There was a baptism in our church during a recent Sunday morning worship service. That morning, as with all baptisms, I was moved. My mind raced to memories, not from my own experience, but from what I’ve learned about my adopted children’s past and from what I know to be true about our faithful God, in whom we find our identities.
Our adopted Ethiopian sons were baptized, as is the custom in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, on the 40th day after their birth—years before they came into our family. Even after their parents died and left them orphaned, God was faithful as they moved to a new continent, a new family, a new church.
The Heidelberg Catechism says baptism involves being washed with Christ’s blood and with Christ’s Spirit—setting “me apart to be a member of Christ so that more and more I become dead to sin and increasingly live a holy and blameless life.”
Baptism provides us—who were created in God’s image, but tainted by the sin of our first parents—with the sign and seal of a being a member of the body of Christ. Because of God’s enduring faithfulness, our core identity is in Jesus Christ. This is who we are in our Spirit-led journey toward a holy and blameless life.
The journey of our adopted sons has taught me much about what it means to have this core identity. Their baptism was a sign and seal of their new identity in Christ, and they didn’t lose that identity when they were orphaned. There was never the possibility that it could be misplaced or stripped away. The sanctifying work of the Spirit continued in the Christian orphanage where they lived and the Christian school they attended.
Nor did coming to a new country and culture require dropping this identity, as Bethany Christian Services helped to guide the adoption process every step of the way.
We must recognize too that there are other important aspects to our identities. For example, our sons have kept their Ethiopian first names, because names are also part of our identities. They have held onto their language and, as much as possible, their culture. Ask them, and they will proudly tell you that they are Ethiopian.
God delights in the differing characteristics that make us who we are. So too for the identity of the church. Here too, our core identity is rooted in Christ, yet there is a host of denominations, each expressing unique characteristics. The CRC is no exception. An emphasis on the covenant, a conviction of God’s sovereignty with a worldview to match, a story of Dutch or Korean immigration for some, and a growing inclusivity for all.
Just like my sons, let’s embrace the parts of our identities that make us unique, while recognizing the all-important core that we share. We need not assimilate into a bland, North American, Christian identity, tossing aside our deeply-rooted Biblical understandings or forgetting our task of claiming every square inch of this world for Christ.
As our ministry plan, Our Journey 2020, states: “We will grasp—and be grasped by—a richly Reformed world and life view so that we are able and eager to express what it means to belong to God’s diverse and unified family . . . so that people from many cultures and experiences are drawn to see and know themselves as God’s beloved ones.
P.S. To learn more about the ministry plan, including compelling stories and videos that show how God is at work in and through the CRC, visit crcna.org/OurJourney.