25.3.10

The implications of Hooker's theology for infant baptism


It is stimulating when guests grace our presence at St John's. Currently, we breakfast with the Bishop of Kenya who is staying for three weeks. The new Bishop of the diocese joined us for lunch and curates and priests who are already 'out there' join the community every few weeks for 'In-service study weeks'. As students, lunchtime conversation often seems to verge on the surreal, perhaps resulting from the theological reflection, which I think sometimes loosens our grip on reality. Either that or we are discussing our lack of sleep, appalling lack of exercise or pressing deadlines for assignments.

So when you are sat next to someone doing the job for real, it is something of a relief. Today I sat with a really chatty curate, ten years a Christian and in his second year of curacy. He had found Jesus in the RAF, not literally but you know what I mean!

He explained how he had entertained his lunch companions the day before with a discussion about infant baptism, which had rather divided the people whose minds had not been changed by the end of it.

I think I probably hold a very uncontroversial opinion on this one and I wonder if it might be supported by the theology of Richard Hooker.

If I make it, (hey, I am living a day at a time, there ain't no guarantees, who knows what they'll put on my "Bishops' Report"?!), I will gladly baptise members of the community who desire this, even if they do not yet come to church.

I believe that it is a chance for God's grace to win victories and for lives to be won for Christ and how could it be for me to declare otherwise. Richard Hooker talks about the church visible and the church invisible and I quite like his thinking here.


For Hooker inclusion in the visible church requires baptism and a minimal profession of Christian belief.

The invisible church is that ‘church which is his [Christ's] mystical body' because that body 'consisteth of none but only true Israelites, true sons of Abrabam, true servants and saints of God'. For Hooker the church invisible can only be seen by God and not by us. 'They who are of this society have such marks and notes of distinction from all others as are not object unto our sense: only unto God who seeth their hearts and understandeth all their secret cogitations unto him they are clear and manifest.’

The curate I was speaking with warned me that our opinions can change once we are actually in the very practical business of ministry to a community, so I am prepared for this to happen. However, I am also aware that Church of England ministers are not actually allowed to withhold baptism from a family desiring the christening of their child, so in some ways I am relieved that I feel as I do.

To  return to Richard Hooker, I am rather enjoying his generous orthodoxy and that charity 'which hopeth all things, prayeth also for all men (people).'

5 comments:

Peter Kirk said...

Would you baptise a member of your community (or their baby) who openly told you that they were doing it purely for social reasons, that they had no faith and would say the declarations of faith insincerely? I guess not many would admit to this, but I believe some do. And I believe it would be wrong (even if you believe in paedo-baptism) to baptise someone without satisfying yourself that the declarations would be made sincerely.

ordinand said...

I share the same concerns as Peter Kirk. Baptism is a covenant act which should be taken with all seriousness. It's primary function is not that of evangelism and we should discourage the baptism of kids whose parents are not believers. Out of love for them we would not want them to make empty promises before the King of Kings. We should guard the font in the same way in which we would not want people to be married who had no intention of keeping the promises.
Yes this does mean that I need to be clear about a churches baptismal policy before taking up a curacy, and it coudl lead me into hot water in future.


What do you think?

Rachel Marszalek said...

Peter, absolutely. If someone declared a position of no faith in Christ, no intention to ponder or reflect on the sacrifice he made or denied him, then, indeed, I would suggest instead that they investigated the idea of a naming ceremony. I have a friend who is a pagan and she had a naming ceremony for each of her children. I would explain that in this way they would experience some of the values of Christ's church, in so much as they would be promoting love and fellowship and this they would find more fully in a life surrendered to Christ. But that a life surrendered to Christ is also about other things, if about which they were curious, I would take time to discuss.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Ordinand, it has potential to decide a curacy, perhaps. I wonder how different churches interpret the canons. Is there wriggle room?

Colin Buchanan explains:
The clergy of any parish are expected by the Canons to receive for baptism children brought them by parishioners (it is less simple for non-parishioners). There are, however, conditions attached. These are (perhaps somewhat oddly) set out first of all as requirements of godparents. The parents should provide at least two godparents of the same sex as the child and one of the other sex, who should be

i) baptized and confirmed;

ii) such as to fulfil their responsibilities faithfully, by both their care of the child and their example of godly living.

A different Canon then says that the same responsibilities rest upon the actual parents. So the conditions are comprehensive.


I suppose baptism and confirmation do not assure the living out of Christ's call as an adult, I wonder however, if this would have been enough to satisfy Hooker's participation in the Church visible, even though it did not assure a person's "participation" in Christ in the Church invisible, about which only God is certain.

Moreover, what is the weight of the word 'should' do you think?

Judy Redman said...

Unfortunately, at least in my experience, the parents who are most likely to tell you that they only want to have their child baptised because of social pressure are experiencing said pressure from parents or grandparents who are pillars of your congregation and believe that baptism has some sort of magical power. That's why they've chosen your congregation in the first place.

My denomination offers a service of thanksgiving for the gift of a child which looks an awful lot like a baptism without the water, but this will not fool pillars of the church. My denomination also has the provision that the elders need to approve all baptisms, but there is no way they will refuse to approve baptism for a relative of a church pillar regardless of how convinced they might be that the child's parents will not mean the vows they are making.
I have always just hoped that God will understand and know what to do. :-)

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