Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Infant Baptism and Childhood Scars
I'm on Sparkle City Blogs. It's a place where people who blog is Spartanburg county have their blogs listed. When you go to their website (sparklecityblogs.com) you see feed of the blogs. So I go occassionally, mainly to see how soon after I post it shows up there (several hours). And one blog from another lady caught my eye.
Now, I want to be clear, this isn't about her. I really liked her post. She was commenting on how in our postmodern culture people don't want God present in their religion, it's considering pushy, that it's more about community and tradition, and how wrong that is. It was based on a episode she saw of Army Wives, where the woman wanted to christen her baby, but she didn't actually have a relationship with Jesus.
It was a great post. Except she had to make a side note that infant baptism isn't Biblical.
Which isn't true.
Now, I'm not going to argue that it says "Baptize thy babies" because it doesn't. But it also doesn't speak against it. There is a difference between something not being specifically mentioned and something being against the Bible. How many things would we cut out of our lives if we limited it to only things specifically mentioned in the Bible? No television ministries, for one. The topic of infant baptism an issue I've dealt with for years because I was baptized as a baby.
See, I have always known God. I never remember a time I didn't believe. Let me tell you a story.
One of the most scarring moments of my childhood took place at Vacation Bible School at the nearby First Baptist church. I was already feeling isolated because we had been forced to watch videos all week about how "Southern Baptists" are changing the world. Never once did it even say Christians or Baptists. Everytime, it was a celebration of the Southern Baptists. Since I wasn't a Southern Baptist, it makes you feel as though you're a heathen.
Add to that that one day we go around the room and are supposed to tell about when we let Jesus into our hearts. Note for all adult Christians out there: this is a bad idea. Not because it's not important to share testimony. But because, especially in this area of the south, Christians persecute nonChristians and if you have one nonChristian the bunch, instead of befriending and sharing Christ's love, you're picking them out for ridicule, making them feel vulnerable, and that's just not a positive place to come from. Instead, you should probably ask any child who wants to tell of that moment to do so, so nonChristians and shy kids can opt out if they'd like.
But I wasn't a nonChristian. I just didn't have a moment to tell. I was nervous, but when it got to me I told the truth: I never had a moment I let Him in; He's always been there.
Everyone stared at me.
After class, the teacher kept me and gave me a list of Bible verses to look up. I took them politely, but was very still. I took out a Bible later and looked them up. They were all about how to be saved. She hadn't believed I actually believed in Jesus.
I was so angry. I sobbed to my mom. And she held me and told me that of course I'd always known Jesus. I was baptized as a baby.
Now, while this helped me believe in my baptism, which I had been beginning to doubt, it didn't alleviate all my concerns. I saw the legitimate arguments for baptism being something you had to accept yourself. It made sense.
In college, I researched this, on my own. I read a book about it. The scriptural references they used to back up infant baptism, are weak, but not wrong. In many instances, an entire household will be baptized. They don't say "all the household except babies and young children", and hey, it's the Bible, it would if it was important.
Now, you have to understand. I went to an Episcopal church in NJ until I was 7. Then I moved to the Bible belt and stopped attending church all together. Mom didn't find one she liked right away, and then we were out of the habit and resisted her. She didn't force us. Oh, I went to church at Easter, at various places, and occasionally I'd accompany a friend, but that's it. I was in Teens for Christ in middle school, and that was my church. Also in middle school I began to turn the Bible for life's answers. Good thing to do. God called me in eighth grade, but that's a whole other story. But rest assured, I was a Christian. I always have been.
I wasn't a great Christian. I didn't know the importance of fellowship until college. But once I discovered it, my faith and relationship with God jumped by leaps and bounds. Instead of just caring about God or loving him in a platonic way, I was passionately in love with Him. Still am, and how much I love Him keeps growing and growing. I was transformed, I changed.
Now, I had started being involved in many different Christian organizations on campus. I considered myself nondenominational at this time. I went to a retreat with Canterbury, the Episcopal young adult group. One there, I admitted to a priest I'd never confirmed. He was shocked and said I should. I talked to God about it. See, my concern was that I felt denominations are a barrier between the unification of the Body of Christ. And they sort of are. I thought in order for the Church to be unified, they'd have to be torn down. And God laughed lovingly at me and said that He is so much bigger than denominations. That He's going to change them from the inside out. Go ahead and confirm.
So I did.
And, that's what I learned what confirmation is. I had thought that confirmation was formally joining the church. And it is. BUT it is also the adult acceptance of your baptismal vows.
See, infant baptism is legitimate if accompanied by confirmation. The churches that perform infant baptism are saying to God "this infant is yours" much the same way the Jews would take their firstborn to the temple and dedicate them to God. Which, of course, God commanded and found legitimate. It's consecrating the child to the Lord, promising to raise them to believe in Him. And confirmation is when the child has grown older and fully understands and accepts Jesus as their savior. The water and the adult acceptance are separated by years, but they are still both there. There is nothing unbiblical about infant baptism, if understood.
Of course, in my experience most misconceptions that Christians of one denomination have about another are generally easily understood and explained if they would take the time to look into it. But they just look at the surface and don't look to see why it would have started in the first place. I'm not saying some things haven't become corrupt, but they usually start from a legitimate place. Praying to saints, for instance. I hate the term, and I'm not really comfortable with it. But the theological argument is that you ask your fellow Christians to pray for you when something is going on in your life, right? And Christians never die in Christ. So it is just as legitimate to ask a Christian who is alive in Christ but not in an earthly body to pray for you as it is to ask a fellow mortally breathing Christian, and is thought to be better because they won't be as distracted by the earthly things that distract your friends. Now, when viewed that way, it really is quite an understandable viewpoint. But calling it 'praying' instead of just 'talking' or something adds confusion, and I also think many Catholics have substituted their ancestors polytheistic views for many saints, you know? Also, I urge my Catholic brethren to remember that praying to saints is not necessary, even if they find it legitimate and of much help. That's not an urging not to do it, it's urging you not to make it a stumbling block between you and your non-Catholic brethren. Most practices of various denominations that other denominations find bizarre or ungodly actually come from sound, Biblical theory. Their application might have been corrupted, but generally the idea behind it isn't. Therefore, one shouldn't dismiss people with different practices as you as not Christian until you really explore it. And also remember that even if it is ungodly it might be a splinter in their eye, while you have a plank in yours. God will work on it in the hearts of anyone who is diligently seeking him.
Actually, as a note, that First Baptist church that so scarred me as a child? Actually, I was pretty much anti-Baptist for years due to many experiences of hatred and bigotry towards other peoples and Christians I saw from Baptists growing up. But in college, I joined the Baptist Collegiate Ministry and worked through most of those. But I was still holding a scar from that church that had the VBS (and the incident I described was not the only one but it was the most gut wrenching). But God desires forgiveness, so earlier this year he had me go to church there one Sunday. I followed his command, but it wasn't easy. The service started at 11 and I showed up at 10. I sat in a stairwell and hyperventilated. That's how deep the scar I had was. It took me the entire hour to be able to enter the sanctuary. And then people recognized me and after the service they even claimed "she grew up in this church, in VBS!"
But God showed me that they were just people. And it wasn't they who did that to me. It was Satan. They weakened me and Satan attacked my vulnerabilities. He used them, and me. Yes, what they did was the absolute wrong way to handle the situation. But they did it out of love and trying to do service to God. They had no idea of the harm they had caused in a small child, and I'm not going to tell them.
It still hurts to think about it, and God and I realize that I probably should visit that church at least one more time in my life, to work through my issues. But I've forgiven them. And I know lots of wonderful Baptists now, including the lady who runs my beloved Bible study.