some thoughts on baptism

This school year I've been going through the adult inquirer's class at the church where I've sort of planted myself. Inquiring means I am learning about pertinent topics in Christianity and how we as Christians and as Episcopalians can begin to think about these topics.

Most recently the class talked about baptism. I have never really understood baptism, and whenever I've tried to understand baptism, I get stuck in the "infant baptism doesn't make sense" trap. In short, here's the deal: baptism is a one-time thing (at least for mainline denominations). Once you're baptized, you're baptized. You can't undo it and you can't re-do it, either. The purpose of baptism is to set yourself apart with a public declaration of your acceptance of God, Jesus, the gospel, etc. There's a covenant involved, where you answer questions and make a commitment out loud in front of the congregation (who also makes commitments to you). It's an act of intent, and most people are required to go through some sort of education process beforehand, because it's kind of a big deal.

So because it's kind of a big deal, it's a one-time-only thing, and it's a personal commitment, the question is, why do we baptize babies? They aren't capable of making this commitment and shouldn't we let them choose for themselves? I was generally of this persuasion until this last inquirers class. That's when one of the other parents in my discussion group said something about how meaningful the line in the Episcopal baptismal covenant says "you are marked as a Child of God" (or something like that), and I started to rethink my stance.

It probably goes without saying at this point that Gabriel isn't baptized. This is in part because I wasn't sure I "agreed" with infant baptism, and it's also in part due to the fact that his dad is a minister and there is some inherent conflict there that I am not quite ready to face. If I had him baptized, I would want it to be at our church, where the people know and love him and he'll presumably grow up. I imagine Brian pictures himself as the one to baptize Gabriel, but I for personal reasons have a lot of reservations about that, because among other things I think it would be painful, awkward, or both, especially if he's still a baby. We could do it at my church, and the priests there have offered to have Brian involved if we did that, but it would be strange for me to see Brian in that context. We could do it at whatever church he'll be serving next, but that would be really weird for me, and I'm not sure what the point is if it's a congregation where no one knows him and he has no real connections. Someone suggested doing it at Brian's home church, where people know and care about all of us, but I don't plan on darkening their threshold any time soon, so that's out for me, too. There aren't any other churches in the area where we have any ties, too. So if I want to pursue this baptism thing, I am left with doing it somewhere not-at-a-church, which is fine except it kind of goes in contrast to one of my biggest draws to baptism -- the congregational witness. So I'm back to thinking maybe I shouldn't impose baptism on him and let him decide for himself when he's older, so we can follow his lead.

Hearing that line about him being marked as a child of Christ, though -- that's something this mama very much wants for her little boy.


  1. And that view on Baptism is a large part of being a Baptist. Believer's Baptism is a tenant, no matter which part of Baptist life you stay in. I'm Alliance of Baptists, so we're as far left as one can get, but still agree with the Southern Baptists on this one. There is a belief that being a child of God is something that automatically happens and stays with the child through the beginning of adolescence. A promise that God will watch out for us before we're mature enough to know the details of what we do and before we can be entirely responsible for our actions (this is also reflected in the legal system, which is less harsh on juvenile offenders). For Baptists, classes for children identify this and start to delve more deeply into the idea when kids are 8 or 9 with the idea that most children will be baptized during the next few years if that's the direction they're headed. I was baptized when I was 8 because I attended the larger church service with my parents and started asking questions waaaaay before I was "supposed to." Some people don't join the church until later and are baptized as adults or late teens. There isn't judgement on this, but there IS a firm belief that Baptism is a choice, not something forced upon someone. If we believe that baptism can't be undone and is a one-time-only thing, I'd rather let the person to whom it's being done make the choice, since they're the ones who will live with the consequences.
    This is all to say, if the idea of infant baptism makes you squirmy (it makes me squirmy), it's ok to wait a while. If you'd like to to the Baptism before G is much older, that's ok, too. It's a two-part system. G would have to believe and choose it, too- hence the reason for confirmation classes. Churches baptize 4-year olds AND 40-year olds. Don't feel like there's a specific window that you're forced to acknowledge. It's all ok.
    As for congregational approval and support? I've been to many a church who welcomes the stranger (I hear that's a big part of church) and will support and lift him up, especially if he's a child.
    I don't know the intimate details of G's relationship with Brian, but if they're not so solid, I can't imagine giving them a time to work on things when both parties are old enough to make choices could be bad, especially around Baptism. However you choose to go, know that you have my support, lady!

    1. Thank! :) You've always had a way of explaining things so nicely and with good words like "squirmy."

    2. Thanks, sweets- that's why they pay me the big bucks. Ha. Ahem.


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