Celebrating Our Common Baptism: An Ecumenical Commemoration 1517-2017
What We Are Celebrating and Why
By Timothy Brunk, PhD., Villanova University
The landmark document Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, issued by the World Council of Churches in 1982, reminds Christians that “our one baptism into Christ constitutes a call to the churches to overcome their divisions and visibly manifest their fellowship.” In that spirit, the Philadelphia Liturgical Institute, an ecumenical organization which is committed to promoting authentic Christian liturgy for the praise of God and the sanctification of all people, invites Christians to participate in an observance of the quincentennial of the Reformation. This service is not intended to gloss over the painful divisions that persist among Christians. Rather, it emphasizes that these divisions damage but do not destroy Christian unity. However imperfect that unity may be from a human perspective, it is also real since it is based on the one person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Such a liturgical event is fitting for Christians anywhere but it has particular resonance in the city of Philadelphia, founded as part of William Penn’s “Holy Experiment” in which freedom of religion was honored as part of the basis of social harmony. Though the history of Philadelphia, too, is marked by discord and even violence between Christians, Penn’s legacy invites all to work for an atmosphere of mutual respect in religious matters.
Grounded in a spirit of ecumenism and in the history of Philadelphia, the celebration of our common baptism is grounded pre-eminently in Scripture itself for, as the Letter to the Ephesians puts it, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” May this recollection of our unity spur us to work with God to heal what divides us.