberlin, Pastor, Vidalia Church of God (Vidalia, Georgia)

Faith and Order Commission of WCC
Rev. Dr. Dagmar Heller, Academic Dean of the Ecumenical Institute (Bossey, Switzerland) and Executive Secretary for Faith and Order, WCC (Geneva, Switzerland)

(Source: Dr. Tony Richie)

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