The Importance of Rites of Passage

According to one source, “A rite of passage is a ritual event that marks a person’s transition from one status to another. Rites of passage explore and describe various notable milestones in an individual’s life, for any marked transitional stage, when one’s social status is altered.” Anthropologists have studied and taught the importance of rites of passage in various cultures. It seems that when persons make major transitions in their lives they do so more successfully by demarcating them was some sort of public ceremony.

For example, when a person dies, he could just be buried without any acknowledgment of his death, but it seems that a funeral service helps the family to make the transition through this loss. Even the person who is dying seems to be helped by the realization that his life will be formally remembered at a funeral service. Many people as they approach death will describe to a family member their preference regarding various components of their funeral service, indicating its importance to them.

Weddings also comprise a significant rite of passage in our culture. It seems that as cohabitation has become a more common choice, weddings seem to take on even greater prominence, distinguishing between an arrangement that is not characterized by the commitment of marriage with one that is.

Though cohabitation offers sexual gratification and other benefits of being together without the commitment of marriage, actually getting married, observing the right of passage with all of its implications, results in a superior relationship. One website identifies eight benefits of marriage over cohabitation. One surprising statistic reveals that married men earn twice as much money as men in a cohabiting relationship! A major contributing factor seems to be that married men tend to take their careers more seriously because of their commitment to support their families.

Most Christians acknowledge the significance of the rite of passage of a wedding through which a couple publicly makes a lifetime commitment to each other.

It is strange that with the obvious benefits of rites of passage and the importance placed especially on weddings by Christians that so many believers reflect such a casual attitude toward a rite of passage commanded by God and whose prominence is stressed in Scripture—baptism.

For example, Scripture teaches the essential role of baptism in the Great Commission.

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….” (Matthew 28:18-19)

In Romans 6 Paul emphasizes the relationship between baptism and our commitment no longer to live in sin.

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4)

It seems that this current casual attitude toward baptism comprises an expression of the more general contemporary evangelical anti-authoritarian attitude prevalent in the broader culture current culture. For example, we find a similar create-your-own Christianity attitude towards church membership and even church attendance. A rite of passage such as baptism that symbolizes death to sin and the relinquishing of the autonomy that created it is certainly out of step both with our evangelical and secular cultures.

One wonders if contemporary evangelicals would not be more inclined to live holy lives if they entered into this rite of baptism and had been fully instructed on its implications at the outset of their Christian experience.

Have a comment?