The point of Yoder's book is that he takes stuff the early disciples did and extrapolates from this to how we should be in the world nowadays, but this chapter was, for me, way too much about the nowadays and nowhere near enough about the original sacrament.
By, oh, the third reading I got a better sense of how all the bits fit together but yeah, I was not impressed. Trelawney said his writing/theology is "thick." I hesitate around using that term because to me it implies rich and layered, but it is admittedly a fair term for this.
This is my attempt to pull out his salient points/arguments.
He talks a lot about the "new world" or "new creation" of 2 Corinthians 5:17 (he says the usual translation of "new creature" is inaccurate), and I never really wrapped my head around how exactly Jesus made a new world. (More on this later.)
On the first page of the chapter, Yoder says, "Baptism introduces or initiates persons into a new people" (28) but he doesn't say much else about baptism. He says in the next sentence, "The distinguishing mark of this people is that all prior given or chosen identity definitions are transcended," which I can get into, but then he starts to lose me.
Basic gist: Galatians 3:27-28 = big deal
It is not enough to say that each of us is individually born again and baptized, with the result that all the born-again individuals are collected into one place, commanded by God to love one another and plant churches, with no more reason for discrimination. Paul says more than that; he says that two peoples, two cultures, two histories have come to flow into one new humanity, a new creation. The order is thus the reverse of our modern expectations. There is a new inter-ethnic social reality into which the individual is inducted rather than the social reality being the sum of the individuals. (30)One thing I did find interesting was his point that: "After the fifth century there were no more outsiders to convert because the whole world had been declared Christian by imperial edict. That made baptism a celebration of birth, reinforcing in-group identity rather than transcending it" (32).
He then talks for a few pages about how baptism has been understood in the time since then. Which is not especially of interest to me, at least not in this context. Then he talked about how "modern egalitarianism did not come from the churches" (34) -- to which Trelawney argued that although it didn't come from the institutional churches, a lot of people in those movements came from churches and certainly their faith influenced them (he even mentions MLK Jr. on the next page).
He gets into the issue of "baptism and 'mission' " and says "The messianic age has begun; Paul simply proclaims that fact. He does not seek to bring it about, as if it were for him or his readers to attain. What they are to do is only to announce and celebrate it" (37). Trelawney pointed out that he oversimplified this since Paul had a lot of very specific ideas as to what he thought the messianic age should look like. After all, it begs the question of how one is supposed to "celebrate" it. Yoder says, "When heard, the message will change people both inwardly and outwardly, but that change is not the message. The message is that Christ has begun a new phase of world history" (37). Again, I would like a bit more insight as to how it will change people (though clearly egalitarianism seems to be Yoder's central idea as to that change).
Yoder says: "The Twelve did not set out to obey the Great Commission; they talked about the risen Lord and they broke bread together in their homes and thus they found themselves together first with Hellenized Jews and then even with Gentiles. Then a theology had to be unfolded to make sense of the ingathering, and adjustments in church order had to be made to affirm and guide it. The action of mission was prior to theory about it" (38). This is moderately helpful. He also says, "If reconciliation between peoples and cultures is not happening, the Gospel's truth is not being confirmed in that place" (38).
In his closing to his argument about the egalitarianism that comes from Christ's call versus the egalitarianism that developed from the secular Enlightenment, he makes the bold statement that "The original Christian equality message, to sum up, was rooted in the work of Christ, not in creation or providence" (40). This makes sense given his argument that Christ fundamentally changed the cosmos, but still gives me an uncomfortableness. One can argue that the non-egalitarianism of Judaism (the Jews being God's Chosen People) was part of a slow build from Fall to Christ and that it was a necessary setup and... but I'm a Capital T "Truth" kind of girl, so I'm really uncomfortable with the idea that there were Correct ways to live that were specific to a sociohistorical moment. (Obviously social mores change all the time, but I'm talking in term of God scope.)
We actually stopped with a few pages to go so we could recap and discuss -- which means that we missed the part where Trelawney said he actually brings it all back to baptism. (Yeah, I was kind of annoyed by that.)
Yoder's big on the Jesus event as causing a cosmological shift, but he also acknowledges that the "old world" still exists. Mike quipped that really Jesus didn't change anything -- which was exactly my feeling. Trelawney talked about the Jesus event changing humanity's relationship to God in terms of salvation, which I'm used to, but this whole idea that there's this new power (which didn't exist before) that you can tap into for changing this world... not really doing it for me. Later, Mike talked about Jesus opening up Chosen People status to not just the Jews -- which on reread Yoder talks about also -- and that was an avenue into the idea that I could work with ('cause I have for some time now loved the idea of expanding the Chosen People Covenant) though it's still inadequate (for me anyway).
I brought us onto a semi-tangent about infant vs. adult baptism. Basically we agreed that "dedicating" an infant is cool, but accepting Christ as Savior on their behalf is weird and infant baptism definitely shouldn't be magic salvation "hocus pocus" (Trelawney's term).
Eric is so sweet; at Affirmations he said that Trelawney's been such a great fiancee he's sad for that to end. And they were earlier doing that cute thing sitting at opposite ends of the same couch but each with one arm splayed on the back/top of the couch so their fingertips were touching. And they're both just so focused on how happy they are that they're together and get to be married to each other and really not freaking out about the wedding at all.
And here I talk about the pages we didn't get to [which I read after writing the preceding]:
Before Paul and the new humanity, even before Jesus, baptism also meant repentance and cleansing. It meant "You can leave your past behind." (41)First of all, I would like to know what pre-Jesus (and pre-John) baptism was. Trelawney mentioned that she could talk/bring in material about that if we were interested, but it was in the middle of something else so by the time I had a chance to follow up I had forgotten. I was thinking of mikvah (see, I did retain something from Dead Sea Scrolls class) but I really don't know.
Anyway, one analog Yoder uses is nonviolence. He says, "the power of nonviolence is that it gives operational shape to our permanent readiness to see our adversary as able to change" (41).
To approach any conflict under the axiom that the adversary shares the same human dignity that God has ascribed to us without any merit on our part is to being the management of that conflict a powerful a priori ground, founded in baptism, for expecting redemptive change. (42)He also talks about how guilt isn't as important as reconciliation -- which reminded me of the Binding And Loosing chapter... a connection furthered by his following talk about the importance of conversion being a free choice. I also enjoyed his snark on that:
A civil order ought to give room for free religious decision and adhesion, as ours officially does. In many parts of the world, authentic religious liberty is still not secure. That it is secure in our own land is an assumption that was made too easily during the last century, when its practical meaning was only the freedom to choose one's own kind of respectable Protestantism. (43)
He conveniently ties together the threads of his three chapters thus far, and I'm excerpting from his list:
B. Of all three practices it is the case that the practices are ordinary human behavior. To reconcile through dialogue, to share bread with one another, or to fuse two cultural histories into one new shared community are not mysterious. No esoteric insight is needed for them to make sense. A social scientist could watch them happening. There are no necessary correct holy words to make the rites "right"; no special chapter titled "theology of sacraments" is needed to describe what is going on. (p. 44)We're reading photocopies of Trelawney's book, which of course she had marked up, and she has that middle sentence (of D) underlined with a question mark in the margin. I concur.
D. All three of these practices are described in the New Testament. [...] These practices are not in the New Testament---as many would prefer---preceded by or dependent upon some wider, deeper, or more general knowledge of either God or the world. Yet this closeness to Jesus does not do without the Holy Spirit (expressly invoked in John 10:22) or the Father ("what you bind is bound in heaven". (p. 45)
E. [...] By its very nature, without any complex argumentative bridge being needed either to explain or to justify, these practices can be prototypes for what others can do in the wider world. Beyond the faith community it is possible to resolve conflicts and make decisions by conversation, to feed the hungry, and to build interethnic community by inclusion. They are not only political in that they describe the church as a body with a concrete social shape; they are also political in the wider sense that they can be commended to any society as a healthy way to organize. (p. 46)