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.

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