Learning Journal 4 - Infant Baptism
In Ministry Formation Groups we have done a couple of sessions on baptism. The sessions weren’t necessarily about the theology of baptism, but about more practical issues of how to formulate a baptism policy, how to prepare candidates and families for baptism and how to make the most of the Common Worship Initiation services material. The theological and the practical belong together however, the one underpinning the other.
As someone who grew up Baptist, infant baptism is one of the things I’ve had to get my head round as I’ve become Anglican. One of the strands of thinking that I have found helpful is the ‘covenantal’ approach, whereby baptism is seen as the sign of entry into the covenant family, roughly comparable to circumcision. This is fairly straightforward where a family are looking to bring up their child within the faith, but what of the numerous cases where a child is presented for baptism by parents who have no connection with church and who have little or no understanding of Christian discipleship?
The sessions were helpful to think through the different options that can be offered to such families. There is the thanksgiving for the gift of a child service which may be more appropriate than baptism in some cases. There is the opportunity to offer baptismal preparation classes which may be in the from of a mini-Alpha course or something similar and there are a number of other resources which may help to unpack the meaning of what is going on in baptism. I agree with those who argue that requests for baptisms may be wonderful opportunities for mission, but I believe this must be held in tension with a view that upholds the importance of baptism for Christian beginnings and entry into the church.