The Rev’d Andrew Cornes wrote to us thanking us for the MORIB Policies Pack, and saying that he found it particularly helpful to read the policy documents which it included from some churches. Having recently reviewed their own policy, he sent us a copy of the review document which their PCC used. It runs to 22 pages of A4 and so is too long for this newsletter, but it contained several thought-provoking passages, some of which we reproduce with his kind permission.
1.1 Theology. Baptism is the sign of the covenant. Christianity grew up in Jewish circles where it was a basic element in their religious convictions that all (male) infants of believing families must be given the sign of the covenant.
(There follows a short discussion on baptising children when only one parent is a believer.)
Nowhere in either Old or New Testaments is there any suggestion that an unbelieving adult, or the child of this unbelieving parent, should be
baptised. This obviously presents a real dilemma for us. The Bible does not sanction the baptism of children from unbelieving families. Yet the majority of requests for baptism come from families who have little or no connection with the Church. These families expect baptism ‘on demand’ and are
surprised and hurt if any questions are raised.
(1.2 deals with the promises in the baptism service).
1.3 The benefit of the doubt. When they are asked, parents (or one parent) almost invariably affirm that they are able to make these statements and promises sincerely. We frequently have every reason to doubt this: for instance, they promise to teach the child to ‘be faithful in public worship ... by their example’ but are never seen in church. Our line has always been that we must give people the benefit of the doubt: if they say they can promise sincerely, we take their statement at face value.
However, there are very real problems with this policy:
(a) we feel as if we are conniving with a lie. Jesus hated hypocrisy, and here our practice seems to encourage hypocrisy.
(b) we cannot (and do not) accept a baptism request where the parent who presents the child is living with someone to whom
(s)he is not married (whether or not this is the other parent). It is simply impossible to say: ‘I turn to Christ. I repent of my sins. I renounce evil’ if you are cohabiting. This is nothing to do with the child’s legitimacy ... it is to do with the inability of the
parent(s) to make the Declaration of Faith. But if we are firm with these couples, why do we allow baptism when other requirements are clearly not being fulfilled by other (married) couples?
(c) we cannot so easily give the parents the benefit of the doubt if they have had a first child baptised and have shown no signs of fulfilling their promises. When they ask for baptism for a second child, it is hard to believe that they can make their statements and promises sincerely.
Clearly we need to think harder about how to ensure that parents and godparents understand the implications of what they will be promising.