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For many families, the "Christening" is the only connection with Church.  In those privileged circumstances, what should be the Minister's priorities?  Ian Robins offers some advice.

CUT DOCTRINE – FORGET SIN – TALK JESUS!

Retired Priest Ian Robins - a member of our Council of Reference perhaps challenges received wisdom with this pastorally sensitive suggestion.  

In an article entitled “Ordinary Theology” * Archdeacon Richard Pratt asserts –

 “all theology is contextual: it is not possible to eliminate or suppress our own  background, suppositions and commitments”  

This should be written on the hearts and minds of those who go to prepare parents for the Baptism of a child.   

The representatives of the Church will have all their natural in-house suppositions, hoping desperately that maybe at least this family will live up to all that is implied and promised, and that they will understand the extraordinary statements that will be made:-  

“The Lord is adding to our number those whom he is calling”....

”do you reject the devil”.......

“to follow Christ means dying to sin”.   

They will hope that these parents really will mean to “draw their child by their example into the  community of Faith”.  

Meanwhile, on the other side of the coffee table the expectant parents will have their ‘background’ and their ‘suppositions’.   Richard Pratt observes that according to the 2001 UK census 77% called themselves Christian, though obviously nothing like that number attend church frequently.   He points out that the public ‘supposition’ is that being a Christian has little to do with membership of an institution or doctrinal assent.  In contrast, Archdeacon Gordon Kuhrt’s list of the ‘blessings of baptism’ – “forgiveness and cleansing.....sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus, new birth and the gift of the Spirit” * comes from a ‘background’ alien to the lives of those outside the Church,  and the mention of ‘sin’ in the context of a Baptism is almost certain to be misunderstood.  

Many parents, probably both working and maybe not married have enough to do to cope with each other,  their new arrival,  and the credit-crunched existence in which they are trying to build their family.  

It is better therefore to cut the doctrine and forget sin in these potentially evangelistic encounters (time for all that later) and concentrate on the single act of commitment  which can be made immediately meaningful – “I turn to Christ”.   This is not a promise for the future, but a statement of the present moment.  A dramatic move to an historic Person is implied.  If the parents can be helped to discover and warm to Jesus enough will have been done to enable them to make that life-changing response with a measure of integrity.  

Recently I began preparation with a couple not entirely un-connected with their local village church.  When I called, by appointment, the husband was doing his best to avoid me by hiding in the conservatory.  We joined him and he began “we don’t even know whether Jesus existed” – so that had to be our bottom line.   Countless secularised young adults are at that sort of level in their religious thinking, and the recent research from Durham University shows that they have the haziest notions, for example, of what happened on Good  Friday and Easter Day.  

 So the work that needs to be done in these vital first encounters has to do with factual history, and the unveiling of the past and present influence of the Lord Jesus.  This will mean demythologising the stories of the birth of Jesus, and confidently validating the historical facts of his death and resurrection, and then bearing testimony to what He means “to me”!   

And if, on the great day of the Baptism, the local church shows any signs of being the contemporary living presence of the Risen Lord,  then the doctrines and demands of Christian discipleship will unfold in ensuing years and the parish visitors who made those first welcoming and tentative steps of preparation will see their hopes fulfilled and their prayers answered.

 

Richard Pratt ‘Ordinary Theology’ – Theology.SPCK March/April 2009

Gordon Kuhrt  - ‘Believing in Baptism’  Mowbray 1987, p.76.  

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