A friend has asked me, in light of the de-Christianization of Unitarianism and Universalism over the last couple of generations, what would keep a new Christian church Christian?
As I’ve said before, the UUA bylaws are no help: they neither honor the theological accomplishments that would encouage a Christan church, nor seem to permit (depending on how you read them) a church to craft its own theological position for members. This latter point is the more radical shift from the tradition, since the Winchester Profession framers permitted churches and subordinate bodies (conventions, area associations) to make professions provided they included the Winchester Profession unaltered. In other words, a church could be more specific than the national denomination, but no less specific. That’s rather broad-minded, especially for 1803. (Or 2004.)
But it can rightly be argued that the Winchester Profession, being a profession, isn’t for the members: it is for the world. A way to distinguish “us” from “y’all” and doesn’t necessarily help those in the church. That may explain the lost (and forgotten) art of Universalist catechism, which dates back at least as far as Judith Murray.
And the classic goal of catechism, and indeed, the defining mark of admission to the universal Christian Church, is probably where a new Christian church within the UUA should begin: baptism. We were bidden by Christ to go into the world to make disciples and baptize. Or, if you prefer, transform and include. We are suppose to transform and include. Neither the Winchester Profession nor the ecumenical creeds can unbaptize someone, even as they help tell our tribe what’s acceptable and what isn’t. (I’ve grown to understand the wisdom of creeds and professions, even as I find some of their defenders to be arrogant and insufferable.)
A baptizing church is one that knows that it is in fellowship – however imperfect and partial – with the rest of the Christian church, and that’s what will keep us Christian.