Earlier this year, the newswires ran amok with report after report that McCain was no longer an Episcopalian, but a Baptist. But that splits more hairs than some are comfortable with, and the pastor of the Baptist church that McCain attends has actually “dialogued” with him over the fact that attendance at the church doesn’t make him a member. (In the meantime, Palin is so closely tied with Pentecostalism that some question how nondenominationally evangelical she is — more under the cut.)
This leads Washington Post’s “On Faith” contributor David Waters to look at the doctrinal differences between the Episcopal and Southern Baptist churches, and to question whether McCain’s departure to the Baptist church might have been more politically motivated than theologically so.
Generally speaking, Episcopalians consider Holy Baptism to be a sacrament, a means of grace, something God does for us. Baptists consider baptism to be an ordinance and not a sacrament, more of a statement of personal faith in Christ, something we do for God and for ourselves.
Episcopalians believe once baptized (usually by a priest who sprinkles your head with water), always baptized. They also believe in infant baptism. Baptists don’t: They consider baptism a commitment that must be made consciously. Those who were baptized as infants or young children (or in other denominations), or by any means other than full immersion, must be re-baptized before they can join a Baptist church.
According to the Southern Baptist Faith and Message — and McCain’s North Phoenix church is Southern Baptist — baptism is a personal decision, “an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.” Once saved always saved.
For Baptists, the believer’s baptism “is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.” Southern Baptist churches don’t count members; they count properly baptized members.
I have no idea what McCain thinks about all of this. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t spoken about it publicly. In April, Dan Yeary, pastor of North Phoenix Baptist, told the Associated Baptist Press that he has talked to McCain about baptism and church membership but the senator has done neither.
“You have to be baptized by immersion to be a member [of North Phoenix],” Yeary told ABP’s Greg Warner. “John and I have dialogued about that. … John is an Episcopalian, and he and his family attend North Phoenix Baptist Church when he is in town.”
Meanwhile, back in the veep show, Palin’s sudden emergence on the national circuit has placed a spotlight on Pentecostalism. As Adelle Banks of Religion News Service writes, soundbytes from the sermons of Assemblies of God and other ministers from churches Palin has been known to attend have been circulating on the blogosphere. One observation in the article is that some of the practices of Pentecostals may be off-putting to those from mainstream denominations.
George O. Wood, who leads the Assemblies of God from its headquarters in Springfield, Mo., said Palin should not be expected to be responsible for, or supportive of, words of Pentecostal pastors any more than Obama should be held responsible for his spiritual leader.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” he said.
A.G. Miller, associate professor of religion at Oberlin College and an Ohio pastor of a small Pentecostal church, said: “Obviously, politics is not always fair. … It makes you even think twice about whether you want to put your sermons online.”
More on that here.