Inspired by last month’s Theology Book Club, I want to spend some time on the blog reflecting on baptism. Today, I want to tell you the story of how I changed my views on baptism to be in favor of baptizing babies.
I was raised a good Bible Belt Southern Baptist. I was so immersed in this language and perspective on the Bible, that even now that I totally buy into the reasoning and Scripture behind infant baptism, it still “feels” more natural to read the Bible with my Southern Baptist eyes. I get why people would absolutely disagree with infant baptism.
Having come from the Baptist perspective (called “Believer’s Baptism”) gives me some added insight (I hope) into this discussion. It also has helped me see how people can get so insulated in the way they are raised that they can get really wrong impressions of the “other side”. I remember all the beliefs I had about those that baptized infants and now, on the other side, I see how wrong I was.
The Fateful Turn
I got all the way through college and entered a Presbyterian seminary, all while still holding to my theological roots. These Presbyterians spoke as if it was soooo obvious that infants should be baptized, and thought any other way of thinking was pretty silly and naive. I couldn’t have disagreed more.
Our discussion on Calvinism this past Sunday was really great. Our exploration of Reformed Theology continues, however.
For November, in my church‘s monthly Theology Book Club, we’re going to be looking at that significant distinctive of Reformed thought: Baptism. And to wander into this potential minefield, we’re going to follow an amazing guide, Dr. James Brownson in his incredibly helpful book, The Promise of Baptism.
Seriously, this book is amazing. It covers everything in relation to baptism. It starts with the big picture and starts to zoom in into specific biblical, historical, theological, and practical questions. Every chapter is built around a question. And this book goes through every question you may have had about baptism, and a bunch you may have never had. Some of the chapter topics:
- Should infants be baptized?
- Sprinkling or Immersing?
- Can someone be saved without being baptized? What about baptized without being saved?
- What happens to baptized infants who die before they can give a profession of faith?
- What about baptized people that leave the faith?
- Is “Re-Baptism” allowed?
- Is “dedication” an appropriate substitute for infant baptism?
- Does it need to be the parents who offer an infant to baptism, or can grandparents or close family friends?
There are 30 such chapters, so I’m only barely scratching the surface. Really, this is a great book. And it’s very charitable, meaning it doesn’t demonize any side. It clings to Scripture and recognizes there are different legitimate opinions on many of these issues. It does argue for infant baptism, but it’s topics are much bigger than that, so even if you don’t leave convinced on that point, you will have learned so much more about what the Bible and the Church tradition have to say about the essential sacrament of the Christian Church.
NOTE: Because the last Sunday of the month falls right after Thanksgiving, our discussion will be on the first Sunday of December, the 4th, at 5:30pm.
As usual, even if you don’t live in Philadelphia, feel free to join us in reading the book. I’ll try and blog about it through the month. You can use this blog or the Facebook page to offer your thoughts, questions, critiques, and concerns. Happy reading!
During the summers, when school was out, my mama and I would stay up incredibly late (like, until the sun came up) watching Nic-at-Nite and other TV shows. She would make nachos (using Doritos–don’t knock it til you tried it) and drink a Diet Coke, while I took part in the nightly dance of trying to get some of both for myself.
On one of these extremely late night/mornings, I asked, “Mama, how does someone actually get to heaven?” She answered in the usual Southern Baptist way. I don’t remember all of it, but I do know it ended with describing the act of praying the “Sinner’s Prayer”.
I said, “I want to do that!”
Mama said we could make an appointment to talk to someone at our church so they could make sure I knew what I was doing, and then I could pray that prayer and be baptized.
I ran down the hallways, incredibly excited, and woke up my daddy, only an hour or so from waking up for work. I shook him and said, “Daddy! Daddy! I’m going to get saved!”
Today is the Church Holy Day called Corpus Christi (Wiki), Latin for “the Body of Christ”, in which the Church takes a few moments to reflect and meditate upon the gift that is the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist, or Communion). In honor of this, I thought I’d share a recent essay I wrote articulating what I believe is happening in the Sacraments. Let me know what you think!
A sacrament is any material thing that God uses to communicate himself within Creation. Yes, this is quite the broad definition for “sacrament” (little “s”). Every single way that God has ever revealed himself in this world has always been in a mediated sense. God has never been revealed in his full “Godness”. It is always through a material means, and mostly clearly in Jesus Christ.
In this sense, I can accept things like marriage and confirmation as sacraments; but I can also see a good beer, TV show, conversation, or even suffering (like the Cross) as a sacrament. Any material means by which God communicates any part of who he is a sacrament. It has also been quite freeing for me to see all of life as inherently sacramental.
In this sense, sacramentalism becomes a primary filter through which to understand and describe reality as it is and the nature of the Creator/Creation distinction. This collapses the old unhelpfully-gnostic “transcendence/imminence” dichotomies.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Technically, there is only one baptism that has ever taken place. Christ’s. All other baptisms are baptisms in his own. He is the one that walked in newness of life. He is the one who was baptized. He is the forerunner for all of Christian life–even it’s Covenantal participation by baptism. How beautiful is that?
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
Why does John yell at those Pharisees and Sadducees that are coming for baptism?
“It might be argued that there is not one explicit reference in the New Testament to a child being baptized. Have we any warrant then for doing it? If we require explicit texts for our practice, then there would be no warrant for women to come to the Lord’s Table. There is no single explicit reference to that in the New Testament. Our warrant is not in isolated texts or precedents, but in the Gospel itself. Christ died for men and women, adults and infants, and we acknowledge that in faith in baptism…”
— from James B. Torrance’s beautiful book Worship, Communion, and the Triune God of Grace
For my worship and liturgy class, we had to write up a little thing explaining how we would explain the Sacraments to an everyday person. We were also supposed to throw up some questions that we might still have about them. Here are is mine.
In the beginning of the Bible, we see God create what amounts to a “temple-world”. He wants to dwell in this temple, with his people, and make it his home. He ordains priests to care for it but they fail. So God puts in motion a plan and story to rebuild this world and re-prepare it for his dwelling.
The focal point of this story and our entire faith is Jesus Christ. He is God among us having come dressed in humanity. The Gospel of John says he literally “templed” among us, using our created humanity as something he was pleased to dwell in.
This is the Gospel; it is our life and strength as Christians.
This weekend, I received this wonderful note from a good friend, inviting me and others to her Re-Baptism in one of the rivers of Philadelphia. With her permission, I’m posting her letter and my reply to it below. No matter your precise theological views on second baptisms, I hope you find this exchange to be encouraging to your soul.
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Hello dear friends,
As many of you know, I grew up in a church for much of my childhood and adolescence, and was even baptized around age ten into the covenant family of the Presbyterian church I attended. While I respect this baptism as a symbol of the faith tradition I was born into and grew up with, at ten, I had never struggled with any doubts or questions that have been such a part of my adult faith journey.
In my life, I have found it so easy to get hung up on theology and technicalities (What does it mean if I don’t believe in penal substitution? What exactly does the divinity of Jesus mean?) and my despair at the state of our world (Why does God let horrible evil things happen?). I’ve spent a long ten years questioning and doubting and not knowing. To be honest, not much has changed. I still despair over the evil I see and I still haven’t figured out how how everything works. But I’ve come to believe that that’s just what it is to be human–to be me. It doesn’t somehow cancel out my faith.
“You say you don’t baptize children because they don’t believe. Why do you preach the Word to adults who don’t believe, unless perhaps in the hope that they may believe? You do it on the strength of God’s command alone. For if you baptize me because I say I believe, then you baptize on account of me and in my name. Therefore, since you don’t know whether I believe or don’t believe, you do it only because of God’s command. It isn’t necessary to exclude children, since as a rule you baptize all, whether they believe or not. It would be a terrible thing if I were baptized on the strength of my confession.”
– Martin Luther (Table Talk No. 549) on paedobaptism
Last week I experimented with a little feature on my new favorite bookmarking service, Diigo, where it would automatically write up a weekly blog post containing all my bookmarks for the week and the comments I posted and quotes I highlighted. Well, I went in blind and the post last week was a little messy. So, this week, I took some time to clean it up a bit. This week’s articles range the gamut from abortion to blogging. If you click the links, they will take you to a special annotated version of the page where you can even see the little sticky notes I left. Please read any of these articles that interest you and please–if you could–let me know what you think down in the comments. Thanks.
I really don’t think the Founders wanted us to be terrified of our government. Just think of it: you as an American citizen–with no legal record of any kind–could be studying abroad and have this happen to you. This guy had NO indication that he could end up here. This is like some crazy movie. I’m actually scared of my country.
photo credit: David Schrott
For those that have followed this series on Beauty, you will know that we have hit three major sections so far: “Why do we long for Beauty?“, “What is Beauty?“, “What things are Beautiful?“, and now we’re in the “How do we respond to this Beauty” section. I am in the process of laying out four “stages” of an appropriate and full response to Beauty. The first stage of this response is a contemplation of the Beauty. The second is our enjoyment of it. The first step in that process is Praising Beauty, which we talked about last time. In this post, we talk about the next step. This also happens to be my favorite part of the process of responding to Beauty. It’s when we are joined to Beauty and are swept up in its complexity and nuances. I love this feeling, I love this experience, and I loved writing and talking about it. I hope you enjoy reading it. Once again, the full manuscript and audio of the lecture I gave on this is below. We pick up right where we left off, saying that we must praise Beauty.
Bur praising is not enough. Seeing something beautiful and calling it such does not complete the purpose for which that beauty exists. Beauty has an attractive quality. It draws you toward it at a very deep level. The next step, after acknowledging this beauty is to allow it to suck you in. I call this “Participating” with the Beauty of that thing or person.
Practically, this looks lots of different ways. With other people, it’s a drawing near to that person. Conversing with them. Viewing more of the nuances of the Image of God in them that makes them beautiful. For art, it looks like accepting the art on its own grounds and letting it draw you in in whatever way it’s asking of you. For plays and films it’s that idea of “suspension of disbelief”, where you allow yourself to forget that you technically “know” this isn’t real, and you let yourself get sucked into this beauty. Other forms of art tend to ask us to get lost in the object itself and explore its nuances. Closing your eyes during a musical piece and hearing every note; letting the words of a poem get inside of you and change the vocabulary you use to describe its own beauty or the world around you; letting distractions fade as you stare at a painting and see every stroke, every color (anyone who has seen a piece in real-life by John Singer-Sargent or Vincent VanGogh knows this feeling most definitely). Have you ever cried because of Beauty? This is participating with it. In the contemplation stage of this process you ask yourself “what is the beauty of this thing asking of me? It’s drawing me to itself, but to what end?”
But what about God? What about Divine Beauty? This is where His Beauty shows especially brilliantly. All other forms of beauty can only draw you near to itself. God can and does actually draw you into Himself and Himself in you. We can participate with Him in a way that every other form of beauty only faintly strives for. How? Well, He takes the first step upon changing someone by actually sending his very Spirit to dwell within His people.
But God not only let’s us participate in His Beauty spiritually, but also physically. After He draws near to us, we do what the Bible calls “abiding” in Him, where we draw near to Him through various things the Bible calls “means of grace”. These are traditionally called sacraments. They are physical things that we participate in and by faith He meets us there. One of the clearest examples is Baptism. It is where we are brought into union and participation with Christ in response to his faithfulness and action toward us. Another is Communion. Just think of the word: “Co-mmunion”. It’s where we “commune” with God. That bread and wine is a symbol, but not just that. It is in those elements that we His people are actually drawn further into God to “commune” and participate with Him in His beauty. This is why Communion is such a big deal in the Bible. God kills people – even Christians – because they misuse this beautiful thing. He will let no one lightly and trivially participate and be drawn into His Beauty.
This should lead us to a “sacramental” view of life, where God is using all things to communicate Himself to us and communicate His Grace to us. Let everything: every good-tasting piece of food, every sunset, every cool breeze, every joyful moment all be moments where God communicates Himself and His grace to you so you might participate and be joined to Him in His Beauty and we further praise Him even more. Historically, the Christians that do this well have been referred to as “mystics”. They are the ones that say seemingly crazy things. Brother Lawrence was a 17th century monk and he said: “I have at times had such delicious thoughts on the Lord I am ashamed to mention them.” John Owen, my favorite Puritan, says
O to behold the glory of Christ…Herein would I live; herein would I die; herein would I dwell in my thoughts and affections…until all things below become unto me a dead and deformed thing, no way suitable for affectionate embraces.
Oh that we longed in that way for God. There is a participation in the Glory, Beauty, Majesty, Goodness, and Love of God that is at hand for those who believe and far for those who don’t. Please, I beg of you, if you are not a believer, seek the Beauty of God, for it’s only suitable response is to be drawn into into and know his intimacy in this way. He, the fountain of all good things, the One for Whom your soul was made, does not disappoint those who seek to know Him. Participate in Beauty.