Sacraments

remarks at our infant son’s baptism

You may not have noticed that Natalie — my wife, best friend, and mother to my child — is a contributor to this blog. She hasn’t posted here for a while. So consider this a not-quite-guest post from her:

I grew up in a church where babies were baptised. As a kid I always thought that’s just what you did with children you loved. To the extent that as a small child, when our guinea pigs had babies, I took it upon myself to ensure they were suitably baptised (rest assured, they were just sprinkled — not immersed like Ben!).

So I suppose I have asked myself as we prepared for toady: Am I still that little girl, doing what I’ve seen done before and bringing my own baby to be baptised because that’s just what you do?

For a couple of reasons ‘No’ — and for one reason ‘Yes’.

I’ve had the chance to reflect on baptism a bit more since then. We’re not dunking Ben just doing this because that’s what you do when you have a baby:

I’m convinced, first of all, that bringing infants to be baptised reflects the fact that God works and takes the initiative to save people. So our response isn’t the main game. The main game, as far as I can see in the Bible, is that God makes the first move. God does the saving — and our response is always more or less incomplete and not-fully-formed. Whether we’re an adult confessing our faith or an infant makes no difference to this. In fact, Jesus tells us that it’s adults who need to be more like children when they approach God than the other way around.

Second, I’d like to say something about Jesus. I’m amazed whenever I look at Ben to think of the fact that when God chose to become a human being he didn’t shun or step over being an infant. The Creator of the universe fully exposed himself to and embraced what it is to be human — including being a tiny, vulnerable infant. So I’m not only convinced that God loves infants, but that our trust in God doesn’t have to be rationally articulated to be real and genuine (as important and worthwhile as I feel rational articulation is — as a PhD student!).

But for one reason I think I had it right when I was as a little girl. As a little girl I knew that baptising babies was a sign of love. And so in the midst of what’s going on theologically, this is for us an act of love for Ben. Our intention is to raise him as a little Christian not a little neutral — because we don’t think there really ever is such a thing.

In some ways, what we’re doing today is just an honest announcement of our loving commitment to teach him about Jesus — in the same way as we’re committed to teach him other good and true things: that the world is round, that free markets occasionally need regulating, and that AFL is just a game.

Part of our raising him to be a little Christian will involve teaching him to make his own decisions and weigh arguments and evidence for himself. We trust that he will find the evidence for Jesus persuasive and that one day (in years that already seem like they will pass too quickly) he will choose to confirm the faith we’ve baptised him into today making these same promises for himself.

And so what we believe God is doing in this moment is a rather profound thing — grafting Ben in to Jesus and to God’s family, the church. Which is why we’re so delighted to have you here with us today to witness, support, and celebrate Ben’s baptism with us.

infant baptism (without the backache)

I’m always a little puzzled when I hear the opponents of infant baptism crowing about how unconvincing they find the analogy with Old Testament circumcision.

They see it as bending over backwards to make such a strong connection with circumcision — not least because of the view of how the Old Testament relates to the New that this connection presupposes.

I tend to agree. It is bending over backwards.

And I could do without the backache!

The thing is, I’m not sure the analogy with circumcision — or its covenant framework — is required to support the conclusion that ‘The Baptism of young children is … to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ’ (as it’s put in the Anglican The Thirty-Nine Articles).

My friend, Andrew, the soon-to-be godfather to my infant son, has written both more comprehensively and more winsomely in defence of infant baptism than I’m able.

For me, two considerations carry the day in favour of baptising infants:

First, the issue can’t be settled by simple appeal to the relevant texts. The decision about whether or not to baptise the children of believers is a second generation Christian problem. No New Testament author speaks directly to the issue.

That means we’ve got no choice but to do some careful thinking and feeling with the grain of the texts to figure out how to faithfully appropriate their teaching today.

And for my money, the infant baptism question comes down to whether or not you agree with the claim The Thirty-Nine Articles make that the sacraments in general and baptism in particular aren’t only about our ‘profession’ but more fundamentally about God’s action.

I do. So I’m in favour of baptising infants.

Second, I worry about the strong connection between baptism and (a particular articulate expression of) our subjective response to Christ’s work that most opponents of infant baptism want to insist on.

I’m aware, of course, that the relevant New Testament texts bring repentance, faith and even some degree of articulate and content-ful confession into close connection with baptism.

Mind you, so does the Book of Common Prayer service of ‘Publick Baptism of Infants’ upon which modern Anglican practice is based. There, parents and godparents make a declaration of Christian commitment on the child’s behalf. And they do so in the prayerful confidence that through God’s work the child will in due time lay hold of the faith for her- or himself (which is what Confirmation is all about).

But I hesitate to go where many opponents of infant baptism do in prescribing quite definitely the response called for — usually an adult profession of faith and repentance.

Our infant son responds to our love and care … in his childlike way. Who’s to say he can’t respond to Jesus — knowing and loving and serving him — until he’s an adult? In fact, didn’t Jesus say something about adults becoming more like children to enter the kingdom?

Bottom line: we intend to raise our son as a Christian (fully expecting that he’ll need to mature and grow into it — in all sorts of ways, articulate understanding among them).

That’s why we’re going to baptise him.