03 August 2009

Baptizing and Teaching

So this comes up about four or five times a year. Non-member family wants to have infant/small child baptized. No congregational membership. No interest in catechesis. No plans to join congregation. Doesn't worship with the congregation. Just believes that Baptism is "something good" and "my parents had all of us baptized." What do you guys do and say? How do we responsibly administer Baptism without snuffing the dimly burning wick, so to speak?

Disclaimer: No clever Cwirla-traps here, but a desire for a collegial conversation born out of having a preschool and other types who are clueless if not faithless but modestly well-intentioned. I will add what I have done and still do, but I don't want to pollute the pool ahead of time.


Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I have struggled with this as well, although unlike you, this happens about once every couple of years. Our Agenda (and previous agendas) says that baptism ought to be administered to children of parents or guardians who are members of the church. I know that Dr. Scaer's attitude towards it has been: don't deprive the child of baptism.

Without making any blanket assertions here, I think that at the very least the couple bringing the child should be required to receive some basic instruction in the Gospel, what Baptism is and does for the child, and what is expected of the child after he is baptized (and of parents who raise the child). Perhaps another idea would be to have one of the congregation members serve as a sponsor, and be responsible for keeping the child and the family connected in some way to the church.

It might even be appropriate to tell the parent(s) that they need to come to church twice before the Baptism. Otherwise, we are just casting pearls before swine. They don't know the value of it; don't care; and will trample on it.

As for myself, I have done none of what I have suggested. I usually just baptize the child.

Rev. James Leistico said...

I have done some of what Rev. Beisel suggests. Using the Baptismal liturgy, I spend an hour with the parents (whether member or non-member) teaching what Baptism is and does, and then schedule the Baptism. After the baptism I don't see the parents again, except for out in the community. Maybe I need to preach the Law stronger about their failure to raise their children in the fear and instruction of the Lord, for the parents always seem happy to see me.

Pastor Jeff Hemmer said...

This begs the question of sponsors, too. (Or maybe that question merits its own post.) I have two couples who just had babies. When I visited Couple 1 at the hospital, I met Couple 2, friends of the first. Mom 1 is a member; no one else is, although Couple 2 expressed mild interest in joining. They all want their babies baptized and mentioned wanting to be each others' sponsors. Curveball: Mom 1 (the only member of my parish or any) is not married to Dad 1, but living with him.

So neither couple is ready to answer "Yes, with the help of God" when asked if they intend to serve as sponsors who "confess the faith expressed in the Apostles' Creed and taught in the Small Catechism" and "be examples to them of the holy life of faith in Christ."

I've always towed the line and made sponsors be members in good standing of LCMS parishes. But this is trickier since neither couple knows anyone like that.

I'm thinking of skipping the bit about sponsors for now with the provision that once all are members in good standing, we can use the rite of enrollment of sponsors later. How have you handled similar situations?

I like Beisel's suggestion about recruiting sponsors from within the congregation (because, really, the sponsors serve as representatives of the congregation toward the baptized and as representatives of the baptized to the congregation). How do you encourage members to shoulder this responsibility?

As far as the original question, I don't get as many requests as Cwirla to baptize children of nonmembers. For the few that I've had, we meet for about an hour to talk about the necessity of baptism and its benefits.

orthodoxy hunter said...

My apologies if this blog is supposed to be a clergy-only discussion. Feel free to delete my comment.

I was baptized by an army chaplain and I was raised un-churched in a faithless household. I "got born again" at 15 and began attending a pentecostal church. I got re-baptised. I spent 18 years wandering around evangelicalism. 12 of those years were spent in an LCMS megachurch that failed to teach me anything distinctly Lutheran... except for one thing. When we had our daughter, we were made to take a baptism class. My husband was raised WELS and we had always clashed on what baptism is (who it's for). I agreed to have our daughter baptised because I figured "What's the harm? She can always elect to be baptised again like I did.".

The baptism class was about 2-3 hours one Sunday. In that class I was able to ask some of the standard questions you'd expect from an evangelical. I wasn't sold on infant baptism from that one class, but it did create a reasonable doubt in my own understanding and position on baptism. This cleared the way for future learning. Without this class planting a seed of doubt, I might never have come to believe in the real presence in the Lord's Supper. I may have never become Lutheran.

BTW, when I did become Lutheran, we left that LCMS megachurch. We went from the most contemporary church in the area, to the most liturgical (smells & bells). Thanks be to God.

My point in posting is DO THE CLASS. Be prepared to encounter the questions. Give them a copy of Kelly Klages book. http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/water-with-the-word/7146285

Fr BFE said...

Ever since Dr. Scaer was my mentor, I have followed his lead on this, and am intentionally very inclined to baptize whoever requests it.

During my doctrinal interview with him, he asked, "what would you do if a woman came to you off the street and wanted her child baptized?" I paused, reflected, and thought for a few seconds, and then carefully said, "I guess I'd baptize it." Scaer went on to the next question.

I am also aware, on the other hand, that this goes against the custom of the fourth century church, which is a formidable custom. And I am also aware of the arguments given in support of insisting on some preliminary things from the parents, as have been spelled out in this thread of comments.

What tips the scale for me is, among other things (not depriving the child, etc.), that I believe our culture has suffered a great loss in that now it is fairly common to find people in it who have never been baptized. I look at that as a detriment. To be sure, baptized people who don't believe are just as lost as unbaptized people, but there's something to be said for a culture in which everyone is baptized. Someone who has been away from the church all his life, but who has been baptized, is being nudged back by virtue of that fact alone, and that can't hurt.


Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Since Baptism is the Gospel, perhaps we could say, "What if someone on the street asked you to teach their children the Gospel?" Would you do it or not? Or would you say, "Before I teach you the Gospel, I need you to do a 10 week course on the Christian Faith." Is it that simple with Baptism? Or should there be more to it?

Sandra Ostapowich said...

As for the situation with the parent(s) not knowing any LCMS members in good standing to serve as baptismal sponsors, why not suggest a couple from the congregation who would be willing to take on the responsibility?

Chris Jones said...

Every once in a while there's a post in the Lutheran blogosphere that genuinely shocks me. This is one of them.

How could there be more than one answer to this question? Of course you must be a member of an orthodox congregation to have your child baptized into the orthodox Christian faith. How could it possibly be otherwise? The practice of infant baptism is, and must be, predicated on the expectation that the child being baptized will be evangelized and catechized by being raised in the Church. It makes no sense otherwise.

I had a friendly but heated disagreement with a WELS pastor on this subject a few years back; it can be found on the comments thread of this blog post. (The context was a bit different, but the similarity is that there was every reason to believe that the child would not be raised in an orthodox congregation.) Here is an excerpt of what I said:

What I am saying is that such a baptism is pastorally very problematical. Has the child become a member of an orthodox local Church? Is there a duly appointed shepherd taking responsibility for the cure of his or her soul? Who will see to it that the child is properly catechized? Who will see to it that the child regularly receives the means of grace: the proclamation of the Word and precious body and blood of the Saviour?

When a couple who are members of an orthodox local Church bring their newborn child to the font, all of these questions are answered. The child becomes a member of the local Church in which he or she is baptized. The Church’s pastor becomes responsible for the cure of his or her soul (for which he shall answer before the dread judgement-seat of Christ). The parents and sponsors are solemnly charged with the responsibility to bring the child to Church, Sunday school, and confirmation class so that he or she will be properly catechized and prepared to receive the Holy Gifts. ... [Otherwise,] none of these questions is addressed, and no one takes responsibility that the new child of God will not fall prey to the Devil and fall away. I find this to be quite dangerous.

Fr BFE said...

The placing of an abundance of admonitions to the sponsors or parents at the font, while certainly well intentioned, carries on the other hand the implication that Baptism's power is not really so great after all.

I recall the admonition in our old agenda, that ran something like this, "If you do not raise this child in the faith, etc., then what has happened here today could all be in vain."

Here's the problem: does Baptism depend on you to be powerful or effective?

WM Cwirla said...

My turn.

I'm afraid I would not have passed the David Scaer test, not that this really matters. I have refused to baptize children with no concrete connection to the church for all the reasons that Chris Jones raises. I believe that the church takes on a responsibility, along with the parents, to see to it that Christ's mandate to "make disciples" by baptizing/teaching is fulfilled. When I child is baptized, isn't that child baptized into that local congregation, signified by recording the name in the church's baptismal role? Isn't there an obligation to teach out of that Baptism, a teaching that takes place primarily in the Divine Service?

I'm genuinely torn. On the one hand, I don't want to compromise what we believe, teach, and confess about baptismal regeneration, etc. Yet on the other hand, I don't want to imply that baptism without teaching is "making disciples" in some sort of ex opere operato way.

Our congregation assigns baptismal sponsors from the congregation (in addition to any "godparents" the family may designate).

I'm no more settled today than I was when I posted it. Thanks to all who add to this conversation.

Fr BFE said...

As soon as a child is baptized, he becomes a member of the parish. If his parents refuse to bring him to worship, then, regardless of their status, this would stand as an invitation for the pastor to admonish or plead with them to provide the child with what he needs.

Iggy said...

One congregation I know of allows non-members to serve as "witnesses" and insists that members in good standing within the fellowship serve as sponsors.

I would be interested in hearing Birds' take on this.


Petersen said...

I have no solid answer either. But I'd like to discuss it further.

For those who do not baptize: is it fair to say your hope is that this preaching of the Law will take root in the parents and cause them (along with other preaching of the Law in the world, etc) to recognize their need?

For those who do baptize: is it fair to say that your hope is that the faith planted in the child at Baptism will not be starved or poisoned and will bear fruit at some point?

I find myself utterly uncomfortable with both "hopes." But perhaps I am misunderstanding one or the other. What is the hope of not baptizing? What is the hope of baptizing an infant into a family hostile to the Faith? My inclination is to baptize, but I feel like I am jumping off the temple and asking the angels to catch me. I have, fwiw, normally denied baptism in cases such as Pr. Cwirla describes - though, if I can find any connection to the child and any promise of access to the same, I have done it. I haven't felt "good" about it ever - no matter what I've done.

Eagerly awaiting replies.

- Petersen

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Pr. Petersen captures the tension quite adeptly I think. There are problems on both sides.

A couple of more things to consider: (1) If we deny baptism, most likely, the child will be taken to some non-denom church that "dedicates." (2) The command of our Lord is to make disciples by baptism and teaching. Are we making disciples out of an infant that is baptized but will grow up despising the Gospel, or have we made them "twice the sons of the devil?" And (3) Why did our Agendas make a point to say who should and should not be baptized?

WM Cwirla said...

Here's a real-life example from my own congregation.

Couple goes to a non-denom Evangelical church, but due to former Catholic/Lutheran backgrounds, wants to have child baptized by the Lutherans seeing as how the Evangelicals don't baptize babies. They have no intention to come back to the Lutheran church; just want to borrow a bit of Lutheran theology. I declined.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

With the latest post of Cwirla, where the couple are actively attending a different congregation, I would not baptize the child -- that child has a home and is under another pastoral's care - why am I to jump in? I might say that if their church denies baptism, they might want to think about attending elsewhere. . . but I'm not going to run at cross purposes with where they have set their home.

However, if it is a matter of free agent parents or the like - baptize. Baptism does what the Word and Promises of God declare, even if the parents do not understand. But what of the fact that they do not intend to raise the child fully in the faith? Well, guess what - when they had me baptize the child, they made said child one of my parishoners, and I am more than entitled to check up and look into the child's religious training. And I can look into it semi frequently - and thus not "hope" merely for a slammed door preaching of the law - but continually and over and over preach.

Fr BFE said...

I guess I'm glad to see that there is a reticence on the part of all here who would refuse to perform any particular paedobaptism, and although I grant that a tension often exists in such cases, nevertheless I am constrained most of all by the words of Christ, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not . . ." I seriously doubt he would have had something different to say if those children had been, say, Gentiles.

In fact I am completely comfortable with making "Suffer the little children" a sedes doctrinae for infant Baptism; and it also speaks well of extreme leniency when determining whether to permit any infant to be baptized.

Boaz said...

I don't see how there is any question at all about this. Lutherans practiced open baptism.

Where in Scripture or our confessions is baptism restricted? The Holy Spirit goes wherever he pleases. That answers it, doesn't it? Scripture doesn't require more than water and the Word.

To refuse baptism until the parents jump through certain hoops suggests baptism is partly their work instead of God's work alone. Teach the parents, of course, but make clear that the infant's baptism does not depend on their fulfillment of any obligation. It's God's free gift to the infant.

Pastor Cwirla says he doesn't "want to imply that baptism without teaching is 'making disciples' in some sort of ex opere operato way." Baptism doesn't require teaching for its effectiveness. Scripture tells us Baptism saves, and an infant receives faith despite being unteachable. Of course the parents should be taught that baptism isn't magic and that without the sustenance of the Word, the infant's newly created faith will be at risk. But the teaching for the parents is irrelevant if the child is not baptized in the first place.

Even if the infant is given no exposure to the Word, the infant will likely know for the rest of its life it was baptized. The Spirit may work through the Word spoken in baptism to create and revive faith.

To restrict baptism over worries about whether the child will be instructed or brought to church adds restrictions not in Scripture and shows a lack of trust in the Spirit to create and revive faith.

Boaz said...

From the Large Catechism:

We bring the child in the conviction and hope that it believes, and we pray that God may grant it faith; but we do not baptize it upon that, but solely upon the command of God. Why so? Because we know that God does not lie. I and my neighbor and, in short, all men, may err and deceive, but the Word of God cannot err.

Anonymous said...

Because of the location and nature of congregations I've served (campus community, mission congregations, etc.) I have always gotten a lot of these calls. And that is what they usually are -- telephone calls from people who have never been to worship. They would often demand an immediate answer, even before or without being willing to meet with me, and start arguing with or berating me if in that case the answer had to be no. (One woman screamed over the phone, "You call yourself a Christian? I thought Christians were supposed to HELP people!")

Twenty years ago I started a practice that has been very helpful: I politely and enthusiastically respond that I would be very happy to meet with them, tell them what time the Divine Service is, and that if they will introduce themselves to me after worship we can then check our calendars and set a time to meet.

I don't actually say it, but my firm rule is to NOT say or even hint "Yes" or "No" without such a meeting, and to only set a meeting in this manner. It seems to me that they should be willing to come to worship just once if they wished to be married or have their child baptized here. That seems reasonable from both a pastoral and common sense perspective.

In over 20 years, I have never had such a caller actually follow through and show up for worship. I have had many responses such as, "Well, I don't want to come to church there. I just want to be married/have my child baptized." The classic was a young woman who declared, "I really don't care what the church services are like. I just want to be married there because you're close to all the good restaurants for the reception."

By doing the scheduling of meetings only in person following a worship service, those unwilling to attend even one service are self-selecting rather than me telling them "No."