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Problems of simplifying infant baptism

by
02 March 2011

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From the Revd David Perry

Sir, — If there is to be a new form of the Decision in the baptism service (Synod, 11 February), the rubric will be crucial, since it will have to come clean about who is doing the deciding. Is it the baby, or is it the parents and godparents? The Alternative Service Book 1980 hedged its bets by saying “you must answer for yourselves and for this child.”

In Common Worship, the rubric is: “The president addresses the candidates [i.e. the babies] directly, or through their parents, godparents and sponsors.” If or when it dawns on them that the repentance, renunciation of evil, and turning to Christ is being predicated of their infant, it is no wonder that the eyes of the infant’s family and friends start to glaze over. Classic Anglican teaching is that (to quote from the catechism) the child is “bound to believe” according to what the parents and godparents have promised on his or her behalf.

When the Church of England enjoyed real establishment — i.e. had a state-sanctioned monopoly of religious provision, registered all baptisms, weddings, and funerals, and all holders of public office had to be communicants, etc. — it was a society where the key value was obedience. Twenty-first-century society does not accept obedience as the core value, which is now personal freedom and our capacity and right to take decisions for ourselves.

If that be the case, then it is high time every parish commended the use of the Service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child, which provides families with what they truly want and understand, i.e. to rejoice and give thanks for their offspring, and pledge and pray for a happy growing up.

It is time to part company with the baptism of infants, and recover catechumenate baptism, in which the Decision is made freely and knowingly by the candidate.

DAVID PERRY
11 Middle Garth Drive
South Cave
East Yorkshire HU15 2AY

From Canon John Goodchild

Sir, — The baptism service must both be accessible for the occasional attenders with a particular baby and serve the core congregation, who may attend several baptisms a year.

The present service fails because it tries to include every aspect of baptism. We need a series of half a dozen services, each majoring on a single aspect of baptism, e.g., adoption into Christ’s family, enrolment in Christ’s school, enlisting in Christ’s army, entering the cleansing of Christ’s forgiveness, receiving the gift of Christ’s Spirit, dying with Christ to be raised with him. Each service could have prayers, readings, and hymns on just one theme.

The irregulars would be engaged in something that they could understand, and the regulars would be enriched by learning more on each occasion. Trying to include everything every time achieves nothing.

JOHN GOODCHILD
39 St Michael’s Road
Aigburth, Liverpool L17 7AN

From Mr R. G. Ferguson

Sir, — There is a particular vocabulary for speaking of God, just as there is for speaking of the workings of a motor-car or a medicine. Is it so surprising if many people who seek a baptism, wedding, or funeral without having heard that vocabulary regularly in Christian worship find it unfamiliar, not to say confusing? How can anyone learn of God in the terms of our self-centred modern culture?

Until the Church resumes the practice of teaching about God in terms appropriate to God, within and beyond a Sunday sermon, those familiar with God-vocabulary will necessarily continue to dwindle in number.

R. G. FERGUSON
2 Priors Close, Balsall Common
Coventry CV7 7FJ

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