Heeding the Great Commission : the significance of Matthew's Gospel for baptismal theology and practice in a post-Christian age
This thesis represents a worked example in the application of Scripture to a contemporary theological situation. The Scripture applied is Matthew's Gospel and the theological situation is the ongoing practice of Christian baptism by paedo-baptising churches in the context of a post-Christian cultural milieu. Matthew's Gospel is a particularly relevant text with respect to baptism as the church traditionally has cited the baptismal command of Matthew 28.19 as a warrant for its baptising activity. The interpretation of Matthew m this thesis has emerged from a reflection on practice and is also directed back towards practice. The notion of 'performance’, therefore, is regarded as an especially helpful metaphor for interpretation: the believing community 'performs' its Scripture as a company of players would perform a play or a musical score. The formulation of this metaphor in the work of Kevin J. Vanhoozer is particularly utilised m the thesis. Vanhoozer suggests that Scripture testifies to the dramatic saving activity of God (the theo-drama) in which the church is called to participate. Therefore it is important to understand the plot of the drama as it is communicated m Scripture so that the church can work to continue the action faithfully. As such this thesis functions as a case study in 'performance' hermeneutics and will be of interest both in the academy and in the church. In terms of exegesis, therefore, this thesis is concerned with the place of baptism տ Matthew's presentation of the theo-drama. I argue that baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (28.19), in the context of the Matthean narrative, is a symbol of narrative inclusion for a new disciple. Christian baptism makes connection with key moments in the Gospel such that it declares the gospel of the kingdom whilst enabling a rich expression of repentance and acceptance of a call to discipleship. The theo-dramatic significance of baptism is then considered alongside the challenges of paedo-baptismal ministry in post-Christian contexts. This creative interaction leads to strategies for baptismal performance being imagined that are not only faithful to the Great Commission but which are also culturally meaningful.