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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‘Everything Christ did was done to keep us bound together and living at peace with one another. . . And so it was that Paul could have accused the Corinthians of many great crimes but he accused them of contentiousness before any other. He could have accused them of fornication, of pride, of taking their quarrels to the pagan courts, of banquets in the shrines of idols. He could have charged that the women did not veil their heads and that the men did. Over and above all this, he could have accused them of neglecting the poor, of the pride they took in their charismatic gifts, and in the matter of the resurrection of the body. But since, along with these, he could also find fault with them because of their dissensions and quarrels with one another, he passed over all the other crimes, and corrected their contentiousness first.’

St. John Chrysostom

Alas, this is not a homage to one of my favorite bluesmen, but a commentary on the Church I love.  In my previous post on human sexuality and the Church, I made a statement, “Anything that divides the Body of Christ, The Church, is not a good thing.  Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it.  How dare we presume that it is ours to alter according to our whims?  My great dream in life is to see a shared communion table amongst all believers, a unified Church.  This should be a goal for all believers.  We can’t allow our own agendas to outweigh God’s agendas.”

I was challenged a short while later by a reader with the question, “What exactly is God’s agenda?”

Now that’s a compelling question.

Rather than answer that query in regards to  a specific issue, such as human sexuality, I pondered it for a bit in broader terms, and tried to frame some ideas from both negative and positive perspectives.  From the negative, I looked at the question in terms of the problem, “Why is the Church so confused over certain ideas, the things that divide us?  How did we get to this point, where we seem to have lost any form of unity over basic beliefs?”

From a more positive framework, I considered the question, “What is the appropriate response, a ‘Proceed in this manner…’ type of answer, that helps us to define, in broad terms, how God wants us to act, even in specific circumstances?  What is a general overview, or dare I say, mission statement (Sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a little…), that would allow us to proceed as a Church, unified, and in God’s will in the midst of a culture that wants the Church to adhere to differing agendas and plans?”

In short, I’m defining what I see as the problem, or at least part of the problem, then instead of camping out and complaining about it, exploring a framework or general mindset that would help the Church adequately approach specific issues, such as inclusiveness and human sexuality, as they arise.

Why do we need to do this?  Muddy water is neither palatable for drinking, nor comfortable for diving into.  You can’t tell how deep it is, what lies in its depths, but you can be pretty sure that it would be unpleasant to take a big swig of it.  Even worse, there’s a possibility that something dangerous and ugly is just beneath the surface, stirring up the mud.  In the same way, if we aren’t unified as the Bride of Christ, then we give the appearance to the greater culture of being troubled, unpleasant, and unpalatable.  When we argue and bicker amongst ourselves as believers, we become unappealing to those whom Christ came to seek and save.

We seem ugly.

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