My newest baby, boy #4, Corbin Riley, was baptized on Easter Sunday. Many people have inquired about our choice to baptize as opposed to the more Protestant tradition of infant baptism. So here is my formal explanation.
I belong to the Nazarene denomination. We are similar to the Wesleyan Methodist (John Wesley), the Free Methodist, Church of God (Holiness) and other holiness denominations. When the Nazarene church was formed it combined with several other denominations-all having one thing in common, a desire to stress holiness and entire sanctification. So there were churches from the Baptist, Methodist, etc, etc traditions. Because of the many diverse backgrounds, the newly forming denomination decided to allow many of the different tradition’s ceremonies and liturgies to be allowed. So, for instance, Baptism: the Nazarene’s allow for immersion, sprinkling, anointing, and well, as long as you get wet, you’re considered baptized. And with infants you can opt for a traditional dedication or infant baptism.
The whole Infant Baptism vs. Dedication “debate” can be boiled down to a Catholic vs. Protestant issue. Baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace. The outward sign involves getting wet! You can read and study John the Baptist about the origins of the practice, but John baptized Jesus-at Jesus’ request. The inward grace, or the thing that happens on the “inside” is the change that takes place in one’s heart, soul & mind. The mind has been transformed, the soul has been cleansed, and the heart is renewed. Spiritually speaking one has been forgiven of their sins, restored to state where they can relate to God and in short: they are saved.
That’s all fine and dandy for those that make those choices. But what about little babies that can’t make those choices? Are they saved too? Well, herein lies the different debates (as it relates to the subject at hand…I am realizing that there are MANY theological tangents that I could go on). For the Catholics this issue came to a head: children were dying at very young ages and they wanted some sort of assurance that their child, would be saved from the fiery pit of hell. So the priest baptized the child, thus securing the child’s salvation-forever. It is the forever part that I can’t live with-at some point the person has to become accountable for their own actions and accountable for responding to God’s call for a relationship.
Most protestants throw this idea out and hold to a magical, subjective “age of accountability”, where a child is not responsible for their actions up to some age where they then become accountable.
Other protestants hold to a Calvinistic (John Calvin) or a predestination view: That some are chosen and others are not, male, female, young, old, etc. Choice is pretty much thrown out the window with the whole age thing. God hates some and rejects them and loves others and predetermines that they will be saved. They have my attention up until “God hates some…” Not to mention that this throws out man’s responsibility to respond to God.
So where do I stand? So which camp am I in? Well, as usual the Nazarene view is a mixed one. I suppose we hold to the “age of accountability” where there is this subjective age where a person becomes accountable for their actions. But Wesleyans also believe in what is called prevenient grace, or the grace that goes before. That grace is bestowed on all of mankind and this grace is constantly leading the person towards Christ. Wesleyans would say that this grace is what allows man in his sinful state to be able to respond to the salvation message. For babies who cannot respond this grace covers them. They are covered by prevenient grace. They are not responsible for their sinful state. Until they are, and that comes with age and awareness.
So tell me again what this has to do with infant baptism? Yeah, I know, I am getting there.
Kaleb & Keegan, my identical twin boys, were dedicated. In the dedication ceremony children are presented before the church where the parents promise to raise the child in the ways of Christ and in accordance to the Word of God, the Bible. The congregation also promises to help raise the child. It takes a community right? Babies are introduced to the congregation and the parents get a neat certificate, that is stored away with all of the other special memories. The parents, pastor and church dedicate the child to God. Kaleb & Keegan have also dedicated their lives to God and have entered into a saving relationship with Christ. They also chose, on their own, to be baptized. They were dunked (immersed). Their feet flew up in the air! It was cute and cool and special all at the same time.
For most protestants (again not the Calvinist and not most Catholics), there is an expectation of a salvation event, a specific point in time where someone marks their conversion, one day they were walking away from God and they were not saved and then next they were walking with God and were saved. Believe me there are MANY people out there whose lives have been changed and a prayer or a sermon or a religious experience is the event that they point to where they met the Living Creator who totally transformed their life. They are a new person.
Corbin Riley and his bigger 2 year-old brother, Calvin Wesley (yes, CALVIN WESLEY) were baptised as infants. It is my hope that they will never know a time when they did not think of themselves as experiencing and understanding the saving love of Christ. I hope they never think of themselves as outsiders, as unsaved. Instead of having to point to a time when they were saved, I would hope that there comes a time where the choice is to “stay in” or walk away from it all. And I hope that they never point to a time when they walked away, but rather continually make the choice to advance in their walk with Christ.
In infant baptism there is a similar dedication. But, to me, there are much deeper and intentional messages. I am making a covenant with God that I will raise my child in an environment where they can experience God’s saving love and where they can learn what it is to be a follower or Christ. My family and church family make the same pledge. And for me it is also a stand against the Evil One, it is a proclamation to Satan: You cannot have this child. You cannot take this child. This child is Christ’s until the day he chooses otherwise.
Again, it is my hope that Corbin and Calvin will never know a time when they weren’t being saved. I hope that they will always be able to look back and see the Hand of God in their lives and that their lives are constantly being transformed, cleansed and renewed.
They are still free to choose. They can reject God. They can walk away. They can come back. They can commit their lives to Christ and they can re-commit their lives to Christ. And if the day comes that they deem a milestone in their life, a day where they can look back upon and say “That is the day my life changed!” Well, then I hope that they consider the ceremonial proclamation of such a change, the outward sign of the inward grace: Adult baptism.