Baptism - Unity and Division

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Unfortunately, denominations have been formed because of debates about the sacraments. As Synod 2011 discusses the sacrament of baptism, both unity and continuing division will be evident.

The Agenda for Synod 2011 contains a lengthy report (174 pages) from the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee. The report indicates that during its eight-year study of the Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 80 and the Roman Catholic Mass our denomination was invited to participate in a round of the U.S. Roman Catholic-Reformed dialogue. Other Reformed denominations involved in the dialogue were the Reformed Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Church of Christ. The participants engaged in a multiyear dialogue on baptism and the Lord’s Supper that sought “not only a clearer understanding of each other’s doctrines and practices of the sacraments but also, in the case of baptism, a common agreement and perhaps even a common certificate by which the traditions would formally recognize the validity of each other’s baptisms” (Agenda, p. 345).

The dialogue resulted in four documents. Two of them, a “Common Agreement on the Mutual Recognition of Baptism” and a template for a common “Certificate of Baptism” are being proposed for approval by the five denominations involved in this dialogue. This is a tangible sign of ecumenical cooperation on something on which all of us can express unity. Synod is also being asked to recommend two other documents on baptism and the Lord’s Supper, “These Living Waters” and “This Bread of Life,” to the churches for further study and reflection.

The Faith Formation Committee is also discussing the sacrament of baptism because of a 2007 overture regarding infant dedication, and in this case it’s a subject that causes division in some congregations. Synod 2007 discouraged the practice of infant dedication but also mandated the Faith Formation Committee “to provide biblical and pastoral guidance for councils who are conversing with those members who are requesting infant dedication in place of infant baptism…” (Acts of Synod 2007, p. 659).

The Committee is presenting its preliminary report for discussion at this year’s synod and will present “a more detailed and refined report for consideration at Synod 2012” (Agenda for Synod 2011, p. 612). “The committee agrees with synod’s clear mandate that we affirm infant baptism and discourage infant dedication” (Agenda, p. 613) and asserts that “while there has never been an explicit prohibition in the confessions or Church Order against infant dedication, it was always understood as a practical denial of infant baptism” (Agenda, p. 614).

The report answers objections to infant baptism, gives some examples of pastoral responses when councils receive requests for infant dedication or when people do not present their children for infant baptism and requests congregations to submit additional practices or suggestions in such cases to the committee.  

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I think we encourge infant baptism, but we do not break fellowship if someone prayfully desires to dedicate their child. I have found in church planting, that what is encouaged over time will eventually be the practice that most will adopt.  If you make this a big issue, you move further away from a meaningful dialogue.

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I think it would be very sad if Synod (now or later) decided to outright "ban" infant dedication in our churches. Despite the fact that the committee has done some admirable work in backing up the practice of infant baptism, the fact remains that a very good argument can be made for believer's baptism only. 

See, we can cling to a so-called "reformed distinctive" to the detriment of our local congregations and/or the denomination as a whole, and to the detriment of greater unity in the body of Christ throughout the world.

OR

We can recognize that, as is the case with the debate surrounding women in ecclesiastical office, that:

  1) Infant baptism vs. Believers' baptism is NOT a central salvation issue (in this particular debate).

  2) That a good, biblical argument can be made for either standpoint.

If we do this, we could continue to teach infant baptism as the de facto way for our churches/congregants, and we could continue to encourage people to take that route, BUT we wouldn't be forcing anyone into a rock and a hard place when their consciences lead them to one viewpoint or another. 

This would still be faithful to the Reformed way of thinking on this matter, but would still be generous enough to allow things like what Henry talks about with their church plant.

LET'S BE GENEROUS, PEOPLE!

Dan.