Sunday, January 9, 2011

Baptism -- Private or Public

In my first parish I made a significant change in that baptisms were no longer scheduled outside the Divine Service (except for very good reason).  I got some flack for it.  The folks had grown accustomed to baptism as a private service for family and the congregation had gotten used to not seeing baptisms (and not having to add anything to the length of the service for adding the baptismal liturgy).

I made the same decision in this parish.  Baptisms are normally scheduled for the Divine Service (generally the late service since folks in the baptismal party like to have an extra hour or so to get everything together).  There was some flak about it at first and some folks who did not like the extra 8-10 minutes it added on to the liturgy but the folks gradually got used to it.

I have also baptized in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and even in the Delivery Room.  These are extraordinary situations and most often accompanied by the public blessing of the baptized within the Divine Service.  I do not hesitate to do this and this is not in conflict with the ordinary practice of baptizing within the Divine Service.

In our church body, this is a practice which has been all over the page.  On vicarage the baptisms were never scheduled for the Divine Service (we had three on Sunday morning, one on Saturday afternoon, and one on Wednesday evening).  There are some who have strong feelings about this and any discussion about it can often turn into fighting words.  I am not drawing that kind of line in the sand.  I just believe that baptism is best a public act, a congregational act, and that it belongs within the Divine Service. 

When this cannot happen, then I made ajustments.  For example, I have had military dads who are deployed and are back in town for only the week day and have acceded to their request for a baptism outside the Divine Service.  I am not an ogre without compassion.  I just think that it is best for the people in the pew on Sunday morning to witness the parish baptisms and I find their own sense of themselves as the baptized people of God is strengthened by scheduling the baptismal liturgy within the Divine Service.  Finally I believe that the baptismal liturgy is itself a great teaching instrument and that merely by watching and listening, our people are educated in the faith and instructed in one of the most important doctrines of our faith.

In Luther's day public baptisms were rather rare (at least within the Divine Service).  Growing up, I did not see very many baptisms and I know men who came to seminary and had only ever seen one or two baptisms in their entire lives.  This strikes me as odd.  We need to see the invitation of the font extended and the miracle and mystery of its new birth reach out through time and eternity to claim an infant, a child, a youth, or an adult for the Kingdom.  This is a good thing, something to be celebrated, and a wonderful occasion to be lived out in the life of the congregation.

Since today is the Baptism of Our Lord, we will have an opportunity to dip our fingers into the font and recall our own baptism into Christ.  And we will witness a child received into God's kingdom through that blessed gift of water and the Word (at least at the 10:45 service).  All of this a strong and powerful reminder that baptism is a central part of our faith, our piety, and our common life together as Christians...

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

By God's grace I have been blessed
to baptize 50 adults in my parish.
The most memorable was a 28 year old
mother who was baptized in the Divine
Service along with her one month old
twin daughters, 5yr. old son and 3yr.
old daughter. Her husband was already
baptized. She and her husband had
gone through Adult Instruction Class
to become members of our Lutheran
Church. (LCMS) It also happened to
be Mother's Day (2nd Sunday in May)
and the parish members were really
overjoyed by these 5 Baptisms.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters: You wrote, “We need to see the invitation of the font extended and the miracle and mystery of its new birth reach out through time and eternity to claim an infant, a child, a youth, or an adult for the Kingdom. “ Indeed this is what Scripture teaches. But why do we not see it that way? Because, with few exceptions, you being one of them, we do not teach this to our people. Nor are they likely to know that the Church, according to our Confessions, is that Kingdom, which is why it is meet, right, and salutary that this miracle should take place in the presence of God’s people. Nor are they likely to know that the miracle that takes place is that the infant rises out of the waters of Baptism as an entirely new creature, so pleasing to God that He comes to live in that baby in the Person of the Lord, the Holy Spirit. Nor are they likely to know that when the baby is born anew into the Church; that is, the Kingdom, the baby acquires an entirely new family, as our Lord said in Mark 3:34-35, “And looking at those who sat around Him, He said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! Whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and mother.’” Therefore it behooves the sisters and brothers and mothers of that new child of God to be present at this birth. In the Lutheran Church we have very little to say about the Kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit, by which we deprive our people of the joy of being fully aware of the miracle that takes place during Baptism. Today I heard a sermon on the Baptism of our Lord in which neither the words “Kingdom”, or “Holy Spirit” figured.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Christopher Gillespie said...

FYI: it was the second and third generation Lutherans that moved the font from baptistries to chancel. Most of the new construction made the change too.

Unknown said...

I would very much like to hear your thoughts or experiences with stillborns and when someone requests you to "baptize" the still born child. I had this situation right after starting in the parish and I am not sure how well I handled it. It was also awkward because my son had just been discharged from the same hospital's NICU after a month-long stay and my wife's nurse when she first got to the hospital was the same one that was attending to this young girl with a stillborn son. Very awkward and very sad.

Anonymous said...

Attention George Marquart

The Kingdom of God does not equal
the church.

In Matthew 4:17, Jesus says: "Repent
for the kingdom of heaven/God is at
hand." According to Gibbs in his
Concordia Commentary the kingdom of
God is the reigning of God in Jesus.
Gibb's Commentary on Matthew never
says repent for the church is here.

Anonymous said...

What in blazes is the church if she is not the kingdom of God? Why would God promise the gates of he'll would not prevail against her if the church were merely some earthly association?

Anonymous said...

Att.: Anonymous

The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Articles VII and VIII: Of the Church.
16] Therefore, only those are the people, according to the Gospel, who receive this promise of the Spirit. Besides, the Church is the kingdom of Christ, distinguished from the kingdom of the devil. It is certain, however, that the wicked are in the power of the devil, and members of the kingdom of the devil, as Paul teaches, Eph. 2, 2, when he says that the devil now worketh in the children of disobedience. And Christ says to the Pharisees, who certainly had outward fellowship with the Church, i.e., with the saints among the people of the Law (for they held office, sacrificed, and taught): Ye are of your father, the devil, John 8, 44. Therefore, the Church, which is truly the kingdom of Christ, is properly the congregation of saints. For the wicked are ruled by the devil, and are captives of the devil; they are not ruled by the Spirit of Christ.

Is there a good reason why you are anonymous? My distaste for anonymity stems from years in the Soviet Union, where anonymous communications brought grief to millions of people.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

George: Please read Matthew 4:17
and tell me if you believe what
Jesus said. He is the Kingdom of God
personified. The incarnate Son of
God is revealed as the reign of God
in our heart.

Anonymous said...

Att.: Anonymous

The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
Articles VII and VIII: Of the Church.
16] Therefore, only those are the people, according to the Gospel, who receive this promise of the Spirit. Besides, the Church is the kingdom of Christ, distinguished from the kingdom of the devil. It is certain, however, that the wicked are in the power of the devil, and members of the kingdom of the devil, as Paul teaches, Eph. 2, 2, when he says that the devil now worketh in the children of disobedience. And Christ says to the Pharisees, who certainly had outward fellowship with the Church, i.e., with the saints among the people of the Law (for they held office, sacrificed, and taught): Ye are of your father, the devil, John 8, 44. Therefore, the Church, which is truly the kingdom of Christ, is properly the congregation of saints. For the wicked are ruled by the devil, and are captives of the devil; they are not ruled by the Spirit of Christ.

Is there a good reason why you are anonymous? My distaste for anonymity stems from years in the Soviet Union, where anonymous communications brought grief to millions of people.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

George: Your beef is not with ANON,
but with Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs of
Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, who
wrote the Concordia Commentary on
Matthew by Concordia Publishing
House and passed doctrinal review
of the Lutheran Church Missouri
Synod. Have a Good Day!

Anonymous said...

My apologies to all for the double posting.

Anonymous, whichever one you are, of course I believe what Jesus said in Matthew 4:17 and any other place in Scripture. But I simply do not see this passage, or any other one in the New Testament, claiming that “Jesus is the Kingdom of God personified.” He is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, our blessed Redeemer and the Ruler of Heaven and Earth. But I cannot even grasp what “the Kingdom of God personified” means. Further, if “He is the reign of God in our heart”, one might want to ask what happened to the Holy Spirit who dwells in us according to a multitude of passages in Scripture.

I do know that our Lord said in Luke 4:43: “but he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’” The “Good News” is not simply, “I am the Kingdom”, but the sum total of what He proclaimed. Further, in Colossians 1:13-14 St. Paul writes: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” It is clear that the Kingdom and our Lord are not one and the same, as our Confessions clearly teach.

I have no beef with Dr. Gibbs, because I do not know the man, have never read anything by him, nor would I care to comment on anything he wrote based on somebody else’s allegations.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

I appreciate what you have to say regarding the inclusion of Baptism into the Divine Service. Although they stop well short of valuing Baptism in all its richness, I do think we have something to learn from the confessional Reformed folks in their discussions of Baptism as an initiation right into the covenant community. Certainly, we see this with its OT parallel in circumcision. As such, when possible, making the rite something that all within covenant community are able to participate in seems to be very appropriate - particularly since doing so points to the aspects of fellowship in the supper. or to put it another way, if the other Means of Grace are found in the corporate gathering of believers, it seems Baptism would be comfortable in that circumstance as well.