Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Praise of Not Getting Baptized

No, I have not suddenly joined the Salvation Army. But I did indeed do something unusual yesterday. I praised a 15-year-old friend for not getting baptized.

It had come to my attention that a number of youth at his large church are getting baptized, but he decided not to because, although he very much likes his church, he is unsure of the exclusive truth claims of Christianity. (Those aren’t his words, of course, but a summary of where he is at the moment.)

So I took the opportunity over lunch to praise him for his decision. That did surprise him a bit and got his attention. I pointed out that baptism is a sign of faith in Christ and in his death and resurrection and that if he does not have that faith yet, he should not get baptized. I said I very much hoped he would come to that faith someday. But that if he wasn’t there yet, then he wasn’t there yet, and should not get baptized. And I commended the honesty and wisdom of his decision to wait.

And I think that is a good approach to doubting youth. Too often, churches, whether they intend to or not, pressure youth to make “decisions for Christ” they really are not yet prepared by the Holy Spirit to make.

And such “decisions” can lead to deadly self-deception. We all know people who show no fruit of Christ in their lives, yet have “assurance” because they “came forward” or the like at a high pressure meeting. Or, among us Anglicans, those who disbelieve the basics of the faith yet, if confronted on that, assert with indignation, “I’ve been baptized.”

Better that we help youth to be sure about their faith (and have some degree of confidence in their faith ourselves) before encouraging them to receive baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The sacraments should be occasions of faith, not of self-deception. Obviously, priests and other church workers cannot read minds. There will always be those who receive sacraments in a faithless and unworthy manner no matter how careful ministers are in that regard. But we can certainly seek to avoid pushing people to do so.

So with youth and other seekers who are not yet sure about their faith, we should be there to love them with Christ’s love, ready to use every good opportunity to teach and to witness (as I cleverly did with the young friend’s decision not to get baptized) and to answer questions. But we should not pressure any to make “decisions” or to receive sacraments when the accompanying faith is not yet there.

And, yes, this issue is an issue when it comes to infant baptism. Unlike my pre-Anglican days, I am all for infant baptism when the parents are committed to raising their child in the faith. But a possible side effect, if you will, of infant baptism is the self-deception of “I’ve been baptized.”

And that is a side effect for which I have no antidote. With God all things are possible. But the witness of scripture and of experience is that those who have received the sacraments without faith are in a bad way indeed. Let us do our best not to push any into that way – even to the point of encouraging some not to get baptized.


Ann McCarthy said...

Totally agree. I'm my niece's confirmation mentor. One of the first things I said to her was that just going through the process doesn't mean that she has to be confirmed.

I want to impress upon her the seriousness of what she's doing. Treating her like the grown up she's seeking to become is the first step. Nurturing her in the faith and reading the Bible with her is the next. I am so excited to spend this time with her. And I was glad to read your thoughts on this!

Mark said...

Good for you, Ann. I will pray for you and your niece.

And, yes, my comments certainly apply to confirmation as well.


Ann McCarthy said...

Thanks! I appreciate the prayers, as that's always the first and best ingredient. Reminds me that the timing (as you note) is up to God and not to me.