A couple years ago, I attended a baptism ceremony of twelve new believers who came to follow Jesus through our ministry in my country. These new believers attended confirmation class for a month at their new local faith community and were excited to celebrate their baptism. However, before their baptism takes place, the preacher shared a very discouraging message. He asked them if they fully understood what they learned at confirmation class. He began to ask them about humanity and divinity of Jesus, the meaning of baptism and Holy Communion. He said, if they have any skepticism about their faith, he suggested they retake the confirmation class and come back for baptism. According to this church, once these believers are baptized they will be allowed to participate in Holy Communion, which is also recommended to be done with discernment to avoid judgment. His teachings clearly caused confusion and skepticism in those new believers. I remember one person decided not to be baptized out of fear. In my opinion, the preacher clearly failed to realize that these new believers already believed in Jesus as their Lord and personal Savior, not because they understood everything about the Bible, but because of God’s grace. No one could know everything about Scripture, but we grow in our faith as we study the Word and fellowship with our faith community. In my opinion, when we prioritize having a clear-cut understanding on church ordinance such as baptism we are lowering Christianity to a mere intellectual merit.
For this reason, I find William Raeper and Linda Edwards’ discussion on Faith and Reason fascinating. In this section, the authors discuss Augustine’s early life, the development of his intellect and his remarkable story of conversion to Christianity. The search for truth made Augustine adopt a variety of intellectual positions at different times (p.32). In the end, it was Bishop Ambrose who helped Augustine turn from the writing of Plato to the writing of Paul in the New Testament (p.34). As the authors described, “Augustine came to realize that reason alone is not enough: he needed grace, help from God, in order to be a whole person and find authentic freedom”(p.34). Augustine’s story does not undermine the importance of reasoning or wrestling, but the limits of reason and “Christ as the ultimate source of help, salvation, and wisdom” (p.34). At the end, as Raeper and Edwards explain, “[Augustine] believed that the truth he had failed to find by reason alone had been given, or revealed, to him by God’s grace” (p.35).
This experience led Augustine to perceive faith “not blind faith, but rationally justifiable. In his work reason seeks to understand what faith believes. ‘Know in order to believe’ comes before ‘Believe in order to understand’”(p.36). Apparently, Augustine’s understanding of faith may sound scandalous to those who don’t believe in Christ or might disagree with his view. In my opinion, if a person believes in Christ, I believe God would grant her or him understanding of His word. Following Christ is a lifetime commitment to learning from His words as well as from His examples and lifestyle. Spiritual formation and transformation happen incrementally over time, which involves training, testing, and time. The role of ministry leaders is not to discourage believers, like the preacher in my story, but to walk alongside, pray with, and support them to stay connected in their relationship with God.