October 29, 2007

Ana Versus Paedo

An·a·bap·tist [an-uh-bap-tist] [From Late Greek anabaptizein, to baptize again : Greek ana-, ana- + Greek baptizein, to baptize (from baptein, to dip).]

Anabaptist martyrs, shown here, died cruel deaths at the hands of the Catholics and other paedobaptists for their belief that an infant's baptism was invalid and so the person must be baptized again.

As I mentioned previously, we attended our nephew Ben's christening this past weekend. Christening, as some churches call it, is the rite of paedobaptism, or infant baptism. The belief is that the child should be baptized into the family and salvation of God as soon as he's born. Within the first few months, the baby is brought to the church, anointed with oil, prayed upon, and holy water is poured on the baby's head, beginning the child's journey of faith in the church.

Those of us with an evangelical background can get confused by this tradition because we see salvation as a choice we make when we're old enough to choose. Our churches offer people the chance to be baptized as teenagers or adults, as a way to publicly profess their decision to follow the Lord. The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, describes baptism on its website:

When Jesus gave His command in Matthew 28:18-20 to make disciples, the directive was to baptize those new believers/disciples, and the word for baptism was literally "to immerse." It was a practice reserved for those who had decided to follow Him.

Baptizing a believer by immersion conveys the picture of a person dying with Christ, being buried with Him, and being raised with Him in a new life (Romans 6:3,4). This act is a voluntary declaration to all witnesses that the person has openly and unreservedly placed his/her faith in the Lord and will follow Him.

For young, new Christians that grow up in our churches, or people who have lived outside of any church their whole lives who wish to come and make a public profession of their newfound faith, this can be a wonderful experience. But for those who have been baptized in the name of our Lord by our brothers and sisters in other churches, why are we still baptizing again?

Let me illustrate my question with a story. The church I now attend had a lake baptism ceremony a few weeks ago, and we attended. The scene couldn't have been more different from the elaborate rite of christening that we just recently witnessed, but the purpose was the same -- to welcome people into the family and salvation of God through the public ceremony of water baptism.

Each baptizee nervously shared their testimony story to the rest of us, but one caught my attention more than the others. I'm sure, if you are a part of this type of church, you've heard the same quite a few times.

"I grew up Catholic, and was baptized as an infant, but I don't remember making a decision for the Lord at the age of 3 weeks. [crowd laughs] So I've decided to be baptized again as an adult..."

I didn't doubt the sincerity of that person at all, but I started to question the setup of our tradition. I wasn't baptized as an infant in the Catholic church, and yet, when I attend a Catholic mass I want them to recognize my Baptist baptism as having been a valid baptism in the spirit and tradition of Jesus. I think we owe the paedobaptist traditions (it's not just Catholics) the same courtesy.

It's not as if baptism is the only way to publicly profess a newfound expression of faith. Catholics who decide, for whatever reason, to join an evangelical "non-denominational" church could take part in our baptism ceremonies, but with a different emphasis. I can't imagine how appreciative some Catholics would be (perhaps especially the young person's Catholic parents?) if our baptisms included a time for those who were baptized as infants to talk about their experience, explain that they have made a renewed profession of faith and are now affirming and completing the decision that their parents made all those years ago.

We don't believe that baptism brings about salvation. In fact, the levity that we approach the ceremony with (clapping, cheering, playful splashing) shows the spirit in which we view the tradition is at least somewhat lighter than our paedobaptist brothers and sisters. Our belief about when to baptize is different, but we all believe that baptism is a wonderful expression of faith and a symbolic act of being raised up in the grace of Christ.

I guess I wish that we'd act on that grace even more by upholding and affirming the expression our brothers and sisters have chosen to use. The body of Christ could use a little healing, last I checked.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

good thoughts bro.

I think part of this does go back to how we view salvation. is salvation a one time personal decision or is salvation that has a more communal purpose/decision that is made. if you look at judaism, it's a about being a part of a covenant people, not necessarily about a personal decision to follow YHWH.
not saying that should be our salvation experience, but did Jesus really change that theology with his teachings?

so, when you think about what happens with baptism, i think about, is it a personal decision that someone makes, and then they go and get baptized, as a personal, religious experience? or is it something that happens in community and fellowship.
while the 'make personal decision, and have a religious experience' baptism is what I think is usually portrayed in media, i think baptism needs to be more inclusive of the body. yes, the body is there to celebrate, but with the infant baptism, i think it's a lot more on the parents to commit to raising them twoards Christ (still, not perfect, but.. a little bit more towards community.

(btw, i think the gal who was infant baptized was from presby background, not catholic... i *think*) still, good thoughts.