Saturday, January 12, 2019

Not a ceremony to be delayed. . .

The Sacrament of Baptism is often treated as a ceremony, an event for spectators and an occasion for a party.  Typically, it is scheduled not as a great need nor of great urgency but according to family schedules and with a certain casualness about when it all takes place.   There was a time when baptism was once thought so important, so essential, and so urgent that parents gave no thought to postponing baptism.  Sometimes even the mother was unable to attend the baptism of their children if complications from delivery prevented. Within a day or two after birth the godparents (with the father and mother if able) headed to the church with the child for the baptism.

They had been taught that baptism was so important that it was their most solemn and urgent duty to bring their child to the healing waters where the new born would receive new birth.  They believed that original sin had left the child in such dire and urgent need that only the healing power of Jesus could answer.  In the water their child would receiving the washing away of sin that would make their child a child of God, a temple of the Holy Spirit, and would literally transfer him from kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light. The mother, if she could not be there for the baptism, received her own welcome after her recovery, forty days later, through the now seemingly forgotten liturgical rite known as the “Churching of Women.”

Today baptism is not seen as either that urgent or that important -- it is too often delayed until the large cast of important people among family and friends can be assembled. More important than what takes place is who is there to watch it.  Maybe the lower mortality rates of children has dulled our senses to the reality of death or it could be that we no longer listen when the liturgy of Baptism reminds us that the child is dead in trespasses in sin until God intervenes to give that child life and reclaim the baby from the domain of satan and death.

Holy Baptism is a sacrament not a ceremony.  It is not about a party or even about family but about the Word and promise of the Lord. St. Paul says that prior to baptism we are dead in our sins ( Eph. 2:1). St. Peter says, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).  Baptism should take place as soon as possible after birth. Cyprian was surprised when someone wrote asking if baptism could or should be delayed to the eighth day after birth (with obvious reference to circumcision. Cyprian's response:
But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man (Epistle 58.2, to Fidus).

Today baptism is delayed sometimes months or even years waiting for the magic moment when the people they would like to be there to watch, can be there to see it.  In addition, it is not uncommon for baptism to be regularly done outside the Divine Service so that many people cannot even recall the last time a baptism took place in the chief Sunday morning service.  If there is any delay justified, it is more so that the baptism can take place within the Divine Service and within the gathered community of the baptized.  Baptism's power lies not in the experience or in witnessing it but in the promise of God's Word which He has placed in the water.  It is an urgent promise because the need is urgent and the gifts too wonderful to be put off until a right time. 

So listen to your pastor.  Bring your children to baptism as soon as possible.  Do not delay.  Do not wait until every odd aunt and uncle can be present for the event.  Do not confuse the Sacrament with the ceremonies that accompany it.  It is not a show.  It is God acting upon His promise and delivering the child from sin and death with the water of life that connects us to Christ's own death and resurrection. 


David Gray said...

Very good indeed.

For those who lose their child before they can have it baptized I would simply add this from Martin Chemnitz:

"Are the children of believers who died before birth or in birth damned?

"By no means, but since our children, brought to the light by divine blessing, are, as it were, given into our hands and at the same time means are offered, or it is made possible for the seal of the covenant of grace to be applied to them, there, indeed, that very solemn divine statement applies: The man-child, the flesh of whose foreskin is not circumcised on the eighth day, his soul shall be blotted out from [his] people (Gen. 17:14). Hence the Lord met Moses on the way and wanted to kill him because he had neglected to circumcise [his] son (Ex. 4:24-26). But when those means are not given us--as when in the Old Testament a male died before the eighth day of circumcision--likewise when they, who, born in the desert in the interval of 40 years, could not be circumcised because of daily harassment by enemies and constant wanderings, died uncircumcised, (Jos. 5:5-6) and when today infants die before they are born--in such cases the grace of God is not bound to Baptism, but those infants are to be brought and commended to Christ in prayers. And one should not doubt that those prayers are heard, for they are made in the name of Christ. (John 16:23; Gen. 17:7, Matt. 19:14) Since then, we cannot bring infants as yet unborn to Christ through Baptism, therefore we should do it through pious prayers. Parents are to be put in mind of this, and if perhaps such a case occur, they are to be encouraged with this comfort." (An Enchiridion, by Martin Chemnitz, Page 119, CPH St. Louis 1981)"

Anonymous said...

Don't the Orthodox wait until the child is about six months old so that they are old enough to also receive the Eucharist?

Anonymous said...

David Gray,

If Chemnitz describes baptism as "the seal of the covenant of grace to be applied to them," does he then describe where faith comes in? Did the Lutheran reformers argue backwards from "baptism saves you" and "baptism is the washing of regeneration" to baptism must give faith, since faith alone saves?

Anonymous said...

In our parish most infant baptisms take place within 2 or 3 weeks
after the mother and child return home from the hospital. It is
important that both father and mother are present for the baptism.
Part of the baptismal liturgy is addressed to the parents who
have the prime responsibility to raise their child in the Christian

Deacon Nicholas said...

The Orthodox baptize early, and follow the ancient practice of baptism, chrismation, and partaking of the Eucharist. Because the Eucharist is in both species, it's an easy thing for the priest to administer a very small particle in a very small amount of the consecrated wine.

Anonymous said...

Although I fully agree that a child should be baptized as soon as possible, we should not overlook the fact than any Christian may baptize a child in case of an emergency. I almost had to baptize my son shortly after he was born, but our pastor agreed to do it in church as soon as we contacted him.
Today, 58 years later, by the grace of God, he is a devout Christian, in great health, and flying airplanes for a major carrier.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Sue said...

When my first child was born nearly 40 years ago, we set a date about 3 weeks out for him to be baptized. Just before that, he became ill and had to have emergency surgery. The pastor offered to come to the hospital to baptize him. I declined, because I wanted it to take place in church, with the special gown and special bowl that had not yet arrived for his baptism. Thank the Lord that he survived and healed quickly. I look back at that decision with horror sometimes. My pastor has assured me of God’s grace in this matter, but I still look back in shock at my ignorance. And then when my younger son’s baby was born, I asked about baptism. No, that would be hypocritical for these parents who have walked away from their faith. Little guy is now 2, not baptized. Thankfully, my older grandson IS baptized. (His father is my older son.) I pray often that the Holy Spirit will open their hearts, return them to the faith they were baptized into.