sufficiently existential?

From The Early Church by Henry Chadwick:

[T]he Christian Gospel spoke of divine grace in Christ, the remission of sins and the conquest of evil powers for the sick soul, tired of living and scared of dying, seeking for an assurance of immortality and for security and freedom in a world where the individual could rarely do other than submit to his fate. The terms were those of the baptismal vows: a renunciation of sin and everything associated with demonic powers, idols, astrology and magic; and a declaration of belief in God the Father, in the redemptive acts of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and in the Holy Spirit active in the Church. Though it is improbable that all converts knew themselves to be sick souls (perhaps relatively few found their way by guilt and tears and there is no evidence that many were hag-ridden with anxiety in this age more than in others), baptism and admission to the sacred meal meant a break with the past and a gift of grace by which the individual could live up to ideals and moral imperatives recognized by his conscience. In a word, Christianity directly answered to the human quest for true happiness—by which more is meant than feeling happy. (p. 55)

I am increasingly curious about the expected and necessary relationship between being “saved” and the existential experience of guilt and shame which Christ’s death and resurrection solve. Is that relationship truly necessary? It seems clear that the relationship is real and necessary in many believer’s lives—consider the tradition of personal stories of conversion. However, what of those who might merely hear the Gospel, believe it is true, and go through the process of becoming a Christian, can they also be “saved”? Does one have to experience an objectively sick soul, feel profound guilt, experience tears, and be hag-ridden with anxiety? Can one become a Christian without these existential marks?

A related question: Is Christian baptism (with renunciations and declarations, etc.) efficacious in the economy of salvation? Consider some of the baptism stories in the New Testament. Rarely are we given a picture of a guilt ridden individual wracked by existential angst who only gets baptized as an after-conversion act for the sake of making a public statement. What we read are stories like Philip and the Ethiopian where Philip explains the scriptural foundations of the Gospel and the Ethiopian asks to be baptized. After his baptism the Ethiopian rejoices, which shows his joy and thus his heart, but the conversion process was “hearing the truth + believing the truth + baptism = Christian.” Right? Can one truly convert and not have go through either Luther’s angst and fear or the modern evangelical’s emotional ecstasies? Are not renunciation, declaration, and baptism existential enough?

Works cited:
Chadwick, Henry. The Early Church: The story of emergent Christianity from the apostolic age to the dividing of the ways between the Greek East and the Latin West. New York: Penguin, 1993.

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Filed under Baptism, Church History, Gospel, Liturgy, Sacraments, The Early Church

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