First published in the Bridge Magazine, Feb 2019
Why do we baptise babies?
David Beckham once said,
I definitely want [my son] Brooklyn to be christened, but I don’t know into what religion yet.”
It isn’t just David Beckham who gets confused about baptism. I’ve met atheists who believe having their child baptised will guarantee a place in Heaven. Others think it’s about a guaranteeing a place in a church school. Some parents think it gives their child the right to be married in a particular church building. For others, baptism is an excuse for a big party, a glitzy naming ceremony.
And then there are the churches who won’t baptise babies. For Baptists, baptism is such an important expression of faith in Jesus that it could never be offered to a baby – after all, how can a baby express faith?
So why do we baptise babies?
Let’s start by asking “Why baptise anyone at all?” This one’s easy to answer: Jesus tells us to! He told his followers to go
and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19-20).
St Paul explains why baptism matters: he tells us it’s the way a Christian is united with Jesus in his death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4). In other words, it’s the route to eternal life beyond the grave. But its not the water used in baptism that does this, it’s the faith in Jesus that the person being baptised has. Baptism is an expression of that faith. The Book of Common Prayer puts it like this,
They that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the church.”
That word “rightly” tells us that baptism is all about confirming the faith already present in a person.
Does that mean if you don’t have faith in Jesus you shouldn’t be baptised? Yes! Baptism only has integrity if you have faith in Jesus: a faith which should affect how you live, including regular church attendance and a willingness to engage in Christian community. If you don’t want to do that, why bother with baptism?
So what about baptising babies? Clearly, they can’t display faith in the way an adult can, but from the earliest days of the church, believing parents brought their children for baptism because they wanted them to be included in the promises of Jesus. Infant baptism is the Christian fulfilment of the Jewish covenant of circumcision – which was how infant Jews became part of God’s family even before they could express faith themselves.
St Peter brings this mix of family and faith together in Acts 2,
Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children”.
The first infant baptisms followed soon after, as whole families were being baptised into the name of Jesus.
So what does all this mean today?
- That for baptism to have integrity, it must arise out of a real desire to journey in faith with Jesus, a journey that involves your lifestyle, and a commitment to being part of a church.
- Parents who bring their child for baptism need to be living out these values. To help them with this, we offer baptism preparation for parents seeking baptism.
- Children eventually need to take up the promises for themselves. In the Anglican tradition, we call this “confirmation.”
- Some parents should not have their child baptised! A better option might be to ask for a ceremony of thanksgiving. This is a way to give thanks to God for the safe arrival of a baby, and to name them publicly, but without all the promises and commitment that come with baptism.
Finally, a word on schools and weddings. All of our local Church of England primary schools base their selection on location, not religion, so being baptised offers no special privileges. Baptism does, however, give you a qualifying connection for marriage to a particular Church of England church.
If you’d like to know more about baptism visit the baptism page on our website.