I have never been a big fan of theology. When I have had to listen to theological debates, I have often felt supremely frustrated. Can't I just go and follow my Christ. Does all this really matter?
Last night I was reading John Calvin, and a discussion of baptism. It really surprised me when he said of the means of baptism (I paraphrase here) "We should really stop bickering, this doesn't matter." I told this to Paul, and his response was "Calvin said that? I thought he was all about bickering?" So we decided to call the belief of Calvin "sola bickeres"
Now before you Presbyterians (or other reformed traditions) are all on the attack. Please let me say that I admire many things about Calvin, if I did not I would not have been reading his work. But if you have read his work, you must admit that he is overly opinionated and able to reach grand conclusions from tiny statements in scripture.
So for all of you non-theologians who are really bored by my religion-minded blogs, I apologize. And for all of you theologians who are way smarter than me, I apologize. This is just me trying to muddle through things in my own way. I promise to include an amusing (to me anyway) anecdote at the end of the discussion.
Anyhow, I've been thinking about baptism a lot.
Does the method of baptism matter? I think I'm going to go with Calvin on this one and say no. I found an interesting passage about this in the Didache (dating to the second century) which said that it was best to baptize in living water (e.g.) a stream, but that any water would work, and that if immersion was not possible then pouring was acceptable. So immersion is preferable, but other baptisms are not considered any less effective. The Free Methodist Church teaches that the person being baptized (or parents in the case of a child) may choose which method they prefer.
Second, what is baptism anyway? I asked this to Paul. He said "You know it's that service at church when they dunk someone in the water." I gave him the look and he shrugged at me and said "An outward sign of an inward change?"
This sounds a lot like the baptist view point. According to the baptists (and some other denominations), baptism is merely symbolic. No actual grace is conferred through the act of baptism.
Then I wonder: Why get baptized at all? Since when did Jesus ever command us to do something that accomplished nothing and was merely symbolic?
Our churches official doctrine on baptism is that it is a sacrament, and therefore a method by which God confers grace onto the believer. It is also the symbol of belonging to the new covenant of atonement, just as circumcision was the rite of the old covenant. Because children are included in the new covenant, they may be baptized as infants. However, in our church very few people have their children baptized, instead we dedicate them to God. The dedication ceremony is very similar to a baptism in some senses. It focuses on the parents commitment to raise the child in the Christian faith. Moreover, as parents we are giving our children to God, understanding that they are gifts from him and that we will do our duty to teach them according to his ways. Then, the church also pledges to stand by the child and to help in his Christian upbringing.
Then when the child is old enough to understand, he may choose to receive the sacrament of baptism.
The more I research these ceremonies and the Catholic understanding of baptism, the more convinced I become that the baby dedication has come to be "Baptism without water" and that baptism for the dedicated child is standing in the place of confirmation.
You Catholics who understand these sacraments as actual conveyors of grace, may be cringing at all of this. And you may perhaps be wondering how a dedication could possibly have the same effect as a baptism. I'm sure the church would say that it did not. But I will also remind you that the Catholic church does say that although we know God works through the understood sacraments, that He is God and he is not tied to these sacraments (I am really wondering why I did not right the page number and exact quote for that down). The Catholic Church also teaches a "Baptism of Desire" in which the desire for baptism produces the fruits of baptism (water or no).
In my research I have found very little defense for the Baptism of adults only and very much for infant baptism. An interesting note about choice baptism advocates is that they tend to believe that a child has no guilt of sin until the age of understanding (and therefore no need of forgiveness). As a mother, I will vouch that my children can know very well right and wrong long before they are old enough to understand the theology of baptism. And at the same time they can know and understand that Jesus loves them is their helper. Should I deprive them of the benefit baptism affords?
I will also say that I do not believe that baptizing a child is a guarantee of salvation. And no matter how much I might will it, their is only so much I can do to bring about the salvation of my children. But with God's help I will claim his promises.
And as a mommy I ask myself: What would happen if we do have the children baptized. The church, I am sure would not have seen such a sight in quite some time!!! Can you imagine?
For now, Paul still has great qualms about infant baptism. And since he is the spiritual head of our home I will follow his lead. And I will trust in his decisions, knowing full well that God's grace is much more powerful than any sacrament can contain.
And now for that story I promised.
Yesterday in Sunday School we had this great conversation about how believing in Jesus causes us to have a water canon shooting out of our stomach. This was an excellent follow-up to the previous discussion about being cannibals and eating Jesus. At least I have to hope maybe the high schoolers are actually getting something out of Sunday school.
Anyway, since baptism is supposed to be with living water, all we need is to find a person with living water and have him stand over the children.
It makes me think of the time Abigail and I went for a walk and the fire hydrant on the corner was open (for no apparent reason). It gushed and gushed water and Abigail was soaked from head to toe. (I was only soaked up to my waist). In retrospect, I would have let her play even longer, since opportunities like that are rare.