Baptizing Our Child

Posted: February 21, 2015 in Pastoral Ministry
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The most popular conceptions of baptism revolve around what is typically called “believer’s baptism.”  A significant transformation or yielding of our heart to God is followed by a public proclamation of our intent to follow God and God alone.  In Evangelical circles, that is the typical way of understanding the purpose of baptism.  It is something I do in response to something God has done.

When baby/child baptism is discussed in these circles, it is sometimes looked at with suspicion.  If baptism is something I do, then how can the child possibly be baptized if they are unable to really respond?  Isn’t that cutting baptism short?  The quick answer is “yes” if baptism is about our response.

However, there are other modes of baptism even within the scriptures itself.  For instance, entire families that came to faith would sometimes be baptized, which included servants and children.  The early Church initiated a three year period of testing before being baptized in order to see that your life reflected the change you proclaimed, but baptism itself was not the proclamation of the individual.  Rather, it was the affirmation from the Church to God’s transformation in your life.  Baptism, throughout its history, has not always had one particular way of understanding what is happening.

Thinking back to Jesus’ own baptism is helpful as well.  Jesus is baptized under John’s baptism of repentance (believer’s baptism?).  Yet, Jesus has not sinned, nor does he.  Interesting.  In this baptism, Jesus is identifying with Israel’s sin.  As he rises out of the water, the Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove.  The Father says, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.”  As such, the significance of the baptism isn’t in Jesus’ testimony but about the Father’s testimony about the Son.  This is where I think we can discern something about baptism that we have muted in “believer’s baptisms.”

The primary speaker in baptism is God, not us.  In baptism, we hear God speaking the words over the waters: “This is my child.”  These are the waters of death into which we are baptized, yes.  But, they are also the waters of creation from which new life emerges, which is rooted in God’s claim over the Creation: “This is mine.  It is good.”  Now, that does not entail that this vision of baptism negates the response of the creature.  In fact, a response is intended.

After Jesus is baptized, the Spirit blows him into the wilderness to be tested.  The Father has spoken over Jesus, saying that Jesus is God’s Son.  Now, in the wilderness, we will see if Jesus will continue to live into that vocation.  Satan tempts Jesus to misuse God’s gift, to chase artificial means of establishing God’s Kingdom, and to take shortcuts that avoid pain and suffering of the cross.  In other words, the issue at hand for Jesus is what does it look like to faithfully live as the Son.  Jesus’ response to God’s affirmation in baptism is to live in faithful obedience… even to death on a cross.

I was recently asked why I would want to baptize my child.  It’s a good question.  When my little girl comes to me and asks why she was baptized, I want to be able to say, “It is because God loved you so very much and says, ‘You are my child; I knit you in your mother’s womb.'”  John Wesley would call this preventing or prevenient grace (the grace that goes before).  God loves us first before we can love Him.  In raising our child as a disciple of Christ, my hope is that she will come to live out her baptism as a child of God.  As the Spirit blows her out into the wilderness, hopefully, she will respond in faithful obedience.  Baptism is about God’s grace given to us.  I look forward to the day when my girl will be able to testify to God’s grace in her life as enacted in the waters of baptism.

  1. Sylvia says:

    beautiful and thought provoking post.

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