Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Infant Baptism

Picture of Firstborn after his baptism last year

Such a controversial topic so I wanted to do a post and get it out of the way early.  Catholics consider baptism as one of the seven sacraments of the Church.  A sacrament is defined as "an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace".  There is grace imparted at the time of baptism, regardless of whether or not the adult, child or infant receiving the sacrament is aware of it or not.  I have always believed in the practice of baptizing infants.  At the time my oldest two children were born my husband and I were practicing Presbyterians (who also recognize infant baptism).  So they were both sacramentally baptized as young babies.  My husband was also baptized as a baby but because my father and his family were Southern Baptist I was not.  I received baptism when I joined the Presbyterian Church as a 13 year old youth on Easter Sunday.
Firstborn's baptism, Father's Day June 18, 2000
Our young family!!
This was all very fine and good until Doug & I decided to leave the Presbyterian Church and attend a large, pastor led, non-denominational, charismatic church.  They tend more towards the Baptist denominational view on baptism, except it is performed more as an act of obedience to Christ.  Whereas a Baptist would view baptism as necessary for the salvation of the soul, the charismatic would see it as a step in their relationship with Christ.  They also might become "re-baptized" if they ever felt like they fell away (also called backsliding) from Christ or the church.  It then becomes a symbol for their renewed commitment to Jesus Christ.  When our third son was born we were attending this type of church, so instead we held a dedication ceremony for him during the one of the services.  We have lovely pictures, but for me it wasn't quite the same as performing a baptism.
Toddler Boy at his church dedication this year
So handsome!!
By the time Princess was born we were attending yet another church, a Christian Church.  The Christian Church has been around since the early 1800s and has the Presbyterian Church for it's origins.  They are congregationally led and by nature do not answer to a denomination but they do work together with other Christian churches.  They hold to the view of baptism at the age of reason by immersion.  In fact, they do not accept baptisms that were not by immersion.  I was surprised when reading an application to be a camp counselor that one of the questions was "Have you been immersion baptized"?  It was a yes or no fill in the blank, so for that question I would have had to answer "no" to whether or not I was baptized, which seemed wrong to me.

Many people think that the Catholic Church believes that baptism is necessary for the salvation of the soul.  This is not actually the case, they do hold that it is the only way that God has granted the Church to impart the washing away of original sin and becoming an adopted child of God.  This does not limit God, who can choose to give any soul salvation apart from whether or not they were baptized while still alive.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states it this way:
"God has bound salvation to the sacrament of baptism, but He Himself is not bound by the sacraments"  (CCC, no. 1257)  
This is where the controversy on miscarried or aborted children, who died before they were able to be baptized, comes into play.  What about the infant or adult who died in a car accident on the way to the Church to be baptized?  What about the person earnestly seeking God in his life but is not aware of his need for this sacrament?  In cases like this we need to have faith in the abundant mercy and love of God, who created and loves those individuals more than we ourselves can fathom.  Recently, I came across a book written about the experience of Marietta Davis, who in 1848 received a vision from God and was shown heaven and hell.  It is titled Nine Days in Heaven.  She gives a very detailed acccount of what happens to the souls of children and babies when they die.  For me, it was an incredibly comforting read because I have lost children to miscarriage.

Baptism has the effect of forgiving and washing away all sins, both the original sin that everyone is born with plus all the personal sins that someone commits up until that point in his or her life.  It marks or "brands" the person as belonging to Christ.  As such, it remains permanent.
"Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ.  Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ.  No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation.  Given once for all Baptism cannot be repeated"  (CCC, no. 1272)

At this point your question for me may be "what about your own children"?  Good question!  I wrote this post, in part, to possibly give comfort and guidance to people in my situation.  My husband is a Christ following Protestant, and our family currently attends a church that does not believe in infant baptism.  I am Catholic, and although I believe in infant baptism the Church cannot baptized my children because my husband cannot in good conscience vow to raise them in the Catholic faith.  When the Catholic Church baptizes an infant or child before the age of reason it requires the parents of the child to promise to raise them in the Catholic faith (as opposed to "christian faith").  The Church does, however, accept baptisms from other Christian faiths who hold to the Trinitarian baptismal formula and either pour or immerse with water.  So where does that leave us?  With three young children who are being raised as christians who cannot receive the sacrament of baptism from either church they attend.  There was a third option, and that was to baptize them myself.
"The ordinary ministers of Baptism are the bishop and priest and, in the Latin Church, also the deacon.  In case of necessity, anyone, even a non-baptized person, with the required intention, can baptize, by using water and the Trinitarian baptismal formula.  The intention required is to will to do what the Church does when she baptizes.  The Church finds the reason for this possibility in the universal saving will of God and the necessity of Baptism for salvation."  (CCC, no. 1256)
In the case of my youngest three children I chose to baptize them myself.  I used to waver back and forth on the reasons I did this, was it the right thing to do or was I overstepping my authority as their mother.  Should I have had more faith and waited until they could make the decision for themselves?  Maybe, but my feelings on the matter is baptism is a very important sacrament, it is my Catholic faith's way of washing their sins away and presenting them for adoption into God's family.  What mother would not want that for her children?  Plus, I believe very strongly in the sacramental graces that come with baptism.  A sacrament is not just a symbol, God attaches graces to it.  Those graces flow through the physical action of baptizing your child and continue to be a source of strength for them throughout their lives, whether they are aware of it or not, whether they are actively working with that grace or not, God is faithful.  I heard Jen from Conversion Diary explain it well when she was interviewed for The Journey Home program (here's the link to the program).  She said her baptism acted like an invisible cord, anchoring her and always drawing her back towards the truth of christianity.  Even when she was a devout atheist God was using the grace she received at her baptism (which she was not even aware of until after she became Catholic).  As a mom, I want to give my children the "anchoring" grace that baptism can be in their lives.  I do not know if they will ever struggle in their faith but if that day comes I want them to have all the advantages possible to help them in their doubts.  No, baptism does not guarantee their salvation, only a relationship with Jesus Christ can give them eternal life with Him.  But it definitely will be a wonderful avenue of grace in their lives.  A win-win in my opinion.

Family pic from Firstborn's baptism
Dad was holding camera!
I wanted to briefly mention the issue of "re-baptism".  My oldest was "re-baptized" last summer at church camp.  Since it was an immersion baptism and he's at the age of reason my husband's faith believes that this would be his actual baptism.  They would consider the one he went through as an infant as a "dedication".  My Catholic belief is the opposite, that he actually received baptism as an infant and the second one was more of a symbol of his dedication to Jesus and living a christian life.  I am careful to explain both sides to them.  My children are aware of my views and also my husband's views on this issue.  My children's faith journeys are theirs to make and as they grow older I want them to grow a deeper relationship with Christ and choose that for themselves.  I fully supported my son's decision to choose immersion baptism.  In the grand scheme of things this choice is not jepordizing his soul, on the contrary, this is a move for him in the direction of God and that is a great thing.  I have some issues with it doctrinally, but again, this is his journey, not mine.  I am very happy that he has personally chosen to follow Christ and it is my hope and prayer that my other children will eventually make the same commitment.

One last thing (as if this post wasn't long enough)!  The bible gives an example of christians who received the Holy Spirit from God before they were baptized (Acts 10:48 ).  This would be a prime example of how God is not bound by His sacraments.  This played out in my own life because I also asked for and received the Holy Spirit years before I received my baptism.  Baptism is an avenue of grace but it is not the only avenue of grace.  God will use any path you open up to Him to build a relationship with you.  Again, it is my relationship with Christ that is my assurance of salvation, not my baptism.  Jesus obviously holds baptism as very important because He Himself was baptized to set an example for us and He commanded His apostles (His Church) to continue to baptize believers.
  "...I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit"  (John 3:5)
  I hold baptism in such high esteem precisely because of the Word of Christ.  So important that I decided to grant it to my infant children.

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