Monday, 13 January 2014

Baptism: Universal (working) Model

And it's one that I think works for adult (proselyte, believer's, call it whatever you want) and for infant (paedobatism, sprinkling, christening and again whatever you'd like to call it) too.

best bit is that I actually think it works theologically and is supported by practice and observation and so is a well-rounded, empirically sound and sustained model.

Consider this if you will:

Back in the dim and distant time in North London a boy child was born to a family who rejoiced at the continuation of the name. The child grew up and when the time was considered to be right they were dressed in appropriate clothing and taken off to be initiated into something that the family held as special.

Arriving at the venue the Father took his son and took him to a place where, as ritual dictated, certain acts were engaged, words were said and conversations had. This part of the ritual complete the child was taken to the main place of worship and there was exposed to his first act of corporate worship. Sufficient to say that the child was not taken there again for a number of years and then, having seen some more of the worship on TV, they asked to go with their Dad to that place again.

And so they went and the child, now in his teens started to learn about the rules and regulations (we call them 'Laws') and learnt the names of the heroes of the faith. They learned the language and the songs that they sung in that place, the tactics of the enemy and the ways to counter them and be successful. Daily they grew in their knowledge and ability to emulate those heroes of the faith and eventually it was acknowledged that truly they had become a true follower, a disciple and (dare I say it) a bit of a fanatic.

On the days when worship was engaged and the, now a man, follower could not be part there was sadness. Being absent caused them pain and they would do whatever they could, even swapping work days with others to ensure they could be present.

When on holiday or on courses they would see out other like-minded folk and worship at their places. It didn't matter that they weren't part of the same faith, the act of worship and the way those who were at the front was similar and the goals were the same!

Now, if you're thinking that I'm talking about what we call 'religion' in the description above then you are right, but the religion in question is actually football and the place of worship was Highbury!

The thing is that this also works for those with faith and especially (in my context) the Christian faith (but I have Jewish and Islamic and 'other faith' friends for whom this model works equally well).

Let's take this example a little further . . .

I know a child who was from an early age decked out in their father's team of choice's merchandise -  A Bib emblazoned with the words 'I'm a great dribbler!', the football logo babygro and the like - they were also taken to the place of worship and yet never chose to take it any further. If asked their team they would respond with the words: 'Me? I'm a ..........' (the empty space being the team their Dad supported). Now they had a team but chose not to follow it. Then, many years later they decided to become a disciple and because they had a team, this was the way they went.

It helped that the team was good and played well and were enjoyable to watch and so, one day, they bought a season ticket. It would not have made much sense to buy one at birth, after all they wouldn't have enjoyed being at the game until perhaps eight or nine years of age, but once the interest came into being - the team was already something there was a tacit allegiance to and a wider awareness of.

Consider a friend of mine who came from a home where sport was something to be avoided. The grew up, went to school and university and got married and had children and, one day, were asked to take their children to a football match, which they did.

Having gone to the match, which the family enjoyed, they decided to become a follower and bought a shirt and a season ticket and started to learn the laws and the heroes and the tactics and before you know it, they'd become a disciple and their children along with them (turns out the wife had always been a true believer and was glad at last that she could get back into the stadium and enjoy the worship with her whole family!).

Now this is exactly what baptism is - for contrary to some people's beliefs regarding baptism:

Baptism does not you saved - but it recognises where salvation is to be found.
Baptism is all about becoming part of the Church (that's universal) - it doesn't make you 'saved' but is a recognition of who and what Jesus is and says, 'I want to be (or have my child become) part - I want (me/us) to be associated with the team (Church).'

Baptism does not make you a disciple - but it opens the doors to being one.
Baptism doesn't make us disciples, but it offers us the potential to be that by the association with the team. We can be baptised and never become a disciple (and this is true for the adult or infant variety) - I know a fair few who have been baptised and adults and as children who have never taken their faith any further. (That said I think there is a danger that if we offer the 'folk religion' Christening as that and that alone we are seeding ourselves for a greater failure rate. After all, one would hope that those who come of their own accord might fare better - would hope but this is not always the reality of course!!).

Baptism does not make you a Christian - But it puts you in the right place to become one
Being baptised doesn't make you Christian - but it does point to a place where you can become one!
This will (most likely) prompt the question, 'What's a Christian?' - which I will try and answer another day). The big problem is that many who have had the infant variety assume that this makes them such when, as I've pointed out, it merely makes you Church!

Baptism doesn't get you into heaven - But Jesus does!
All you need to is acknowledge this and then, having said 'Thank You' and 'I'm Sorry!' you step up and take the ticket from his quick and lively, resurrected hands!

So here it is (again) in simple form:
Baptism registers you as a member of the Church - you can choose whether you want to take out a season ticket and learn about what it means to be a follower and can choose to be a full-on follower (disciple) or an occasional viewer (Easter, Christmas hatch, match and dispatch).

It doesn't make you a follower of the team (Jesus) but it opens the opportunity for it at a later date (if infant) and immediately (adult) but it takes commitment and attendance and study and all that stuff that's so unpopular when it comes to Church and yet to be admired when it's a bunch of overpaid chaps kicking a ball  (now that is surely something contrary, isn't it?).

Hope this makes some sense - we'll do the theology later!

(and probably do the fighting sooner ;-) )      (c) Vic the Vicar 2014

1 comment:

Robert Savage said...

Hi Vic

By and large I have to agree with you having been to a C of E junior school and then introduced to the Baptist church in my teens and then taking the step of 'Believer's Baptism'. Then, as you know, I defected back to C of E. I still advocate infant dedication and believer's baptism but I have no quarrel with infant baptism as long as Confirmation is not 'automatic', but a step consciously taken at an age of discernment.