Thursday, October 27, 2005

Church Rituals Paper.

This is my position paper for church rituals class on Infant Baptism. Please critique me and let me know how much of a heritic that I am for this stance.-Dan

The Wesleyan Church supports infant baptism. This is a very controversial practice that even today is very derisive among Protestants. Many people believe that this practice is borderline evil and definitely not Biblical. These positions I believe are incorrect and misguided, as they do not see the purpose that the church uses this style of baptism. I stand alongside, in agreement with the Wesleyan Church in it’s stance in support of infant baptism.
Today in Protestant culture, we run fearfully from any tradition and practice that has any connection with the Liturgical Tradition. This fear is because of many centuries of lethargy that has characterized this style of church. The churches that represent this group are all hundreds of years old and long since become decadent. While this is the case the practices of the church are not what is suspect, but the reasons and traditions behind these practices. So I believe we should not just disregard their practices just because they practice them, but look into the thinking behind these controversial issues before condemning it.
The Catholic (or Universal) church has long held the practice of infant baptism. We can read the Bible as seeing children being baptized in many instances. First when Cornelius the Centurion in Acts 10, was conversing with Peter, his “his relatives and close friends” were present when Peter had the people there baptized. No mentioning is done to say that just the adults were baptized. While it is a stretch it could be assumed that there were children in this group. Second, when the Philipian jailer hears the news from Paul in Acts 16, it says that “immediately he and all his family were baptized.” While there is no mention of infants being baptized it much more likely than not that there were children or infants that were baptized at this point.
So I start this discussion with this evidence that infant baptism was something that has happened since the beginning of the church. It is not a practice that started in the Middle Ages, under a corrupt pope, but a practice that seems to be endorsed by the apostles at the very beginning of the Christian movement.
It is very important to see the foundation of the practice of baptism. While many believe that John the Baptist was the first to baptize people, they are wrong; he’s not. It was a Jewish practice to baptize a person who was not of Jewish ancestry when they entered Jewish culture. It was a figurative practice but it also has physical meanings. It was a ritualistic cleansing. They were immersing themselves in water to literally wash away their uncleanness. So baptism is not strictly a Christian practice, even though it is most known as such.
So when John began to teach that Jews needed to be baptized it was a very shocking thing for them. They probably thought: “Why do I need to be cleansed? I was born clean!” Almost the exact opposite of what Christian theology is today. Romans 3:23 says that ‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Jews and Gentiles alike).’ We realize that we’re not clean at all we all realize that we need to be saved, and that our ancestry does not automatically place us in the right with God. But the Jews did not see the matter in the same way that we do.
The practice of emersion was, I believe, a clear parallel with the ritualistic bath that the Jews practiced also. We see evidence of ritualistic bathing happening all over Judea at the time of Jesus ministry. In Qumran, an Essene community, ritual baths were in fact the norm. As one went to the temple there were baths that people were able to bathe in before the entered the temple. So the idea of baptism by immersion was not a totally new idea, it was very similar to the practices going on at that time.
The Jews also had a very large fear of still bodies of water. They were very fearful of stagnant water as they believe that there was a linkage somehow with the ‘underworld.’ This is why, in the Old Testament, we see very few references of Jewish shipping; they avoided the water that was not moving. In these bathing stations that dotted the country, we see that there were elaborate systems that were used to keep the moving. Qumran for instance has a very complex tunnel and pool system to keep the flow of water almost constant. This would explain why John did all his baptizing in the Jordan River area. It is not that there needed to be a river or a similar body of water, but to just have a baptistery in a building would be weird and against their superstition.
I say all this to show that while we do not see any type of Baptism other than an emersion style of Baptism, we do see that a very basic historical look into the culture of 1st Century Judea shows that the method that John and later Jesus’ disciples used for baptism was a very culturally relevant method, not a model of how to baptize people. The way that Jesus baptized people is never mentioned; in fact John’s method is never mentioned. The Bible never thoroughly explains the process that John and later Jesus goes through in baptizing people, we just know that it was near a river. So we must rely on the tradition that the church has laid out before us in explaining how it was done. Once we realize that how we baptize everybody is passed down by the tradition of the church, it’s not a very difficult step to get to infant baptism.
The Roman Catholic understanding of original sin is the reason that Roman Catholics baptize their children. Catholic theology believes that a person is born with original sin, and in order for that ‘stain’ to be removed, one must be baptized to remove it. Thus if a baby dies, before it can be baptized, their theology says that that baby is going to hell. This is a twisting of Christian theology, but it is the reason behind why the Catholic Church baptizes babies, they want that they won’t go to hell. So when Martin Luther and the Protestants were arguing against this doctrine, they were arguing against the theology behind a person being saved, at least in part, by baptism.
A very strong rejection, among Protestants, of baptism as a work that leads toward salvation has lead toward the in some circles the diminishing of importance of baptism. A very common saying explaining what baptism really is is: ‘an outward sign of what has happened inside.’ Baptism has become nothing more than an announcement saying: “I am now a Christian!”
This view of salvation is a very Calvinistic view; salvation is not a process, it is an event. Here Salvation has no change, no need for development, as there is no need for further growth. God has done his work, and now your life differently. The Sacraments, thus, have no signifance other than as reminders of what God has done for us. And Infant Baptism is wrong as there is nothing to announce about this baby’s life.
The Wesleyan point of view is that salvation it is Teleological. There is a life journey that happens and once a person is saved, the life has just begun. Salvation is not the end goal of a person’s life, it is just the beginning. Teleological Salvation means that salvation is moving towards a goal, and Wesley believed that this goal was holiness. The sacraments in this understanding become more than reminders of God’s work in our lives but they become, as Wesley put it, means by which God communicates his grace toward us. Thus every time we partake in the sacraments we are developing ourselves in holiness. Infant baptism in this view becomes more easily acceptable.
The sacraments when given to a person who has not yet began a purposeful walk toward salvation, take on a new role; helping a person move in that direction. Thus when an infant is baptized, it is done with that this is going to be a help to this child as it begins his or her life. Here we are communicating a means of grace toward that child that will impact its eternal future.
I am very firmly entrenched in the Wesley or Teleological view of salvation. Salvation is not the end, but a means to the end. Sacraments are not just reminders but they are ways in which God actively imparts his grace into the lives of people. This is why I support Infant Baptism.