Friday, 6 May 2011

On infant baptism

Children are a gift from God. And as always with God’s gifts to us, they are completely and totally undeserved. And you have been given the astonishing gift of Benjamin, and the immense privilege and joy of loving him for God, and of bringing him up for God.

And of course our greatest desire for our children is to see them grow, be happy, be secure, flourish and to be fulfilled, to bring blessing to others, to be part of the family of God and to love God.

And in baptism you are placing Benjamin full square in the family of God.

I know that those of us here differ in our views about infant baptism. The belief and the practice of the Church of England is in line with that of the historic church, but also – at the time of the Reformation – of Calvin and the other so-called ‘magisterial reformers’ (which is also the stance taken in the Westminster confession). They affirmed, on the basis of their covenantal theology (which sees baptism as a new covenant version of circumcision), of Mark 10:13-16 and particularly 1 Corinthians 7:14, that the children of believers are, by virtue of the faith of their parents, ‘agioi’, saints, holy, members of the covenant people of God and participants in the Holy Spirit.

There are however two very important provisos:

1.   None of us can rely on an external rite in itself. And while as small children we can rely on the faith of our parents, none of us who are adults can rely on the faith of our parents. If we have been baptised, whether as children or adults, what is important is that we do have a living faith in Christ, a dependence on his word, and a daily dying to self and coming alive to him. That is why confirmation, in the Church of England, is a completion of infant baptism.

2.    Benjamin needs to be brought up in the family of the church. I have no doubt that that will happen. When the first believers on the day of Pentecost were baptised, they didn’t go away. They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers

And as we thank God for the completely unmerited gift of Benjamin, so our prayer for Benjamin is that he will know the astonishing and unmerited gift of the love of God, a love that gave Jesus on the cross, and that reaches out even now – when he cannot personally respond but is completely dependent on his parents - and draws him into the people of God. And our prayer is that as he hears of this astonishing love, so he will begin to know that love, and simply respond to that love by entrusting himself to the God who loves him.

There is a prayer used by the French Reformed Church at infant baptism which goes as follows:

'Little child, for you Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered. For you he entered into the shadows of Gethsemane and the terror of Calvary; for you he uttered the cry, 'It is finished.' For you he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and there for you he intercedes. For you, even though you do not yet know it, little child, but in this way the Word of the Gospel is made true, "We love him because he first loved us."

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