A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, November 28, 2011

To Baptize Infants or Not to Baptize Infants- That Is the Question

I was raised in a church tradition that did not practice infant baptism. I was dedicated as an infant and baptized when I was older and able to make a confession of faith. When I was fourteen I began attending a United Methodist Church which does practice infant baptism. As a college student I began the candidacy process to enter the ordained ministry in the UMC. I struggled over the issue of infant baptism. I read and I studied and prayed and pondered. I have been a UM pastor for twenty-seven years and have baptized many infants and am now a big believer in infant baptism. All four of our children were baptized as infants, which my wife, Carol says were the most spiritually meaningful moments in her life.

Katherine Willis Pershey writes on this issue and reflects upon her own personal experience as one who experienced the baptism issue in reverse order from me: she was raised in a tradition that baptizes infants, but became a pastor in a tradition that only practiced believers baptism. She now serves a congregation that practices both forms of baptism. She writes,
So what to do about our children? Do we request a baby blessing for little Genevieve, so her welcome matches her sister's? Or do we do as the Congregationalists do and have both girls baptized? Not having grown up in a context where adult baptism is normative, I have this feeling that they might have a hard time accepting immersion as anything other than this weird thing their preacher mother inexplicably wants them to do.

We're leaning toward baptizing our daughters. Perhaps we'll even schedule the sacrament for Palm Sunday. Neither aesthetics nor theology sway the decision. Both ways are beautiful, and both ways--to borrow a quip of William Willimon's--"work." What it comes down to is the matter of community. While I fully intend to maintain my ties with the Disciples of Christ, it is not the tradition in which my children will be raised. Their local congregation--the community of people who will enter a covenant to love them and pray for them and, in so many words, be their church--baptizes babies. Who am I to withhold the fullness of the welcome offered to them in this place?

They will not remember the feel of the water on their heads and the sense of its eternal significance. But neither will they remember a time when they were not full members of the body of Christ, when their lives were not the subject of a sacred covenant. I can handle a trade off in which, no matter what you give up, you receive grace upon grace. I may even baptize them myself, so that their preacher mother remembers the feel of the water on their heads and is humbled by its eternal significance.
What do you think? If you had the authority to make a change should the church practice only infant baptism or believers baptism, or should both forms be an option? As always all views expressed civilly are welcome. And, yes, it is possible to disagree with one's views and do it respectfully.

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John Meunier said...

My take is this: Before Jesus, a person could become a Jew by one of two ways.

You were born into a Jewish family, and marked by circumcision (if male) as an infant with no concern to your wishes. You were then raised in the faith and taught to live into your identity.

Or, much less common, you converted as an adult. You were taught and then brought into the community after demonstrating a desire to do so.

I believe the Christian church rightfully maintains both doors of entry to become the people of God. The scriptural evidence and practice of the early church appears to confirm this to me.

My two cents.

Gary Lyn said...

I was raised and ordained in a tradition that practiced believer's baptism. I worked for about 10 years in the United Methodist tradition as a chaplain at a children's home and then in a local church. I left the tradition in which I grew up and was ordained, and went through the process with the Board of Ordained Ministry until I decided to go another direction. I am now a minister in standing with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Which means I have experienced this question from both sides. What is interesting to me is that the traditions who practice infant baptism have a process whereby the person embraces for themselves the grace recognized at baptism-confirmation and the other names it goes by. The tradition who practice believer's baptism have a process to recognize the grace present from birth-dedication.
I use the term "grace recognized" intentionally. I do not think of grace as something that is given or dispensed by the receiving of a sacrament. It is about recognizing and affirming the grace that abounds in and through the individual life.
Both of these practices seem to acknowledge basic parts of the spiritual journey: the recognition of God's grace from the beginning and a time to accept for oneself the grace that has been present from the beginning.

Paul Tillman said...

I'm in a denomination that allows for both. My wife grew up in a tradition of infant baptism, while I grew up in a believer baptism tradition. So what to do with our daughter? While we had several considerations, one important one was what would our local congregation, one who had never baptized an infant, best understand. We chose to dedicate, and anoint with oil. Everyone appreciated that, not matter which tradition they grew up in. Since then other parents have requested to have their children anointed when dedicated.