Sunday, September 12, 2010

Baptizing babies

This morning I witnessed two adorable little children get baptized. I'm guessing one was over a year old, maybe even closer to two. I'm not sure why parents wait a little while and then have their children baptized as infants, but it seems to happen quite often at my church. (Maybe it's logistical? I've noticed our church only has so many baptisms per year.)

This little girl was particularly squirmy. At first she was clinging to her father, but then she got bored and started crawling around toward the communion table. There was a particularly adorable moment when she crawled over very close to the pastor while he was carefully describing the deep theological significance of baptism. She looked up at him with a wide-eyed gaze, he looked down at her with a smile. His smile said something like, "These deep mysteries are for you, little girl, even though you don't have a clue what's going on."

I've seen both sides of the endless debate over infant baptism. Both sides can extensively quote the Bible and make one theological pronouncement after another. That's all well and good. For that reason, I don't think the issue will ever be truly settled in my mind. I figure, if God wanted to make sure we knew such things, He'd have figured out a way to make it so. Since He clearly hasn't, I can only assume He prefers we have a sense of humility (and humor) about the whole thing. We really can't take ourselves too seriously when it comes to such debates.

Convictions aside, as a matter of personal taste, I would say I prefer the practice of baptizing our children as infants. That's what I realized as I watched that adorable, squirmy little girl this morning.

It's quite simple, really. I am that squirmy little girl. I wake up every day and pray that I'll have wisdom enough to at least act like I know what I'm doing, but God knows I'm really just winging it. The more I explore intellectually and theologically, the more I realize I'm just a child. Chances are the voice of God can be heard everywhere and at all times, but I'm too easily distracted by the prospect of crawling around on the floor to understand what's going on.

It's quite lovely, I know, to see someone baptized as an adult, making a personal profession of faith and consciously deciding to join the church. But I have to be honest. Part of me suspects that the whole scene is a bit deceptive. Everything is made to look as if someone has finally found the meaning of life after years of living a life of either meaninglessness or self-deception or both. Now that he's finally figured out what it's all about, he's going to be baptized to confirm it. After this he'll really know why he's here, and what his mission in life should be. After this, even if he makes mistakes, at least he's got the road map, so he'll get where he's going eventually.

If that's the Christian life, then I've missed the boat. I don't have it figured out. If I have a road map, I don't think I can read it. I know Jesus is the answer, but what was the question? I've learned enough theology to be able to spit back the language of the kingdom, but I get the feeling like it's all baby-talk from my Father's point of view. Only I can't imagine it's so adorable. If we really ought to wait until children are old enough to understand what's happening before being baptized, then I'm probably too young to be baptized.

But then, I just seem to be one of those people who keeps asking questions after everyone else is already convinced. I'm too squirmy, I guess. Like that little girl, I suppose I have the tendency to ruin perfectly good pious reflections on Christian doctrine. I know it's irritating, but I just can't help myself.

A lot of people say it's terrible to baptize a child before she's had the chance to decide what she believes for herself. That's making the assumption that being baptized means you believe x, y, and z. What if baptism isn't so much a sign of intellectual opinions, as it is a sign of love? What if baptism is a symbol of the fact that God loves you even when you're squirmy, and don't have it figured out? I guess I would prefer to think of it that way.

And since it's my blog, I'm allowed to just leave it at that.


  1. It's been said (enough that I don't think the quote is attributable) that every baptism is an infant baptism. I agree.

  2. On a related topic: within the Catholic Church, reception of the Eucharist was once something reserved for adults (technically for those who had attained the "age of discretion," not defined in entirely chronological terms but most commonly placed around 12-14). Pope Saint Pius X at the beginning of the 20th century lowered that to the current age of around 7-8, which provoked a bit of controversy. And the story goes that a very senior cardinal was arguing with him that "Such young children cannot even begin to understand the mystery of the Eucharist." Whereupon the Pope looked at him and quite gently asked, "Do you understand it?"

    It's not even necessary for me to finish the story: no one can fully understand that truth. So I agree with you. Trying to live the Christian life as something you understand, evaluate, weigh and decide as part of the personal calculus we use for everyday decisions will fail, if that is all that goes into it. Which is why Pascal's Wager always rankled with me, but that's another matter.


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