Friday, June 04, 2010

resourcing baptism today: a baptist in a Uniting world

One of the peculiar parts of my current call is having to work out being Baptist in a Uniting denomination. I’ve got roots and life experience and intellectual convictions about being Baptist, but in the strange ways of God, get to express that within a Uniting context.  Which has made the last few weeks really fun, because as lecturer in a class called Church, Ministry, Sacraments, we’ve been looking at baptism.  And being Uniting – they baptise kids!  So, in order to honour the Uniting context, we’ve had some local Uniting folk in lead the class. It’s been quite rich to listen, learn, reflect.

As the topic drew to a close, I offered a few concluding comments to the class, as I’d listened to a rich range of discussion. The class seemed to find them very stimulating in terms of ministry practice, so I’ll blog them here.

Adult baptism should be normative. Please keep being profoundly disturbed by that.

As it says in the Uniting Church Basis of Union, “The Uniting Church will baptise those who confess the Christian faith, and children who are presented for baptism.” Infant baptism is NOT the only path. Where are your adults? If you don’t see them being baptised, please be disturbed.

Baptism is a means of God’s grace not the church’s grace.

It is easy to focus on who should be baptised, especially when people roll up wanting their kids baptised because their parents or grandparents had it “done.” It’s too easy for churches to start to see themselves as boundary keepers, when in reality baptism is God’s grace, never humans.

A person’s responsibility is ours to resource but never to expect.

Baptism invites a response, an ongoing walk of discipleship, an ongoing training and formation in being Christian. The church has a rich range of resources to nourish this. In the Uniting worship book alone, there are nearly 100 pages of resources: Pathways to discipleship like A rite of welcome; of calling; for all the Sunday’s in Lent. Or Reaffirmation of Baptism rituals for congregation and individual. There is no excuse for a people of the liturgical book to not be offering lots of rich resourcing.

Offer a variety of resources – both inside and outside the church.

This links with the above, but also applies to baptism itself. Birth of children is a rich time for people. Don’t just offer two options – baptism or nothing. Some people want naming ceremonies, others an excuse to gather friends to celebrate. In my ministry practice when it came to parents wanting something for their kids, I used to suggest two things

  • can I come back at the anniversary to light a candle – and thus maintain pastoral contact
  • how about start with a DIY approach to your child – I’ll provide you with resources but how about you have a first go at writing the service. This turns me from patroller of boundaries and doctrines, to ritual adviser.

As ministers and as churchs we have lots to offer – we work with words and worship, we regularly create safe spaces, we have heaps of rich symbols and ideas. Offer these as well as baptism. At Opawa we even once ran spirituality resourcing workshops in terms of birthing and parenting rituals.

Posted by steve at 07:58 AM


  1. Hi Steve, as soemone who has had to wrestle with this too this statement form the 39 articles was a help to me – in particlular the last line
    Article XXVII
    Of Baptism
    Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christian men are discerned from other that be not christened, but is also a sign of regeneration or new birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God, by the Holy Ghost are visibly signed and sealed; faith is confirmed, and grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.

    Comment by Michael Treston — June 4, 2010 @ 8:24 am

  2. thanks Michael. Having spent some weeks listening to the infant baptism narrative, I still find it just as theologically difficult as before (why confirmation? whose faith is really being confirmed at baptism – childs, parents, churches? what sin needs to be forgiven? etc). Missiologically more so – it seems to me to have way too much Christendom overhang attached at moment. Hence I like the Uniting Basis of Union – it affirms adults coming to faith as normative.

    Comment by steve — June 4, 2010 @ 8:35 am

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