Baptizing Babies

I was born a Southern Baptist, went to a Southern Baptist church growing up, graduated from a Southern Baptist seminary and served for almost ten years in youth ministry in Southern Baptist churches. So our recent decision to join with the Anglican/Episcopal church was a surprise to my good friends and family who are still SB faithful. I’ve already written on why we made the decision, and after being at St. Bartholomew’s Church for about 10 months I am happy to report that we’ve grown to love the church even more.

When it comes to comparing denominations, I believe that our sameness is more important than our differences.  However, to ignore the differences is like trying to ignore the huge pink elephant in the room.

One of the most obvious Anglican pink elephants is infant baptism.   Now that we are proud owners of a brand new human being named Jude, we had to decide if we were going to go along with the Anglican way of baptizing children at very young ages.  And by “very young”, I mean young enough to still be pooping pants and being very happy about it.

jesus_children_sm

My first introduction to infant baptism was at Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN, where I worshipped for about 3 years.  CCC is a Presbyterian church that believes infant baptism is a sign of God’s ongoing covenant with us, just like circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant in the Old Testament.  After hearing Pastor Scotty Smith talk about the issue a couple of times, I realized that my Southern Baptist theology would either have to give way to this “new” way of seeing things, or take a last stand, complete with impressive, five-syllable theology words I had stolen from seminary.

Then I did some reading, and discovered that all the Protestant reformers (including Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli) believed that infants of Christian parents should be baptized.  Not only that, but our very own Billy Graham also made a clear statement of support of infant baptism in an interview with the Lutheran Standard in 1961:

“I have some difficulty in accepting the indiscriminate baptism of infants without a careful regard as to whether the parents have any intention of fulfilling the promise they make. But I do believe that something happens at the baptism of an infant, particularly if the parents are Christians and teach their children Christian Truths from childhood. We cannot fully understand the miracles of God, but I believe that a miracle can happen in these children so that they are regenerated, that is, made Christian, through infant baptism. If you want to call that baptismal regeneration, that’s all right with me” (Graham, interview with Wilfred Bockelman, associate editor of the Lutheran Standard, American Lutheran Church, Lutheran Standard, October 10, 1961)

This was a surprising statement from a preacher who was Southern Baptist, but it started my theological wheels turning in a different direction with regard to baptism.

I don’t wish to take the required space here to lay out a full theological defense of infant baptism (especially when others have already done a fine job of that, like here.)  But I do want to share some insight regarding why we are are having Jude baptized this Sunday. There are two main reasons that we want him baptized.

First, Jude’s baptism is based fully on the strength of the faith of his parents. We are bringing him with the commitment to raise him as a Christ-follower. Jude will grow up a Christian, just like I did, though I was baptized at around age 7 (an event I can only vaguely remember). As he gets older, we will provide him the space and encouragement to increasingly own that for himself, a process that is helped along by parents who are living out God’s grace and redemption before his eyes.

Second, we believe it is a sign of inclusion into the community of Christ-followers.  Jude will be included into the Body of Christ even now, and the church accepts him as one of our own.

One of the questions that I’ve been asked is whether or not we’ll encourage Jude to be baptized again when he’s older, so that he understands what he is doing.  To answer that, I think it’s important to consider the sign of circumcision in the Old Testament (Paul parallels circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2). God didn’t ask for a second circumcision once the boy reached a certain age (thankfully!).  However, that doesn’t mean that they did not need to take ownership of their covenant with God as they grew older. The same goes for every Christian.  We are baptized once, and then take increasing ownership of our faith.

So this All Saints Day Sunday will be our reminder that the entire Barmer household is held in God under a covenant of grace. I look forward to the day when Jude looks up at me and asks, “Dad, am I a Christian, too?”

I know what my answer will be.

4 responses to “Baptizing Babies

  1. Hey Jason!
    I didnt know you had been going to an Anglican Church! I read your blog and I think I understood your thoughts except for the last part…..

    “I look forward to the day when Jude looks up at me and asks, “Dad, am I a Christian, too?”

    I know what my answer will be.”

    Does that mean that you believe he becomes a Christian tomorrow when he is Baptized as an infant? Does Baptizm save us? When he gets older he will have to ask you if he is a Christian? When one becomes a Christian isnt it a time in life when we come to realize our sin and hopelessness without Christ and when we realize that there is absolutley nothing we can do to earn His salvation and that it is only by his grace that he rescues us from the pit of death into righteousness? Shouldnt that be something he realizes for himself?

    (just realized this paragraph looks like im drilling you :)…… i really just want to understand your thougths.

    p.s Jude is perfect, and im really glad for our technology these days so that people like you and me can keep in touch!

    Tiffany

  2. Keep drilling! These are good questions and hopefully I can clarify a couple of things, though it’s important to realize that there are some distinct differences between Anglican and Baptist views on baptism.

    Your first question is important: Does baptism save us? The answer for me, and for Anglicans in general, is definitely no. Baptism is a sign of God’s covenant over Jude, but it is God who saves by His grace.

    Theologian N.T. Wright puts it this way: “Baptism signifies membership in Christ… of course the follow-up question is always, how can children have the faith which is the sole badge of that membership, and part of my answer … is that as a parent I know I can communicate with a tiny child, can give and receive love — and if God, the father of all, from whom all families take their name, cannot likewise give and receive love, then I am shocked and surprised.

    He continues:
    “And how might God do that? Well, perhaps it might have something to do with bringing the child into the family of the church under the sign which speaks powerfully of the death and resurrection of Jesus…”

    An important, personal part of this is that I don’t remember not being a Christian. Does that mean that my parents forced me to be a follower of Jesus? No. But they did raise me in a church that included me at the early age of seven into their fellowship by way of baptism. Did I understand this as a sign marking my newfound relationship with Christ? Not really. I knew that Jesus loved me, and that I was about to get very wet.

    However, as I grew up, I increasingly gave my desires, thoughts, and plans to God, thus taking more and more ownership of a faith that was handed down to me. So when did I “become” a Christian? I’ll let you or anyone else try and answer that. I’ve come to believe that there is something very significant about being born into a family that truly follows Christ, even with all their faults and frailties. Our role in Jude’s life is a big part of the meaning of this baptism!

    It’s good to hear from you, and thanks for asking about this stuff, Tiffany. I welcome the dialogue! Even though I view things a little differently than I used to, I am still growing in my relationship with Christ and his church. It continues to be a journey full of unexpected turns and thick with meaning.

  3. Jason, so sorry we’re going to miss the big day for you guys and for Jude, but we will be with you in spirit (so long as Anglican tradition allows for that)! Post pics!!!

    bka

  4. Pingback: All Saints Day « Pedestrian Saint·

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