Wednesday, 20 May 2009


Having exhausted all the various links and metaphors to do with sewing and the church i thought i would try and use this space to just share my thoughts and reflections on what i end up doing on a day to day basis.

In the last fortnight i have been contacted by four different couples all requesting a christening for their new-born child. Of these four, two couples have remote connections with the church and the other two have no connection at all.

I'm always grateful for the opportunity to have a cup of coffee with people outside the recognised Christian community. I nearly always find the conversation more real, getting to the heart of real issues and real views far quicker than i do with church members and far far more quicker than i do with fellow church leaders. The coffee is nearly always good quality, the baby nearly always is adorable and cute, and their ignorance of what they really want for their baby is nearly always the same. Or should i say, the churches inability to provide for what they really want and need is often the real issue.

As a Methodist we are thoroughly confused over our sacramental theology. We receive two sacraments, the Lord's supper (communion) and baptism. We believe in the priesthood of all believers yet for the sake of 'good order' only ordained presbyters have the automatic right to lead communion services. We see baptism as an equal sacrament to communion but anyone who has been baptised can baptise another - it seems inconsistent.

Then we get on to, what is for me the real crux of the issue. My experience tells me that people want a right of passage after birth to celebrate the new status of the family and the arrival of the new-born child. This is natural. Human beings throughout our existence have sought rites and rituals to mark significant events. So the church instead of offering promoting as the norm a rite of thanksgiving - where the child is acknowledged as a gift from God and God's blessing is prayed over the child, we offer this ridiculous, thoroughly unbiblical rite of Christian baptism. Why?

Why do we 1) expect and 2) pretend that this heavily Christian rite is suitable for non-church families? Where is the biblical precedent for baptising as a baby? Where is the biblical precedent for baptising those of no faith? The answer to all of the above is of course, nowhere. Yet we still use as the norm this rite of infant baptism that makes a total sham of the act of worship that includes it and causes the leader of worship, parents and godparents and often the congregation too to proceed in a service where everyone's integrity is questioned and compromised. Why, when Jesus was so concerned with honest and openness, exposing the Pharisees hypocrisy for what it was, bringing what was corrupt and hidden into the revealing light, do we continue to act as though integrity before God in worship doesn't matter? Why? Why? Why?

As a minister i pedal a very thin line sometimes on this. I offer as the norm a service of thanksgiving and blessing (based on the act in the Methodist Worship Book) and emphasise its benefits, and explain the potential compromises of integrity that a baptismal service would entail. I then make it clear that i leave the decision with the parents and if they feel they can say the credal statements, answer questions of faith and make the promises then fine - they take responsibility. I end up christening/baptising the majority - with a very heavy heart, utterly unconvinced of the appropriateness of what we are doing.

It is of course, the common understanding that all Methodist Ministers may not refuse to baptise. This, to my astonishment is found nowhere in CPD - the rule book of UK Methodism - and gives licence to refuse baptism and only offer thanksgiving where it is appropriate.

The only justification i can find at the moment to continue to baptise infants is that it opens a door to evangelism - it guarantees a number of visitors to church and gives an opportunity to speak of God's love and Christ to a fresh set of people. If evangelism is the sole justification i can find, i guess i have to always way up whether a refusal to baptise and an insistence on thanksgiving would do more to close the door of God's grace or open it.

1 comment:

Adam Anderson said...

Wise words brother. Amen