Dagmar Heller’s book places baptism in ecumenical perspective

Baptized into Christ: A Guide to the Ecumenical Discussion of Baptism, by theologian Rev. Dr Dagmar Heller of the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD), was the topic of a book launch and reception on Friday, 11 January at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland.

Following a presentation by Heller, a professor at the Institute and staff of the Faith and Order Commission at the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, the publication was critiqued by Christos-Filotheos Kolliopoulos, an archimandrite of the Greek Orthodox Church, and Jean-Daniel Plüss, chair of the European Pentecostal Charismatic Research Association in Switzerland and a leading Pentecostal participant in ecumenical dialogues.

Heller began by raising the question, “What happens if I change from one Christian confession to another? Would I have to be baptized again?” Despite decades of inter-church dialogue, she explained, the answer varies from church to church, “and this is where baptism becomes a problem in the ecumenical world.”

The book focuses on key points of agreement among Christians, the historical development of divergences on the issue of baptism, as well as an account of the ongoing bilateral and multilateral dialogues that point a way toward the realization of Paul’s vision in Ephesians 4:5 of Christian unity in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Kolliopoulos acknowledged that Heller’s text “gives hints as to the direction in which this [dialogue] could go,” adding that a particularly “balanced” chapter on historical attitudes toward baptism, and a closing section on future discussions that need to be undertaken, struck him as particularly exciting.

“The book,” he said, “is helpful to students of the ecumenical movement, or to anyone who wants to start a serious study of the issue of baptism today.” Plüss agreed that this is “an outstanding book.” It portrays up-to-the-minute conversation about theological, ecclesiological and spiritual dimensions of ecumenical dialogue while remaining “deeply respectful” of all the participants. “Readers will learn to sympathize with others’ points of view,” he concluded.  Baptized into Christ is published by WCC Publications and will be available from 1 February through WCC distributors in UK/Europe (Gazellebookservices.co.uk) and North America (isbs.com); its length is 288 pages.

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