Parents are sometimes offered a service of thanksgiving rather than a baptism. Here we answer some of your questions on the difference between the two.
Can someone who has had a Thanksgiving service still be married in church?
Yes, anyone in the parish can.
Is it a real Christening?
Yes. If you look up the word “Christen” in a dictionary, you’ll find it says “baptise” - that’s an indication of the age of the dictionary rather than a statement of theology.
The word “Christen” means “bring to Christ”. Both services do that. The Thanksgiving and Blessing does it in the way people did it in the Bible (Mark 10:13-16).
Some people have used “Christen” in the sense of “Make someone a Christian.” Neither service does that, because being a Christian is about one’s own relationship with Jesus.
Does a Thanksgiving service make a person a Christian?
Neither service does that. You get to be a Christian by putting your own trust in Jesus. We pray that he’ll want to do that, but we can’t do it for him.
Does a Thanksgiving service make a person a member of the Church?
Again, neither service does that. The “Church” consists of those people who love Jesus (“the blessed company of all faithful people” BCP p258, “congregation of faithful men” Article XIX). (It is true the baptism service declares him to be a member, but it cannot make him a member.)
Does it mean that a person who has had a Thanksgiving service will go to heaven when they die?
The Bible doesn’t tell us about other people’s destiny - only our own. However, the Greek word toiouto in Mk 10:14 is inclusive - Jesus meant “The kingdom of God belongs to these children and others like them”. (For a discussion of this, see “Kids and the Kingdom” John Inchley.) This is before any service had been performed, and is immediately followed by a Blessing - Baptism is not mentioned.
The Church of England does not believe that a church service affects a child’s eternal destiny (ASB p280).
Can we have godparents if we opt for a Thanksgiving service?
Yes. We commission them in the service and they promise to help the parents in bring up the child, and later to support the child in growing up. (Obviously this depends on the liturgy used.)
However, the church has no power to make anyone a guardian, and neither service does this. You need to make wills to appoint guardians after your deaths. For this reason, godparents are often called sponsors (royal Christenings have always had “sponsors”.)
Is it a sacrament?
A sacrament can be defined as ‘something which does what it says it will do’.
In that case, yes: we pronounce God’s blessing and he blesses. However, in this case neither communion nor baptism are sacraments, as they both take effect only when they are worthily received (Art XXV) - i.e. they meet with faith. In fact, the only other sacrament in the church would be marrying a couple who are already living together.
Was it something instituted by Jesus in the gospels?
Again yes - in fact, the gospels are definite that Jesus did this, whereas they are ambiguous on whether Jesus baptised (John 4:2). Many scholars say Jesus got disillusioned with baptism, which seems to fade out after the beginning of the gospels.