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Friday, October 27, 2006
baptism dilemma

This may generate some debate-- and given the right debate i'm interested in it.

what i'm not really interested in debating is the legitimacy of baptizing babies. i've already debated it extensively and clearly believe it is the privilege of Christian believers. (at this point it is widely abused as a cultural rite of passage and commonly offered to nominal Christians as a right of church membership) As children were circumcised on the 8th day and raised inside the Covenant Community of Israel, so should the children of real Christians bear the mark of the New Covenant and be raised inside the circle of faith. I mean, why should we raise our children as technical pagans? (ok i know that's a cheap shot at those who don't believe in baptizing babies and i retract it-- so please don't shoot back) Certainly, the baptism of a baby is inadequate in and of itself. The parents are making vows for the child until such a time as the child is of age to claim faith personally for themselves. If the commitment to Jesus is not actualized personally, we have a major problem. (and that no matter at what age the baptism occurs)

Here's the dilemma. Our David has recently lamented to us, in the wake of Samuel's baptism, that he can't remember his baptism. And he has a point. The dilemma: how can you remember what you can't remember?????? And I don't think re-baptism is the way. As an aside, what drives me insane is the way Boards of Ordination in the United Methodist Church make this almost a litmus test of being ordained. Those of you who have persevered through this process know the question: Suppose an adult comes to you who was baptized as a baby and only really came to faith much later. They want to be baptized again. What do you tell them? What's insane is that many of these boards will actually hold up your ordination if you say you would baptize them again. What's with this?!

I do understand that re-baptism is not necessary. There is only one baptism. It is initial-- the starting line-- and need not be repeated. It's like getting married. You can renew your vows, but you can only actually marry the same person once. But, you can renew your vows-- which is a reenactment of sorts.

This is what I am driving at-- what about baptismal re-enactment? I know. I know. Some of you are saying, "But J.D. you should use the "remember your baptism" service in the handy-dandy United Methodist Hymnal. But that's the problem--- how can you remember what you can't remember. What about a re-enactment of baptism that wouldn't be re-baptism and yet it would provide a clear moment that would, in fact, be rememberable?

What about instead of saying, "David, I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit," we said, "David, you are baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit," as he was immersed in the water.

My complaint with baptizing babies is the way it can effectively rob people of a key experience that was intended to be a gift of grace-- a living moment of revelation.

just some ponderings i have been thinking through post-Arkansas trip.

any thoughts?

Photo: yesterday before work David excitedly presented me with this drawing. I've never quite heard it expressed like this. Really blessed me and I pass it on here as a blessing here to you. what do you see and hear in it?
posted by John David Walt | at 10/27/2006 07:41:00 AM



Anonymous matthew said...

I think reenactment is a great idea. Also, why not have them recreate, in an engaging way, major acts of God involving water (Noah & the ark, baby Moses, parting the sea, crossing the Jordan, Jonah, etc.) and let that culminate with the baptism reenactment? Also, if you have video tape of their baptism, it might be cool to play that for them on the anniversary of their baptism? I did that for my daughter even though she was only about 16 months old on the anniversary. We'll do that every year.

Just a couple of thoughts.

9:10 AM EDT  
Blogger eli said...

Love the re-enactment idea, JD. I think it is the way to go for those who need the experiential part - which is much of our culture these days if I read the books right. The picture robs arguments of sprinkling and immersion a bit, doesn't it. It doesn't separate the baptism from the source or the focus. According to the picture, we are not baptized with water in the name of...but baptized WITH the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Pretty cool.

9:23 AM EDT  
Blogger melissa d. said...

This topic is really interesting to me. We just discussed it in my theo class yesterday, actually.

When I was a baby, I was baptized by aspersion at a UCC church. I've never had any memory of that day, when the church and my parents pledged to help me find my faith as I grew up and my aunt and uncle took on the role of my Godparents.

In high school, I started going to a Christian megachurch, who deemed baptism by immersion necessary to become a member there. So, when we felt like it was time, my mom, sister and I were baptized one Sunday and became members -- even though we had already been believers for years.

I have mixed feelings about my experience. While I was grateful for the opportunity to present an outward sign of an inward decision I had made at some point between aspersion and immersion, it sort of brought along this feeling that I wasn't good enough to join this church unless I did things their way. Had I been given the choice to be immersed or not and still have membership open to me, I'm not sure I would've done it.

This church also believes in re-baptism, with the underlying clause of "if you have a good reason." I've been a leader a couple times for high school camps, and the pastors always train us to talk about baptism. Generally, if the student was baptized by aspersion as a baby, or baptized by immersion as a young child, they let them get baptized again. And last year, a friend of mine (a college student) was re-baptitzed because she was deeply troubled by the feeling that David has -- she couldn't remember her baptism. So she did it again, choosing her college-age minister to baptize her and making sure that all of her closest friends were present...with cameras.

I'm really impressed by David's drawing. Seems like he has a better understanding of the relationship between baptism and Calvary than a lot of adults.

9:26 AM EDT  
Blogger DGH said...

You are cracking me up J.D. The entire first part of your post sounds like you were picking a fight...and then you told everyone that you don't want to debate it...ha ha ha.... I totally agree with you with the first part, of course, but man I was laughing the entire way through it.

But to the re-enactment thoughts....

I will do what I typically do and wrestle with it for a while and never fishing wrestling with it and then it just falls by the way side. But when I read the post to Tiffany her first thought was that it sounded a little too individualistic for the one desiring "Baptism". If this is something that is God's action (sacrament) and just like you already said God does not need to do things more than once, then does it serves it's purpose through "re-enactment" or are we just mudding the theological waters by allowing a re-enactment to occur, when no matter how much discussion goes on, to the individual and probably those witnessing it would look, feel, and even sound in their minds to be a "re-baptism".

But of course, I am the one who LOVES to force discussion, because discussion brings relationship and understanding. So this could be something that forces others to think about baptism and its place in their personal lives...and hopefully even more so their place in the kingdom and the church (insert a loud slower speaking voice, "community").

Well, like I said those are my (very) first thoughts on the matter, and now I get to go through the coming weeks desiring books on the subject (that I can't afford) and never being able to sleep soundly through the next few weeks...I hope to have caused the discussion to continue a little bit. Thanks a lot! heh heh.... No I really do love you for it...:)

9:49 AM EDT  
Anonymous Matthew said...

A question for you, D.G., based upon one of your comments:

If this is something that is God's action (sacrament) and just like you already said God does not need to do things more than once, then does it serves it's purpose through "re-enactment" or are we just mudding the theological waters by allowing a re-enactment to occur

Is the eucharist not, in a sense, a reenactment? Since Jesus already did it once does that mean we shouldn't do it again? Also, Passover is also a reenactment of sorts and God commanded it!

To me, the whole point of communion is to remember. I will never let my daughter forget her baptism and what it meant to her, to us as a family, and to the holy catholic church.

I do, however, agree with you in some sense, D.G.. Children aren't as aware as adults and we could run the risk of getting them to think that we are actually baptizing them again and again through reenactment which is why it would be important to be very clear and distinct about what we are doing.

Great questions! Makes me miss seminary.

10:41 AM EDT  
Blogger jean smith said...

Love the picture, a cross on either side and one within the person presented for baptism. It really emphasizes David's theology of being baptized "with" the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and of dying with Christ and being resurrected with Christ.

11:20 AM EDT  
Anonymous chad said...

2 thoughts, and I wish they were more intelligent. But this is what I thought of.

1. You should try to enroll David. It would be nice to have his thoughts in class.

2. When you baptize a child (grew up southern baptist, never really had an idea of it all until a few years ago) do you spit on Satan like in the Godfather movie's. Cause if you did.....that would be really cool

3:09 PM EDT  
Blogger gmw said...

Whew. Sacraments--always good for conversation in the theological blogosphere...here goes:

1. Remembering what you can't remember - This is a good observation and many of us who were baptized as babies have sensed it personally, myself included. In my thinking on this matter, I've come to sense that this is another manifestation of elevating individual experience and de-emphasizing communal experience, and individual memory over communal memory. One of the gifts of being present in the community when someone is baptized is witnessing and participating in the covenant, and in doing so, learning more and more about what baptism is, what it means, and how it claims us. I actually think the "remember your baptism" service is a good thing and better than re-enacting. The wedding vows comparison is perhaps a fair one, but, like a renewal of vows for a marriage, the baptismal covenant vows are also restated and reaffirmed in the UM remembering your baptism service.

The key here is to understand "remembering" not in terms of the experience of the original physicality of the event (though, yes, that is a gift for those not baptized as infants), but rather to remember the work of God that is proclaimed and enacted in our baptism--a work that is reproclaimed when the Word is preached and every time we baptize another into the community of Christ.

Besides, carrying on the circumcision parallel, I don't know of many folks who would say they wanted to experience it physically so that they could "remember" it in that sense. But the community could certainly say, "remember your circumcision and be thankful," in the sense I've described above.

2. Matthew: Yes, the Eucharist is a re-enactment. But to apply the theology of the Eucharist on that is to mix apples and oranges with Baptismal theology. Re-enactment would, I think, be very prone to "muddy the theological water" on baptism.

3. JD: There is negative force rhetorically with the designation "litmus test," but like many phrases it isn't inherently negative. This is one of those times when it is entirely appropriate to have a "litmus test" in terms of having parameters within which someone must fall on a issue in order to be ordained. We don't need litmus tests for everything under the sun, but we absolutely should for some things and Sacramental theology and practice should definitely be one. Not that we have to be completely uniform in every respect, but we should have definite parameters within which all ordained clergy covenant to teach and practice within, otherwise it's hard to maintain that we actually have a Sacramental theology as United Methodists. Also on that list: the Trinity, core doctrines (represented by the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds), the authority of Scripture (though we'd likely have some range as to how that authority is derived and how it "works"), and, yes, ordination of both men and women.

Without "litmus tests" for ordination, you sacrifice theological integrity in teaching and practice. If we have a theology that excludes re-baptism, and we do (an extra-ordinarily well-grounded one biblically at that), then we ought certainly to maintain integrity in our sacramental practice by entrusting ordination to people who are on board with it.

Whew, again... Thanks for posting this--definitely generating good debate.

7:22 PM EDT  
Blogger Matt Purmort said...

Hey JD,

First, its refreshing to hear an evangelical who is all for infant baptism, we are somewhat of a silent group sometimes. I remember in Kaz talking to friends of mine around the table about baptism, most were advocating adult baptism, one had not been baptized and one talked about being baptized as an infant rather sheepishly. I finally spoke up and said "am I the only one who was greatful to be baptized as an infant." The fact I don't remember it, is a sign of God's amazing grace because it says to me, God was deeply involved in my life before I could even remember. I am going to ponder this some more though...great post.

10:56 PM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

remember your circumcision. . . . . . very nice Guy. thanks to all of you for the engagement here.

i guess i understand what you are saying about the litmus test issue guy---- however, the effect of the way it is brought up in ordination boards has all the glamour of "will you enforce the company policy." i agree with you in the spirit of your point though.

concerning re-enactment. my thinking on this derives from the larger idea of sacramental theology-- anamnesis. for those of you who don't know, anamnesis means literally "the drawing near of memory." history is dead-- but memory is alive. this is the essence of Hebrew worship. they literally reenacted their story and therby reentered into it which made the memory of it their very own because they had experienced it. every spring, the whole country would drop everything, make tracks for Jerusalem and enter into a week long festival where each family slaughtered a lamb, ate unleavened bread, bitter erbs, and remember their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. In this way of remembrance through reenactment they were remembering with an actual experience what they couldn't actually remember. Through participating in it again-- the memory drew near. History = dead. Memory = Living.

Certainly as someone pointed out-- this is the essence of the Eucharist. Remembrance through reenactment. I agree-- baptism is different and yet it operates in the same sacramental family.

i don't think i'm playing into the "individualistic" paradigm here. baptism is profoundly corporate and radically personal.

i suppose my larger issue is that baptism-- according to theological policy-- looks fine in our own United Methodist approach-- however; the way it is understood and practiced is disastrously inadequate.

the sacraments are about God-- and yet they are for us. i am driving at how this really works out practically in the life of the community through persons.

9:15 AM EDT  
Blogger Marcus G said...

OK, so as a good Anglican vicar (which is English for "episcopalian priest") it has been my pleasure to enjoy three baptisms. (Go on, shoot me now, burn me, I know, I know - or read on if you're feeling generous.)

As a baby, my mother (Roman Catholic) had me baptised Church of England at St John's Kearsly so that I "wouldn't be brought up in any religion but would be able to pick my own later".

As a teenager, I picked Baptist, which did not please her, and I don't think she attended baptism no.2 at Cannon Street Baptist Church Accrington. I don't remember number no.1, I do remember no.2 - and actually, the earth didn't move. It didn't need to, I guess. I did need to make a public declaration of my faith, and I did need to belong to that congregation. And belonging and obeying the way a church does things matters. I think God blesses these things, even if he also smiles at them sometimes.

No. 3 - ah, my favourite. As an ordained curate ("associate pastor") on a church trip to the Holy Land. We all baptised each other in the River Jordan. Fish nibbling at my legs. A large Southern Baptist choir singing just down the river. Sun shining. The earth did move - it was glorious and blessed and a deeply spiritual moment. Yes, yes, I know, technically this was a renewal of baptismal vows with water, but as an experience it was tops!

Where lies the truth though?

I guess that depends on our picture of God. Guardian of doctrine or Father. Take your pick. I'm not a bad theologian. I know the ultimate work of Christ. I know that once I have died to sin I have been raised with Christ, and repeats aren't needed.

And yet I have this sneaky suspicion that the fact I keep wanting to do something to signify how I want be constantly immersed in Christ isn't completely a bad thing, and doesn't leave my Lord shaking his head wishing I would grow up.

I'm not planning no.4. But if it happens, I promise to tell.

11:27 AM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

ok. true confession: 3 times for me as well. baby-- confirmation-- and Jordan River.

Lets just call it Trinitarian Marcus. ;-)

I identify with you also in this-- baptism is about identity-- it's the identification with Christ in hearing the voice of Abba-- my son, my beloved, with you I am well pleased. To be baptized in Christ is to actively hear this voice-- and while these words from the mouth of God must be constantly feasted upon-- it is essentiail to revisit their first hearing of sorts regularly. clearly that does not mean re-baptism over and over again-- but it must come to mean something more than token remembrance. it must become rehearsed over and over and perhaps reenacted regularly. this is the way identity formation happens. whether they recognize it or not-- this is what people are doing when they dip their finger in water upon entering a cathedral to make the sign of the cross on their forehead. they are rehearsing their baptism.

if our identity is not constantly rehearsed and renewed in our baptism, then it will be be constantly rehearsed and renewed in something else-- like television commercials. It's a matter of voice-recognition isn't it.

thanks marcus.

you guys still praying non stop over there?

2:55 PM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

Is noone going to point out the mysterious apparition of the Virgin Mother in the photo image? look carefully-- you can make her out just to the left of the cross.

Could FARMSTrong become a pilgrimage site?

i hope so. ;-)

to my Roman friends-- no offense or sacrilege intended here--

2:58 PM EDT  
Blogger eli said...

apart from the baptisms in our church, we baptize once a year at a local lake (or algae-ridden pond to be more accurate). What if when others were being baptized, we gave people the freedom to dive into the pond themselves in order to "remember" their baptism and in order for the community to participate in the current baptism. I think that would be pretty cool!

6:08 PM EDT  
Blogger Matt Purmort said...

Marcus and JD, I really liked your re-baptism confessions. I also think though that it reminds me just how important it is to stress the unique once only place of baptism (which I am sure neither of you are contesting). IHowever, in America it seems our culture wants to make every ceremony about sentimentality rather than covenant. Take marriage for example, weddings have never been more popular and so has divorce. I guess I do get a little nervous if people keep wanting to get wet everytime they "feel" a wanting to commit their lives more deeply to the Lord. Perhaps what we need is some constant reminder of the covenant (like a wedding ring)that God has brought us into that we can look to in the good times and bad and say "that's right, I have been brought into, rescued into a new reality in which God has pleged himself to me." In the Lutheran church I grew up in, parents were given a lit candle at there child's baptism, that they were to light every year on his or her baptism day to celebrate it like a birthday. I actually knew a couple in the church that did this and it was a powerful reminder.

9:23 PM EDT  
Blogger Brian said...

I wouldn't even worry with the "reenactment" terminology. I would just rebaptize him. (My apologies to Guy and others who I hold in high esteem.)

As we look back on the movement of theology, it is incredibly clear that most of the differentiating issues became important out of reaction to a "heretical" or "abusive" use of sacraments and theologies of grace. Wesley's (not that he was the only one, though) theology of Baptism fits under this umbrella. In a time when groups of people saw baptism as almost magical (sins cleansed, no matter how many trips you make to the river), Wesley stood in stark contrast. To make his point and to insure that his followers would not fall into such a practice, he stood firm.

Our problem today has very little to do with people thinking baptism to be magical. The truth is that our problem resides in the fact that hardly anyone sees any power at all in the sacrament.

If David wants to experience the power of baptism, may the Lord bless him. And may his tribe increase!

12:36 AM EDT  
Anonymous chad said...

I was baptized twice.

The first when I was like 7 and all I really remember is that it was super bowl Sunday and things were rather hurried.

Later in life when I looked back at my history of Faith I was pretty sure that I didn't really have any idea what was going on as a kid, so I was baptized in a local lake with a few other people in my congregation.

Earlier that morning while I was helping to set up some sound equipment one of my pastors was trying to get me to walk out in the water and find out about how deep it was. I avoided it for two reason. The first was that I didn't want to get wet just then, I thought about what was going on that day and I wanted to stay dry until it became my turn. The second was that I have a deep fear of fish and I was sure that there was a huge catfish out there waiting to get me. You know, the kind of fish that the "noodlers" wrestle out of the water.

So my take on being baptized several different times (JD, the jordan river?, that is really cool), I know that in my heart I really wanted to tell the community of faith that I was worshiping in about my life. My Dad (the preacher) was pretty upset when I did it, because he held fast to the "decision" I made as a 7 year old. My wife has also been baptized twice, as an infant in the Catholic church, and a few years ago.

I wish I could enter the discussion and give a more traditional view from the tradition I grew up in, but I really can't.

knowing how much your kids matter to you, I imagine this is an interesting thought going through your head. As always, thanks

1:45 AM EST  
Blogger Moderndaymystic said...

Great thoughts on here. It was over this very issue I debated long and hard this summer. My grandfather (UM minister) baptized me as an infant, and then I went through confirmation in the UM church I grew up in. Until recently (the last 2-3 years) I'd never felt a need for a second baptism. To be it had always been Christ who baptized me, the water was just an outward symbol of an inward commitment. But I was compelled this summer to be re-baptized before I began my time at ATS. To me it was a very clear distinction that this was the beginning of my ministry, and I wanted to share that declaration with my church. Thankfully my pastor back home was born and raised baptist before switching to the UMC, so he "creatively interpreted" the baptismal rememberence service that we had, and poured a pitcher of water over my head. It was powerful to feel the water running down and I think that is sadly, something that the rememberence service lacks.

2:59 PM EST  
Blogger mattmaher said...

that's why Catholics have Holy Water at the entrances of their churches...so when you walk in, you "re-enact" your baptism and are blessed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The sign of the triune God - the sign of the cross.

4:34 PM EST  
Blogger Omar said...

Way to go Matt Maher... I knew I liked being a "neo-Catholic" for a reason.

If we're keeping count, it is 2 baptisms for me.

I think one of the fundamental problems is that so few people (including clergy) know what baptism is supposed to be all about, so we have this problem.

I dunno... I just wanted to trow my hat in the comments ring and shout out to Matt.

6:28 PM EST  
Anonymous Matthew said...

In case anyone missed it at Nolan's blog, if I get baptized again I'm doing it this way :-)


9:35 AM EST  
Blogger gmw said...

Hi, Brian, thanks for the comments and the esteem.

It seems to me that the key problem here is that we have a difference of understanding on what baptism is. Baptism is our initiation into the community of God's people and our incorporation into the saving work of God (as the UM liturgy has it). This by definition means that there's no such thing as rebaptism. When we "rebaptize," we proclaim a different meaning and purpose for baptism.

Plus, can we not "experience the power of baptism" without re-experiencing the physicality and having a pastor or priest say words that have already been said?

I appreciate Matt Maher's point that greeting baptismal water and "re-enacting" our baptism through a ritual washing (though clearly not to be confused in form or content with baptism). At a point, we could be into mere wordsmithing in differentiating between reenacting and remembering one's baptism. But the key is in our actions that are associated. Do they proclaim the baptismal message in such a way as to confuse us as to what the gift of baptism actually is?

As for the company line--yes, that can be the case with UMs and anyone else for that matter. But, are we not discerning people who can recognize the importance of theological integrity in sacramental practice?

10:16 PM EST  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

thanks guy-- i guess for me you hit the nail on the head with your final question--- what constitutes theological integrity with sacraments?

7:51 AM EST  
Anonymous Lorna said...

ministry before theology.

I would always rebaptise and if that answer costs me my ordination then I'm in the wrong denomination.

re-enactment is a good idea - but we don't all have video clips and for some the possibility to make a decision for themselves (as an adult or teen) is very important.

It was for my daughter. She was re-baptised in the UMC last month.

5:22 PM EST  
Blogger Adam Caldwell said...

Congratulations! You've been 'spitboxed'. Check out your post at


God bless!

8:27 AM EST  

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