Baptism

I know, its been a while since I last posted. Things have been hectic on this end, and sometimes I feel more inspired to write than others.

But I had a conversation after dinner tonight that has stuck with me and which I think is worth maybe expanding on here. The conversation was about baptism.

Basically, the debate was between infant baptism and adult baptism. I think I can boil the discussion into three approximate sides.

Side One: Infant baptism is important because it represents God choosing an individual. It is an outward sign of God’s ‘election’ of the individual into Christian community and into relationship with God. This is important beause in the context of absolute depravity, no meaningful move toward God can be made without the initiative starting with God.

Side Two: Infant baptism is important because it inducts the infant into Christian community and is a sign of that child’s acceptance into the body of Christ. Baptism is important for parents and god-parents, etc. because it encourages them to commit to bringing up the child in the church. God has also specifically chosen this child to be baptised.

Side Three: Adult baptism is important because it is most attested in the biblical accounts of baptism. It is also important because it is an “outward sign of an inward change”. It is a rite of passage that marks the point in a person’s life when they choose to answer God’s call. It is fine to “dedicate” an infant into the community, but to baptise an infant robs that individual of their choice.

This has stuck with me because, as a Presbyterian, I’m supposed to support infant baptism. I do support it, but not strongly. I think that infant baptism is a sort of conflation of anointing and baptism, and I think that I would prefer to have infant anointing and adult baptism. The reason for this is the scriptural argument – how many infants were baptised in the bible? Jesus is the obvious example here. If he is our example, then adult baptism is probably the way to go. The ritual of acceptance into the Christian community and commitment to support a child could be just as well represented by anointing – another ancient and long-attested ritual from our tradition that we really don’t do anymore, but that is also a way of setting a person apart for special attention and of recognizing their place in the body of Christ.

There is also a huge problem that I see in our culture – we lack rites of passage. Confirmation is, in my opinion, a weak rite of passage, especially from an anthropological point of view. Not much changes for the youth being confirmed, at least in my experience. For me, it was eight weeks or so of a half hour a week, memorizing a single bible passage, and being presented to the congregation in a little ceremony.

Baptism, though, is huge. It involves powerful symbology, has a lot of potential psychic impact, is attested in scripture, is connected to discipleship, etc. It is a concrete experience that is outside of everyday life, and it has the potential to be a powerful reinforcer of a big choice or change in someone’s life. There’s a rite of passage with some substance to it.

And we don’t believe that unbaptised infants will go to hell anymore. At least, most of us don’t, and the rest…well, I’m not sure I could have a meaningful conversation with someone who thought unbaptised babies went to hell. So its not like we have to baptise them as quickly as possible. I think births of babies should be really important events in a church. If we’re supposed to model our lives after Christ as disciples, there should be some sort of Annunciation, trumpets, all sorts of things. That sounds great. But is infant baptism necessary? Is it best?

3 thoughts on “Baptism

  1. I happen to be one of those individuals who shared in this conversation over dinner. I enjoyed it, even though I was definitely out numbered like 3.5-1.5 (doug being the half).But just to put out some ideas on these sides:1. I agree that it is important to understand that God is the first to initiate this action. But I don’t understand how that got moved into the realm of baptism? Where does scripture attest to that? I think it is valuable to dedicate an infant in front of the community in which it will be raised. In my church experience we’ve done this through dedication services (sometimes including oil – well 1 included oil).2. I’m not sure I understand this meaning, being not from an infant baptism tradition, but I’m not sure why an infant needs to be issued into the community anymore than they are already. By participating in the community you are a part of the body of Christ. 3. This was basically my point. It’s a very powerful moment in the life of a Christian to go through the process of pre-baptism learning and the act of baptism. We used to do a vigil the night before with all sorts of cool meditations and rites of passage, welcoming them into the Christian community. I also think that you should be at least 14-15 when you go through the process (without parent pressure).I don’t think that infant baptism is not accepted (or whatever some would say about that whole thing). But I don’t think it’s the best process. I don’t think its best, let alone necessary.

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  2. for clarification–the most frequently cited scripture passages for infant baptism are the ones where people get baptized along with their whole households–household is assumed to include children. and acts 2.29 (i think) “the promise is for you, your children, and all who are far away.”there’s also Jesus’ baptism, relevant in the (more complicated) question of whether Jesus’ baptism marked him as belonging to God from birth, or only from the moment of baptism.and that’s also an example of combining baptism and anointing. 🙂

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  3. My main problem with paedobaptism is that it makes the powerful teaching in Romans 6 unusable. (Not that it is any more valid when the person baptized is 13-14…. Maybe at 30?)I have some thought on this < HREF="http://shrinkinguni.blogspot.com/2006/06/baptism-as-new-beginning_12.html" REL="nofollow">here<>.

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