That’s a tricky question for me to answer. On the one hand, I have to confess I really enjoy getting involved in baptisms. There is something very special about getting to know a family and bringing them to the point when their child is baptised in church. But on the other, I realise there are some very serious promises made in baptism, and I wonder if sometimes folk do in fact grasp what it means to turn to Christ as their Lord and Saviour, and to repent of their sins.
I think the basic issue stems from the fact that there can be often be a clash of expectations between what a family believes a baptism service is all about, and what we as a church understand baptism to involve.
Of course there are a couple of ways to get round this. Some churches cheerfully accept our requests for baptism, and immediately book a date for the service. But I’m not comfortable about folk coming along and saying words they may never have thought about, or had explained to them.
Some churches take the opposite approach, and simply refuse to baptise any child who is not part of the church family. I have some sympathy for this approach, but it can lead to the impression that the church isn’t really there for the wider community, is unwelcoming and unfriendly.
So my approach to baptism is a rather more messy one, which falls somewhere between these positions. I am happy to listen to any request for baptism, but I make it clear we need a time and a place where we can discuss fully the promises involved. In fact, these preparation sessions have often led to some of the best discussions about the Christian faith I can remember in my ministry. So long as folk know what’s involved, I have in a sense to leave it between them and God as to what they mean when they make their promises. I also, and actually find this is the harder part, try and encourage them to come to church, so they meet the church family into which the child is being baptised.
Recently a couple of families have come to me and it’s turned out it’s been more appropriate to offer instead a thanksgiving for the birth of a child. I am very aware we need to promote this resource, not as a second-rate option but one which more accurately meets the needs of many families. The service recognises that the child is a gift from God, and the families ask for God’s blessing, but there aren’t the promises and commitment to follow Christ which the family may as yet not be prepared to make.
So in answer to the opening question, yes, I am happy in theory to baptise children (I may need to explain my reasons in another post), but only on the understanding there is preparation and an opportunity to explain the Christian faith.
But what about you, dear reader? I’d love to hear your comments…please post them here, and maybe we can start a discussion. To be continued…