Scary stories from a lovely place
(Today’s inaugural Slice o’ Opinion Pie post is written by Ellie Cook who is from the northern most parts of the UK. As well as being clever enough to earn a masters degree in theology she is also the best and fastest knitter I know, likes tea and has uncannily long hair. When I first met Ellie I thought she told good stories and had a weird but cool accent.)
Baptism is one of those issues that gets everyone going. It’s also one that a person could hold a variety of views on – it might seem like there’s just two views, but actually there are always more, lurking beneath the surface, like a shark in a baptismal pool, if you will excuse the appropriate, if bizarre, illustration.
As it happens, my day job involves working for a non-denominational/inter-denominational organisation, and baptism happens to be one of the (many) ‘secondary issues’ that we do not have a policy on. Therefore, whilst that gives me the delightful freedom of being able to think what I like about it, I feel it necessary to say now that whatever I am about to say on the subject is not necessarily representative of the policies of them. Okay?
Good. Then let’s begin.
I got baptised on St Patrick’s Day, 1985 (that’s March 17th, for the non-Irish amongst you), 13 days before my first birthday. As it so happens, the man who baptised me is the father of one of the students I now work with – which just goes to show that the world is smaller than you think, the Christian world even smaller than that, and the conservative evangelical world is just teeny-tiny-wee.
I got confirmed on a date that I do not recall – sometime in the summer months of 1998, when I was 14, and approximately one year before I became a Christian. Yes. I lied when I renounced evil and all that jazz. Shocking, isn’t it?
I’ve been to churches that are into to baby-baptising and I’ve been to churches that are very definitely not. Right now I don’t actually know my current church’s policy or views – we meet in a café-bar (so there’s no obvious font or paddling pool to give me any clues) – and so clearly it’s not top of my list of church-picking criteria, and yet I’m sure it is important, so let’s look at some facts:
The two core views – from which all the other divisions and disagreements come are basically this:
* sprinkling babies, before they’ve gained the capacity to understand or believe or, you know, say no (little tip here: if you’re going down the infant baptism route, do it before they can speak, because a small child loudly objecting to having holy water sprinkled on them makes for a pretty awkward moment.)
* dunking grown ups (or at least, people of an age where they are able to make a decision for themselves – how old you think that is, is one of those other areas where people don’t get on).
The problem that takes us on from these two views generally stems from the reason why you think what you think. For example: some folks think that if you baptise a baby that gives them a free pass into heaven, whilst others think it’s all about covenant relationships, with baptism being like a new testament, all-inclusive, (and clearly less painful) alternative to circumcision – basically a sign that you’re ‘in the family’. Some people think that believer’s baptism is what saves you, some think it’s just a symbol, some think we should do it because Jesus says so, and others that its purpose is as a testimony that the baptised one really does believe.
Confused? Yeah well, me too. Which leads to the next question – where do I stand?
Well. I’m… not sure.
I think, in general I’m more of a fan of believer’s baptism. I think of it as a mixture of symbolic of what God has done and testimony that one believes. But that’s kind of it, and I’m pretty vague about it – as you may have gathered.
But I am sure about some stuff. If I ever have kids of my own, I’ll have them dedicated, not baptised. I want them to be able to make that decision for themselves. (Although I say this with awareness of the fact that these potential children will also have an, as yet, faceless, nameless father, who might disagree – so, maybe don’t hold me to this one.) I get pretty wound up by churches who insist that people who have been baptised (as infants) and confirmed must also get themselves dunked if they want to become members. I also get pretty confused by certain denominations who require that even when one is baptised as an adult, one must still get confirmed – explain to me if you can why you need to confirm the promises made on your behalf when you actually made them yourself, perhaps only five minutes ago.
When my sister asked me to be godmother to her youngest daughter (who they haven’t actually organised a baptism for yet, despite the fact that she’s now 15 months old) I said yes. I explained that whilst I wasn’t really in agreement with infant baptism, I think the important roles of a godparent are to love her, pray for her, and tell her all about Jesus, so that in God’s great mercy he might make her his. Oh, and to buy her cool presents. But I was going to do all of that anyway.
Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.
Dipping or sprinkling – which side do you fall?