baptism

Baptism of Christ, Piero della Francesca

I was baptized in an Independent Christian Church when I was not quite 7. We sometimes talk about adult baptism versus infant baptism, but perhaps a more correct label for each group is believer’s baptism versus household baptism. At not quite 7, I believed, firmly. The Independent Christian Church emphasized baptism. They believed it was a necessary step to salvation: “Repent and be baptized.” Thus, they were willing to baptize pretty young, though they held me off for awhile. Full confession: I wanted to take communion and baptism was a prerequisite for communion. It was Easter Sunday, 1978. Easter was early that year and it was snowy. I sat in church instead of going to children’s church. The children’s church trooped in just before the baptism to watch me. I wore a white robe. I stood in the baptistry with the minister (in that church any male church member could baptize and many fathers baptized their own children–my dad would baptize my brother later–but for some reason the minister baptized me). I don’t remember specifically, but I assume the minister asked me something along the lines of whether I believed that Jesus had died on the cross for my sins and if I had repented and wanted to follow him in Baptism (He had come to my house and drawn the picture of the chasm with the cross between us and God–I do remember that quite clearly). I do remember him putting his hand over mine over my nose and mouth and the sensation of being lowered into the water, floating a bit, and then being raised up. And I was baptized and I will always have that memory even if some of it is vague.

Every church is a little different. When we joined a baptist church when I was in Jr. High, the pastor let our baptisms slide, but he might not have. Some baptist churches wouldn’t have accepted our baptisms because the church holds slightly different beliefs (and especially my brother since he was baptized by a non-ordained person). Some baptist churches would have asked us to be re-baptized. I wouldn’t have done it.

So I grew up with believer’s baptism, and it was always the separating point between “us” (evangelicals) and “them” (mainliners). “They believe in infant baptism.” (And they sprinkle, but that’s a whole other issue.) When I started going to mainline churches, I had a lot of conversations with friends that ended up coming down to baptism. One friend was absolute, “I would not go to that church because they baptize babies.” Others were more flexible, “I wouldn’t have my children baptized.” That was where I stood when we started attending our church. I even asked in our new members class if not baptizing our children would be a problem for them. Our pastor’s response was pretty much “Why would that be a problem? But we’d be happy to talk to you about it at some point if you want.” And that’s where we left it. The church never brought it up.

It turns out I can’t leave well enough alone. The more we started to tentatively get involved, the more it started bothering me that my children had not had an opportunity to be formally welcomed into the church body. And I watched the baptisms of children and they were quite beautiful. The thing I like most is that the church takes vows to help guide the children in God’s truth. The Presbyterian church does not have specific godparents–it’s like every person in the church is a godparent. I started to want that for my children. And every time there is a baptism, on the feast day of our Lord’s Baptism, and other moments, we are called on to “remember our baptisms.” The memory is a funny thing. Even if we don’t remember the actual moment, when we see someone else being baptized, we can know that we were there once. We can form a memory as surely as I form a memory of questions my minister must have asked when I was baptized. We can remember the fact of our baptism even if we can’t remember the moment of it. But if my children had never been baptized, what did they have to remember when they were called to do so? Nothing.

Our pastor did perform a dedication one Sunday, so I knew we could probably go that way if we so choose. But I’ve never been a big fan of dedications. They’ve always felt a little weak to me, like the church wants to do something to welcome the child, but isn’t quite sure how to do it. Especially in non-liturgical churches where there isn’t a liturgy to follow and there aren’t congregational responses, it ends up being little more than a prayer over the child and her/his parents. It seems a little awkward and a little spectatorly. As a member of the audience (and I’m using that word very specifically), I never felt like I was a part of it. I’m sure there are churches that do it better, but that’s been my experience. When our pastor did the dedication (it was a church member’s grandchild who lived elsewhere and she would not do a baptism of a child for whom the church could not keep its vows. I know different churches respond different ways to such things, but I appreciate the integrity of the decision and the willingness to work something else out) there was more to it than many dedications I have seen, but it still felt like baptism lite. I couldn’t go there even though it might have been an easy out to my dilemma.

I also thought about the sprinkling versus immersion thing. If we stay in mainline (probably Presbyterian) churches, which we most likely will, the time will come when, I pray, our children will be confirmed, they will affirm their baptisms. If they are not baptized now, they will be baptized then. But they will still be sprinkled. And if they ever choose to join a church that believes in immersion, they will still be in a position where they will be asked to be re-baptized. In my convoluted thinking, it seems better to have them baptized now and their re-baptism, should it ever happen, will be because “my parents had me baptized when I was too young to choose for myself” rather than “I have to be dunked because the baptism I chose for myself, this symbolic act, was not done in exactly the right way.” I am not, by the way, taking a re-baptism for granted. I don’t think it is necessary. I just know the issue might arise.

Bubble asked to take communion. In our church, official policy is that any baptized person is welcome at the table. Parents work it out themselves when their children should participate. The server blesses the child if they don’t partake. It’s quite lovely. But I promised Bubble I would talk to our pastor and she said she didn’t really care about the baptism issue, but the topic came up again and I was ready to discuss it. We left things open.

The lectionary passages for the next two weeks included two household baptisms. I went carefully through all the passages on baptism in the Bible. I read most of a book our pastor’s husband lent me on infant baptism.

I’m not writing theology here. This isn’t an apology or a defense. This is just where I am right now. And I’m definitely not looking for a debate. I don’t need it. I know every point anyone could make on the other side. I’VE MADE THOSE POINTS MYSELF IN THE PAST. And I now formally apologize for doing so in a dogmatic way.

I’m not really convinced at this point that one way or the other is absolutely right. I think there is room for both. I’m taking a few points, though, that have made it okay for me in this place and this time to have my children baptized. (1) It was on my heart before it ever came up with our leaders. (2) There were household baptisms. We don’t know if that included children, but it could have. (3) There is nowhere in scripture that the practice is forbidden. (4) There is a difference between a new convert and the child of believers. In the New Testament, everyone was a new convert. (5) Our salvation comes from the working of the Spirit within us. We cannot do it ourselves. Period. Baptism acknowledges the working of the Spirit. It does not add to the Spirit’s work. (6) I like covenantal theology. Baptism is the sign of the new covenant as circumcision was the sign of the old. I’m a symbol person. (7) It is a symbol, a sign. It is not magic that must be performed in one proscribed way. It is a symbol that carries deep meaning. (8) I want my children to be  part of this part of the Lord’s church and to know that all these people have their backs.

So Computerguy and I talked amongst ourselves. And we talked to our pastor. And we decided we wanted to do this thing. And then I had to tell my parents. And they’re okay with it, though it’s certainly not what they would have chosen. We’ve decided not to make a big deal out of it. It’s about the church and that’s how we’re keeping it. Which means I don’t have to make a big announcement. So. Am I a coward if I don’t tell my friends what we are doing? I’m not keeping it a secret. But I don’t know that I feel like doing a lot of defending. Or acting like we’re doing something I have to defend which is kind of how I feel. This is not really an anonymous blog. It’s linked to my facebook page. If any of them read the blog, here it is. But I’m not planning to specifically link this post and make it an issue. And it bothers me a lot that I feel this way. That I feel like it wouldn’t be acceptable. And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe people don’t really care. I just don’t know.

Last week we went before the session and presented our children to be okayed for baptism. On October 17th, our pastor will baptize them before the church. All of our parents will be there. My parents may be iffy, but my Episcopalian mother-in-law is delighted. To her credit, she never asked, but I know she wondered.

My children may not remember the moment of their baptism (though Bubble certainly might), but they will know that they were baptized. They will know that we welcomed them into the family of God. Every time they are called on to “remember their baptism” and “affirm the vows made for them” they have something to remember and affirm. Memory is a funny thing. How much do we remember for real and how much do we remember because we have heard the story or seen the pictures or seen it happen for others?

We’re in this Christian journey in this specific time and place and we’re in it for real. Thanks be to God.

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One Response to baptism

  1. Silent says:

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been eager to read it since you made mention related to the Friday Five. I have been Lutheran my entire life (baptized at the same congregation where my dad was baptized). I don’t remember my baptism, but I know about it–have heard the story numerous times. Now as a Lutheran pastor, for whom baptism of my child was a given (because of the theological significance for me–not because it was the ‘right thing to do’), it helps me remember that not everyone who walks through the doors has the same feelings/experiences leading to the point of having their child baptized. And I deeply appreciate your conscious deliberation rather than having your children baptized “to make grandma happy” like a number of parents I know. I hope that makes sense!

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