Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Baptism Qualms

Infant baptisms - I love 'em!! The usually gorgeous small child; the gleaming godparents, the sense of family, the swelled congregation...but if I'm honest I do have a few qualms...

Mainly the liturgy..... 'Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?'...... 'May Almighty God deliver you from the powers of darkness.' I hope I'm not getting too wishy washy (excuse water-based pun) but I find this bit difficult to explain to the poor unsuspecting parents beforehand. I'm sure you can't do it adequately without wading into deep theological waters (pun again) - those stirred up in fact by Augustine's doctrine of original sin, and the necessity of washing it away by baptism (with the attendant awkward corollary of the dubious final destination of the unbaptised.) How much is baptism an active sacrament (effecting slavation) and how much is it a sign of something you hope will come later? The theology of baptism is so dense - the idea of the Exodus deliverance through water; Jesus' own baptism; death and resurrection; the new life of the Holy Spirit (being born again); covenant theology etc. etc. As an Anglican priest I'm overwhelmed at the thought of how to communicate all this in the two 'baptism visits', and probably fail miserably. It feels in the service as though we've chewed off an enormous piece of theological meat and are having trouble chewing through it. There is nothing light and contemporary about the words. You can sense the parents of small children losing the plot half way through the 'Prayer over the water' (goes on for three paragraphs). In the final analysis, should I be more concerned that the family felt loved and welcomed, and will have an ongoing relationship with the church, than that they grasp the finer points of baptismal theology? If there were a parental test afterwards ('How far do you understand your child to have experienced a symbolic death and resurrection after his/her recent baptism experience?') I'm not sure how well we'd score! It's probably time for some soul searching and more Curates' training (cue Hard Skill Day coming up....) In my mutli-denominational Christian past I experienced two baptisms (naughty) and I enjoyed the second one more, but then I don't really remember the first.....

Returning to the present question though, I do love them babies.......and say thanks to God every time I'm asked to do a baptism, trusting that He will continue the good work by His Spirit and help me find a way through the tangled forest called 'baptism liturgy'.


  1. I'm very glad to have been baptised by full immersion in a Brethren Church as an adult by Anglian clergy (without being baptised as a baby).

    I have never met anyone who spoke highly of their infant baptism, which is probably to the fact that they have no experience of it.

    For the parents ... virtually all people, when confronted with a complicated explanation or series of difficult concepts but a relatively simple outcome, will opt for apparent compliance with what is needed to get the desired outcome.

    God judges our hearts, not the largesse of our prayer vocabulary, rites we have been through or matters of little consequence.

    People forget details of what they don't understand ... so the key thing, I believe, is to keep it simple and direct.

  2. Thanks Grant. I wonder if the Anglican clergyman in question was Richard Thompson?!

    1. Richard Thompson was the vicar but it might have been his curate. Terrible - I ought to be able to remember!

  3. I certainly remember a very exciting full immersion at the Grammar school pool at that time! Have just been showing a group of primary school children around this church here and some were delighted to see their names in the baptism register so it can be significant for children who couldn't remember the actual ceremony