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.
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.