baptism

Walk into most of our congregations on a Sunday morning and you will notice an age gap: there aren’t many twenty- or thirty-somethings present. It used to be true that those age groups would return once they were out of school and married with children. But today, it seems that more of them have simply pulled up stakes and gone elsewhere.

More than one of our pastors has noted that the most visible culprit is the “cherry-picking” non-denom congregation down the street. Far from attracting unbelievers, they have grown more by receiving members from other churches. The “draw” is particularly disheartening. Free coffee, free Mountain Dew, sports activities prior to the morning assembly (dare I call it worship?), and other attractions seem to exert a powerful force to attract this age group.

But something else happens. Some of these return to their former church and ask the pastor to baptize their children. It seems that their non-denom church doesn’t baptize infants, so they return “home” to have their kids baptized there. One could observe that this is just part of the “cafeteria-style” mentality which has infected this demographic: “I like the people at this church,” “I like the music at that church,” and “I treasure the theology of still another.”

The request to have their children baptized presents a dilemma which I doubt many of those asking have thought about. Many pastors would say, “Of course I will baptize the child; it shouldn’t be penalized for its parents’ unclear thinking.” OK, but what happens when the child sees its baptismal certificate, reaches the “age of accountability,” and its present church says it needs to be baptized because that “other” baptism wasn’t valid? What should the pastor of the non-denom church think when he discovers that the family sought out their former church’s service in a matter clearly against the teachings of his church? When asked to baptize, would a pastor dare tell the family, “I’m sorry, but you belong to a church that doesn’t believe in infant baptism. I can’t participate in something that would postpone your need to wrestle with what you believe or don’t believe.” Or what if the pastor said, “Have you told your current pastor that you want this? If not, I will have to inform him of your desire to have your baby baptized.” This kind of request could create a moment not unlike the one Joshua set before Israel: “Choose this day whom you will serve.” Do you believe in the God who instituted baptism as a means of grace, or do you believe in the God who demands it as a sign of your obedience and loyalty?”

I’m not even going to address those non-denom pastors who will baptize infants and say, “It really doesn’t matter to me; I’ll baptize you baby if you want, or I’ll dedicate your baby.” Spoken like a true American.