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Out of the Question

19 December 2006

Your answers

What evidence is there that Christ ever baptised children?

The gracious love of Jesus for infants and children is duly reflected in the Gospels, but with not a shred of evidence that he ever baptised them. The implicit suggestion in the question, that Jesus may in fact have baptised infants, probably stems from the widespread but quite mistaken view that his act of blessing the children brought to him was a baptism.

This well-known episode in Christ’s ministry was treasured, retold, and suitably edited in such a fashion as to associate it closely with infant baptism: maybe it was originally used, as it was subsequently, to defend the practice against opponents. Notably in Mark 10.13-16, several details confirm this baptismal setting: e.g., the indignation of Jesus (unique in the Gospels) with those who wanted to withhold infants from him; the embrace in his arms, as in the ministry of baptism to infants; and the hands laid on them, as in developing rites of Christian initiation in the apostolic age. The famous command to “forbid them not” also seems to be a deliberate allusion to a formula regularly used at baptisms, as we learn from Acts 8.38 and 10.47.

The Church claimed this story — not without justification — as a sanction, if not a dominical mandate, for infant baptism, because it enshrined the important principle that baptismal grace, no less than the gift of the Kingdom itself in our Lord’s teaching, is intended for the weak and helpless, of whom infants are typically representative.

The prominence given to Mark’s version of the Gospel story in successive editions of the Book of Common Prayer (replacing the use of Matthew in the Sarum Rite), coupled with the exhortation based on it (for which Cranmer was largely indebted to Hermann of Cologne, who was doing battle with Anabaptists), may help to explain how it often came to be misinterpreted. It is significant therefore that, to avoid any such confusion, it has been omitted in the revised services of infant baptism.
(Canon) Terry Palmer
Magor, Monmouthshire

Quite to the contrary, the evidence is that he never baptised anybody. In John 4.1-2, we read: “‘Jesus is making and baptising more disciples than John’ — although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptised.”

  At that date, Jesus was in a way continuing the ministry of John, and there is no evidence that either baptised children.

Moving on to the apostolic period, however, there are four cases of baptism of families — Acts 10.47 (11.14), 16.15, 16.33, and 1 Corinthians 1.16 — and in two of these an “entire family” was baptised. It is inconceivable that this would not have included children.
Christopher Haffner (Reader)
East Molesey, Surrey

The New Testament indicates that Christ gave the apostles, and therefore the Church, the duty of admitting members by the rite of baptism.

  The Early Church had no scripture other than what we call the Old Testament. It seems to have been recognised that baptism was a rite of initiation equivalent to the sacramental rite of circumcision. See, for example, Colossians 2.11 and 2.12.

As there were no instructions to the contrary, it appears that it was therefore assumed that what applied to circumcision applied to baptism. Therefore, since infant boys were circumcised usually at eight days old, it was taken that infants (both boys and girls) could be baptised. That the apostles did in fact baptise infants is shown by the example of St Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John.

Polycarp claimed at the age of 86 that he had been a Christian for 86 years. Taking into account his view of the Church and being a member, this is evidence that he was baptised as an infant, probably by the apostle himself.
(Prebendary) A. J. Vincent
Redruth, Cornwall

Your questions

Our parish clerk insists that marriage couples have their banns read and are married in the name that appears on their baptism certificate. But one of our churchwardens, who is a solicitor, says that the correct name to use is the actual name by which people are known. Who is right? J. B.

“There is little good in filling churches with people who go out exactly the same way as they came in: the call of the Church is not to fill churches but to fill heaven” (Father Andrew). For a bibliography, I need this author’s full name, and the origin of this quotation, with date and page reference. D. G. H.

We have just celebrated Gaudete Sunday and lit the pink candle on the Advent wreath. Does any church still use pink vestments on this day, and does any church have a pink set it never now uses? A. W.

If the church organist posts a critical and offensive comment about the family service and the vicar on a “blog” for organists, what action should a PCC member take in support of the vicar? J. G. M.


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