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?