May Grandparents Present a Grandchild for Infant Baptism When the Parents Are Not Professing Member of the Church?
June 25, 2013
Updated May 24, 2018
3 comments 4744 views
May grandparents present a grandson for infant baptism when neither parent of that child is a professing member of the church? The parents have no intention of joining, have no objections to the baptism, but won't be attending.
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I get this question a lot, so I suppose this phenomenon is fairly widespread. I can certainly understand the desire to have this grandson baptized. I can also fully understand the thought that covenantal theology ought to allow for this sort of thing, especially if one believes that the covenant line runs through the church as well as the (biological) family. The fact is that among those who uphold covenantal theology, this has been a long-debated issue that has surfaced on many occasions and is often described as the issue of the “halfway covenant.” The debate goes all the way back through previous centuries. The theological problem is made more complex when the mother or father opposes the baptism or at least does not consent to it. In that case, the issue of legal custody arises. Historically the church has always respected the rules of civil society with respect to custody of children. In line with churches of the Reformation throughout history, the CRCNA holds that children of believers ought to be baptized. Next, we hope, expect, and pray for a profession of faith of the baptized at an age of understanding so that the covenant line or believers’ line is then visibly extended throughout the generations. We wrestle with why children fall away and always keep praying on their behalf that they will return. Nonetheless, and in tune with our expectations, we do not give non-confessing parents the right to present children for baptism. Fallibly, to be sure, we draw boundaries for the sake of the purity of the church. Grandparents do not have the right to present grandchildren for baptism unless the child’s parents are out of the picture entirely and they have actually received legal custody or, as sometimes happens, actually adopted the child. That’s the current position of the CRCNA. I have seen some exceptions made to that position with which I do sympathize. In one case that comes to mind, the grandparents had unofficial yet very strong control so that they, in fact, were providing the chief nurturing influence. But going down the road of exceptions to our policy is nonetheless fraught with some difficulty, and I believe that exceptions should be made only for very compelling reasons. Here we need a great deal of wisdom and discernment. After all, our historic policy is also wrapped in much wisdom. At the same time, we rejoice in a situation like yours where the parents have no objections and the grandparents are allowed, perhaps even encouraged, to bring the child into the life and ministry of the church. We must not forget, though, in our rejoicing, that as he gets older it will become more and more difficult for him because of the obvious contradiction in modeling between one generation and another. How do we help? Here’s one reason why it was so necessary for our churches to move toward the scenario where children ages seven to twelve are encouraged to make an “early” profession of faith—where, at their level of understanding, they express their love for the Lord and their desire to be nurtured within the Christian community. I hope that your congregation does this as a routine practice. This, I think, is the direction to go, namely, that the grandchild is enfolded in every possible way (with a presentation in worship short of baptism and then in church school) and steadily encouraged to make such an ageappropriate profession, whereupon baptism can take place. It would have to be the case, to be sure, that the parents of a minor in their custody do not object and provide that permission in writing. But it would be a powerful witness to the child’s parents and would speak eloquently of a God whose covenantal promises are being fulfilled in our eyes even if, right now, a generation is seemingly skipped. The community continues to pray and support. When he is fourteen, his parents’ lifestyle—if still the same—will look very tempting. Hopefully he’ll resist and make an additional adult profession some four years down the road. What a thrilling thing that would be for you! I realize I probably haven’t convinced you at an emotional level. I’ve given you the long-held stance of the churches of the Reformation. I could reach back into theology textbooks of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I could give you stories of children being baptized by the church just because three generations back their ancestors were members, and what happened to churches like that in the long run. But I’ll leave it at this for now. Feel free to fire back.
Henry, help us understand why the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is open to believers from other denominations but not the sacrament of baptism. I know of believing parents who were former members of the CRC but because of location attended a church that did not baptize children. They were refused baptism in a CRC by the church council after confering with you I believe. Your insight on this would be appreciated.
Regardless whether parents or grandparents originate baptism, a baptized infant's salvation in unaffected by the baptismal ritual. In the case of older chilren and adults the water of baptism is an outward sign of their born again experience. That is, a tangible demonstration of what had already occured through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In the case of an infants we don't know who the elect of God are nevertheless, when children of unbelievers are embraced within the covenant community of believers on the strength of their grandparents' faith, such children receive the same nurturing benefits as do "all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:39).
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