How do you “make a Christian”?

My YouYube subscriptions notified me this week that I had a new video from Father Matthew, and Episcopal priest who does humorous and informative vlogs. This week it was The Book of Common Prayer in 4 Minutes. It is a useful and fun romp through the BCP but when he came to baptism he described it as “how we make Christians.” I guess I feel there is still enough Protestantism in the Anglican tradition that this is not a very accurate or helpful description of baptism and is misleading as to how one becomes a Christian.1 I realize this puts me out of step with my anglo-catholic friends, but I believe it keeps me firmly within our tradition.

I am reminded of when our son was going to be baptized and I discussed this with our rector. He used the same language and yet he also insisted that this was not “how he would be saved.” I was told ‘he becomes a Christian through baptism but is saved through faith.” Hunh? Even if that were theologically correct (which I don’t believe to be the case) it is a best severely confusing for the community/laity. What message are we sending them if we say that baptism “makes you a Christian”? (Oh, but it doesn’t save you.)

As you can imagine, this was a key area of concern and debate leading up to my ordination. In practice I find the BCP and our tradition of baptism and confirmation a tremendous evangelistic tool and an appropriate path for instruction and reception into the community of faith. But we don’t “make Christians.” That is by the spirit and grace of God and the confession and faith of the penitent.2

 
  1. He also described the ordination services as “how we make priests” and so on, and while I would quibble with that, I do not find that nearly so theologically problematic.
  2. And now you know why I am no longer (not that I ever really was) a Calvinist.

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