Sunday, April 20, 2008

Another day, another church...and infant baptism

The nature of my occupation requires me to frequent different churches on a regular basis. Quite regularly I wake up early on Sunday wishing I could sleep in or relax comfortably in the pew of the church I call home. Regardless of my attitude any given Sunday, these experiences leave me delighted and dismayed at the diversity in the church, and have consistently forced me to reconsider the my own theological leanings, balancing both Scripture and tradition, which are nearly and neatly inseparable.

This morning's occupational adventure brought me to Church of the Cross United Methodist Church. It was small, but nice with a mix of traditional and modern elements in the design. The worship service was a consonant treat as the organ belted out ancient hymn after hymn filled with words that actually ran soteriologically deep. The pastor was great, and the words that came out of his mouth were even better. His sermon, which was rooted in that book that is so often excluded these days...what is it?...oh yeah, the Old Testament, tactfully handled a truth that is so socially taboo it nearly extinct in the ecclisiological amalgam of the 21st century. The most beautiful part of the service was the infant baptism.

While, as infant I was baptized into the Catholic Church, only a few years later my parents left the church and I was raised in a fundamentalist/charismatic/dispensational church setting, in which infant baptism was beyond was heresy. My indoctrination led me to believe that baptism was is not so much sacramental as it an ordinance of the church; that is, it does not confer grace, merely confirms it. If one really digs into the Wesleyan doctrine followed by the church I visited today, they would see that technically infant baptism doesn't bestow grace, but it does make the child the social responsibility of the church. I appreciate this communal attitude that demonstrates a deep concern for the overall well being of any individual in the church.

Having dabbled in baptism several years ago while working on my MA (my thesis centered on the community at Qumran that was steeped in ritual cleansing), my views have been given wiggle room. Additionally, ridding myself of all postulation (quite impossible, but the attempt alone procures higher objectivity) in approaching the ancient Biblical text has left me reconsider many of the nuances of belief on baptism, including infant baptism.

Where do you stand?


James said...

Infant baptism as one of the sacramental graces is very useful in that it does render the "baptismee" the social responsibility of the church. It must be handled carefully and taught well because I know many a person that depend upon that baptism as an infant as a ticket to heaven. I feel that sometimes it allows people to call themselves Christians, yet live like the devil. When it comes down to the wire, though, it is all a matter of tradition. Baby dedication, or baby baptism? Doesn't matter to me.

Kenni B said...

I also was baptised as a child. My Dad had ties to the Catholic church and followed that tradition until he and Mom were invited to a service at a Church of God(Anderson, IN) shortly after I turned one.

I kind of see infant baptism as more a child dedication than a baptism where one is weighing their decision and consciously choosing to "bury" their old self and allowing God to make them new. In that way, I have no problem with the act of infant baptism, knowing I have not studied nor sought God's direction. It's just my knee-jerk thoughts on the subject.

WES ELLIS said...

Interesting... I was just thinking about posting on baptism. I'm only barely beginning to come to some understanding... but I might have said that two years ago too.
To say that baptism doesn't bestow grace, that it's not a sacrament, only leads me to ask, what's the point? I believe that in baptism, God mysteriously opens himself up to the person. I believe that sacramentally is the best way to think about it. The differences between infant and adult baptism all hang on what I have perceived to be an altogether different definition for the word, even beyond the sacramental view. In infant baptism the emphasis is between God and the church: it makes the child the social and covenant responsibility of the church. It is a covenant between God and the church. In adult baptism, it's between the baptismee (if that's a word) and God. You'll find that both sides have trouble understanding one another because they can't get past the language barrier.

Maybe I'll go ahead and write that post on baptism...

crackers and cheese said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! The churches I've gone to have always practiced infant dedication instead of infant baptism, but I think in principle the practices are quite similar. Like you all have said, both confirm that the church is responsible for this child, and in baby dedications, there's always an aspect of the parents promising to raise their child in the way of Christ, and the church body promises to come alongside them and support them in those efforts. However the practice is carried out, it's a beautiful display of community and love and grace that I feel blessed to witness.

Monk-in-Training said...

I am a paedobaptist. I was baptized as an adult but my children were baptized very young. They have since been confirmed in the Faith, and seem to be surprisingly strong Christians.

Do you have Baptismal Vows? We renew them yearly as adults.