Another Interesting Point of View on Baptism Saturday, May 3 2008 

Check out this article about infant baptism. I find the conclusion extremely odd. I don’t see how the fact that we talk to a baby has anything to say about whether babies should be baptized.

Talking to babies is something I actually know a little bit about through my formal study of linguistics. Sociologically speaking, a baby learns his/her language by being spoken to (a lot! — babies/children who have been victims of extreme neglect and not spoken to or spoken to extremely little develop no language or develop highly deficient language, for example never understanding the difference between “John hit Bill” and “John was hit by Bill”). That baby will quickly be able to respond to tone of voice, and after that will understand some simple commands, and eventually understand basically everything — some parts of grammar are not mastered (as a part of native speech, I don’t mean here “artificial” grammar such as who/whom which I didn’t “master” until the 11th or 12th grade) until age 12 or so, at least this is the case for English-speakers as shown by research.

I’m not sure (in fact frankly I almost want to laugh) that the fact that a one-month-old can recognize his/her mother’s voice is foundation for further arguing that that one-month-old can have faith. I’d don’t think I like the attempted parallel at all, actually. Should we tie infant baptism to the degree of understanding of speech a child has? “Susie withdrew her hand from the cookie jar when I told her no! Come on, John, let’s baptize her next Sunday!” This just seems laughable, and maybe the author would say I am making a caricature of his argument. But read and decide for yourself — it’s thought-provoking nonethless, and incidentally that’s why I wanted to link to it, not because I agree or disagree with it.

Hmmm, or maybe we who believe in believers’ baptism should not speak to our babies until they come to faith…? ; )

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Baby Dedications, Baptisms, & Initiation Rites Wednesday, Apr 30 2008 

Oh, my, why am I not in bed yet??!!

Because Marc’s (2005!!) posts at “Purgatorio” are so darn interesting and thought-provoking.

So, to set this up (of course Amy’s the only one who might actually read this…and you already know where I stand on all these issues!), I am, I suppose, a “credobaptist,” a term I only learned from that post, much like I only learned I was an “Arminian” from my dear friend Nicole (aka Burt) who is a Calvinist. I use quotes when applying such terms to me as I really don’t care for labels other than “Christian.” (Quotes there because writing about the word rather than using it.) But, distaste for labels aside, it’s silly to pretend I’m not a credobaptist or (Reformed/Orthodox [to be specific]) Arminian when those terms do pretty well encapsulate what I understand the Bible to teach. Credobaptist, apparently, means believers’ baptism as opposed to infant baptism (paedobaptism, a term I actually was familiar with!). But I don’t get the credo-part, as I’m not a big fan of creeds. Restoration Movement influence.

Anyway, I DIGRESS. I find no Scriptural evidence for infant baptism, and really don’t understand the common Calvinist (or “covenantal” which I think is exclusively Calvinist???…though I’m not sure since as I said I still really don’t understand it) belief that there is a special covenant for the children of believers — in fact I would think that within Calvinist theology the children of believers are no more (or less) likely to be elect than the children of non-believers, whereas I would think that Arminian theology would make one likely to expect that children of believers might be more likely to be part of the elect. Though truthfully I’ve never much thought about this with the Arminian hat on… Probably this just reflects my “Arminian” inability to grasp something that seems very obvious and logical to a Calvinist, much the same as many others have a “Calvinist” inability to grasp some tenet of Arminian understanding that seems obvious and logical to an Arminian.

I have wasted a lot of words, though, on late-night meanderings that were not my point at all. In a book I recently read, there was a fascinating article on church initiation rites. The comments on this blog post raised questions about baby dedications. Some were opposed because they think the baby should be baptized/sprinkled, one wrote (rather obnoxiously, I thought…is it obnoxious to say that?) that this was replacing a covenant between God and the baby with a covenant between man and they baby and God as an afterthought, or something like that. I have to confess to a little eye-rolling. But some of the posts were pretty interesting! Some were opposed, or questioning, for more interesting reasons. And, because we also don’t read about baby dedications in the Bible, is it not right to question why we do them, and whether we should do them?

Baby dedications are an initiation rite. It’s probably not what we’re thinking about when we do them, but from a sociological standpoint, I think that’s probably the real reason. The first Christians were not children. There weren’t bodies of believers with babies born into them as there are now. But as Christian communities grew and the “second generation” were born, according to the thesis of the book noted above, a need for an initiation rite was felt. The Jewish community had (and still has) this; I think this is a kind of parallel that people who believe in covenantal theology note.

Initiation rites are OK, I guess…as long as we understand what we believe is being initiated. I think…I hope…that everyone understands that “baby dedication” doesn’t save anybody. The same cannot be said of infant baptism. I was privileged to be present at an Anglican church christening at the Falls Church — the first time I’d ever seen infant baptism. I was so curious to see how they presented it. They had some literature on baptism in the bulletin that seemed very Biblical — they practiced both infant and believer’s baptism, and they made clear that infant baptism did not indicate salvation. But as each baby was sprinkled, the priest said something along the lines of “we welcome this child into the Church.” Unless he meant the physical premises of the building (?!) that sounds to me like “we now pronounced you saved/a believer.” Confusing, and I’ve been going to church all my life and am fairly familiar with the Bible and Christian theology. So, looking at it merely as an initiation rite, I prefer baby dedication because it is far less likely to confuse the parents, the parents’ family members in attendance, and the congregation at large about whether this rite has made this infant a Christian. And it’s certainly less likely to be confused with the Biblical commandment for believers to be baptized (every single recorded example of which is a believer’s baptism).

Other than an initiation rite, what are the nice things about baby dedication? Hmmm…Mom & Dad get to show off their beloved little baby to their church family. They publicly proclaim that they will raise this child in a Christian home and do their best to instill their beliefs and values — a kind of public commitment, like a wedding ceremony as one commenter noted. And, in this case “parent dedication” may in fact be the more appropriate term! In some congregations (including the Falls Church) the congregation is also asked to affirm that they will support the parents in their efforts as well — a nice sentiment, and a reminder that all members of that body whether they themselves have children or not have a responsibility to the children in their church family. It is an opportunity to teach about what baptism is (and is not) and what salvation is…especially when there may be non-believing church members in the congregation. I’m sure there are other nice things, but, gasp, it’s nearly 2 AM.

All in all, I see nothing wrong with baby dedications, though we do certainly have a responsibility to ensure we are clear about what is taking place. There is no “Go ye therefore and dedicate your babies” in Scripture, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it — there’s neither a “Thou shalt not dedicate thy babies.” There are lots of elements of our church services that aren’t specifically laid out in Scripture. But I do think these are the things we need to stop and question ourselves about, lest we forget we are the Scripture-Only people of the Reformation. And this one I must admit I’d never thought about before!

And, as a brief and hopefully thought-provoking note, the article noted above also talked about as forms of initiation rites: the sinner’s prayer, the card a new member/new believer may be asked to fill out, the experiential salvation testimony, the…guilty bench? (was that it?), and I think a couple of other things I’m too tired to remember. I found it really fascinating stuff!