Tuesday, 15 April 2008

trouble at mill

Well not quite but it may be an expression that fits reasonably well. Driving back from Aldershot today I heard an item on the radio about a Vicar who has told people who do not live in the parish or worship at the church regularly that they could not marry there or have children baptised. A member of the church came on and from what he said it seems the issue was more about the fact that the Rector Father Charles was too high church for some of the congregation and the media seem to have caught on to the wedding/baptism issue. It is of course perfectly right for the Rector to do this as it is both the law of the land and the Church of England according to the commentators.
This item did lead to a discussion between my son and myself about the issue of baptism which is something I struggle with. I find it very difficult when people come along to church and ask to have their child baptised but have never been in the church and are unlikely to ever return but of course 'Great Auntie Maude used to be a member here' is the logic they apply. I have raised this issue before and of course I often get the response that it might encourage the family to come to church - it's a big might of course because in my experience no one ever has. I also find it difficult that people come and make the promises using the words 'With God's help we will' when in most cases they have no more intention of doing so than I have of flying to the moon.
I suppose too it is a bit like funerals - we had one at our church recently where the family said that the lady had been a lifelong member of the church and the minister waived the fees - trouble was no one at the church even those who had been coming for over 60 years had ever heard of this lady. We ended up thinking she may have been from the local Anglican church but we will probably never know.
We don't get many weddings so that is not a problem for us unlike the Vicar in the radio story whose church is very pretty and is in high demand - I do wonder if the Vicar was doing 7 or 8 weddings every Saturday what would happen to the rest of his ministry?
It really is a pity though that the media seem to have latched on to just one thing and blown it up out of all proportion - I say well done father Charles!!


PamBG said...

I'm happy to baptise babies because I believe that 'something happens' when a baby is baptised and I believe that the biblical precedent is clear. We have confirmation for adults and teenagers to make their public commitment to Christ. But some people don't seem to think that the public commitment of confirmation is good enough.

Equally, I don't really have a problem with someone who doesn't want to baptise their children so that they can have believer's baptism.

And I doubt very much that God is actually going to get his knickers in a divine twist if someone baptised as a baby wants to be baptised as an adult. However, notwithstanding the fact that the rules of the Methodist church don't allow me to knowingly rebaptise anyone, I don't want to collude with the theology of 'nothing happens in infant baptism'.

I find it funny that the tradition (low Protestant) which often tells others that we/they don't have enough faith in God's power to work in the lives of people seems to unequivocally 'know' that God can't work in infant baptism.

Methodist Preacher said...

Not at all an easy issue and one that divides many mainstream churches. I too have heard this theory that baptism encourage people to join the church. That has never been my experience. Worse still the "baptism" disrupts the normal church service, at least weddings and funerals are laregly self contatined affairs.

Some say that we have a duty to baptise. I just don't accept that, especially when we are asking non-Christians to make promises on behalf of the children that they have no intention of keeping. I hope MInisters have a long chat with both parents and God Parents.

What is more offensive is the promise that the entire congregation make on page 86 MWB to maintain the life of the church. How can complete strangers make such a staggering promise?

Many more posts like this and you will be in the same trouble I am!!!

Fat Prophet said...

Pam I was not suggesting that nothing happens to the child in infant baptism - I just find it of great concern when people make promises before God and have no intention at all of keeping them or even trying and this is said out of many years, experience both in the Methodist Church and others.
MP now I am worried!!

PamBG said...

Ian - I'm sure you'll take my posts in the friendly way in which they are intended and I appreciate what you're saying and I'm sure that's the case.

When I do a baptismal visit with a non-church family, I ask them if they are willing to make the promises and we talk through them. Two Sundays ago, I had a baptism where the mother did not have legal custody of her child, was happy for her son's legal guardian (his grandmother, her mother) but did not feel that she could, in all honesty, make the promises. In the service, I simply asked mum if she was willing to have her son baptised.

Maybe you can suggest to me a pastoral way to tell a neighbourhood mum - and remember she will know people in my congregation - 'Sorry, you're not serious about making these promises. We can dedicate your baby, but I refuse to baptise him because I'm too serious about Christianity to allow that.'

It's a serious question asked in a friendly manner.

Will said...

I echo Pam's sentiments on baptism, and also would like to know the answer to her question! It is so difficult to get the non-Christian parents to come to the conclusion that baptism isn't what they really want. It doesn't help when many school require it for admission.

I do say openly as I discuss the questions that I do not want to make liars out of anyone when they answer the questions, and I mention this is quite serious (as one colleague has said, 'This is when they give you the look of "Oh, Bless...he has to take this seriously."')

It's a tough topic to be sure, and when we try and use this as some sort of evangelism method, I think it fails and I wonder if we are not 'throwing our pearls before swine' and hiding under some notion of 'prevenient grace' (as my theology prof asked, 'Then why don't we go out with a hose pipe and dowse everyone?')

Fat Prophet said...

Thanks Pam and Will for your comments - I really don't disagree with either of you it is just one of those thorny issues that I personally struggle with and I am fairly sure that many ministers also find difficult.
I take your point Pam regarding what you tell a neighbourhood mum and I wasn't suggesting we stopped doing baptisms, rather I was flagging up the issues I have with it having seen quite a few over the years and no tangible evidence that the 'evangelical' hope in the process works.
I have to say it is probably an issue I will continue to struggle with unless of course we adopt the method Will mentions and get the fire hose out and dowse everybody (sounds like fun!)
Pam hope to see you on Saturday at Synod.

PamBG said...

Ian, fair enough to struggle with it and yes, so do I.

I think that it really has to be a case-by-case process rather than some sort of blanket rejection of performing rites of passage for non-members.

I can well understand an Anglican minister with a pretty church being overwhelmed by marriage requests and I think, in that case, it's perfectly right to say 'no' to those who don't live or worship in the parish.

I struggle with this whole idea about bums-on-seats evangelism: the idea that the way evangelism is 'supposed' to be is that we present some kind of set patter to non-church people over some defined time span, give 'em a hard sales-closing, demand that they accept Jesus then part company with them if they don't and move on to the next patsy, er customer, er potential new disciple. (This being the picture that I get from some quarters, not one that I think you're advocating.)

I agree that the probability of making disciples from baptisms is low. But my question is what happens if we say 'No, sorry. The church doesn't want to engage with you in your rite of passage because you're not serious about daily discipleship.'? And what is our theology about this? Are we actually saying that we think that this is how God wants us to behave toward our neighbours?

A very serious question for the church: Do we *really* believe in the parable of the sower? Do we *really* believe that love offered to another person in the name of God will not return void unto him? I don't think we believe these things at all. We want earthly business results. We want to see fairly immediate fruits from our own labours. That's what it looks like to me, anyway.

Methodist Preacher said...

Will, Our children went to our nearest primary schookl which was Roman Catholic. Baptism was a condidtion of entry, though they accepted our Minister's letter assuring them that we attended Church regularly and had had our children dedicated.

It was interesting - there were two Protestant families, both committed Church families, and I think we were somethimes used as sticks to beat the Catholics with!

Steven Jones said...

I have recently been involved with baptism preparation classes at our own local Society, and at this early stage I can already see that while there is a good chance that one of the couples will probably become active members of the congregation, there is a fair chance that the other three we will probably never see again. I sincerely hope I'm wrong, but the signs are there...

As a result, I share the same difficulties as FP and those who have responded to his post - how does a congregation make a promise that in all probability they are unable to keep?

(For purposes of this particular post, I'm not going to get into a debate about infant vs adult baptism - the Methodist church in South Africa (as I'm sure is the case in Britain as well) recognises both forms, although I personally prefer baptism of persons who are able to answer for themselves)

However, the struggle that I have is this: When it comes to weddings or confirmation, where the will of the persons being married or confirmed is the key factor, it's in a sense a lot easier to impose conditions which, if not met, can result in the said wedding / confirmation not going ahead. Not so with infants - one is dealing with the will of their parents. I could not countenance the idea of refusing to baptise a child because of something that his or her parents are or aren't doing.

My mother related to me the fact that as an English boy born in Birmingham, it was the "done thing" to be trundled off to the local C of E to be "christened". The fact that neither of my parents had set foot into a church since their wedding, and were unlikely to set foot in church again unless someone died, was irrelevant - I needed to be "done".

In that particular case the priest probably knew that he was unlikely to have Mom and Dad's bums on his pews, but despite this, he agreed to baptise me.

17 years later, despite no Christian upbringing, I accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and my mother came to the Lord six months after I did. Today I am on the verge of entering full-time ministry. While I'll probably never know if my baptism at age 1 had any influence on this eventual outcome, I do believe that God's grace was present through that act of baptism.

So who knows what may happen in the life of that child of heathen parents that you baptise today?

Me? I would rather baptise than not baptise. Jesus never said "allow the children to come to me, PROVIDED that their parents are members in good standing of the local church, they are willing to make certain promises, and their financial contributions are in good order". While these are good things that Christian parents should ideally do, they should not be a condition for welcoming a child into the Body of Christ through baptism.


Methodist Preacher said...

The experience at our church was that if non-church couple were offered dedication they were perfectly happy and accepted it.

I apparently went through a "baptism" at an Anglican Church. I have no memory of the occasion nor of the God-parents.

When I got into my early twenties I decided that for me the "baptism" was null and void and went through the waters. I have never regretted that.

Corin K-L said...

I have a different take on this issue. It seems to me that we encourage too many people to make promises that they do not mean and have no intention of keeping. These promises really are made before God and they are made in His Name. Unless I'm much mistaken, that is a clear case of breaking the third commandment.

As for infant baptism doing something, will someone tell me what it does? We have the most godless generation since the Evangelical Revival. I tend to think that it is better to dip the sheep rather than sprinkle the lambs.

Steven Jones said...

I've just had a chat to my Mom concerning my own baptism (referred to above), and her only recollection was of the vicar afterwards coming back to the pub that my parents ran, and got absolutely plastered! She swears blind that she never saw a bottle of port disappear so rapidly in all her years as a Licensed Victualler.

So how did I end up being a complete abstainer from alcohol, and a candidate for the Methodist ministry? Was it because of my baptism, or in spite of it? Only God knows - and I say this with absolute sincerity.

So I guess that as far as the debate goes, valid arguments can be made for both sides.

The "ideal" is for both parents to be professing Christians, faithful members of the local church, and therefore likely to uphold the promises that they make at baptism. If there wasn't an innocent child involved, my view would be a firm "no" to baptising where these conditions are not present.

However, given the presence of the child, I must confess that I am battling with this one.

But then that's part of the journey...

PamBG said...

How can a person be a Methodist and apparently not believe in prevenient grace?

If there is one rite that almost purely enacts prevenient grace it is infant baptism.

I can understand a Methodist who struggles with infant baptism. I can't understand a Methodist who is absolutely certain that it has nothing whatsoever to do with God's working in human life. Being certain that *I* have to have faith before God works in me seems like faith in myself and not faith in God.

Steven Jones said...

Hi PamBG

I couldn't agree more. In fact, it was only when I began to understand prevenient grace that I started appreciating God's role in infant baptism. Up until then, I was strongly slanted towards baptism of those who can answer for themselves.

The Methodist Church recognises both forms of baptism. My preference is still towards believers' baptism, but I can fully accept infant baptism as well in view of God's prevenient grace.

Like I said, I'll never know if my current state as a Christian about to go into full-time ministry had its roots in God's prevenient grace through my baptism as an infant, but I cannot rule this out.

As a future minister, I will therefore never refuse to baptise children, because God's grace is for that child. To me, withholding baptism is in a sense "punishing the child for the sins of the parents".

My journey continues...

Son of the Prophet said...

As somebody who has worshiped in churches of many different denominations (Elim, Pentecostal, "traditional" and non traditional Anglican, and Methodist)I can honestly say baptism has always remained one of those subjects that raises questions for me time and again. I was baptised as an infant in the Elim church my parents attended at the time, and, at the age of 9 went through full immersion baptism at the pentecostal church we were then attending. I have been in services at both "types" of Anglican church and indeed at the Methodist church where I now worship. Every service has been different, and even some of the meaning behind the service and baptism, as explained to me by "long-time" Christians of each denomination, has been totally different. I recall being asked at an Anglican baptism if I had been baptised, and after replying, "yes, twice" and explaining what I meant I seemed to meet with a look of serious disapproval backed with an opinion which almost seemed to be telling me I had nullified my first baptism by having the second.

The spiritual element involved in infant baptism has always been a subject I have found difficult, and still find it hard to believe that an act that I partook in which I cannot remember in any way shape or form has had a profound effect on my life. I'm not saying it hasn't, I may be the person I am today because of that event but I find the influence of the other people who made promises at that service, particularly my parents, to have had much more of an effect.

Even if we can agree that there is a deep spiritual element to an infant baptism surely we must also accept that the promises made by the parents, god parents and the church family as a whole are also monumentally important. I know that I would not be the man I am today without the input of my parents in steering me to lead a good life, and allowing me the room and support to be able to make my own decisions on my spiritual life.

I agree with the fact that telling parents who come to church and ask for their children to be baptised, when they themselves do not attend, that we don't feel able to baptise their child because of this is an extremely difficult task. However I think we have to be practical and realise that being a Christian often isn't easy. Would we really be happy with someone walking in off the street and taking communion if they had no idea what their actions signified, the meaning behind what they were doing, and if we honestly felt they had no intention of returning to learn more?

In light of mp's post highlighting the dwindling numbers in church, particularly of younger people I agree that now, probably more than ever before, we should not be turning people away from our doors. However I do feel we still have a responsibility to show people what being a Christian is really all about, worshiping God and being good advocates for our faith. Sometimes this means we will have to do things we don't always feel totally comfortable with but we should also have the faith to know that if we step out in the power of God's love that will be enough to have our churches filled to overflowing once more. After my short denominational tour and my limited life and spiritual experience, it seems to me that all too often the religion gets in the way of the faith, and as fp has alluded to, how soon will it be that our dying church utters those last six words if we cant raise our heads above the pews and get back to what should be at the heart of our Christian lives, God, his love, and our expressing of that love to each other and those we meet. Sometimes that love can be tough love, but so often thats the kind thats really best for everyone, even if they don't realise it at the time

PamBG said...

Every service has been different, and even some of the meaning behind the service and baptism, as explained to me by "long-time" Christians of each denomination, has been totally different.

Actually, I think that this comment is totally to the point. The theologies of infant baptism and believers' baptism are totally different.

I agree with the fact that telling parents who come to church and ask for their children to be baptised, when they themselves do not attend, that we don't feel able to baptise their child because of this is an extremely difficult task.

This context assumes that infant baptism is totally meaningless and that God is not in it. And those of us who baptise babies don't believe that it's totally meaningless, we don't believe that God is not in it or that the meaning of it is only in the parents being believers.

When strong statements are made about the hypocrisy of infant baptism or the watering-down of faith of those who participate in it, the person making those statements is not at all understanding the situation from 'our' perspective.

And yes, I'm really happy with people coming in from the street and taking communion. Otherwise, I'm saying that God's grace is only for those who are already part of the church.

God's grace is really the whole point of both of these things. If God didn't give his grace to individuals before they knew about God, no-one would be able to accept God into their life. But this whole limiting of the sacraments to genuine believers implies - to me - that we come first to God and he responds after we make the first overture.

Son of the Prophet said...


Thanks for your thoughts, yet again this issue raises more questions for me.

Let me start by saying that I definitely DO NOT believe that there is no spiritual element to infant baptism and sorry if that seemed to be my view. All I was saying is that to me the promises of the parents in particular are also very important and that these should be heart felt and informed. It seems a shame to me to take something that has a spiritual element and couple it with empty promises from uninformed people.

Let me also say that I definitely don't think people who hold the view that infant baptism is a spiritual experience are hypocritical or have a watered down faith. In fact, I feel it would be true to say that those who believe that something unseen and intangible happens in an infant baptism have great faith, and probably display a greater faith than those who find it difficult to accept something with so little "evidence".

I also agree totally with your point that God offers his grace to all, and all we have to do is to receive it. I find it difficult to accept however that you can receive something you do not understand or have no experience of. When I was younger and had reached the level where I could happily count to 5 that would have seemed like an achievement to me. To ask me at this point "what is 3 times 5" would have been unknown to me, I would have had no concept of what was being asked of me and even if I was told the answer I would need the explanation that went with it to understand what this actually meant. My lack of understanding did not change the fact that 15 existed, or that 3 times five equals fifteen, but to me, at the time, this meant nothing.

I know this seems very simplistic but I believe this is an important point, my belief in God or in his grace does not stop either of these things existing or being offered to me but what use are they if I don't understand what they are or what they mean?

In reality I think being a Christian is a constant learning experience, even having this discussion is giving me new insight and I think God walks beside us as we learn and offers his grace just as we need to receive it. If this is at infant baptism then so be it, and I can accept that and welcome that I have had Gods grace for so long. To me though I feel I needed to come to form my own personal faith before I was ready to accept such a great gift, and at the moment I was ready to truly understand that gift was the moment I truly received it.

Corin K-L said...

Pam BG, I think you've missed the point on prevenient grace. Prevenient Grace is that grace which God gives to all regardless of circumstance so that we are enabled to choose the good despite the chains of a sinful nature. Prevenient Grace works WITHOUT the means of Grace made available to the believer. Therefore none of the sacraments can be said to enact prevenient grace. The sacraments are the means of the Saving Grace which God has given to the believer. Belief leading to repentance (Faith in Jesus) are essential to receiving the sacraments. Children are covered, (until the age of responsibility) by Christ's work anyway and the children of believers have particular assurance of that. In this latter case, when the adults involved are not perjuring themselves then there is a case for infant baptism as an expression of the salvation offered to the children of believers, but NOT of prevenient grace. They will still have to confirm this choice at a later age.

Infant baptism also creates confusion as it is seen as a rite of passage similar to the birth ceremonies of other religions. Once a child has been'done' it is automatically a Christian. This has led to non-Christians looking at the behaviour of European 'Christians/infant baptised' and rejecting Christ. Where's the grace, of any sort, in that?

Communion carries a health warning. Those who eat and drink without discerning the Body of Christ, eat and drink to their own damnation. Do you really think it wise to offer our pre-eminent sacrament to all and sundry? Even Jesus did not do that! Judas was safely out of the way before Christ instituted Communion. He was not about to make things worse for an already doomed man who sealed his own damnation with suicide.

PamBG said...

All I was saying is that to me the promises of the parents in particular are also very important and that these should be heart felt and informed. It seems a shame to me to take something that has a spiritual element and couple it with empty promises from uninformed people.

I have some sympathy for what you are saying. But it involves me basically telling people 'You are lying' or somehow making a judgement that their promises are insincere.

I could agree with you in the event that I said 'OK, when do you want the baby done?' But I don't. I explain to people that a thanksgiving for their child might be a better option. As someone said to me when I asked about trying to persuade someone to have a thanksgiving: 'By all means give it a try, but you're probably going to find they don't want a thanksgiving. And if this is not their firstborn and Number One has been baptised, it will likely be impossible.'

I explain to the parents the promises that they are making and that they are promising that they are going to raise their child to follow Christ which includes teaching the child to pray, to know the bible and to worship in a Christian community. I ask them whether they are willing to make these promises. They say that they are. Do I then say that they aren't?

I suppose that I could make the parents take a long baptismal class or jump through another large hurdle until I'm absolutely certain that the parents are committed believers. Then they'd probably approach another minister and I could say that I had a 'clear conscience' (if I reckoned that God was going to punish all of us for baptising a baby).

I find it difficult to accept however that you can receive something you do not understand or have no experience of.

This is where I disagree. To use a metaphor, a person can receive a gift that they don't understand. To be concrete, I believe that Holy Communion benefits a person with severe dementia.

If this is at infant baptism then so be it, and I can accept that and welcome that I have had Gods grace for so long.

God's grace is always with us, with or without baptism. The baptism is an outward sign of God's inward working.

I agree that these sorts of conversations help us to think more deeply about our beliefs, which is why I enjoy them.

PamBG said...

corin: I suspect that we may be working with theological paradigms that are radically different and my previous experience when trying to talk across paradigms is that it's almost always difficult and fruitless.

I agree with your definition of prevenient grace, but not with your implied definition 'sacrament'. I also don't agree that there are different degrees of grace for believers and unbelievers. Weslyean theology has referred to prevenient grace, justifiying grace and scantifying grace, but these are categories for our understanding, not ontologically different categories of grace that God gives. (There is not a 'better grace' available in baptism and communion that is dangerous to seekers.)

Yes, Paul gave the Corinthians a health warning when the rich were eating up all the food at their communion suppers and not leaving any for the poor. As to Jesus getting rid of Judas before hosting the last supper: it depends on the gospel narrative you choose. How did Jesus dip his bread simultaneously to Judas if Judas wasn't present?

Fat Prophet said...

Now I am getting a little worried I have noticed at least three connexions type words in here - prevenient and paradigm and ontologically!! Maybe Kim will be visiting me next if of course he exists!!

Methodist Preacher said...

"prevenient and paradigm and ontologically"

Between you and me FP I haven't the faintest idea what prevenient means, never seen or heard the word before.

As to paradigm and ontologically I did them at university 30, sorry 40, years ago in philosophy but have forgotten what they meant.

Do you think we should start using them here in the Black Country to give our sermons a bit of class?

Imagine starting a sermom "My message today is that previnient grace is an ontologically compromised paradigm."

Who would fall aspleep first, the preacher or the congreagtion?

Fat Prophet said...

Between yo and me we should just continue to spake proper if yo know what I mean, aer kid!

Son of the Prophet said...

mp, funny you should say about philosophy in services. In a recent evening service at our church we discussed ethical theories. Bentham and Mill, Joseph Flether and Kant all featured heavily, don't think the categorical imperative had been a phrase used in our church before.!

Fat Prophet said...

Here we go for all those people like me and MP who don't know these big words! I have looked them up and here are the definitions:
Paradigm – a definition from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
1: example, pattern; especially : an outstandingly clear or typical example or archetype
2: an example of a conjugation or declension showing a word in all its inflectional forms
3: a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated; broadly : a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind

Prevenient - a definition from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
1. Coming before; preceding.
2. Expectant; anticipatory.

Ontologically –- a definition from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
1 : of or relating to ontology
2 : relating to or based upon being or existence

Ontology - - a definition from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
1 : a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being
2 : a particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence

Corin K-L said...

Paul was not just referring to the feasting in his warning. He was looking at the spirit behind it. This is why he widened his warning to 'an unworthy manner' and told people to examine themselves. He looked at the principles at stake. He was not simply condemning one malpractice. Paul was not about to lay down a law. He was issuing a warning about lack of discernment. The Corinthians' abuse was simply one example.

As for Judas and Jesus, Pam, learn to read rather than react. I said Judas had left before Jesus instituted Communion, NOT before hosting the last supper. These are different things. Read the accounts carefully before trying to teach others scripture and theology.

No wonder our churches are dying when the ministers know neither the scriptures or theolgy.