Friday 11 January 2013

The Epistle for Sunday contains just four verses from the 8th Chapter of Acts (14-17).

Philip had been telling the people of Samaria of the gospel and had caused a spiritual awakening as men and women were becoming believers and seeking baptism. The news had reached Jerusalem where the church leaders met and they decided to send Peter and John to find out what was happening.

When the two Apostles arrived in Samaria they discovered that whilst the people had been baptised, they had not then received the Holy Spirit, so they laid hands on them for the Holy Spirit to be received.

Some people maintain this as the justification for the service of Confirmation, children (or others) who have been baptised as infants come to confirm the vows made on their behalf and have hands laid on them by the Bishop.

If we study what took place at that place we can realise how far the Church has drifted away from the biblical pattern of baptism. The people heard the gospel preached, they accepted the message and came to become believers, then sought to be baptised.

Looking at the events recorded in Acts, the normal pattern to becoming a Christian is that someone ‘repents, believes, is baptized, and then receives the Holy Spirit’. This, however, is not a chronological order. These are the essential components to becoming a Christian, but God can change the order in which they happen, as was the case with Cornelius.

Within Scriptural terms a person is baptised when he/she realises their life can be different and better if Jesus Christ is part of it; they therefore repent of past failures; believe that by His death on the Cross, Jesus Christ became their Saviour, and they promise to follow His teaching for their future life.

At the beginning of the Church baptism, as recorded in Scripture, was for adults.
In the 2nd century the Church adopted the practice of baptising the children of worshipping parents. This can be deduced by the fact that the Canon relating to the subject states, ‘parents and godparents must fulfil their responsibility to bring up the child within the Church, and by their own example’.

Even however in the case of parents who are Church members, I feel it is stretching Scripture’s teaching. I cannot trace any instance in the Bible where the baptising of infants can be proved, but at least it shows some respect for the service.

Whilst it may have been the intention that infants being brought for baptism should be of Christian parents, it is now common practice to accept the infant of any parents, irrespective of belief (or none), who requests, without any requirement other than being told to attend on the relevant date.

I know it is often said to be a means of outreach, but apart from it being wishful thinking, it hardly justifies departing from the true purpose. If all who have made the promises of the Baptism service and adopted the words used, we would need to build more Churches as they all joined us on Sundays.

Baptism is a most sacred act. There is a joint action between God and man. Man repents, God washes sins away and there is then forgiveness and a person can really say they are ‘born again’. Can a baby have sins to be washed away?

The Church of England liturgy in Baptismal services asks the parents and godparents if they turn to Christ as Saviour and submit to Christ as Lord, and are allowed to affirm without question. Similarly they vow to bring up the child in the life and worship of the Church, but the falsity of this is shown by the fact that Church congregations do not reflect these promises. Further, to state ‘this child who has been born again’ is theological nonsense.

I cannot find any reference in Scripture to babies being baptised. They were welcomed and treasured, but not baptised. I accept it has become tradition to do so in our Churches, but there is the question do we put tradition before Scripture.?

Baptism has always been a problem for me. I have read, listened and pondered hard, but cannot bring myself to accept the case for baptising infants indiscriminately. I find myself compelled to sympathise with those who believe baptism should be for those who can make a decision for themselves.

As an Anglican priest I was morally required to do so, but felt distinctly uncomfortable in doing so. It still distresses me when I see people coming to a Baptism service showing no respect for the place they are entering, and only being concerned to have their cameras and camcorders ready, without taking an interest in the whole service. Fortunately for me all that is now over, I can choose which services I take.

The Collect for Sunday prays that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children. Children obey their father’s teaching.

Be at Church on Sunday and God bless you

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