Johan Maurer: Quaker Baptism and Social Safety

Johan Maurer: Quaker Baptism and Social Safety. To risk oversimplifying, it's as if 375 years ago in Great Britain, Friends bore social risks by not being outwardly baptized upon making a Christian commitment; now these new believers are running a social risk by being baptized upon making that same kind of commitment. I haven't asked whether water baptism is being presented to these new Friends as a theological imperative; I suspect not. What impresses me about this story is their deep desire to make a public commitment, and this practice is the outward form that is presented to them as a way of doing that.

Most of us who try to describe or shape normative Quaker faith and practice in the West operate in a context of social safety--a safely partly based on social class and partly based on our societies' trivializing and privatizing religion. When we traditional Quakers begin harrumphing about water baptism among Friends, we ought to pause humbly and think about that safety factor. What did we gain and lose by committing to the household of faith through the Quaker door? Did our faces shine with the confirming presence of the Holy Spirit?

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Comment by Tom Smith on 7th mo. 29, 2010 at 9:50pm
I have experienced the social safety as expressed by Johan, but at times there has been a social disconnect when I have spoken of spiritual baptism within a more "fundamental/evangelistic" (intentionally not "evangelical") social setting. In this context I understand the practice of the early Friends when they emphasized a spiritual reality that did not rely on physical externals.

One of the questions I have had over the years is: Does one act of external expression make a lasting, over years and decades, impression? One of the "beauties" of spiritual baptism is a continuing immersion.

However, I strongly agree with Johan that unless there is a reality that is evident in one's life, then to say: It can't be seen, it's internal, may seem a "mockery" of the concept. Nevertheless, the reality is shown (spoken) by one's life. If the reality of a spirit lived life is there, there is no need to ask if there had been a moment when an outward expression was made.

As Friends we need to recognize the need to risk the loss of "social security" by living a life that is counter-culture and is not guided by social dictates but by the living presence.

I recognize that this concept is counter to some of the movements in the Religious Society of Friends, but it seems to me that responding by "returning" to the methods which make an outward statement is "giving up" on some of the basics of Friends.

Please note that I am not saying that the physical and outward statements are not valid, but that there have been those who chose to move from Friends to other "traditions" when they felt led. "Pilgrim Holiness" - "Church of the Nazarene" were in certain places led or aided by "former" Friends. My uncle, who I respect very much and feel he was one of the most spirit-led persons I have known, was one of those.
Comment by Justin Meggitt on 7th mo. 30, 2010 at 3:36am
A very important post - thank you. Much to think about.

Thank you also for the reference to the recent survey of BYM members. The results are very heartening. They go against the public presentation of the Meeting in official publicity and periodicals but reflect my own experience of my local meeting.


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