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
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