Infant Baptism. Few matters of contention divide Christians as much as this one.
To our great joy a son was born to us, just a couple of short months ago. So this debate just got really personal. There are myriad books, blogs and articles arguing the issue in great theological detail, and I won’t bother to repeat what has already been said. But for the benefit of those who find what we’re doing strange, I will briefly explain why we are baptising our son. (If you are looking for something a little more theological try this)
My personal Jesus is not just my, personal, Jesus
It has been said many, many, times that us westerners are overly individualistic. I.e., we focus too much on our own selves, our identity is wrapped up in ‘me’ not ‘us’. This is true of many western Christians (especially dare I say it, ‘Evangelicals’ such as myself). Herein is an example where we have been influenced by our culture rather than influencing our culture. Particularly since what is known as ‘The Enlightenment’ period of history, our faith has become a personal private matter (all sing along to the Nine Inch Nails song…). This is bad. The God I believe in is so much bigger than this. The God I believe in promises to be present in all aspects of my life, especially my family. So we are baptising our son not as a statement about his own religious beliefs, but rather as a sign that he has become part of God’s community (Interestingly the Biblical accounts often describe ‘whole households’ being baptised). When he is old enough to make up his own mind, he is obviously free to disagree (but obviously I hope he doesn’t). This is one of the reasons I think practices such as infant baptism are so important – through them we are teaching ourselves to be less individualistic through a symbolic act.
Bringing up little ones is a challenging endeavour
An old proverb (of African origin, I believe) goes something like this:
“It takes a couple to make a baby and it takes a village to raise a child”
Jeni and I are all too aware of our own insufficiencies going into the journey of parenthood. Insufficiencies which left unchecked will probably do some damage. That’s why I’m glad we’re not going this alone. Anybody who thinks they can be the sole influence in their child’s life is profoundly naive. Baptising Jared into the Christian community in Luton is a symbol that we treasure the input and support of those around us. God has blessed us with such wonderful people from diverse cultures and backgrounds in our community, and we are deeply thankful for it!
“As they grow up, they will need the help and encouragement of the Christian community, so that they may learn to know God in public worship and private prayer, follow Jesus Christ in the life of faith, serve their neighbour after the example of Christ”
From the Anglican Baptism liturgy
Faith is not based on intellectual capacity
The old saying goes “give a dog a bad name, and he might just live up to it”. It seems like in some Church cultures, we do not take a person’s faith or journey with God seriously unless they are able to give a good verbal reasoning of it. This troubles me. Many of the people I work with as a Chaplain have severely diminished educational ability, severe mental health problems and in some cases severe disabilities. Does this preclude them from experiencing God at work in their lives? Does God love them less? I should hope not. At the risk of sounding disrespectful, Jesus’ words seem quite fitting here:
“15 One day some parents brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But when the disciples saw this, they scolded the parents for bothering him.
16 Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.””
Something of the joy and wonder of a child, in all its glorious simplicity, captures Jesus’ idea of faith. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for learning and theology/philosophy etc – I’m doing a degree in it! But ultimately, faith cannot be totally contained in the limiting boxes of rationalistic thought. Faith is transcendent – it speaks of something distinctly other. Many times I have been brought to tears by the simple faith in the prayers of folks who would never pass a theology degree. Even more so the prayers of little children. Someone I knew once described a conversation with his toddler:
Son: Daddy, where is God?
Daddy: Where do you think he is son?
Son: Building a castle in my heart. Can I play lego now?
Daddy: *Floods of tears*
‘Tradition’ and ‘Ritual’ are often dirty words among evangelicals. Odd considering Martin Luther and John Calvin saw their deep value. Traditions and Rituals that reflect truth are of profound importance in our time, where people are increasingly tired of words (maybe that’s why my blog stats are down on last year?!). Through traditions and rituals we bring our whole selves, our whole communities into celebrating a God who is bigger than mere words. Words are important, but they are not everything. A brain on a stick won’t accomplish much in life. Infant baptism has been the tradition of the majority of Churches as far back as the history books go, and the covenant sign of circumcision goes back to the beginning of our forebears in Jewish culture. So really, the pressure should be on those who disagree with it to prove their point. That said, I will lovingly and respectfully disagree with folks who do not support our views on baptism, I acknowledge that the Bible’s teaching isn’t fully clear either way. So let’s focus on the important stuff we do agree on. Faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.
What we are not doing
We do not believe baptism is the administering of some kind of magical holy water. We do not believe that baptism is some kind of ‘cosmic insurance’. We do not believe that baptism either guarantees or forces our son to endorse our beliefs later in life (although all parents hope their children will share their values and beliefs to some degree). What we do believe is that God loves our son every bit as much as us, and we see this as the beginning of navigating the road of life, through faith, together as a family, in our own broken and often mistaken way. Thankfully the God we believe in is big enough to handle all this.