PRINCETON, N.J. – With the idea of membership meaning less and less in American culture and its churches, the Rev. John Burgess today (Dec. 10) suggested rethinking the theology of baptism as the key to recasting what membership means in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
“Attention to baptismal theology and practice can lead us into a more faithful understanding of church membership,” Burgess ― professor of systematic theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary ― told the second Moderator’s Colloquium on Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) today (Dec. 9), hosted by Princeton Theological Seminary with financial support from the Presbyterian Foundation.
“For too long baptism has been understood simply as a precondition to full, active membership in the church,” Burgess said in his paper “Is There Any Good Reason to Join a Church?-Baptism, Mission and Life Together.” “If, however, baptism is a commissioning to ministry in the church and the world, it requires full and active entry into a community that exercises encouragement and accountability for this ministry.”
Burgess proposed that that language of “active membership” be eliminated from the PC(USA) Book of Order. “If our baptismal theology is correct, we will understand that all who are baptized are by definition full, active members of the church,” he said.