Jul 28, 2009

understanding Baptism

I was out having breakfast with my parents the other day; we talked about our upcoming trip to Dallas for my nephews' (Catholic) baptisms. At some point, it came up that none of us are really sure if my oldest brother has been baptized or not. I said half-jokingly, "See this is why we Catholics just do it when they're babies!" To which my mom replied, also semi-jokingly, "Right, as if babies understand what's happening."

It's a pretty common Protestant position on infant baptism, and I can totally understand the reasoning - infants aren't capable of repentance or faith so baptism is really just meaningless for them, right?


As usual, there's a full theological survey out there for whoever is interested. (Here again, I'm compelled and persuaded by Dave Armstrong's Biblical evidence). When asking if infants should be baptized, keep in mind:
The two different answers to this question do not, by themselves, shed much light on the nature of the dispute between paedobaptists and credobaptists. To grasp the disagreement over infant baptism fully one needs to understand the roots of the disagreement.

The disagreement about infant baptism is grounded in differing theological views at a more basic level. Christians disagree about infant baptism because they disagree about the nature of faith, the role of baptism, the means of salvation, the nature of grace, and the function of the sacraments. Pedobaptism and credobaptism are positions which bubble up from theological views at a more fundamental level of one's theological system. --wikipedia

Since that full theological survey of "the nature of faith, the means of salvation, the nature of grace, and the function of the sacraments" is too big of a question for my 2 little lbs of gray matter and this little blog post, let's use some safer experimental evidence.

I was baptized on June 8 2008 by pastor Jeff from Agora. By this time I had been reading Catholic theology for a while and was about 50/50 on deciding to become Catholic. My belief in Sola Scriptura was gone, and my belief in Sola Fide was being refined. At the very least, I recognized how important the early Church considered baptism. In a way, my baptism was my first real step into the Catholic Church; and in a way, I'm glad it was Jeff who ministered. From that point on, we talked about Catholicism and my potential (inevitable?) conversion regularly and openly. A kind of grassroots micro-ecumenism that we continue today.

While the minister of my baptism was exceptional, the matter was not so much. A heated baptismal pool with plain ol' water in a church I had never attended. But both matter and form was 'valid' in the rules of the Church. So here comes the point ...

Truth be told, I never felt a big emotional or sentimental transcendence during my baptism. In fact, it wasn't until later, after I was able to reflect on it, that the full force of it hit me - and continues to hit me. I now share in a Tradition of Christianity dating all the way back to the first Christian church, to Christ himself. (And even further back into Jewish traditions too!) The odd thing is, with all the Catholic theology regarding the necessity of baptism, combined with all my Protestant inhibitions to avoid a "works-based" salvation ... I actually feel my faith grow as a result of my baptism. There's no way I could understand why God commanded us to be baptized or how baptism works. But that didn't matter. The point is that God commands it, and we act on faith in that command. As a result, my faith grew all the more.

This was the start of my new understanding of faith. It was exactly how James described it:
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works.

I believe God uses matter, form, and minister to convey his Grace. Whether the matter is His Incarnation or the water of baptism; whether the form is His sacrifice or the submission of baptism; whether the minister is Christ or Jeff. I believe we can work with God in His sacraments as he justifies and sanctifies us.

I intend to tap into that real power of Baptism for my daughter as early as possible. I don't know how, but I'll act on my faith that she will receive real Grace from it. Of course she doesn't understand how God's Grace works on us; but honestly, neither do I. The question isn't whether an infant understands baptism, it's whether any of us do? And if we don't, is it really necessary to understand, or is it enough to act on our faith?


Kristi said...

I wasn't baptized until I was 30. It was something that my father never pushed on us. His take was that you did it when you were ready and when you understood the meaning. I opted to be baptized after starting life over following a divorce that blindsided me. I had made a new commitment to God, and in my mind, that baptism was my way of saying, "I am yours. do with me what you will." True, it wasn't an amazing moment, and I had mine at the same place you had yours. But it was the knowledge that I had done something for God. I didn't do it for me or for church membership or any of that. I felt like it was a huge step in obedience and faith.

I don't regret it one bit.

Jeff said...

The question of baptism as you have referenced it still boils down to two questions for me:

Is it salvific? I don't know.
Is it optional for one who truly follows Christ? Not really.

luke said...

It's funny; my ideas about any kind of salvation "formula" were blown away by my baptism - the Sacrament that makes the very foundation of that formula!

I think Baptism had that effect for me - all my notions about "earning" salvation were buried with Christ. And it's only then that my salvation is made possible.