Sunday, August 13, 2017

TODAY, I WILL BAPTIZE A BABY


Today, we will be having a baptism service in our church. To be baptized is something that Jesus has instructed all of his followers to do. In that regard, it is like the observance of the Lord’s Supper. We are told that we should do this.

Also, just as Jesus shared in the first communion with his disciples, he himself was also baptized. Jesus did these things as examples for us, so that we should continue in what he taught us.

However, we as a church have not been good at remaining faithful to his intentions in these traditions. It is an unfortunate development that baptism, like communion, is a custom that has historically caused controversy among church denominations.

Last week I spoke of how we in the churches have hijacked the observance of the unity Lord’s Supper to create division within the body of Christ. We allowed this to happen rather than allowing communion to be a sign of the oness of the church, as Jesus intended it to be. It is a sadness for me to say that it is much the same concerning baptism.

Both of these practices are meant not only to represent for us deep spiritual meanings (the greatest portion of which none of us understand completely), but they are to both also be a demonstration of our unity in the body of Christ. But again, like communion, because the entirety of the all of the spiritual implications and meanings concerning baptism is beyond any of our abilities to comprehend and appreciate as a whole, some churches choose to emphasize one certain aspect of baptism, and other churches choose other things.

Thus, as it is in the Lord’s Supper, instead of listening to and learning to appreciate various viewpoints and to learn from them, we have used these different perspectives to draw lines of division among the churches. The sad result is that, in our different church denominations, it is our tendency to arm ourselves with arguments about how our own denomination has the “right” understanding of baptism, and those who do it differently are “wrong.”

Again, baptism is unfortunately much like communion in this regard. If we do take the time to listen to the perspectives of another church, we often listen in the same sense as one would listen to his or her opponent in a debate. We are not really trying to understand the motives involved with what another church believes, but we are instead only listening with the sense of building a counter argument against each one of their points.

Primary and Secondary Beliefs

Because of our upcoming centennial of our church, I have been asked by a number of people in recent weeks if the Log Church is “non-denominational.” My response, of course, always is, “yes, it is.”

I do not know what that phrase, non-denominational church, means to you, but to me it means that when it comes to the secondary beliefs of the church, like communion and baptism, we take time to consider the traditions of others. I call these “secondary beliefs,” because to me, in these there is some room for latitude.



It is not so with the primary beliefs. The primary beliefs are those such as the clear teachings of Jesus that tell us that we can never earn our own life in an eternal sense, neither by our own efforts or by any religious ritual.

The primary beliefs are the teachings that tell us that it is only through Jesus that we can have a relationship with God. These are the gifts of free grace granted to us by God. They come only by our believing on the meaning and the efficacy of Christ dying for us.

In this way, we see that Jesus took upon himself, and in our place, the death that we rightly deserve. Then, also by grace, he gives us the eternal life that only he deserves. These are the teachings that are fundamental to the Scriptures, and in which there is no room for compromise. 

Different Perspectives

But today we are talking about a secondary practice – that of baptism. In our non-denominational Log Church, I am open to listening to all motives for the one who wishes to be baptized. The fact that I listen and consider other perspectives does not mean that I do not have any personal opinions or preferences of my own concerning the motives and the means of baptism. It only means that I am open and willing to help each and every one of you to grow in your life with Christ. If Jesus is moving you to make a commitment in a certain way, I want to listen. I am glad to hear your perspective. I am glad also to share my own way of looking at it – not in the sense of argumentation, but that we can learn from one another.

Many of us, perhaps even most of us, grew up in denominational churches where there was one certain way that the baptism was to take place. There was no room for any change to the practice. That is not wrong in itself. If a denomination has a stated practice, then those churches who are under the leadership of the denomination should follow those practices. The danger in this however, is that practices such as baptism become simply a ritual or a fulfillment of an obligation. But the true fact is, no church, including non-denominational churches like the Log Church, are immune to this type of minimizing of their doctrines.

Most churches require every member to be baptized. That is understandable in many ways, for the churches want to ensure that each member is a genuine believer in Christ. However, more often than one might think, because of this rule, the members then interpret this to mean that baptism is at least partially a sort of “rite of admission,” or an “initiation formality.”

In speaking of adult baptism, I know of several who will admit that the true reason that they got baptized when they did was because they wanted to become a member of the church. It is true that as they later grew to understand the importance of baptism, they grew to have more of an appreciation to the true meaning. However, at the time they were baptized as a younger person, if the church would have accepted their membership without baptism, they would have chosen that option for membership. It otherwise was not their preference to be baptized. But the point is, to be baptized simply so that one can join a church is not a good reason to be baptized.

Nevertheless, despite this negative aspect of adult baptism, if you want to know the way I believe the spiritual truths of baptism are best represented, it is when a person with understanding of the commitment that they are making, and one who has dedicated his or her life to follow Christ, becomes baptized. In this way, the person makes a public statement of his or her commitment to the Lord. 

Infant Baptism

But today we are talking about a small child, not even two months old, who is coming to be baptized. No one here would say that this baby understands anything that is happening to him in this service today. He is not making a commitment to anything. Rather than the baby, the people who are making the commitment today are the parents. In the way that God has directed them, they are presenting their small child to the Lord.

Could they do this in a different fashion? Certainly they could, but this is the tradition that they have chosen. It may have been the tradition in which they were also raised.

Mary and Joseph, when they presented the infant Jesus in the temple of their day, did so with a sacrifice of doves, according to the tradition in which they had been taught.[1] Many churches, including the one in which I was raised, simply have the child brought forward in the service so that the pastor can pray for them.

The gospel writers Matthew and Luke tell of an incident when people were bringing children to Jesus so that he could touch them and pray for them. The disciples of Jesus objected to this. For some reason, they considered it improper for the parents to bring their children in the manner that they did. They actually rebuked the parents and the children for doing this.
 
But Jesus said to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. It is ones such as these to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs.”[2] Then he called out to the children to come to him.

Like the disciples, we often make too much of propriety about the manner in which a parent wishes to present his or her child to the Lord. Perhaps much of our reluctance has to do with a fear of being rebuked by our peers. It is true that they may rebuke us, but in placating our peers, we risk being corrected instead by Jesus.

What is the proper way to present your child to the Lord? The proper way is that the parents, out of their own hearts, want Jesus to touch and to bless their child. The method is less important. What is important is the heart intentions of the parent. 

A Sincere Commitment

Today we are presenting this precious little life to God by an act of baptism. Just as in adult baptism, it is important that we not to do this simply out of a sense of obligation or to fulfill a church ritual. There is no form of baptism that is completely free from being misused or misapplied. For that matter, there is no religious practice of any kind that cannot be diminished to the point where it is merely thoughtless ritual. If we are serious about our Christian walk, we must put thought and prayer into every aspect of our spiritual lives.

And so these young parents have. They are bringing their child this morning not out of a sense of obligation, but because they are making a commitment. They are committing themselves to bring their child up in a Christian manner.

Raising a child in a Christian manner implies many things, several of which are becoming less and less popular in today’s culture. Some of these manners in raising a child may not even be acceptable in present society. It simply is not easy raising a child. It is no light commitment these parents are making when they say that they intend to bring this little child up in a Christian manner. 

A Public Presentation of a Commitment

This bring up another matter that I see as being very important in a baptism, whether for an adult or for a child. In my view, it is important that a baptism is not done in a private setting, but in public. The more public, the better. This is not a secret commitment that the parents are making today, but one in which each one of us present are witnesses. Just as this couple needs to put thought into what they are doing today, so do each one of us. There is a sense that we all are a part of this baptism.

Every one of us knows what it is to make a commitment to do something or another, only to later back out of that commitment. If you think for only three seconds, I am quite sure that you can come up with an occasion in the past when you reneged on a personal commitment that you have made. I am pointing no fingers, since we have all done this in one way or another. It may have been a commitment to change a habit or a lifestyle, but you never followed through with it. Perhaps you committed yourself to a goal, but when the goal became a little difficult to achieve, you dropped it. There are a thousand ways that we could think about this.

If this was merely a commitment you made within yourself and you told no one, it is not a major concern. No big deal! No one knows. No one will call you a failure or hold you accountable if you go back on your commitment. However, if it is a public commitment, if someone else knows, now it is not quite so easy to break that commitment. Others will know that you have not succeeded in living up to a commitment that you have made.

You may look upon this as an added pressure in a commitment, but that is looking upon it from the wrong perspective. It is not pressure. It is strength to help you in your commitment. That is what support groups are all about. Support groups are there to tell you that they understand the difficulties that you are going through, since they have also experienced the same difficulties. A support group is there not to condemn you if you fall, but to lift you up and to help you along the way.

This is the value of a public commitment. And for these young parents here today, this is what we are telling them. As this couple is committing themselves to raise their child in a Christian manner, so we are committing ourselves to help them in any way that we can. 

The Commitment

So it is that today, in the same spirit that Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the temple, and with the same intentions that the people who Matthew and Luke told about, those who brought the children to the adult Jesus so that he might bless them, these parents today are bringing their small son to be baptized. It is not out of obligation or ritual, but to be blessed.

Their desire is that God will bless this little life. They are committing themselves to bring him up in the knowledge of the Lord, so that the boy, as he grows, will understand what it means to be a believer and a follower of Jesus.

Each of us should also consider making a commitment today. That commitment is that we, in any way that is appropriate, help this boy in his walk with God. We all grow together in our relationship with the Lord, or we do not grow at all.

That is because we are one in Christ.


[1] Luke 2:22-28 (see also Leviticus 12:6-9)
[2] Matthew 19:13-15; Luke 18:15-17


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