пятница, 11 августа 2017 г.

A plea for condescension (in response to article on Infant Dedication by Donald Macleod)

When Donald Macleod speaks, I, for one, want to listen. And just this morning I awoke to read an article he has written in defence of the Reformed faith and worship - and of the practice of infant baptism.

I tread carefully, as by no means do I, a Baptist, wish to say anything which would disparage the Free Church of Scotland, its confession, its form of worship or its ministry. I agree that the Reformed faith is a 'package' which includes a comprehensive confession of faith, a form of worship, a form of church government and a discipline in respect of the administration of the sacraments. It is not open to a pick-and-mix approach or to be tampered with.

At the same time, I am one of those Baptist incomers to whom he refers, although I can honestly say I have not yet prevailed upon a Presbyterian minister to conduct an infant dedication for any of my three covenant daughters.

My aim is much less ambitious. I wish to offer my Presbyterian brethren a rationale for the practice of praying for covenant children before they are baptised. I want to give you a way of thinking about infant dedication - and of practising it in a church context - which doesn't injure your Reformed conscience or violate your confession and form of worship.

There is a sacrament of Baptism. There is no such sacrament as Infant Dedication. There, I have said it. In praying for newborn infants or children it is not being claimed that some new Biblical ordinance has been invented. And, it goes without saying, that no one is doing away baptism. Prayers are being offered for covenant children that they would come to faith and receive baptism. The baptism of those covenant children is simply being postponed until they are of age to answer for themselves. In much the same way as participation at the Table is postponed in a Presbyterian context.

So why pray for newborn children? You could say, either covenant baptise them properly or don't do anything at all. However it seems to me that one could treat such prayers for newborns as a preliminary to their baptism, rather like the ancient church prayed for catechumens or indeed like the Free Church offers preliminary prayers and petitions parental vows prior to administering the sacrament.

Far be it for me to suggest liturgical innovation, but this could be made clearer if the parents in question came forward with their children at the same time as others brought forward their children for baptism. The Baptists could participate up to a point, answering the vows, but, at the relevant time, not present their children for baptism. From a Presbyterian viewpoint this could be seen as offering infant baptism as something they are missing out on - and to be received in due course.

The Confession doesn't specify any time-frame for covenant baptism. If there were a Biblical precedent it would be on the eighth day. I think we all know that is not the current practice (although I believe one of the Reformers did do it that way). While the practice of covenant children receiving baptism when of age on profession of faith isn't what is being prescribed in the Confession, I don't think comes under the censure of the Confessional phrase "it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance".

It terms of the historical Reformed faith, the position is clear: the baptism of infants is both permissible and required for children born of Christian parents: "the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized." But even covenant baptism requires consent, in this case the consent of the parents. To say that all Christian parents should have their children baptised is like saying that all believers should be baptised or indeed that God commands all people everywhere to repent. Yes, he does. But that doesn'to obviate the need for our response. We Baptist parents in Free Churches are not ready yet.

Are there not in every Free Church of Scotland believers who have never come forward to profess faith and have never shared at the Table? Are they not, regardless, treated with understanding as Christian brothers and sisters - with the longing and hope that one day they will be ready to receive the convenant signs? Are not prayers offered on behalf of such adherents that they might in due time come forward? Could not the same condescension be extended to us, the unworthy sons of Hubmaier and Simons, Carey and Spurgeon?

Pax ecclesiae Christi! 

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