Saturday, September 1, 2012

Splash!

Tomorrow we baptize our infant son.

I need to give some back story first since this post will get a little technical. There's some personal stuff, too; just dig in!

Both my husband and I were baptized as infants. But my formerly Baptist grandmother's influence meant that my mom chose to be baptized at 13 in a church that practices infant baptism. My husband never really knew his sponsors, who moved to Australia. And his own family moved from Chicago to Hong Kong and back before he was 4. I loved knowing my sponsors, seeing them at least every summer and sometimes Christmas growing up. I came to love that my aunt and uncle were Catholic. They modeled living out their faith just differently enough to pique my curiosity. They took a genuine, loving interest in me as a person, and gave personal gifts to encourage my relationship with Jesus at just the right moments.

I truly gave my life to Christ at 19 and wished to a degree that I could mark it with a second baptism. Not necessary, but deeply meaningful. In fact, a college friend did this and it was an honor to pray for her in the service. When my husband and I married, we made it a point to join our local church the same month. We came with lots of questions -- mostly theological -- and the pastor patiently answered all of them. Our theology doesn't perfectly align, but we want to live harmoniously in this community. My husband and I agreed at the time that we would honor our local church's traditions and baptize our children as infants.

God has had to work on my heart over the past two years, and through two children, to form the following thoughts. Where are you in your journey? I'd love to hear your thoughts on baptism and welcoming children.
The Baptism, Laurie Justus Pace, watercolor, 1998

A Theology of Baptism

Like a majority of Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians believe, baptism is a sacrament. As a visible manifestation of the word; we see an individual becoming a child of God and therefore part of Christ's Body, the church. Some consider the Jewish ritual of circumcision the Old Testament counterpart of baptism. Christians are freed from the obligation to become circumcised. Christians should practice baptism, typically only once.

For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Galatians 5:5-6
We are baptized because Christ was baptized.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17
More important than a 'water baptism' is receiving the Holy Spirit, like Jesus did in this moment. If I have the Holy Spirit and believe, putting into action my faith, then the Galatians verse makes more sense. Knowing God and being in relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit supersede the physical act of baptism or the act of circumcision.

Baptism welcomes the Holy Spirit into my heart, marking me as a child of God. Children have access to everything the Father has; his love protects and guides us.

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:37-39
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. Romans 8:14
We baptize because Christ told us to do so.

17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:17-20

How this translates for our daughter

Children baptized as infants experienced real baptism, that is, Spirit-giving baptism. Their parents and sponsors also promised God and his family that this child would be taught to love and follow Jesus. The family of God, the church, also promised to support this child's faith along the journey.

Although not data-driven, I see real faith in my two year old. Her grasp of the Bible may still be fact-centered, but how she lives challenges my deeply trenched adult social mores. She cares for others in ways that go beyond 'what's right' or 'what's nice.' One of the daily ways she shows this is in prayer. She is a child of God and acts like it. And then she behaves appropriately two years old and cares only about herself ;-)

She knows her sponsors and sees them living out their faith in church and through their choices. We talk about them often. She knows other brothers and sisters in the family of God, sees how they care about her faith, and sees how they live life with Jesus. Their consistency and receptivity to her, even at only two, speaks at high volume to her.

Lately, we've looked at pictures from her baptism. We've read and practiced saying her baptism verse below. She dressed purple monkey in her tiny newborn dress and we baptized purple monkey. Y'all, we've got some interesting 'family' when it's God tying us together.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
Her faith in action reassures me that the Holy Spirit is active and welcomed in her life.

How this translates for our son

Our 5 month old son will be baptized in our local church tomorrow. We prayed most often during his gestation that he would be someone who shows others God's grace. We chose a name that means 'God is gracious.' Grace is unmerited favor. God's Riches At Christ's Expense.

For many reasons, mostly medical and not at all religious, we chose to not circumcise him. He is intact like just over 50% of boys his age. He'll probably ask, 'Why?' when he's older. We'll explain.

Then, we'll point out the unintended irony that his baptism verse is from the book of Galatians. Paul rights the Galatians' doctrine, which had been persuaded by other missionaries that observance of some Jewish rituals and laws was necessary for Christian salvation. Completely unnecessary!
19 For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. 20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:19-20

Fresh understanding

With each child, God has changed a little of our thinking about baptism. In fact, he's deepened my appreciation for my own infant baptism and the trace of grace as I grew up, even before my whole-hearted commitment to Jesus.

Engaged, we favored baptism later, by choice.

Newly married, we stepped a few more steps towards baptism, coming to understand that it is a means of experiencing God's grace.

With our daughter we stepped still closer, wanting her to experience all rich expressions of grace. And now with our son, we welcome and are looking forward to his infant baptism and welcoming his other faith steps along the journey.

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