Scrapping infant baptism?

Blogging at Lord, Open Thou Our Lips, the Rev. Chris Arnold says the pre-General Convention conversation about sacramental issues such as the nature of confirmation and the practice of offering Communion to people who have not yet been baptized has got him rethinking the question of infant baptism. He writes:

In the Episcopal Church, we claim that baptism is "full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body the Church." But given the current trajectory of our sacramental and ritual theology, for what reason should babies be given this initiation? If we only baptize people who are old enough to ask for it, then we don't actually need what confirmation has become: "mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism." (The language of the prayer book actually says that even those baptized as adults ought to receive the laying-on of hands from the bishop, but this doesn't in any way complete or fix or finish the work of baptism). We won't need to be concerned with whether lay leaders have demonstrated commitment and fidelity to the church they are leading. And perhaps, actually, dropping the confirmation requirement for leadership in the church based on the notion that baptism is all-sufficient is a way to open the door to Sydney-style Lay Presidency.

But don't misunderstand him:

Now, to be absolutely clear, I personally don't think we should do this. I am too catholic in my religion to do away with a practice that is as old, at least, as St. Augustine. I am one of those Episcopalians who thinks that something does happen, both in confirmation and baptism. But neither is this post tongue-in-cheek. If our theology and practice are heading this direction, adapting and modifying our sacramental theology in such radical ways, then isn't this a logical next step?


Comments (12)

I'm agin' it. Lay presidency, too.

When I was confirmed it wasn't that confusing. You go before the bishop for the kind of blessing that a bishop alone can give to one who wishes to deepen their commitment to the Church. If you've already been confirmed, then be received into this Church, or renew your vows if God has begun such a work in you. In my mind, confirmation has to do with service, commitment, and a real personal identification that the historic episcopate is something essential to one's faith experience, which is, after all, a distinguishing mark of an Episcopalian. Why would you be an Episcopalian if the ministry of a Bishop isn't important enough to look one in the eye at least once in your life for Confirmation?

Why Baptize at all? After all, we have at least one Diocese that doesn't think it's important enough for admission to the Eucharist.

I think scrapping infant baptism is a bad idea, but I will offer a little more than "ridiculous," which was offered by another poster. This is not a trivial matter. Thus, it requires some thoughtful discussion. I was once troubled by this practice, but I am now able to accept it as a bow to tradition, and as an event that can have meaning for those who witness it. I have more concerns about confirmation. For me, and I suppose for many others, confirmation is just something you do. For me there wasn't a lot of spirituality to it, nor was there much focus, if any, to a commitment to God. I would like to see more emphasis in the years leading up to confirmation on what happens when one is confirmed and the expectations that come following confirmation. What is needed cannot be done in a confirmation class, it is something that has to be infused into the Sunday School curriculum. So, doing away with infant baptism is not a "ridiculous" idea, but probably not a good one.

Since everything is being reconsidered, I would like to suggest that the point has been reached where the reconsiderers need to think about taking it elsewhere and establishing their own institutions, rather than continuing to try to co-opt this one. If you're going to reconsider infant baptism, then perhaps it is time to found your own liberal Baptist church. Those of us for whom "Anglican" has some meaning would prefer that it continue to have that meaning, instead of coming to signify a sort of anti-sacramental liturgical dilettancy devoid of theological integrity.

C. Wingate, I've said the same thing before. The issue is that those of us for whom "Anglican" has some meaning have done a pretty poor job defending it or explaining it. I wrote the piece really as an attempt to stir the pot and point out what seems to be a natural consequence of such drastic changes in our rites of initiation. I wonder if there are some core questions of sacramental theology at the heart of this:
- objectively, does "something happen" in baptism and in eucharist? (or are they merely subjective experiences)
- is there any risk in a direct encounter with the holy, or not? (i.e., does it matter we we receive the body and blood in a state of grace?)
- what are the differences between a person who is a Christian and a person who is not? (i.e., does initiation actually matter?)

Infant baptism calls the whole community into an affirmation of the need for community for the well being of children. When we baptize infants we recognize that they belong to God and not to us -- in the best of all possible worlds - children live a whole community of care.

I appreciated Chris raising this issue, and saying that while he didn't want to scrap infant baptism, he could feel that certain arguments taking place in the church right now might lead in that direction. I am also intrigued that this item hasn't gotten nearly the kind of response that the postings on Communion Without Before Regardless of Baptism (CWBRB) have. I think that tells us something, but I am not quite sure what.

I too appreciate Chris raising this issue, and believe he raises an important point regarding the trajectory of liturgical change in TEC. I am not convinced, or perhaps am too naive to admit, that some liturgical changes are consistent with professed theology. For me, Chris' reflections raise the question of, "have we become theologically lazy," practicing habits of developing liturgical change and then searching for theological meaning to support the practice. Eisegesis instead of exegesis comes to mind...if praying shapes believing, this should be a matter of great importance for anyone claiming the Anglican tradition.

Prknz - please sign your name with commenting - thanks ~ed.

See helpful post at Haligweorc here:

Sometimes this feels like a race to see how much of given & received Christianity we can huck overboard.

Chris, I daresay that there are questions of sacramental theology at the heart of the discussion, but aren't they questions (especially the first one) that Anglican Christianity has answered pretty decisively in the past?

This whole thread feels like Hyperbolic Hypothesizing and Slippery-Slope Slalom. With GC just weeks away, matters at hand please.

JC Fisher

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