Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thoughts on Infant Baptism

We're baptizing Kate Sunday after next. Ten years ago, I never would have thought I would baptize my children as infants. In the Disciples of Christ tradition in which I was raised, a voluntary confession of faith was very important. People came forward (often in their older elementary or early teen years, if they were raised in the church), answered affirmatively the question "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and do you accept him as your Lord and Savior?", and were baptized a few weeks later.

When I started attending an Episcopal church during my junior year of college, infant baptism was one of the harder things for me to get on board with (and not just because the congregation had to stand for such a long time during the baptismal liturgy that I nearly fainted!) The decision to follow Christ should be made by each person themselves, when they are of an age to cognitively do so, I thought. The decision to start a journey of faith was a personal one that should not be made on someone else's behalf, I thought.

Over time, however, I realized that--for those raised in the church--the journey of faith did not begin at the time of that voluntary, public confession. A child's Christian life begins so much earlier, when parents read them Bible stories and pray before bedtime, and when Sunday school teachers and others nurture them as part of the faith community. Cognitive belief in certain doctrines, such as Jesus' messiahship, takes one's faith to a new level, beginning a significant new leg of the lifelong Christian journey, but it is not really the beginning, nor is it a point of arrival.

After years of learning Bible stories and songs, prayers, Vacation Bible School etc., I made my confession of faith and was baptized at age nine. But there was no time that I remember NOT believing. Like many who grew up in the church, I did not have a "conversion experience" to speak of, but rather it just felt like time to publicly acknowledge the belief in Christ that had been nurtured in me for years. Several years after that, in the summer of 1997, I entered a new stage of my faith journey, in which my relationship with God became much more "real" to me. Fall of 2001 was another period of intense spiritual growth, and on it goes...

Few would argue that the confession of faith is the end of one's Christian journey, but I would say it's not really the beginning either. So, if that is the case, why not baptize at a time closer to the real beginning of one's journey of faith--that is, the beginning of one's life? Matt has more theological reasons for supporting infant baptism, which he will explain in another post and/or podcast, but as for me, April 26 will celebrate the inauguration of Kate's walk with God. We will vow to raise and nurture her in the faith, and induct her into the worldwide community of Christ-followers, each seeking God and growing in relationship with him, step by step.

1 comment:

Amy @ Milk Breath and Margaritas said...

We celebrate our children's baptism days. I usually let H help me make a cake (next year M can help with his too) in the shape of a cross and we light their baptism candle and burn a little more off of it each year. (We don't put the special candle on the cake though - that would be tacky. heh) We talk to them about the meaning of their special day and show them pictures of themeselves in their white gown.

Hopefully this tradition will make that day that they can't remember more alive for them.


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