Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reflections from the Gospel Lections

...and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. (Acts 16:33)

Over the years, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with calling the forerunner of Jesus “John the Baptist.” Sometimes I’ll call him John the Baptizer; other times, John the Forerunner. The reason, of course, is that calling him “John the Baptist” sounds to some ears like “John the Lutheran” or “John the Presbyterian” or “John the Methodist.” That is, they hear a denominational distinctive rather than the man who paved the way for the coming of the Lord who is over the whole church.

This is especially dangerous for those of us who are liturgical, as we will always encounter John in the wilderness of Advent. On more than one occasion I’ve heard ordained clergymen from Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches saying that believers baptism is “more biblical” than infant baptism, and I’ve even seen some Anglican churches “dedicating” rather than baptizing infants.

Plenty of ink has already been spilled over the exegetical arguments for (and against) household baptisms, so I don’t plan to revisit those (brief review here). Instead, I want to draw your attention to a couple of the theological implications of infant baptism (a.k.a. paedobaptism or covenant baptism), implications which are very practical.

First, infant baptism says that salvation is about what God has done, rather than what we have done. For those who insist on adult baptism, the key element seems to be the free will “decision” one has made to follow God. By contrast, infant baptism testifies clearly to God’s sovereign work in salvation and regeneration, and His faithfulness to His promises. It underscores the reality of original sin, and puts on display the fact that God alone is able to bring us into His family. Like an infant being brought forth for the sacrament, we’ve done nothing to merit God’s favor. I can't underscore this enough: infant baptism teaches that salvation is not the result of our works. Grace alone (sola gratia) is truly catholic doctrine!

Second, infant baptism testifies that our children are real, genuine members of God’s kingdom. They are not little pagans that need converting - rather, we can bring them up as Christians, and safely presume that they are saved until (God forbid) they give clear evidence otherwise. Such a doctrine is enormously practical, and can give a great deal of comfort to anxious parents. It’s part of our Communion’s recovery of the historic practice of paedocommunion - and a salutary correlate to our pro-life stance.

I really don’t believe that Anglican leaders have any liberty in this area, as infant baptism is plainly taught in Article 27. Beyond that, I’m convinced that the practice is perfectly scriptural. Read the venerable Browne if you don't believe me.

So baptize those babies!

1 comment:

Father Robert Lyons said...

Just a note to share my appreciation for your posting... on this the day of my infant daughter's baptism!