Thursday, 9 January 2014

Baptism and Liturgy - some simple answers (No.2a)

Well I never thought I'd be struggling to restrict what I thought I was going to write into three posts, but I am. A friend has thrown me a couple of extra balls (one was a real curveball and the second was a googly) of epic proportion in that they have drawn me deeper into thinking around the issue before me.

But I will try and be a good chap and this attempt sees me split response the second into a couple of elements (alpha and bravo) - so let us begin:

The second conversation raised the question, 'Surely the time has come to drop paedobaptism and get your liturgy and practice Biblical in turning to the only credible baptismal practice?'

Goodness gracious me, what a thought and how many assumptions are being made (which I might find ending up in response number three at this rate). But I'll have a go (as they did regarding my 1600 AD 'believer's baptism' error comment!). As I understand it the Biblical and early Church practice, for we wouldn't expect those in the days when the Apostle's were alive to be bringing about conflict now would we? The question is whether we can trust them (and Have have endured many lectures of the patristic errors - ante-Nicene, Nicene and post-Nicene [90 - 600 AD] - looking to the death of John, the last living Apostle before everyone rushed out and got down and heretical*).

I have to say that I am fairly confident that the practice of infant baptism was widespread and consistent during, and throughout, the early Church and that it is Biblical (see 2b when I get it posted)! But as much as the other person in the conversation might like me to embrace 'believer's baptism' as a sole practice, it just isn't going to happen. In fact I can see an extremely good reason for embracing both practices - let's hope you can:

In the early days of Christianity we find reference made to 'whole households being baptised' and there are parallels that some would draw us to in the 'covenantal' act of circumcision and the parallel to this for the Christian sect of Judaism (which eschewed circumcision of the flesh for the circumcision of the heart) who retained a covenantal initiation rite in baptism. This can be a compelling path for both acts (Baptism and Circumcision) are a 'one time only' affair! This does not sit well with those of the Anabaptist fraternity of course ;-)

I recall sitting in the Laing lecture theatre many years ago and hearing a compelling lecture on the fact that baptism appeared to be very much households rather than individuals and how we, in our practice today where we go to a meeting, make a decision and become Christians, had developed a mindset that led to our thinking: 'hear, decide, be baptised.' Of course the reality was that it was hear, decide, repent, learn and get baptised at Easter (or whenever) after you'd learnt the Apostle's creed and made the tenets of the faith your own. This, as a Pentecostal type, caused me some discomfort as I'd been conditioned to assume that it was only believer's baptism that was valid and that they did it like we do now - and this was my 'now' to the early Church's 'then'.

My next bump in the road came when I started to realise that if it was whole households then this was children as well as adults. As I discovered more about 'non persona' and how slaves, women and children were admitted into the Church I discovered also that this meant infants, those outside of the 'age of cognition' were coming in back then. This was a problem because you had to know before you could make a decision, didn't you? If this wasn't true then where, and how, did this sit with believer's baptism?

The crunch came for me with a lecture that put it into a perspective that gave me some peace regarding the paedobaptism vs Believer's Baptism conflict:

When the Church got going people came to faith and were baptised. Not as individuals but as families (or households), for Christianity was (and still should be) an issue of ethnicity. Christian wasn't (and still isn't) an issue of what you did - it was who you were! So they baptised families and as children were born, it appears to me that they too were brought into the Church of Christ too. The concept of 'whole families' -the household 'oikos' bit - is quite important because it speaks of all who were part of the family not just, as some I have heard teach on this, those who were adults or male.

At one lecture, during the Q&A bit, one lecturer stated that he chose to believe that only adults were baptised and that these were men and women. When asked why, their response was because that fitted with their belief. get in there! I love the 'it is because I want it to be!' approach to things - works so well for so many of us :-)

So I realised that there did appear to be warrant for baptism of babies in the Bible (or should we discount even more of it to support our views I wondered?) and, even though it didn't sit comfortably with me, realised that both paedobaptism and believer's baptism were valid and to be used when the situation arose. I would also have to say that whilst oikos baptism was valid, the practice of a missionary Church as the ground it covered expanded and the way that it reached out developed methodology and shape, that believer's baptism was indeed one of the primary routes for individuals to come into the Church - but then, until the 1600's perhaps, even when an adult had made the decision, the family were still drawn into baptism and those who were added through birth were definitely added when they appeared rather than wait until cognition or age made their profession possible.

What is clear - and here some will kick me - there is but one baptism and this, if done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is valid. Take a look see, the only support for an Anabaptist experience I can find is when the baptism was not done in Jesus' name (Acts 19).  Moving on, many have taught me that what is valid in the way we engage in baptising people comes from Jesus Himself in the (Matthew 28) 'Great Commission'. This, I am told, teaches us that we go:

'And make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.'

Just a thought of course - is this formulaic (and many tell me that it is) or a statement of whose name and authority we baptise in. If it's the former then any baptism done in the name of the trinity is therefore valid (for we have made for ourselves perhaps some little confidence in the infant bit so can now consider just baptism) and if it's not then with the authority we have, and the warrant of Acts 19, we know that as long as it's done in the name of Jesus, then it is valid. Either, any and all ways though - rebaptism where a valid baptism has been enacted is wrong and contrary to Scripture.

Unless of course you think that your baptism is more scriptural, worthy and efficacious - and then we have to talk about division, arrogance and unbiblical stuff, don't we?

So - bottom line:

Which is valid - Infant or Adult, Babe or Believer - when it comes to baptism?

And I have to answer both in the right place and way (and where's that? That is surely something for another day as it is tomorrow already and there's still office and stuff to do before Zzzzzzzs).

But before I do - an great quote from History of the Christian Church - Vol 2 (Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, 1910, p.258).

'By answering  "While the church was still a missionary institution in the midst of a heathen world, infant baptism was overshadowed by the baptism of adult proselytes; as, in the following periods, upon the union of church and state, the order was reversed"'

I have to agree with the first clause, for growth of the Church came about by winning adults into it and this meant Adult, proselyte baptism was indeed the preeminent method of initiation.

The second clause works for me too, but for perhaps different reasons, in that once a Church becomes settled the numbers of adults being baptised might diminishes as the number of children born into the Christian households (and being initiated into the Church) would increase.

That this is due to, rather than coincidentally occurring at the same time as, the 'union of Church and state' occurs is an extrapolation or an expectation that might and coercion were in bed to bring about the infant baptisms. (I don't recall reading this anywhere - but will go and take a look) Interestingly it moves infant baptism from Patristic error to Papist plot then (doesn't it?).

But the clock has definitely beaten me and whatever is here (and I know there will be typos - i splurge the brain onto the screen and leave the fat fingers to accompany the equally fat head!).


* I say this because some of those who have lectured me on this have varied in much but all draw on John's death as permission for the Church to bring in dodgy stuff he might not of otherwise approved of. This has always caused me some problems and surely those believers who remained must have known what was right and wrong - or were they all stupid and gullible?

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