The perennial question of the Baptist parent: when is my child ready to get baptized?
And, once you’ve asked that question, you begin to wonder, what does it even mean to be “ready” for baptism? Was I “ready” when I got baptized? Then, if your brain isn’t fried yet and you haven’t decided just to ignore the question and go watch a movie, you might even ask, What is “baptism” anyway and how does it relate to things like “faith,” “repentance,” and “salvation”? If you’re not careful, you might accidentally end up doing theology.
I can almost hear the TV calling.
Whether we should baptize small children (not infants) is the question that John Starke addressed recently. Specifically, he’s responding to Trevin Wax’s post arguing that there are good reasons for delaying the baptism of small children until they’re ready. Starke understands the concerns, but he thinks they’re misguided and offers 4 reasons for baptizing young children without delay:
- The regular pattern in Scripture doesn’t give any indication of a probationary period.
- A probationary period seems to imply that there is something more than faith we need to do in order to be a Christian.
- Affirming belief in the gospel is never false assurance.
- The New Testament pattern is reactive rather than proactive concerning conversion.
You’ll have to read the post to get his full thinking on the subject, but I think he makes some good points. I’m particularly concerned about the second point and the suggestion that we need to wait until a child “owns” her faith or has a sufficiently “mature” faith before getting baptized. The first concern seems to rise directly from our rampant individualism and the idea that if the community (or family) serves as a shaping force in a person’s faith development, their faith no longer belongs to them in some way. And the second implies that you’re not really converted until your faith reaches a certain level of maturity, as though my salvation depended ultimately on the quality of my faith.
One of these days I’ll finally get around to writing my own post (it will probably take more than one) explaining how I view baptism and how my wife and I are approaching it with our daughters. But for now, just read Starke’s post and see what he has to say.
Update: Nathan Finn also addressed the issue this morning, with an interesting reflection on how his views on the subject have changed slightly over time.
In the first half of the book, Smith develops his claim that “human persons are not primarily thinking things, or even believing things, but rather imaginative, desiring animals who are defined fundamentally by love” (133). In other words, we are embodied beings whose imaginations and desires are shaped by the things that we do with our bodies, and the most formative of these bodily practices are our cultural liturgies. With that claim in mind, Smith is ready to move into the second half of the book and develop his argument that Christian worship is a powerful liturgy, and consequently, we must attend to the ways in which the bodily practices of worship shape our imaginations and desires.
Smith begins chapter four by arguing that worship comes before doctrine. He contends that this is at least true historically – i.e. the church’s official theology often came as an articulation of the theology embedded in its worship practices. But, more importantly, he sees worship as a process that “educates our hearts through our bodies” (137). Thus, worship does not simply express previously held beliefs, but it serves to shape those beliefs. (He unpacks this claim more in the next chapter.)
The real focus of the chapter, though, is on developing the idea that worship should be viewed as a “sacramental” practice. He points out that human worship is an embodied, and therefore, a material practice: “The rhythms and rituals of Christian worship invoke and feed off of our embodiment and traffic in the stuff of a material world” (139). Thus, we should reject any implicit Gnosticism which sees worship as an essentially “spiritual” practice, and instead see it as a material practice in which God manifests his presence in and through material things – a sacramental practice.
He concludes by warning against two mistakes that we could make by viewing worship as a sacramental practice. First, he wants to make sure that understanding the sacramentality of physical things doesn’t lead to marginalizing the church. Although he wants us to see that the entire physical universe can and should be viewed in sacramental terms (i.e. God can and does manifest his presence through all of it), that does not preclude us from affirming a higher degree of sacramental presence in the material practices of the worshipping community.
Similarly, his second concern is that we would come to see worship as just another embodied practice, akin to all other formative practices. Instead, he argues, “Wile worship is entirely embodied, it is not only material; and though worship is wholly natural, it is never only natural. Thus, unlike the embodied practice of going to the mall that we discussed in the last post, worship is a practice that involves the presence and activity of the triune God.