Monday, April 07, 2008

Infant Baptism

My parents expressed their commitment to raising me in the Faith by a ceremony known as Dedication. They made a series of promises and literally dedicated my life to the purpose for which God created me.

However, our church (The Wesleyan Church) also practices infant baptism. It was not the tradition of my home church or my home district of this church. I have always suggested the Dedication ceremony to avoid the issues involved in it.

I was recently asked to baptize a new baby. I finally had to find a better reason to do so than, "My church says so." Or else, I would need to decline the invitation.

Some years ago, I was involved in a debate at United Wesleyan College concerning the merits of the baby dedication tradition. I was on the side affirmative. The leading debator for the negative actually said, "There is more scriptural warrent for infant baptism than this made up dedication ceremony."

So I began reflecting on the scriptural and historical underpinings of both. My reflection revealed a pattern in the New Testament of all in a household being baptized when a leading member came to faith (Acts 1615, 16.33, 18.8., 1 Corinthians 1.16.) While this does not expressly command or mention the baptism of infants or young children, it does not exclude it. The scenes of baptism in the NT almost always center on those who have come to faith as adults. They form a description not a prescription.

Paul discusses baptism in close connection with circumcision (Colossians 2.11-13.) The Hebrew nation was commanded by God to circumcise all male babies when they were 8 days old. This marked them as one of God's covenant people. Then they were to be instructed in the faith, values and behavioral norms associated with the Law God had given them. At age 12 they assumed full rights and responsibilities as a member of this group of God-followers.

It seem likely that this pattern would apply to the new Covenant community. Believing parents would present their children for baptism, our identifying/initiation ceremony, and then instruct them, with the help of the church. Then at the age they can choose to affirm this act as a symbol of their personal faith, they would do so publically. Those who come to faith as adults would be trained first and baptized second after coming to personal faith.

This is how I will approach baptism in the future and it is consistant with scripture, the practice of the church from the earliest records we have and my own Wesleyan heritage.

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