Archive for the ‘Sacraments’ Category
A baptist explains why he accepts infant baptism as valid.
I recognize that paedobaptism has been the practice of the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout most of church history. This includes the practice of the Protestant Reformers to which I owe a great theological and spiritual debt. I humbly recognize that I could be wrong about paedobaptism (and the conclusion that the great majority of Christians through history were never really baptized), and for this reason I am hesitant to insist upon my position on baptism as a grounds of church fellowship.
An interesting argument given the attraction that believer’s baptism has from some Methodists these days.
The gospel lectionary this week recounts the baptism of Jesus, which raises questions about why Jesus was baptized.
At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River so that John would baptize him. John tried to stop him and said, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me?”
Jesus answered, “Allow me to be baptized now. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.”
So John agreed to baptize Jesus. When Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him. A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.” (Matthew 3:13-17, CEB)
It seems only right that we ask questions about the meaning of baptism since John the Baptist himself asked such questions.
John Wesley’s Notes on the New Testament include these comments on these verses.
It becometh every messenger of God to observe all his righteous ordinances. But the particular meaning of our Lord seems to be, that it becometh us to do (me to receive baptism, and you to administer it) in order to fulfil, that is, that I may fully perform every part of the righteous law of God, and the commission he hath given me.
Let our Lord’s submitting to baptism teach us a holy exactness in the observance of those institutions which owe their obligation merely to a Divine command. Surely thus it becometh all his followers to fulfil all righteousness. Jesus had no sin to wash away. And yet he was baptized. And God owned his ordinance, so as to make it the season of pouring forth the Holy Spirit upon him. And where can we expect this sacred effusion, but in an humble attendance on Divine appointments.
Wesley comes down on the side of interpreting Jesus’ baptism as a model for his followers. Jesus was baptized even though he had no sin and required no repentance, which were key aspects of John’s baptismal message. Jesus did this to set a model for us. For Wesley the baptism of Jesus is an example of the obligations that rest on us as Christians for no other reason than Jesus Christ commands us to observe them. If we reject the command, Wesley argues, we should not expect the Holy Spirit.
As I ponder this passage, my mind turns to Paul’s teaching in Ephesus about the difference between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus. The key question in those verses had to do with the Holy Spirit. Did the disciples receive the Holy Spirit when they were baptized? To which the disciples say they don’t know anything about the Holy Spirit?
Paul, engaging in some spiritual diagnosis, asks which baptism they received. He goes on to explain that the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance that prepared the people for the coming of Jesus (as Gabriel said of John in Luke 1).
Paul’s teaching here makes me wonder if the baptism of John was meant to come to an end with the presence of Jesus and the coming of his kingdom. The pre-show shuts down when the main act arrives. Jesus underwent baptism as a way of bringing to conclusion the baptism that is a sign of repentance and opens up the age of baptism that conveys the gift of the Holy Spirit. Could the fulfilling of all righteousness be the fulfilling of the purpose of John’s baptism of repentance?
One of my favorite scenes in O Brother, Where Art Thou? is Delmar’s baptism:
Delmar comes up out of the water and declares his sins washed away to the point that neither God nor man has any claim on him any longer.
I thought of the scene while reading one of the less newsworthy parts of the GQ interview with Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson.
During Phil’s darkest days, in the early 1970s, he had to flee the state of Arkansas after he badly beat up a bar owner and the guy’s wife. Kay Robertson persuaded the bar owner not to press charges in exchange for most of the Robertsons’ life savings. (“A hefty price,” he notes in his memoir.) I ask Phil if he ever repented for that, as he wants America to repent—if he ever tracked down the bar owner and his wife to apologize for the assault. He shakes his head.
“I didn’t dredge anything back up. I just put it behind me.”
As far as Phil is concerned, he was literally born again. Old Phil—the guy with the booze and the pills—died a long time ago, and New Phil sees no need to apologize for him: “We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job.
Robertson may not follow in the church of Delmar, but it sounds quite similar to me.
And that got me thinking. Is this correct? Doesn’t repentance require an effort to make right the damage we have caused others?
For some folks that could be an impossible task, of course. We cause so many hurts and wounds that we cannot even count them all, much less repair each injury. But there is still something here that sounds wrong to me. Even if we hold to a strong reading of Paul’s words that we die to the old self and rise as a new self, it seems to me that repentance toward God does not mean we have truly repented of the harm we have caused other humans. It feels to me, rather, that using our baptism as a way to absolve ourselves of wrongs we have done to other people is trading on God’s grace in ways God did not intend.
This is a complicated, pastoral question that probably does not lend itself to absolute rules. But I wonder how others understand it. To what extent does repentance require seeking to undo or heal the damage we have done to other people?
Brian McLaren fielded a question from a writer who came from a Christian background but was uncomfortable identifying as a Christian. In response, McLaren offered his reasons for bearing the name “Christian.”
1. To distance myself from my fellow human beings in the Christian religion doesn’t seem like a Christ-like thing to do. Jesus drew near to all in solidarity, including those of his own religious heritage from whom he differed in many ways, so I should do so too.
2. I choose to identify as a Christian as a way of expressing solidarity with others, whatever their religion. In other words, I open my heart to all people as a Christian, not apart from Christianity, and not in spite of being a Christian. I would hope that my Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist, and other neighbors could do the same. If one has to leave a religion to express solidarity with others, that’s sad and not good for anyone, so I hope to practice a better way.
3. Christianity is my heritage, and I don’t want to deny or cover that up. I think of what the Dalai Lama told a Muslim friend of mine who told him he wanted to become a Buddhist. “Why?” the Buddhist teacher asked. “Because Buddhism is the religion of compassion,” my friend answered. “Don’t become a Buddhist,” the Dalai Lama said. “The world needs more Muslims who practice compassion, so be what you are in a more compassionate way.”
His response got me thinking about the place of baptism in our identity. To be baptized is to be claimed by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to be named by God. So, for me the reason you use the word “Christian” to describe yourself is because you were baptized.
Someone reading that last paragraph might wonder whether I’m arguing that there is a such thing as a non-baptized Christian. Provisionally, I would say that being a Christian does entail being baptized, but I’m not trying to pick an argument on that point. The Bible sets down no naming convention or rules of use for the name. I simply offer my answer to the question of why a person should use the name, especially if they feel some alienation from Christians and Christianity as they exist in the flesh.
“Were you baptized?’
“Well, then, whatever you call yourself, you belong to Christ.”
You may have noticed a Twitter storm recently about online communion.
Whether you noticed or not, here a good summary story about the cause of the activity and the discussions in the United Methodist Church.
Morgan Guyton writes about the Eucharist:
For the first 1500 years of Christianity, the high point of every worship gathering was Eucharist. The sermon served to prepare the hearts of the congregation to receive the body and blood of Christ. In today’s Protestantism, the sermon has replaced Eucharist as the focal point of our worship. And the individualistic altar call has replaced the communal table as the congregation’s standard response to the proclaimed word. I wonder if this change is the reason that the Protestant gospel became more about hell than the heavenly banquet that Eucharist proclaims.
From a letter by John Wesley to the Bishop of Bristol in 1741:
Several persons have applied to me for baptism. It has pleased God to make me instrumental in their conversion. This has given them such prejudice for me, that they desire to be received into the Church by my ministry. They choose likewise to be baptized by immersion, and have engaged me to give your Lordship notice, as the Church requires.
My assumption here is that these were dissenters who were not baptized as infants in the Church of England, but I could be wrong. I am no expert on 17th century Anglicanism.
My blogging friend Talbot Davis has stirred up a good deal of heat and conversation by writing that he no longer believes in infant baptism.
It’s not complicated, it’s not a spiritual birthmark, it’s not a naming ceremony, it’s not even the New Testament equivalent of circumcision. It’s death to the old life and resurrection to the new. And babies don’t have old lives to die to.
I have written on this issue a few times, and Talbot and I have exchanged views in public and private. He is convinced believer’s baptism is Scriptural. I will point out as well that the pastor of one of the largest United Methodist congregations in my conference is an active proponent of believer’s baptism and infant dedication. So far neither the vortex of hell nor the bishop’s ire has overtaken that pastor.
As you might imagine — given my ‘company man’ and Wesleyan ways — I support the United Methodist law and doctrine on infant baptism, even though I myself was an adult convert to the faith.
Here are two of my posts about infant baptism in the UMC, if you care to read them (the second is more polemical):
And, on a slightly different note, here is one of my favorite John Wesley statements on baptism, in which Father John argues in favor of sprinkling as a valid form of baptism.
It is true, we read of being “buried with Christ in baptism.” But nothing can be inferred from such a figurative expression. Nay, if it held exactly, it would make as much for sprinkling as for plunging; since, in burying, the body is not plunged through the substance of the earth, but rather earth is poured or sprinkled upon it.
A post on the absence of Eucharist from the life of the United Methodist Church.
Catching up on some blogs I missed while away.
Teddy Ray has some helpful suggestions for pastors wanting to move to weekly celebration of Holy Communion.
The comments include a link to a good post by retired Bishop Whitaker about the importance of using the church’s prayer of Great Thanksgiving in the celebration.