During my recent trip to Canada and participation with the Mennonite Church around the post-christendom topic the following terms ‘immersionist’ and ‘conversionist’ came up in conversation. As generalisations they indicate two approaches to perpetuating the faith in church.
The term immersionist here refers to an approach (Mennonite Church?) which emphasises passing on the faith to those who are immersed in their tradition (their children included) as a religious and cultural community. The term conversionist applies to an approach (Baptist?) which emphasises ‘reaching out’ to win others (their children included) who are not deemed part of the faith.These terms were used by members of these fore mentioned churches as self-designations.
Each approach on its own creates challenges. For the ‘immersionist’ the challenge is to enable personal ownership of the faith in which people are brought up so that inherited themes such as ‘peace making’ are experienced as ‘news’ which invites repentance and acceptance so that they are enjoyed as ‘good news’ and not simply – this is what we do. In turn in such traditions there is the challenge of how they seek to communicate that faith with others outside of their tradition without ‘doing violence’ to them.
For the conversionist tradition the challenge is how to immerse people in an faith tradition rather than simply trying to convert them all of the time as if they were outsiders because they have not submitted to a particular conversionist ritual. In turn for such traditions there is the challenge of how they invite people into not simply an individual faith but an actual and experienced community of practice committed to such ethical approaches as peacemaking.
Both of the traditions above practice believers baptism and the role of this in each tradition perhaps needs greater exploration as a sign of simultaneously indicating personal appropriation and communal immersion. Perhaps viewing issues in this way challenges somewhat the dichotomy sometimes suggested between believing before belonging and belonging before believing in that each require something of the dynamic of the other. In turn this suggests that paying attention to the ‘church’ is a matter of considerable importance to those concerned about the future of perpetuating the Christian faith. Again this is a concern that challenges dichotomies between church and mission in some sort of a way that privileges one over and against the other.