Q&A: Baptism

Q&A: Baptism

This week’s question is “Talk about Baptism as so many young parents are not getting their children baptized.”

This question seems appropriate following two baptisms that we have had recently. Baptism is one of our two sacraments. John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. While the term baptism is not found in Jewish rituals, there are purification rites which have some similarity to baptism. Immersion in water is for ritual purity for Jews who have become ritually unclean through contact with a corpse or other instances of impurity.

Immersion is also required for those who convert to Judaism. This represents a change in status, a purification, restoration, and acceptance into the full life of the community and religious participation.

John turns this on its head. His claim is that the temple is corrupt and impure. He ventures out into the wilderness, God’s first testament of nature. And he baptizes people in the River Jordan which was seen as a boundary between the Jews and their Gentile neighbors. The early church had a rigorous method of joining for converts. After a 5-year study, they would be baptized. The significance of this sacrament has been widely debated but it has been around since the start. Paul writes in Romans 6:3 “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” The old life is gone. The new life in Christ has started.

As the years marched on, baptism became less about adults and more about infants as the church became a cultural force. Baptism then became about washing away original sin. I think this is a late addition to the sacrament and I struggle with it. I don’t think Jesus felt he was washing away his original sin. He didn’t have any! It’s not in the gospels. Yet there is a sense of a repentance of sin and being loved by God that pervades the baptism stories in the Gospels.

What I think I’m doing is accepting a child into our community. Before this child has done anything, in fact before this child CAN do anything other than smile and cry and burble, we love and accept this child just has God has loved and accepted us in Christ. That means this child is ours no matter what. That God loves this child, and they will always have a home with us no matter what they end up doing with their life. No matter if this child plays Carnegie Hall by age 6 or is on trial at age 16. We will love and support them and be as Christ to them and see how God is reflected in their life. Baptism is a tangible sign and seal of a community of God’s invisible love for us all.

Jesus’ work on the cross is final whether I believe in it or not. God’s love is total outside of my feelings and ability. It’s an absolute in a world of relativity. It’s why I can freely baptize infants, for while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. God loved us. The Holy Spirit is active.

Yet there is something to baptism as adults or at the time of confirmation. For the one choosing to be baptized, that exercise of free choice to say yes to the Trinity… yeah… that’s something else, too. This is too great for me to understand, and totally worth celebrating. Events of watching people choose their baptism reminds me that my own is something I need to say yes to each and every morning and at each temptation. Remember your baptism. Remember who and whose you are.

I’m more than fine with young parents not getting their children baptized. It doesn’t mean God loves them less or that their child is automatically headed to hell or purgatory. I think that’s superstition, not biblical. If the parents have no interest in the communal life of the church, then I’m happy they are being honest about it, and not getting their kids baptized. They aren’t making vows that they have no intention of following.

Christian existentialist Soren Kierkegaard stated that “When everyone’s a Christian, then no one is a Christian.” meaning that our religious life gets watered down or reduced to a photo opportunity that really holds no meaning for people. They are just going through the motions as this is what’s expected of them. We need ritual and the spirit it was given in.

People these days aren’t looking for just going through the motions or doing the same ol’ thing. They are looking for meaning. So we must be clear and discerning on why we do what we do. We welcome, love, and serve because those are the values we want to reflect from the life and teachings of Jesus. We want to join with others and welcome them in baptism and share communion with them. This sacramental time, time carved out, is special to God and to God’s people. It’s not that other people are excluded from this time, it’s that we the church, the Body of Christ witness to these gifts from a loving God that would be ignored by others.

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