Monday, September 10, 2012

Can a Baptist preacher sprinkle babies?

I am a Baptist Christian through and through. I used to be a Southern Baptist Christian, then an Independent Baptist Christian, then a Christian Church/Church of Christ Christian, and for nearly all my adult life I have been an American Baptist Christian. As a matter of fact, this fall is my 20th anniversary in the American Baptist family.

Having said all of that, I am a Christian first, and a Baptist second. I have friends of all different flavors who root for their denominations like they do their favorite football teams, and argue in favor of their particular group like a congressman defends and advocates for their political party. That is not me. I am Baptist because it fits my theological convictions and because I have been called to be a part of the American Baptist family. However, when a denominational official suggested in a moment of compassion and support that I change my standardized denominational resume to reflect more loyalty to my ABC family I could not do it, even though I knew it might cost me a few opportunities. I am too ecumenical for that. And besides that, I was deep down hoping and praying that I might be able to serve somewhere in a more federated congregation. Which is where I am now.

Serving in a congregation of Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, I am called upon to serve as a part of each of the three denominational traditions. As a part of that commitment, I am obligated to preside over the rites and sacraments of each of the three groups. That means, at times, I baptize infants.

Many of my Baptist friends, as well as those from other faith traditions, have asked me how I could baptize infants. Isn't it a betrayal of some of my core convictions as a Baptist? Aren't I compromising my faith? Still others are less judgmental. They ask their questions differently. How do you process that? How do you consent to baptize infants and still remain Baptist?

So I thought I would write about how a Baptist can also choose to baptize infants in a United Churches setting.

1. My commitment to Christian unity is more important to me that my commitment to Baptist identity.

When we get to heaven, we are not going to have Methodist, Baptist, or Presbyterian t-shirts on. We are going to be children of God participating fully in the Kingdom of God. The witness of Christian unity is more important to me that being right and pushing my agenda in regard to Baptism.

2. While as a Baptist Christian I believe believer's baptism by immersion is the most biblical form of baptism, that does not mean that I believe that other forms of baptism are therefore bad or sinful.

I actually think the intention and meaning behind infant baptism is quite beautiful. I found baptizing the child I baptized extremely moving. Every church needs a rite to initiate children into the family of God.

Sometimes, when I pour water over my child's head when I bathe her, I pray over her, dedicating her to God, and I am reminded of her baptism I am looking forward to. Sometimes I even pretend that I am baptizing her in that moment. All of this stuff happens in my head, and not verbally.

3. I want to honor each person's and their family's faith journey, and not just my own.

As a pastor, it is not my job to be a dictator or a micro-manager in people's lives. My job is to be a guide to people as they seek to walk with Christ as they are led by the Spirit. If a practice does not violate my conscience and the Scriptures, and it helps people grow closer to Christ, I am willing to support them in it.

4. In a church with multiple denominational traditions, the possibility of believer's baptism is always open to person's of any spiritual heritage. Thus, for me, what I am practicing is an infant dedication, not a baptism, even though my brothers and sisters from other traditions may call it baptism. 

Anyway, I am sure I could be more articulate. But I am just putting this out to share my thoughts on the issue.

1 comment:

Gretchen said...

Good thoughts on the subject of denominations and Christianity!
I am thankful that my parents explained this and talked a lot about all Christians being a part of the same family. Whenever we were on vacation we would find some local church to attend and the denomination didn't matter. It was a great lesson in unity!