Musings on Baptism

Well, I guess this is an "-ing" as per the subtitle of my blog.  Not a rant, or a rave, though.  More a collection of thoughts.

First a bit about me – I was baptised as a baby in the anglican church, and later confirmed.  I’m now a member at a baptist church, which (thankfully) has an open membership – i.e. I can become a member because of my infant baptism and confirmation.  I could also have become a member by profession of faith, which I would gladly have made.  Had the church had a closed membership (only those baptised as adults by total immersion, and possibly only by total immersion in that particular church, could become members) then there would have been a different story.  I don’t know what the story would have been, though!

So my position is an interesting one: raised in one tradition and currently worshipping in another.  Unsurprisingly, I think that there are pros and cons to both infant and adult baptism.  Hence the ramblings below.

I think the first criticism that is usually levelled at infant baptism is that it is all to do with original sin, and specifically saving infants from their original sin should they die in infancy.  I don’t personally hold to the doctrine of original sin, or to Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity, so this in my mind is a valid criticism if the only reason to have a baby baptised is to save it from original sin.  Baptism should be about so much more than washing away of original sins (if, indeed, they exist).  I like Dave Tomlinson’s view of it in his model of a church without borders.  Essentially, his view is that baptism is a wonderful gift that can be given to all, regardless of what stage you’re at in your journey with Christ.  What greater gift to give than the gift of baptism as you are welcomed in to the church.

Another criticism raised against infant baptism followed by confirmation is that these things are simply rites of passage made without any true commitment to Christ.  I think that this view denies any sacramental aspect of baptism (which some people do).  By sacrament I don’t mean that baptism is a necessity for salvation, although what is a necessity for salvation and what "salvation" is are good questions.  (I hadn’t realised this post would raise quite so many questions when I started!)  What I mean by sacramental is that baptism is more than a mere symbol (Zwingli), just as the elements at the eucharist are more than mere symbols.  So, whilst a baby cannot make any meaningful commitment, his/her parents and godparents do.  The Holy Spirit acting through the child, parents, godparents etc (whether they are professing christians or not) is what is important here.

The same goes for confirmation.  I believe that even if the candidates or their family simply view confirmation as a rite of passage, then the Holy Spirit can act through them in surprising ways.  Perhaps that is why there is an emphasis on adequate preparation for confirmation – this is all part of the process of the Spirit working within you as you prepare to make the vows and affirmations at confirmation.  Just as an aside, I think we can assume from the biblical accounts of baptism that candidates were not extensively prepared for their baptisms.  In Acts chapter 2 we simply see that the three thousand people who accepted Peter’s preaching were baptised there and then, with no confirmation or baptismal classes: no preparation, we presume, apart from one sermon!

Just so you don’t think I’m simply an apologist for infant baptism, I do think there are arguments in favour of believers’ baptism as well.  I think separating the "initiation rite" of the christian church into two, baptism and confirmation, is a bit clunky and inelegant.  Why two rites, not one?  We are not in the habit of saying in the creed "we acknowledge one baptism and confirmation at a later date for the forgiveness of sins"!  Confirmation is undoubtedly a later addition to the rite of baptism.

I also think that for those who positively identify one moment in time with "becoming a christian", then believers’ baptism is much more appropriate.  I personally don’t really associate any particular moment with becoming a christian: I have been becoming a christian since I was born, I am still becoming a christian every day and shall I go on becoming a christian until the day I die.  The "becoming" is more important than the "become".  So when would have been the most appropriate time for me to have been baptised as a believer?  Pass!

I do think the picture that emerges from the gospels and the book of acts is that the initial converts to christianity were baptised as believers.  However, we are not told what, if anything, happened to the children of those baptised; probably not surprising in a world where children were seen as sub-human.  There is, of course, the story in Acts chapter 16 of the jailer and all his family/household being baptised.  Who, we are left wondering, were his family or household?

So, have I come to any conclusions on this?  Not really is the answer…  I am still left feeling that both systems have pros and cons.

“Cattle trucks” and bureaucracy

The rail network here in London seems to have been totally incapable of dealing with the moderately heavy rain of the last few days.  I’m not sure what they were expecting in a temperate climate in October…

Cancellations and delays inevitably mean that when a train does arrive it’s usually already packed, and even more people try to squeeze on.  This is where the expression "cattle trucks" comes in.  It’s commonly used in the media when deriding the crowded state of the nation’s trains.  I did just stop and think when I boarded an extremely crowded train about a time when almost an entire population in Europe was forced against their will onto real cattle trucks on what, for many, would be the last journey they would ever make.  It does rather make a mockery of our petty grumbles at overcrowded commuter trains.

So often the choices we make in life convert to outcomes about which we wish to grumble.  Take the commuter train again.  People want to work in central London, so that they are paid more money, yet they don’t want to live in the centre of the city as it’s polluted, crowded, there aren’t nice parks, schools etc, so they want to live in smart suburbia.  Result: crowded roads and rail networks of people commuting.

Another thing that comes in for a lot of flack is the level of bureaucracy in modern society.  Recently buying a flat was an incredibly long, laborious process with countless forms to fill in for the purchase alone.  Don’t forget the life insurance, home and contents insurance, MPPI, gas, electricity, water, council tax and numerous other hoops to jump through and soon enough you’re drowning under the weight of the paperwork.  But again, this comes as a direct consequence of wanting to own a property, wanting to know you’re covered by your insurance if something goes wrong, wanting heating and lighting and water etc.

I think we forget at our peril how lucky and privileged we are in the West and we forget it most of all when we grumble about things which are essentially consequences of our own good fortune.  I want to grumble less!