Monday, August 16, 2004

An Edwardsian analogy

Jonathon Edwards was booted from his congregation of many years because he came to the conclusion as a pastor and theologian that he could not support the half-way covenant practices implemented by Stoddard, a beloved theologian and predecessor pastor. Not only did he change communion practices- he also changed his approach to the baptism of infants.

He compared the situation of parents enraged because he would not baptize their infants because he was not sure of their being converted Christians to a parent who, after their child had been bitten by an adder, and who's limb was swollen and and blackening towards death, were only upset because the child's clothing was dirty.

In our congregation, we baptize infants, even of families who are marginally connected to the church. Often in conversation, I learn they were turned away from other congregations because they weren't members. They are often relieved to have found a pastor who will do the baptism (something they are cognitively and emotionally committed to), and offended that they were turned away other places.

I, of course, am conflicted while in the midst of these conversations and preparation for baptism, because I believe and teach the vows made at baptism (parents standing in loco parentis make promises about bringing the child to the Lord's house, teaching them Scripture, etc., things I can guess some families might actually do, but things others are clearly not going to do even though they are willing to make the promises during the liturgy), but I also believe in the sociological phenomenon of entry points, and baptism is a key one for many families. I've lost count of the number of times committed and knowledgable and faithful folks I know say they came back to the church in the process of having their child baptized. The means of grace for their baby became and entry point and opportunity for re-commitment for them.

I talk in the baptismal preparation about baptism as being drowned, dying to an old self and rising to a new baptized life in Christ. I try to confess the profundity, the absolute salvation accomplished proleptically in baptism and completed at the eschaton. I usually use the metaphor of the emancipation proclamation, of God declaring those who are baptized "free", and yet they live in this world, declared free but still bound in sin.

Yet I struggle, because although the proclamation around the baptism is itself dramatic and even strict, my actions (baptizing all who come) does not give the gravitas that other practices might (ala Edwards). How do we talk about the salvation accomplished in baptism, and the drama of that, if we are not dramatic in the boundaries we hedge around it? In doing the baptism, am I cleaning the clothes without healing the wound and drawing out the poison? Or at the very least, even if baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has power and effect because it is the promised salvific action of God, are the actions we use teaching that?

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