13.2.11

To dunk or sprinkle


There are thoughts that they will change the language of the baptism service to make it more accessible. 

A few months ago I chatted with someone over a St John's lunch who is already ordained and had returned for an in-service study week. When you are sat next to someone doing the job for real, it is always interesting. Ordinands theorise and attempt to get their theology in order. Practical ministry shapes these theories and sorts out the naivities. So, this chatty vicar, ten years a Christian and in his second year of curacy, 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 his friends, whose minds had not been changed by the end of it. I think he probably wanted to instigate such a conversation on our lunch table but only I was prepared to enter into it. Before it really got established, we were interrupted by lunch-time notices. 

I think I probably hold very uncontroversial opinions about baptism. I will 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.

Richard Hooker talks about the church visible and the church invisible. 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, not 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.’ If this is the case, who am I to turn anyone away who seeks baptism and why would I value more the decisions of those whom the church has initiated, for whatever the church does to prepare its candidates, God knows the state of our heart. 

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. 

Inviting a family in to the church for this sort of occasion is an opportunity to reach out to them and offer God's hospitality. They might also bring something new to the church. If they are unchurched, there is the opportunity that they can share with us what we look like objectively. They help to make strange again perhaps what to us has become familiar and when we see Jesus again with fresh eyes and the foolisheness of the gospel again, I think we are reorientated in awe and wonder. 

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

So...
What are we doing when we baptise? 
What is your theology of baptism?
Should we baptise babies?
Should baptism only be of those who understand the commitment they are making?
Baptism - what is it? Initiation? Commitment? Sign? Beginning?
What about those in the Bible who have been baptised in the Holy Spirit and then water-baptism comes second?
What about the Ethiopian - his baptism was witnessed by God (and Philip) but not the community?

What do you think?

5 comments:

Revd John P Richardson said...

"I will baptise members of the community who desire this, even if they do not yet come to church."

I think what you mean is "baptise children of members of the community" - otherwise it would be quite odd to baptize people who were old enough to come to church but didn't have a practical faith!

BTW I would always go for baptize (baptizw), rather than 'baptise'. ;-)

Rachel said...

Tell me about your preference for the z over the s. Is this more faithful to the Greek?

Re: what I mean...
I am not sure John, perhaps ... but what about the example in the Bible of Spirit-baptism preceding water-baptism. In a universe of so many possibilities in terms of the ways that God can reach people through his Son and by his Spirit, it could be that the church baptises someone who has a relationship with the Holy Trinity that they now want to live out in community. The baptism marks this transition for them. Perhaps they have not come to church yet for numerous reasons.

Phyllis said...

I believe Canon Law states, "with due preparation". I worked as a parish assistant for a few years a while back. The curate who had come to faith through having his own children baptised had written a 2 evening course for baptism prep. He called it Encounter. i co-lead with him. when he left I expanded it to include godparents and grandparents attending eg 20 adults representing 3 or 4 babies. It was such a privilege. we started where they were at "you are asking for your baby to be baptised". Our reply was, may we introduce you to Jesus? In the 2 week course we also role-played saying the vows of both the baptism service and the thanksgiving services. we also visited each family in their home after the course. In our experience 50% of families chose baptism, the others saying "we are not ready to say these words yet". It was great working with the families and a few began to attend church and into small groups.
Interestingly, the 3 clergy couples we are closest to did not have their own babies baptised, a decision we took, too, before we had met any of them. We beefed up the "godparent vows". David's godmother (my first prayer triplet partner) attended his baptism when he was 14 and prayed over him just before he was baptised by full immersion. What a God moment! I would love to have a coffee and tell you more of how my views from a strict baptist have changed to a more open view. Keep up the good work. xx

Rachel said...

Thank you Encounter sounds so fab and I really do noot think we should re-invent the wheel - magpie-like, I would love to find out more about this.

Thanks for your contribution
I am really looking forward to the living sacraments module and Ben will teach it so it will be fab, really enriching and Christ-focussed!!

Chris said...

I do not doubt that there is a church invisible, The sermons I have heard from people in the east, people dreaming of Christ, reading the Bible in secret, even in CS Lewis the soldier of Tish who had actually worshipped Aslan. But I think the NT is quite clear that water Baptism is an outward sign of that inner grace that has led to conversion. Your own example of spirit baptism preceding water baptism makes this quite clear. Acts 10:44 shows that the water baptism was an outward act that came in response to the inward event. Water baptism could not be withheld from those who had already shown their conversion by the reception and manifestation of the Holy Spirit in their their lives.

The CoE has a perfectly good service for non-believers, seekers, etc who wish to have a church service for their children. They do not have to tell any lies and the children can be prayed for, blessed, etc. It is called a service of Dedication for Infants and does everything that Christening does without asking people to lie in the vows. Let us make no mistake, the majority of people who bring their children for christening are telling lies and the vicar is encouraging them to do so (and both parties know it!). If you have not seen the family before and you do not see them again then they are not bringing the child up in the church.

You also tell the families that the most important act that a new Christian can do, in imitation of his Lord and as a sign of his desire to enter the new life in Christ, is a mumbo-jumbo piece of play acting with no value. And then you wonder why they do not come back!! (Please don't tell me about the ones that do, we both know that 99% of non church family christening families never darken the doors again!)

Someone is going to talk about "belonging before believing". Pleeease, use some common sense, this does not mean belonging to THE CHURCH as in saved it means being part of the community in a locality, seeing the reality in your new friends lives of the Risen Christ and then believing.

I wonder if anyone on your ordination course will actually mention the dedication service? I suspect not.

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