One of the regular critiques of Medieval Christendom is the way in which infant baptism became the method by which entire societies and whole nations of people were made Christian. There was little focus on discipleship or the formation of a Christian identity that posed any sort of challenge to the reigning powers. Within Christendom one was simply born into both the state and the Church and one revealed oneself to be a model Christian by being a model citizen. Naturally, those of us who live after Christendom have good reason to question such an understanding of Christian identity.
However, what we tend to miss is that this is essentially what Billy Graham did to American Christianity in the 20th century. Only Rev. Graham made it even easier. No ritual was required — all that one had to do was ask Jesus into one's heart in order to be a born again Christian. Not only that but being a good Christian was equated with being a good citizen. Christians were those committed to the morals and values of America. With such an understanding of Christianity there was little need for any sort of ongoing discipleship, identity formation or the practice of disciplines that build Christian virtues. Therefore, Billy could just travel from arena to arena and soon America was (yet again) a Christian nation.
The result of this was churches closely linked to social and political power full of people who didn't have a clue about what it meant to be a Christian. Consequently as the Christian gloss over the practice of socio-political power has become increasingly unnecessary these churches have discovered themselves to be impotent, uninteresting, and empty. Essentially Rev. Graham built God's house on the sand but, as Jesus said, when the storms came, it collapsed.
After Christendom's history of false baptisms the Church needs to return to a truer understanding of this sacrament. After all, one becomes a Christian not by having having Christ “in me” but by being in Christ. This is what baptism is about. One is baptised into Christ, and into Christ's body — the Church. Baptism, rightly understood, is seen as the act by which one becomes committed to the discipleship, the formation, and the discipline of the Church. Of course this is much more demanding than simply asking Jesus into one's heart — and I suspect it is the demands of discipleship (disguised as an aversion to ritual?) that have caused baptism to lose its significance in the contemporary Church. Yet it is crucial to recover the centrality of baptism. For, since it links the individual believer to Christ and his Church, it is a genuinely salvific act.
It should be emphasised that those who undergo this baptism cannot remain on intimate terms with socio-political powers. In baptism one becomes crucified with Christ — and Christ was crucified by the socio-political powers. Therefore, to try to wield such power seems like a violent contradiction to the Christian identity. It is baptism into the communal practice of cruciformity that is the true foundation of God's House.