Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the Anglican Church, has put out a very nice video summary that is promoted as a discussion of the baptism of Prince George, but ultimately, is a wonderful statement on baptism in general.  Please take a few minutes to watch, and enjoy!

”God’s love is offered without qualification, without price, without cost to all people in all circumstances always…For you Jesus Christ came into the world. For you he lived and showed God’s love. For you he suffered the darkness of Calvary and cried at the last, ‘It is accomplished.’ For you he triumphed over death and rose to new life. For you he reigns at God’s right hand. All this he did for you, though you do not know it yet.”

Justin Welby

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This post is written in honor of my baby girls, Addie Lee and Reagan.  At ages 19 months and 10 weeks, respectively, they will both receive the sacrament of baptism this weekend at Gordon’s Chapel United Methodist Church.  The girls will be baptized from a font dedicated to the memory of J.A. and Annie Epps Stone, and will be amongst the fifth generation of  Stone descendants to be a part of this church community.  “Grandpa and Grandma Stone” were both in attendance at the first meeting of a community that became Gordon’s Chapel, held underneath a brush arbor in Sanford, GA.  Undoubtedly, they will also be present at the baptism of my girls, amongst the great cloud of witnesses that are watching as they participate in this first step of faith.

During my years of service in ministry in the evangelical world, I heard many criticisms of churches that were liturgical in nature.  As I’ve grown older (I won’t say more mature…just older),  I’ve come to realize that there’s tons of misunderstanding in the Protestant world about sacramental theology.  I might hear the theology and the frequency of use of the communion table criticized in evangelical circles from time to time, but the hot button topic always seems to be baptism.

Sacramental churches don’t always dunk (or immerse, for those of y’all who need to be more holy-soundin’).

Even worse…They baptize babies.

When I first journeyed outside of the Methodist church, the Baptist body I became a part insisted that my baptism in the UMC at age 11 wasn’t legitimate, because I hadn’t prayed “The Sinner’s Prayer”.  Once I was filled with a sufficient enough amount of doubt to pray that prayer,  I was then told that my method of baptism, sprinkling, was wrong in every way.

As an immature believer, I didn’t mind praying the prayer, even if it was only for my own assurance.  I resisted being re-baptized, though, until the time at which I discerned God’s call on my life for ordained ministry.  At that time, I submitted to my denominational leadership’s request that I be baptized via immersion.

I regretted my choice the moment I entered the water, and have ever since.  I understand the requirement that I adhere to denominational standards, but now I realize that those standards didn’t have a sound base.

Now, you won’t find any argument here that  “believer’s baptism”…baptism which occurs after someone does a profession of faith…is wrong.  My path was different, though.  I was a covenant child.  My parents had taught me about Christ from an early age, and I never remember a time in my life that I wasn’t aware of my sinful state, or that I didn’t realize that Christ had died for my sins.

If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that not every Christian takes the same path to Christ.  It’s not so much the pathway to faith that matters, as long as the object of your faith is correct.  I’ve grown to believe that  infant baptism is a pure, true, and legitimate expression of what God is doing in a child’s life..  It doesn’t represent salvation, but it does represent the beginning of the work of the Holy Spirit in that individual.  Infant baptism isn’t about how we feel about God;  instead, it’s a rite of adoption, a reflection of the great affection God feels toward us.

Some time ago, I was blessed to hear Bishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Diocese of the South (ACNA) share his thoughts on infant baptism, and I will note that I borrow liberally from his teachings in my own ideas on the matter.  Below are a couple of reasons I believe that infant baptism is legitimate, interspersed with random commentary, and thoughts from that “great cloud of witnesses” I mentioned earlier.

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I wanted to reinforce yesterday’s thoughts with an example of baptism liturgy, this one being from the United Methodist Church.  You will find many similarities in the order of worship for baptism amongst churches with liturgical traditions, with much more in-depth liturgies in Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches.

We’ll spend some time later on comparing and contrasting historical baptism traditions, and even tread in the waters of infant baptism.  For now though, take a look at this short liturgy and see how it not only incorporates the whole church, but also demonstrates covenant relationship, between God and the person being baptized; between God and the congregation; and between the person being baptized and the congregation.

It’s of vital importance that an individual being brought into the fold of God’s family know that they’re not in the water alone.  Too often, people believe that they will suddenly become spiritual superheroes because they “got saved”, and live a temptation-free, sin-free life.

We know that simply isn’t the truth.  When we do fall, there’s shame and guilt.  We’ll experience divorce, cancer, loss of  job and home, car wrecks, and chigger bites, just like everybody else.  The great thing about baptismal liturgies is that when they are used, and taken seriously by the folks using them, the individual knows that they not only have God as their Father, Christ as their Savior, and the Holy Spirit as their guide;  they also have a family in Christ to pick them up when they are down; correct them when they are wrong;  discipline them when they are out of order; weep with them when they are mourning; and to rejoice with them when they hit the powerball  (Sorry…We don’t play powerball anymore after we get saved, do we?  Guess I better get baptized again!  ;o).

“Surrounding these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their service to others…” is a purely Biblical concept.  Ecclesiastes 4:8-12 reads:

There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
a miserable business!  

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

So, in the Lee Adams translation from the Hebrew, this means “No man is an island.  Don’t try to go it alone.  It’s great to have a friend to hang out with, but three…now that’s a party.”

Here’s the UMC Liturgy for Baptism:

The Baptismal Order

Brothers and sisters in Christ:  Through the Sacrament of Baptism we are initiated into Christ’s holy church. We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit.  All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.

( Parents and/or youth and adults are asked these questions ):

On behalf of the whole church, I ask you:

Do you believe in God and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments?

I do.

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

I do.

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

I do.

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

I do.

According to the grace given you, will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?

I will.

( Only parents are asked this question ):

Will you nurture these children (persons) in Christ’s holy church, that by your teaching and example they may be guided to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?

I will.

The pastor addresses the congregation:

Do you, as Christ’s body, the church, reaffirm both your rejection of sin and your commitment to Christ?

We do.

Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care?

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. 

We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their service to others.  We will pray for them that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life. 

Amen.

It’s clear in the liturgy that the individual being baptized is not the only person taking vows here.  The community they are becoming a part of is making some heavy promises, too!  They have the responsibility and privilege of raising up this new member of their body.

I looked for some well-made video examples of different baptisms to share with you all, but frankly, most of what I found on Youtube were home movies, and not very pleasing to the eye.  What I did find that was very professionally put together was a video of a Serbian Orthodox Chrismation.  In the Orthodox  tradition, Chrismation is a sacrament that always accompanies baptism.  It’s the rough equivalent of Catholic Confirmation, and when received by an adult,  a sign that they are received into the church community, sealed by the Holy Spirit.  It’s a beautiful ceremony, with a priest anointing the recipient with oil and the sign of the cross on different parts of the body.  We also see a picture of support from the community here, in that the young lady holding the candle is acting as a sponsor for the person who has received baptism, and is now being chrismated.  The sponsor, in this tradition, is expected to be a mature believer who is committed to edifying her friend’s faith.  The new member is surrounded by family and friends who support her choice to become a part of the body of Christ.  If you would like to know more about Chrismation, check out What Is Holy Chrismation? | Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.

Serbian Orthodox Baptism – YouTube.