Saturday, May 26, 2012

Peds and Creeds Part 4

I hope this is the last installment in this series.  I expected it to be the most painful one, because I had originally intended to go through the Biblical examples of baptism and just what Scripture says it does, as well as early church father statements and then make a conclusion based on that.

Very quickly, however, I realized that is *way* out of my league.  I'm not a theologian or an Hebrew/Greek scholar.  (Yet.)

I just finished this book.  It started off mediocre, but got better by the end.  A lot of it was framed with Reformed Covenant theology and the Heidelberg Catechism; to be expected given it's from Westminster Press, but I was hoping to get a relatively unbiased view.  It did go through the majority of what I had intended this post to be - and reaffirmed that it was out of my league. 

I also read a book on early church history, and that was actually even more helpful, despite its coverage of many topics other than baptism. It really opened my eyes as to how much theology was unspecified very early on, and how some pretty smart Spirit-led people tried to hash things out.  And maybe got some things wrong along the way and got corrected later. (For example, Augustine had some really nasty things to say about women.)  As someone who comes from a background of perfectionism, to be confronted with the fact that a lot of scripture isn't clear, uses metaphorical language, and doesn't lay out all the rules as neatly as my rational culture demands is a lot disconcerting.

Suffice to say that there are several episodes in Acts of entire households being baptized when the head of the household converts.  Were there babies involved?  Highly likely.  It doesn't say there were, but there's no reason to think there weren't - birth control didn't exist then.  Babies happened all the time.  Even more interesting - adult servants who were part of the household and maybe didn't really have a choice got baptized.  I think that's even more striking than the possibility of infant baptism.  Nobody says at the time or later that baptizing either the children or the possibly non-compliant servants was a bad idea or shouldn't be done.

In Colossians, baptism in the New Covenant seems to be presented as the replacement for circumcision from the Old, and the Reformed crowd especially pushes that. Comparing baptism to circumcision makes a lot of sense about what it means, what it does, and whether one should do it.

And then there's the confusing passages on baptism - the ones I'm allowing myself to just read for their face value instead of mentally rewriting what they say.  Like the end of I Peter 3 - it clearly says "baptism saves you [...] through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."  And Mark 16 says, "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned."  Peter in Acts 2 says, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins".   Acts 22 has Saul (Paul) being told to "Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name."

These are strange statements to me. Some of them I can make sense of, but not all.  The context isn't as helpful as I would like.  Are some of these statements partially in response to ideas of the day I don't know about?  What's the original Greek say?   This is why I'm a little lost right now. 

Overall, I've read some fascinating eye-opening things.  And they keep leading me to thinking I need to get my kid baptized.

This is going to get interesting real quick.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Peds and Creeds Part 3

So, Sacraments.

Again, Sacraments seem fairly consistently defined as a "means of grace", though some definitions do include that they can be considered an outward sign of inward grace as well.  Or possibly instead. 

The Protestant Sacraments are Baptism and Communion.

(You know you're getting deeply theological when that many words in one sentence need to be capitalized.)

I've already mentioned that my very young son participates in Communion now.  Our decision to have him participate was a very natural one, not nearly as agonizing and deep as this one is turning out to be.  The church we are in makes it clear that Communion is open to anyone, even young children, so we just took him with us one time - I don't even remember exactly why.  Probably because we loved it so much.  I had no qualms about it, no reservations; my conscience didn't make a peep - and in fact, now cringes at the thought of *not* letting him.  But now that I look back, I realize it was a shockingly uncharacteristic thing for a former Fundamentalist to do.

The way he responds to Communion is really a bit unnerving.  Both my husband and I noticed it immediately.  He's very solemn, and it's clearly a holy time for him. I can't begin to describe how eerie it is to see a barely- two-year-old child have an innate sense of the awe and wonder of Christ at Communion.

Now, if Communion is a Sacrament, and my child participates freely and intelligently in that, why should Baptism be any different?

I honestly can't think of a very good answer.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Peds and Creeds Part 2

I think the disagreement about infant baptism's meaning hinges largely on the fact that it is an expression of pretty basic theology about original sin, soteriology, grace, etc. - and definitions for those concepts can change depending on the denomination as well. Gets difficult real fast.

Anyway, according to wikipedia again, here are the basic views of several major denominations:

Infant baptism is seen as showing very clearly that salvation is an unmerited favour from God, not the fruit of human effort. "Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called..."
I was honestly quite surprised by that first sentence.  Catholics talking about salvation not being the fruit of human effort?  That sounds pretty Reformed to me - and the opposite of what I've been taught about Catholicism.  As far as the second sentence goes, I started reading up on original sin and discovered that how you define it also depends on the denomination...  *sigh*

Eastern Orthodox:
For them too baptism is not merely a symbol but actually conveys grace.
So, it would appear that to the Eastern Orthodox, baptism is what I hear my Reformed friends calling a "means of grace", perhaps?  However, when I looked up the definition of "sacrament", it's defined as a means of grace as well, and Protestant sacraments are baptism and communion.  So, are all "means of grace" ultimately sacraments to the Reformed crowd?  Because if so, they beat out the Catholics' seven Sacraments by a long shot. I'm a bit confused on this point and am suddenly suspicious of using the term "means of grace" so loosely. 

Because it is faith alone that receives these divine gifts, Lutherans confess that baptism "works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare."
So, Luther, who was the sola fide guy, says a work (baptism) gives salvation, because faith alone receives the gift of salvation.


Moving on then. 

Wesley and the Methodists would agree with the Reformed or Presbyterian denominations that infant baptism is symbolic.
Wesley was an Anglican, I've learned, and apparently never wanted to break from the Anglican church.  For whatever that's worth.

Presbyterian and Reformed:
Presbyterian and Reformed Christians believe that baptism, whether of infants or adults, is a "sign and seal of the covenant of grace," and that baptism admits the party baptized into the visible church.
Now this I'm really comfortable with, because it's not far from the tradition in which I was raised.  Baptism marks you, but does nothing else.  That's not so dangerously different.  But then why is it a Sacrament if that's all it does?  Hmm....

Unfortunately, the Wikipedia article doesn't talk about the Anglican/Episcopalian views on baptism (so no cute Wikipedia soundbite) - though it's probably the view I should focus most on since we're currently in an Episcopal church.  Fortunately, I have a Book of Common Prayer in my possession:
"Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body the Church.  The bond which God establishes in baptism is indissoluble."
That's uncomfortably strong to me.  But a lot of the above denominational statements as well as what I'm reading on infant baptism (or baptism in general) from early on in church history pretty much agrees with this.

This is getting really heavy, so I'll wrap up for now by saying that I remember being taught that people who baptize infants believe that it saves them, and that was contrary to Scripture. However, reading through the various approaches seem much more nuanced than that simplistic view allows for.  And honestly? Evaluating the various approaches leaves me with the vague impression that everyone is overthinking this entirely too much. Am I allowed to blithely say, "Christians baptized their kids from the beginning, the Church Fathers also thought it was a good idea, I'm not sure exactly what it does but I think I should just do it"?

Yeah, didn't think so.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Peds and Creeds Part 1

Shortly after we started attending the local Episcopal church, there was a baptism.  A baby baptism.

Now, in Fundamentalism, baptizing babies was heresy.  Even more mainstream Baptists, ironically, refuse to baptize infants.  I was always taught that it was ridiculous, unbiblical, and the height of unorthodoxy.

However, I found the baptismal service interesting - and extremely similar to the few baby "dedication services" I remember from my Fundamentalist background. The part that made me the most uncomfortable was where the parents reply for the child, but a great deal was nearly identical to my own child's dedication service.

Recently, I've been thinking more about this issue, so I decided I needed to start reading up on infant baptism.

Imagine my surprise when, on reading the wikipedia article (hey, I figured it would be one of the least biased sources out there), I discovered that the vast majority of Christianity for the vast majority of Christian history has baptized infants.  It's quite probable that it was standard practice from the very beginning, as evidenced by New Testament head-of-household conversions being followed by baptizing the entire household - presumably including small children and infants.  There was certainly no injunction to avoid baptizing them.

Well. Infant baptism has been a longstanding widespread practice of the Church. I honestly never knew that.  And since it's a sacrament-level practice, not just a custom, I'm having a very difficult time dismissing it without exquisitely clear reasons to do so.

Continuing the historical information, how about the people who don't baptize infants?  Baptists, Pentecostals, Church of Christ, Mennonites, Amish, and a few others.  A relatively small and inconsequential segment of Christianity.  Most of whom are denominations I want nothing to do with and who seem to be particularly good at spiritual abuse.  Also many of whom are strongly Arminian - and as someone who now leans rather Reformed, that in and of itself makes me a little fussy.

Unfortunately, denominations who do baptize infants don't seem to agree much on just why it should be done and just what it means, largely because of varying views on deeper issues such as soteriology, grace, original sin, etc.  But it does seem pretty clear that it is at least acceptable to do, and it's been done for a long time - early church fathers seemed to accept it as standard practice, even desirable, and certainly nothing innovative or controversial.

So I'm still reading up on it.  I really want to read more of what the earliest church fathers had to say about it, but their complete writings are a little harder to find offhand than say, Wesley's or Luther's.   Not that I'm pooh-poohing later writers, but I figure the closer to the source, the better on something like this.

And honestly, the main reason for thinking about this so thoroughly is because I'm going to have to be really really well-versed on this issue.  Because if I choose to have the next child - or even the current child - baptized, a great deal of heck is going to be unleashed. 

(Minced oaths.  I know.  Silly. That part of me is still Fundy... least in print.)