Monday, 18 May 2009

Infant baptism - from convention to conviction

Infant baptism continues to persist in our culture despite the slow dismantling of that mighty and centuries long edifice called Christendom. Christendom was created when a country or state or empire adopted Christianity as its official religion and when the Church moved from the margins of society to its centre. That may be an over-simplified understanding of something that is/was much more complex and involved than that, but it provides a kind of basis for what I will say next.

Within Christendom the baptism of infants became an accepted practice and anyone who wanted to be considered a part of 'Christian' society - whether they believed or not - would have their child 'christened' when they reached a certain age. Again this may be an over-simplification of something that has its roots deep in the New Testament, but with the establishment of the Christendom model infant baptism degenerated into mere convention, something that needed to be done, or should be done, because everybody did it or it was 'expected' of you. That is not to say that there weren't many who genuinely believed or indeed did it for the best of reasons. But as time went on and the tide of Christian Faith began to leave the shores of state and empire, convention continued and conviction died.

We, in the twenty-first century are witnessing the death-throes of Christendom. We may baulk at the demise of Sunday as the day of rest or the down-grading of Christianity as THE religion of Britain, but the fact is Christianity no longer occupies the corridors of power and therefore no longer has much of a say in these matters.

But some conventions continue to live on and whether people invoke 'tradition' - meaning, in the negative sense of the word something that has always been done for no apparent reason - or familial habit - my parents or grandparents did it - some things persist. And one of those is the baptism or christening of infants.

When I interview parents or parent (usually the mother) and ask them why they want their child baptized there are a number of different answers given ranging from the bizarre - "it will drive the devil out" to the ridiculous - "it will protect him from illness" although it must be said they are in the minority. In between these two extremes there is the vague "I don't know, it seems right" which I can work with ; the conventional "I was 'done' as a baby; and the reluctant "my mother or grandmother said I should".

Sadly in most cases - I would even say the vast majority - there seems to be very little openness or will to explore the real meaning of infant baptism beyond a few hasty, and usually repeatedly rearranged, meetings. First contact is usually in terms of "I'd like to book a date to have my child christened" followed closely by "I'd like July the 3rd on a Sunday afternoon at three." When asked why that time and date the usual answer is because it coincides with an anniversary or some sort and three O'clock will allow them time for pictures before a reception in a local restaurant or pub. When told that I could not possibly make that date and I don't normally arrange baptisms before meetng and preparing the parents I am either contacted by an irate grandparent citing the practice of a previous or now retired clergyman or they try another more responsive Vicar.

I don't mean to be cynical. The above is merely my experience of the past twenty years. But it represents my struggle to address the whole issue and try and make sense of why people still persist in having their child 'done' when they don't understand, and don't seem to want to understand, what 'done' means.

In the next few posts I will attempt to probe this further. But for now let me underline one thing. I believe in the baptism of infants. I have not always done, in fact there was time when I was convinced that the only legitimate way of baptising a person was as an adult and by full immersion. But I have changed my mind and in the next few posts I will try and explain why.

1 comment:

Book Bearer said...

I look forward to following where this is going......

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