A baptism in social media

As I have said in the past exploring God’s call has got me looking to see Him in each experience I have.  Writing this blog is certainly helping me in that regard as well, not least because I need something worthwhile to write about!

I knew from the start of exploring ordination that the church’s authorised discerners (I’m sure there is a better term for them!) like people to keep a journal.  I enjoy doing that but it is quite different from the blog.  The journal is often simply a stream of consciousness, or a collection of random thoughts and helpful or challenging quotes that I come across.  As it has no audience but myself it never has to be coherent; a consequence being that thoughts are sometimes left hanging, never developed and remain unsubstantiated.

Writing this blog is certainly helping me to get to grips with the issues that God sends my way.  It forces me to try understand where I am or where I need to go with them, to articulate them and to take them to a coherent conclusion.  Well, that’s my hope at least!

The challenge I set myself of writing a post each week is providing me with the impetus I need to do that regularly; as such it is proving a blessing.  That you and others are reading it, and hopefully finding it useful, is a humbling bonus.

As I approached the time to write for the last post of September 2013 I was struggling to think what issue God was wanting me to contemplate.

There was the prayer meeting a my son’s school, which consisted of just me and the head teacher.

Perhaps, I wondered, did God want me to think about ‘that’ feeling which told me that I should stand for election as a school governor despite wondering how I would fit it in to my life?  That would have provides something nice and coherent, with a pointer towards developing a better degree of trust and dependency on God.

But not everything can be packaged into a neat conclusion.  Some thoughts are messy, confusing, and anything but coherent.   Should that stop us from engaging with an issue or should we stay away from it until we know more?  If we shouldn’t what do we do when someone asks us a question we don’t feel qualified to answer?

As a father I am beginning to be asked questions by my children that I can not always answer.  Reading John Pritchard’s Life & Work of a Priest has made me realise that Vicars also face questions they can’t always answer satisfactorily, even if they give the impression they can!  Not handling questions properly could turn someone away from God before they’ve event accepted His redemptive grace.

I faced the dilemma whether to engage or not this week when a debate was started on Twitter on the issue of infant baptism.  The Rev Sally Hitchener had started it by commenting on the announcement that Prince George was to be Christianed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Rev Sally Hitchiner

The Rev Sally Hitchiner

Sally Hitchener went on to say:

Personally I think baptising children in Christian families makes sense.I’d hate to exclude children from playing a full part of church life

@SallyHitchiner, click to follow her on Twitter

I know what I think about baptising children but I also know I’m no expert on the theology behind it or even behind my opinion.  As such I know my need to deepen and even challenge my understanding of things.  Not engaging in the debate on Twitter would therefore have been an opportunity missed.

So what do I think?

My feelings about infant baptism are shaped by my own experience.  My parents baptised me as a baby but apart from an amusing photo of me looking unimpressed in the Christening dress I was wearing it didn’t bear much fruit.  It was essentially a baptism for show, done because that was what people did at the time, if not now.  Some in the debate would believe that this made me a Christian, I have to disagree.

I grew up an agnostic.  Though I didn’t believe in God, I was unable to dismiss the possibility of that something such as God could have created the Big Bang.  In time I did, of course, come to believe in Christ and chose to follow Him.  When I did I had a problem.  I couldn’t choose to be baptised because that choice had been taken for me.

According to the theology of the Anglican church I came to faith in my only way to declare my faith in was to be confirmed.  I felt slightly robbed, though one in the debate suggested that confirmation is the child making the choice following the promises made by the parent at the baptism.

My confirmation was, thankfully, a wonderful experience.  As the bishop laid hands on and blessed me it felt as though electricity flowed through my body.  I was felt like I was walking on air for weeks.

After each of my children had been born my wife and I decided not to have them baptised but to dedicate their lives to God.  It was to all intents and purposes the same as a Christening with one fundamental difference: the choice to follow Christ, to be identified as a Christian, would be left to our son and daughter.  Myself, my wife, my children’s Godparents, each made the promise to bring the children up in a Christian environment, to pray for them, to care for them, all with God’s help and all with the hope that one day they will make that choice to follow Christ.

Has not having my children excluded them from church or from a life with Christ?  No.  Nor do I believe it excludes them from God’s Kingdom: He created them and His love and care for them is obvious to me.  You could argue the fact that my children have Christian will brainwash them into believing in Christ but you would be wrong.  Just as I was brought up to question things and to make up my own opinions so are my children.

Do I worry about my children not choosing to follow Christ?  Of course I do but I, my wife and their Godparents pray that they will.  There are encouraging signs in my 5 year old son already.  When my wife was away for a week (see Get your priorities right) he asked if we could get the Prayer Ministry Team at my church to pray for her.  Now that was a moment to treasure!

The debate on Twitter showed me that my way of thinking is not the only one but also that I am not alone in my thinking.  It threw up a host of issues, some of which I could answer, some of which I couldn’t.  Did that matter?  I hope not.  I hope it was evident then, as I hope it is now through this post, that I am not arrogant enough to believe I know it all or that my way is the only or best way to do things.

Knowing that we continually learn is important.  The debate showed to me that I have much to learn about baptism.  Will what I learn change my opinion?  Who knows, but I am open to it being changed and that is the important thing.

Update, 22nd October 2013

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, on the royal christening and the broader significance of baptism.

Read more about this video on Archbishop Welby’s website and on the Church of England’s website, which ahs interviews with parents having their children baptised.

2 thoughts on “A baptism in social media

  1. The whole area of infant baptism was one that required a lot of thought and prayer for me while I was in training. In the end I managed to resolve matters in accordance with my conscience and understanding, otherwise I would have had serious difficulties in being ordained. I do not regard the act of baptism as conveying salvation as an infallible automatic procedure, but simply as a sign of intention, both human and divine. On the one hand it represents (at best) the desire of parents/guardians to raise the child within the family of the Church, while on the other there is the acknowledgement that God’s grace is extended to all humanity. In the worst case parents get a nice piece of ritual activity to preface their party and those making baptism vows perjure themselves before God! Ultimately there needs to be a personal response by the candidate at some point, or their baptism is legally valid but spiritually ineffectual.
    My personal practise has been to refuse to set any dates for baptism, except in exceptional circumstances, until the family have attended church a number of times, and, preferably had a Thanksgiving for the child (which is in some regards an Anglican substitution for Dedication). I have had several cases of families who, once instructed about the nature and meaning of baptism and the promises that are made have instead opted for a Thanksgiving, which has led to joyous parties in their back gardens in the company of family and friends. (There is no requirement that Thanksgiving happen in church). This course of action has left the way clear for a later choice of faith/baptism as well as keeping integrity intact all round.
    Handled well a two stage policy of Thanksgiving and Baptism can help church growth in both numbers and faith, helping to keep the families who enquire about Baptism as they discover what church can rally be like and draw closer to personal faith.
    True, it doesn’t settle the ongoing discussion between infant and believer’s baptism, but it is (or can be) a working and missional practise (and since according to Canon Law the minister may only delay baptism to allow suitable instruction, rather than refuse it, it allows space for teaching or for the enquirers to decide that they don’t wish to proceed. Which opens the way for a discussion of how adjacent parishes respond…. which is a different matter!)

    • Thanks for the comments! I can see that I have a lot to study and learn, it is quite something to get my head around. I do like your two-stage approach, and anything that gets people to engage with the meaning of what they are seeking to do so that it isn’t just for show (that includes being married in church!) – I found that approach in my confirmation classes useful.

      I know of some people who have been baptised multiple times: sometimes they were baptised as a baby and then wanted to and were allowed to be baptised again as an adult; others being baptised in one denomination and then in another; and yet more who are baptised once more after finding a faith they had lost previously. From my limited understanding of baptism that feels theologically suspect or false. I feel that once baptised, always baptised, though I don’t know if I am right about that!

      It is funny that I have more questions now than at any time since looking into the faith and then becoming a Christian. Part of me is itching to get to theological college to be able to spend a few years studying such things and seeking answers, not that I need to go through all this ordination stuff just for that.

      I can see being assigned to a position where you have to have got to grips with such things as these is a tremendous challenge.

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