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Rev Andrew Bowsher argues for a unified adult/child theology of baptism.

Peter Ridley claims that the godparents in the BCP baptism service are only invited to answer in the name of the child.  However, they are also to answer as the child’s sureties, a concept rightly translated into the ASB as answering on one’s own behalf as well as for the child.  As the BCP expresses it, it is more than a hope that the child will, in the fullness of time, come to confirm the promises; it is a duty for the godparents, and their standing surety lasts until confirmation.  They cannot stand surety if they have no faith themselves. 

However, this misses the point.  The starting point must be in why we may baptise infants in the first place.  The ASB starts with the brief that baptism is for people who wish to become members of the Church.  It is not MORIB, but the Church of England which must come to terms with the fact that “we acknowledge one baptism...”  This being so we cannot have a theology for the baptism of adults on one hand and a totally separate one for infants on the other.  Therefore we must ask under what circumstances we should baptise an unbaptised adult.  Moving on from there we must ask what qualifies a child for baptism.  The only biblical answer that we can give is that the faith of the household may qualify a child until such time as they can make their own response; we have no warrant to go beyond that. 

Nor should we ignore the ecumenical dimensions.  Rome is making some important and potentially far-reaching changes, in terms of its effects on infant baptism, in the treatment of adult catechumens.  Relations with many Churches are soured by our apparently unprincipled approach to baptism.   We regularly find pastoral difficulties over requests for what turns out to be re-baptism, and not infrequently this and continued lethargy in dealing with initiatory issues has led to Ioss of good active members to other Churches. 

Cranmer‘s England was supposed to be Christian and so the presumption was that parents would be so, although perhaps in need of teaching.  Today’s situation is more one of “missiondom” and most often more than teaching is needed; persuasion is the order of the day.  In other words, we cannot make the presumption of faith in parents that Cranmer might have.  The Apostle’s Creed, to which godparents had to assent in the BCP, talks of belief in “the holy Catholic Church”.  This belief is patently absent amongst the masses whose creed is heard in pubs and shops the land over: “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian”. 

If the BCP teaches infant baptism has nothing to do with the parents’ or godparents’ faith, it is wrong biblically.  But it seems to me that, taking into account its context and the fact that godparents stood surety for the child’s faith, it does not so teach.  In today’s society we need to adopt an approach to the sacrament which makes the connection between it and discipleship clearer. 

ANDREW BOWSHER

Rectory Cottage, Church Street, Darfield, Barnsley S73 9JX

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