Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bracket 3: Infant Baptism v. Consecration Edition

Today's game is sponsored by:

The Real Presence of Christ.
So you aren't sure you're getting what you need from the bread and wine? Christ has promised to be present in these earthly elements to feed our faith and to strengthen us to do what He has called us to do. The love of Christ compels to come and eat and then to go and serve. He's there. He has to be. He promised.

Today we're looking at infant baptism versus consecration. The baptizing of infants is a sticking point for many Christians in getting along. How can an infant be considered able to respond to God's call? Furthermore, does an infant need cleansing from sin? Some people classify the opposite of infant baptism as "believer's baptism". However, I think it's safe to assume that the persons who bring their child to be baptized believe in what's being done there. So, let's say "adult baptism".

Are infants sinless? Well, yes, if you consider sin only to be deliberate, conscious actions. However, when we confess our sins, we confess to things known and unknown. Infants represent humanity at its best and worst, free from worldly encumbrances and yet totally self-centered. My son loves me, but he wants what he wants when he wants it. He did at 6 minutes and does at 6 months. Is this sin? Well, maybe it's not currently separating him from God, but if I don't help him learn (as he grows) that the world doesn't revolve around him (news flash from Copernicus!), then his faith life will be affected. At some point, even early on, we wrestle with the fact that we aren't in control. Maybe infants aren't yet sinners, but they aren't perfect.

The idea that lack of perfection brings us to baptism as strict salvation from hellfire is a problem. When we reduce baptism to a magical escape from hell, we bring infants (and adults) to the font (or river) out of fear, rather than out of a response to God's call and grace. Baptism is part of God's redeeming action concerning everyone. When people are baptized, we recognize and welcome them into the faithful journey with us. We're bringing them into the discipling and disciplining life of the church. Even children can be disciples (and disciplined).

People who disagree with infant baptism argue that an infant isn't able to "decide for faith". Consecrating an infant (like christening) dedicates a child to God, but allows the child to later make a profession of faith on their own accord and then be baptized. Presumably, this would happen when he or she was old enough to ask questions and understand answers about faith, God, Scripture and the life of the church. This can mean that children are young adults (or even older adults) by the time this happens.

If we believe that baptism calls us to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in a person's life (whether they do or not) and brings them into the life of the church, why wouldn't we extend that to every person around us- regardless of age? Furthermore, if we believe that God is always the agent of action (you can't invite Jesus, he's invited you), then who are we to decide the structure of the means of grace? If people can be baptized by their own tears, why do we need to control the ritual?

Because rampant grace is scary. It's overwhelming. And it means we don't totally have Christ nailed down. (We tried that once and it didn't work then either.) I've yet to meet an adult, any adult, who could fully, totally and confidently explain what happens during Holy Communion or Baptism. I've yet to meet an adult, any adult, who could fully, totally and confidently say that they believed in every promise of God, every day, with every breath. I've yet to meet one who didn't feel like they had more to learn.

Even Paul tells us that we must put away the things of children and act as adult (1 Cor. 13:11), but Jesus reminds us that little children are beloved to him and urges us to be more like children (Matthew 18:3).

When I see children at the communion rail with their hands extended, I know they're doing it because they see others doing it, because they see their parents doing it. They want to be in on the action. Isn't that the truest expression of faith, though?

I may not totally understand what's happening. I might not totally be able to explain how it happens. But I want in on it.

Somewhere between what we think we know, what we know for sure and what really confuses us, the Spirit intercedes with sighs to deep for words and helps us to say, "Hey, I want to be a part of that."

Children get it. They know they want it before they know they need it. By the time we're adults, we know we need it, but we aren't always sure we want it.

If we believe 1) that the Spirit is at work in the life of child from the time he or she born, 2) that children will grow in faith, just as adults do, 3) that God is capable of using even children for the good of the kingdom and 4) that the resurrection is for all creation, regardless of age or understanding...

Then why would we keep infants from being baptized? Baptism isn't the end, it's the beginning. And when you know what abundant life can be like, wouldn't you want that from the beginning?

Winner: Infant Baptism- Grace for all, exclusion for none

(Now who wants me to help them remember their baptism by pouring this Gatorade on them? Anyone?)


LoieJ said...

Wonderful exposition of baptism. I'm linking to it on my blog. I love reading about baptism and I love thinking about it as an example of God's grace, totally undeserved, but it is THERE for us.

luthersbrewer said...

Great stuff, really enjoying your "Brackets"! Looking forward to the next one.