“Personal Statement on Authority, Membership, and Baptism” by Barbara Howard

This is an excerpt from “Theology Volume 2: Authority, Membership, and Baptism” which was published in 1994.

Authority is the power to help another author his or her life. Authority is relational or it becomes coercive power (authority over) and impedes justice and true community.

In 1982 the World Council of Churches developed a resource, Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry. It states, “The inability of the churches mutually to recognize their various practices of baptism as sharing in the one baptism and their actual dividedness in spite of mutual baptismal recognition have given dramatic visibility to the broken witnesses of the church.” The report calls for a recovery of baptismal unity. Today when our church is emphasizing its “pursuit of peace,” to fail to acknowledge the validity of any baptism would be contradictory to our purpose as peacemakers. Baptism is viewed universally as the symbol of new life in Christ; therefore, it transcends membership into any single community. Instead, it represents union with all those who profess Christ.

Thus, the table of Christ – the Euchrist – should be open to all who wish to partake. Communion is a faith experience. The use of common elements of bread and wine suggests a willingness to participate in the mystery of union with God through earthly substances. A Christian assertion is that Christ presides at the Eucharist. It seems arrogant to suggest that any human being can assume that role. We participate, take the bread and wine which become physically part of us. We truly become the body of Christ. The role of the ordained ministry in this service is to be for the community, just as Christ was for the world, and to recognize the table of God’s gift to God’s world and open to all.