Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Baptism

Recently a member of the church I pastor - we'll call him Bill - left to join another, local evangelical church. Not an Anglican one. This member had been baptised and confirmed an Anglican and I had the great pleasure of baptising one of his children, old enough to make the promises for herself.

Another member of the church approached me a few weeks later and asked how I thought she should respond to an invitation to Bill's baptism. Apparently he was being baptised by immersion into membership of this new church.

We seem to be in a mess about baptism again.

The arguments for and against infant baptism have been well rehearsed. To summarise the pro position - whole households were baptised in the New Testament which knows of no way to treat someone as a Christian except to baptise them.

Those who practice only 'believers'' baptism argue that a profession of faith is needed from the lips of the candidate before any baptism takes place. Such people object to the practice of infant baptism (they tend to call it 'christening') and particularly to indiscriminate baptism which treats everyone as in before they opt out rather than vice-versa.

I don't think it's ever going to be resolved although it is a muddle for those who are on the outside of the church looking in. A parish with a strict policy looks silly if people simply go to another church of the same denomination just down the road.

As many of you know the practice of confirmation is to allow those who were baptised as infants to make their promises for themselves. It is administered by a bishop (I know not why). It is also the rite of full membership of the Anglican church although it feels a little odd to many adult converts who are asked to be baptised and then confirmed in quick succession. I was baptised aged 4 months and confirmed aged 19.

I wondered what they did at an American church I really respect - Mars Hill Bible Church. Their web-site states their policy as 'accepting anyone's baptism as valid if they do.' So, if you are satisfied that your 'christening' aged 4 months was valid, Mars Hill will be too. If you are not they will baptise you.

It saves a  lot of trouble and offers those who practice infant baptism more respect than most non-Anglicans do.

As with much Anglican stuff, I wouldn't choose to start from here, but I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.


Anonymous said...

We used to belong to an "open" Baptist church who had the policy of believing in welcoming into membership christians who had been baptised whatever the circumstances. They would also re-baptise anyone who wanted, if for instance they had had a believer's baptism as a teenager, then fallen away and then come back. This sounds like the Mars Hill policy and suited us very much as we had been baptised as babies. Getting baptised again just to be able to become a member would have felt completely wrong. It would have negated the validity of all our previous church fellowships (we have moved internationally several times). As an aside, it also meant that had we moved to another "closed" Baptist Church, we could have transferred our membership from one church to the next. This always made me smile as it felt like it was a backdoor route into the wider Baptist Church.

Anonymous said...

Isn't there some confusion here. I thought Baptism was something God did (not us). Faith is a gift which is on offer from Baptism and all we have to do is accept that gift. Confirmation is the outward and visible sign that the gift has indeed been accepted and made our own. So infant Baptism makes perfect sense.