Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Let God be God—even in Infant Baptism and Christian Initiation

In the present crisis and confusion of the Anglican Way in North America, the Sacrament of Baptism has been and is variously negated, dumbed-down, politicized and neglected. Often it is merely seen as a ceremonial dedication to God or as a religious and social custom, or both. By progressive liberals it is even seen as consecration to a radical program of peace and justice in the world (see “The Baptismal Covenant” of The Episcopal Church).

Here let us try to answer the question: What is needed in order that Infant Baptism functions as a Sacrament according to the doctrine provided in The Book of Common Prayer (1662 & USA 1928 & Canada 1962)—the Service and the Catechism therein—and in The Articles of Religion (especially XXV-XXVII). The answer is in four sections.

What God has to do. There can be no Sacrament if God the Father for the sake of Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit is not active as the God of all grace and mercy. As the basis of this holy Ceremony, there has to be in place from God (a) the covenant of grace as the new covenant sealed by the blood of Jesus, into which the baptized can be placed; (b) the promises of salvation proclaimed in the Gospel concerning the Lord Jesus which the baptized can embrace; (c) the offer of the forgiveness of sin which the baptized can receive; (d) the Family of God into which the baptized can be adopted, and (e) the gift of the Holy Spirit to work within the baptized.

What the Church has to be and do. For the Sacrament to be truly the Gospel Sacrament authorized by the Lord Jesus Christ, Head of the Church, there must be in place the local church as a microcosm of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, and with an ordained ministry. Further, there must be the preaching of the Word of God, the administration of the Sacraments, sound Liturgy, and the exercise of basic, godly discipline. Further, there has to be a pastoral context in which families are treasured and where children are welcomed, nurtured and catechized, leading to Confirmation, taking Holy Communion and committed church membership as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

What the Godparents and Parents have to be and do. In allowing Infant Baptism in his Church the Lord Jesus places a high privilege and heavy responsibility upon those who stand in the place of the infant at the font (as sureties) and who, in his name and for his salvation, make solemn vows and promises to God the Father. As with the centurion (Matthew 8, Luke 7) whose faith availed for the healing of his servant, so with Godparents and Parents who believe vicariously for the Infant and commit to doing all that is required to provide for him the nurture and instruction needed so that he will grow into a truly committed Christian, a true member of the Body of Christ.

What the Infant has to be and do. By the faith of his sureties, the baptized infant is welcomed by God the Father into his family, kingdom, and covenant. As he grows and matures, God expects him and actually provides him with all spiritual help so that he can consciously make his own as a real possession what had been given him at his Baptism. That is, he is consciously to turn away from sin, to believe the Gospel, to learn the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments as the basis of a Christian mind and action. And he has to cooperate with his Godparents and Parents in becoming a committed member of the local church, by being Confirmed and receiving Holy Communion. In short, what his Godparents vowed and promised in his name, he is to make truly his own, by the help of the Spirit of the Lord.

When Infant Baptism and the follow-up from it as Christian Initiation of children is functioning well, then it is usually the case that the local church is in a healthy state. There is growth in maturity and numbers. Right now, very regrettably, as a reflection of the sickness and indiscipline of much of the Anglican Way in North America, the Sacrament of Infant Baptism is not being prepared for, explained, administered and followed-up as it ought to be!

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)

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