Giving Up Infant Baptism as a Sacrament but Keeping Infant Baptism

What if we give up infant baptism as a sacrament? I don’t mean Methodism should become believer’s baptism only or should stop doing them. I imagine we could carry out many infant baptisms as we do weddings. Nowadays, weddings are simply quasi-religious ceremonies we agree to perform on behalf of the state (or, as a ‘service to the community’) for those couples who want more intimacy than a signing in the registry office, but not at the expense that many hotels/other venues charge.

Churches see weddings as a ‘reaching out’ opportunity and even if the couple has no interest in faith or will not ever come back to the church, I generally have a good time meeting the couple and it’s a fun day. All I ask is for the opportunity to share my understanding of Christian marriage (as an egalitarian!) and that they don’t ask to remove the Christological language. I believe that the couple intends to keep the vows they make to each other and love each other. But in most cases no one pretends this more than a ‘secular union’.

While infant baptism serves no state function as weddings do, many seek out having their children ‘christened’ (baptismal language rarely if ever enters in). I don’t get that many requests, as often people find their way to the Anglican church before ever getting around to the Methodists. But even some of Methodists colleagues have talked about the wonderful experiences and people truly seeking to understand what’s going on in some way.

I haven’t had those experiences. Most of mine have been done because they want to get the kid in a faith school, want to appease grandmother, or simply think it’s the done thing. As far as the vows, they of course want to love their children (I have not doubt about it!) but have no real thoughts about what it means to bring up the child in the faith and only a handful of the churches could carry out their vows to assist the child (not all churches have an active Sunday school or other children’s activities). Nor as far as I have seen are parents bothered that the churches don’t have the resources to do this.

An alternative that’s been floated is to talk about having a service of thanksgiving. What parents want is for a time to come together to celebrate the family – and why wouldn’t the church want to be a part of it? But, when I say it’s not a christening and there’s no water involved, we go right back to baptism. Because I struggle with the ‘if it moves baptise it’ understanding, I have felt the need to defend baptism in some way – even if in the end I comply.

So, why don’t we simply stop worrying about where it takes place (in church) and when (in worship)? Why don’t we focus on the parents loving the child and not really worry about what happens with the faith side of it? Why don’t we adapt the service to one that simply focuses on that love and God’s love for the child? Then we could drop the language of bringing someone into the church and drop the vows that keep them trying to live up to that language. It could provide a moment of reaching out to the family with God’s love, giving the family the service they want, but not push baptismal theology to breaking point.

Do you have any thoughts?

Do You Want Grits with That? You Get them Anyway (Wesleyan Theology and Great Southern Food)

I have trouble explaining grits to British friends, so I thought I would share a post from Richard Mouw at the Faith and Leadership Blog. He relates a couple of delightful stories about the theological significance of that great staple of Southern Cooking (for my British readers, maybe April and I will cook you some Shrimp and Grits if you come for dinner). [N.B. A Waffle House is something you simply have to experience – the sweet middle age waitresses you call you ‘honey’ and eating meat with purple ink.]

A guy goes into a Waffle House and orders a waffle accompanied by scrambled eggs and bacon. When the waitress brought the order to his table, there were also grits on the plate. “Miss, I did not order grits,” the man said. “Honey,” she replied, “you don’t order grits, it just comes!”

The theological lessons in those stories are clear to a couple of Calvinist theologians. It’s all about grace. There is nothing wrong about explicitly asking for grits when you order your food at a Waffle House. But whether you ask or not, “it just comes.”  God’s grace “just comes” to us — not because we order it, but because we can count on grace as a sign of the faithfulness of the provider.

I think as Wesleyans we, too, can confirm that grace keeps coming, whether we ask for it or not. Prevenient grace begins coming to us from the start, always pulling and drawing us into the life of God. Like grits, we can leave grace on the plate or we can pick up a fork to taste and see.

Links on Friday

Alan R. Bevere posted the Weekly Roundup of the Methobloggosphere. See what Methodists around the world are saying!

Alan has also written a post on the cross and though Christ died in our place, Christ invites us to participate in the cross.

Ben Myers of Faith & Theology asks if our hymns are getting stupider, reminding us that the hymns from the past we sing are the ones that are the ones that lasted.

Ben Witherington wades into territory sure to have people take potshots at him – the ecomony. BW3 attempts to look at the crises biblically, and in the comments one can be sure that people who disagree with him will be sure to tell him that theologians have no business talking about the economy and should stick to theology (did anyone ever tell Jesus that? probably, but he didn’t seem to listen).

Kevin Watson at deeplycommitted wonders if Methodists have lost their emphasis on entire sanctification.

Sally at Eternal Echoes writes a beautiful post on Jade Goody’s baptism (for Americans: Goody rose to fame through reality show Big Brother and was one of the few that became famous. She turned infamous for her crude way of behaving, culminating in a Celebrity Big Brother in which she was charged with racist bullying of an Asian contestant. She is now dying of cancer.)

Questions for the Evangelical’s Statement of the Gospel

Chris Tilling gives an interesting post (Full post, ‘The Gospel According to’).  He begins with 8 points detailing what he believed about salvation when he first became a Christian.  All 8 are what I likely would have said when I was growing up.  I learned it at home, church, Christian conferences, and among my friends.  Here’s his summary:

1) God is holy. 2) Humans are sinful and therefore provoke God’s just wrath. 3) In order to be reconciled to the holy God, God’s wrath needs to be satisfied. 4) Jesus died on the cross to pay this price for my sin. 5) His death averted God’s wrath against sin from me, and enabled me, by believing in Jesus, to approach the holy God. 6) If I pray and ask God for forgiveness because of Jesus, I will be saved and spend eternity enjoying God’s glory in heaven, instead of eternity in hell (all of this is often assigned the heading ‘justification’)

Associated with this are various other points which, though not the gospel directly, are associated with it: 7) Salvation begins in this life. I can experience God’s life, healing and power in my life, so that I can live with victory over personal sin, pray for the sick and see them healed, experience God’s provisions and blessing in my finances, job and marriage. This is another way of separating the ‘justification’ spoken of above from the ‘sanctification’ implied here. 8 ) The heart and centre of all of this is a relationship with Jesus, and this is sustained by daily prayer and bible reading.

There you have it:  8-point Tillingnism (3 more than the Calvinist!).

Rather than taking on his old beliefs (or, rather, those who would still hold them now) directly, he asks 15 deconstructing questions to get people thinking about the beliefs they hold.  What I like about them is that they, while deconstructing, are not demolition questions.  They lead and guide rather than take apart.  I only encountered the demolition questions in college when a Religion professor (who was also an ordained United Methodist minister, which really threw me for a loop back then) took apart the Bible and left me with the pieces.  In hindsight, I don’t regret the experience and I don’t blame my professor (it was a secular university, after all).  I didn’t have the tools for processing what I was hearing, so the demolition came at me like a wrecking ball.  I eventually went back to the same 8 points more because I had nothing else.  It wasn’t until later when I expanded my reading beyond what was at the local evangelical bookshoppe that I could then process what I heard.  Most importantly, what I learned (in reading and finally in seminary) allowed me to recognise the faith I had been taught from my parents (and church) while not necessarily going the whole way back.

I wonder how I would have responded to these questions if I was confronted with them in high school or college.  Here are a few I liked (though I liked all 15):

  • Does God need to punish someone in order to forgive? Jesus said to forgive your enemies. Does this understanding of the gospel imply God doesn’t forgive until he has let Jesus suffer and die?
  • Why doesn’t Paul simply say the above if the gospel is so easily reducible to a set of propositions?
  • [My favourite of all, I think.] In order to make people feel guilty, we invent ways of convincing people that they are sinners. We have to make a problem for them, for Jesus to be a real solution. But is that really what the gospel is about? And how do we try to make a problem for people? We try to argue that all are murderers, or all are like Hitler before God. But does this argument convince you? What does it say about God?

Lectionary Thoughts on Acts 17.22-31: What did Paul think of his preaching in Acts?

Easter 6 Year A. In his speech to the Athenians, Paul famously begins his preaching by pointing out an ‘unknown God’ (Acts 17.22-31), trying to establish a point of contact with his listeners.  I have been readings some comments on it in preparation for this Sunday and all seem to think that what Paul did was a model form of presenting the gospel.  Despite the lack of ‘success’ in his preaching (the Athenians seemed fairly lukewarm to what Paul was saying), the idea appears prevalent that Paul presented the gospel the way he did because that was the way God led him in that situation.

But do we know what Paul thought of his preaching on that day?  I led a Disciple Bible Study Course last year and while we were reading Acts, one in our group gave a reflection that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind since he said it.  My fellow Disciple-er was quite adamant that Paul felt he failed in Athens.  He pointed to 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided [KJV:  determined] to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. (NRSV)

When I asked him what follows on from that, he flipped back to Acts and sure enough, after Paul leaves Athens, he lands in Corinth.  My friend explained that he read the passage in 1 Corinthians as Paul’s saying that he played too much to the Athenians and their philosophy-charged atmosphere and idea discussing lounging around.  Rather, when Paul arrived at Corinth, my friend says, Paul regroups and says in effect, ‘I’m going back to my story of preaching Christ crucified and leaving the fancy talk for the philosophers’ (my paraphrase).

I realise this depends on the historicity of Acts and whether or not Luke ‘edited’ Paul’s sermons with his own theology, but my friend makes an interesting point – especially as Paul is in Corinth right after in Athens.  Does 1 Corinthians provide a clue to what Paul might have thought of his work in Athens?

‘Rapture’ Theology

Craig Adams at Commonplace Holiness has a great article discussing the Rapture. Rapture and Dispensational theology have become nearly synonymous with evangelical Christianity in the United States. I haven’t encountered it much in England, as the Left Behind books have not made much of an inroad over here (a situation I hope and pray will continue). Many evangelical conservatives in Britain tend to see Left Behind books as American Triumphalism. Craig takes a look at many of the verses pre-trib point to in making their case and shows where the Dispensationalists err. This is worth a read.

God in Jesus in the Gospel of John

I’m on holiday in Yorkshire, so I haven’t posted for the last couple of days. I’m not supposed to be thinking about work, but my mind keeps going back to the great discussion I mentioned in the comments in my last post. In the book, Life Conquers Death, John Arnold mentions surmises that because the authorities knew Jesus meant it when he said he is God that’s why they killed him (this is in keeping with his argument that Jesus died because the people killed him out of their righteous indignation at a God who would make a world in which they could sin).

Leaving alone that last part for a while, I’m still thinking about whether or not people knew that Jesus was God (not that he was claiming to be God, but that they knew he is God). I didn’t understand where Arnold gets that. I admit that I do not know the Gospel of John. If it isn’t blasphemous to say, John is my least favourite Gospel. I told my Disciple class that John always seemed to be a little too ‘new age-y’ for me, especially compared to the synoptic gospels (Luke has become my favourite). Anyway, with this in mind I have always taken the view that Jesus was killed as a political threat to Caesar (and derivatively, the authorities of the Jewish leaders). I had assumed that’s the case in John, too. But at the discussion Sunday night, when I brought up my doubts about Arnold’s exegesis, someone said, ‘Well, they couldn’t find anything wrong in him – that’s how they would have known.’ It hit me, that makes sense. It makes sense that whoever wrote the Gospel of John may very well have meant to convey that those who killed Jesus knew he was God. Someone else in the discussion group went on to say that is why the people saw the light, but they loved darkness more. Why would they be trying to hide from the light if they didn’t believe it was the light, so to speak? For John’s gospel, this definately makes sence (though wouldn’t fit at all for, say, Mark’s gospel in which Jesus is trying to carry on in the mode of secrecy).

These thoughts are a little disjointed, but then again I’m on holiday. I will be thinking about this more, especially as I would like to study John more.