On the occasion of the baptism of my son
The Blog of Nathan D. Smith

Today we baptized our son.

All Saints' happens to be my favorite service of the year, so it was an especially joyous day. It was wonderful to enjoy the support of our family, friends, and congregation as we dedicated ourselves to raising Elias in the faith.

Having grown up in an Evangelical church with heavy anabaptist influence, we always practiced believer's baptism. Needless to say, in the past I didn't picture my children having infant baptisms. But a few things have ensued in the interim which changed my position.

First, I realized that there is a functional equivalence between infant baptism and infant dedication (as practiced in my former church). Both are occasions where the entire congregation is called to witness the promise of the parents that they will raise their child as a Christian. Both enlist the prayers and the practical help of everyone in the execution of this taks. Along the same lines, there is a functional equivalence between confirmation and believer's baptism: both are the opportunity for the individual to own his or her faith by publicly pronouncing it.

There are of course some functional differences. Infant baptism has some different theological underpinnings from dedication. However, I think the real functional importance of baptism and dedication are shared. Therefore I find the resultant formal differences to be less important.

Second, I realized that believer's baptism is something of a fallacy. This was really brought home by Stanley Hauerwas pointing out that it is silly to presume that anyone at any age can really have a firm cognitive grasp of the faith. It is reductionistic of the faith to rationalize this way. It also puts up the uncomfortable barrier of mentally handicapped people: how could they ever have sufficient rational capacity? Faith like a child is what is desired.

Now the other side of the coin with believer's baptism beside cognition is volition: that is, has the person chosen freely to come to Christ? I find infant baptism somewhat problematic in this sense. However, I think the opportunity for confirmation later in life helps fill in the gap. My son will have the opportunity to continue in the faith by his own volition. In this way baptism and confirmation are two steps in the same process, and both are essential. It is the same with dedication and believer's baptism.

The final factor which has affected my outlook on infant baptism was the fact that we changed churches. This factor actually caught me somewhat by surprise, since I figured that my ideologies would be stronger than any particular tradition with which I may be affiliated (though that may still be the case for certain ideas). I realized that it is important to raise our child in the traditions of our congregation. As a part of the faith family of our new church, we should partake of those rites which our church family practices. This carries the implication that if we had been members of a church which did not practice infant baptism, I don't think we would have done it.

This of course requires some theological ambivalence about infant baptism. I do not think one practice is imperative and the other unacceptable. I think both models have been effective in raising Christian children. So I do not stand in judgement of anyone on this matter. Now of course an important point is that my anabaptist nature would allow or even encourage our son to seek believer's baptism again in the future should he so desire.

The great importance of today comes not in theological justifications but in the celebration of our son beginning his walk in the Christian faith. We are so excited to cultivate in him a love for God, an appreciation of the scriptures, and a desire to walk like Jesus. Of course we need the support of our family, friends, and congregation to achieve this, and today that support has been pledged to us.

Date: 2010-11-07 17:26