Posted by: dacalu | 13 May 2015

What is Baptism?

A few thoughts on what Baptism means to me.  A second post spells out some of the details for those interested in ecclesiology.

I am a fan of many religions, but Christianity remains closest to my heart and forms the core of my belief, practice, and society. It is dear to me because it both preaches and practices “free lunch.” God loves us without condition, without requirement and without expectation. We call it grace. Judaism and Islam, while emphasizing mercy, chiefly frame our relationship with God as a contract – this in exchange for that. Buddhism and Taoism, while promoting limitless giving of self, see all suffering as the consequence of human disharmony. Christianity unabashedly accepts human powerlessness. God sends both sun and rain to all and we are asked to give without fear or favor and without compensation.

This free lunch is radically counter to biological and social conditioning. It does not fit with the reciprocity so clearly demonstrated in psychology, biology, and economics. Grace must be demonstrated and, for me, Holy Baptism is the first, best, and fullest demonstration of free lunch. If we do not demonstrate grace in Baptism, we will not exemplify it anywhere else.

It is my hope and belief that every member of the community – ideally every member of the world – should never know a time when they were not, with complete clarity and foresight, accepted by God and the Church without expectation. God’s love is unconditional, and yet it must be demonstrated in the incarnate Body of Christ, the Church in this lifetime. Otherwise we will not believe. This is the first and great teaching – you are loved and accepted as you are. We have hopes; we extend invitations; we even make plans; we do not place conditions.

I believe in infant baptism because I think the greatest impact of the sacrament is felt after the event. Let me act so that all I meet know I love them. Let no one fear that they have missed the opportunity for love or, worse still, feel  that they have earned God’s love – or mine. Such “love” is not grace and not, I think, love in any Christian sense.

Some will worry that I am advocating for the baptism of people against their will, or at least without their knowledge. No. This would be tantamount to pouring soup on starving people. It is not a gift if you give it in a way that it cannot be usefully received. I do not accept this objection – the burden is placed on me to give well, not on them to receive well. And the greatest burden will be to share the truly remarkable, sadly unusual unconditional quality of the gift.

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