Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

August 11, 2013


Infant baptism is much more than routine ritual


            Across my years of ministry many young parents have asked me to “christen” their new baby. Though “christening” actually refers to the giving of a Christian name to a child, among Christians the word is synonymous with “baptism.” Like most pastors I consider it an honor to arrange for the baptism or christening of a child.

            Methodists, like many other Christian communions, practice infant baptism. I respect those who chose not to baptize infants. My Baptist friends do not but prefer to help parents “dedicate” a new baby to the Lord. And of course the dedication of a child to the Lord is both biblical and beautiful.

            We Methodists go a step beyond “dedication” by believing that through infant baptism the child has been “initiated” into the Church. Baptism is the doorway of entry into the body of Christ. Baptism does not make an infant a Christian or what we call a “professing member” of the church. That will require a decision later by the child who, having been nurtured in the faith by parents and the church, will accept God’s grace for themselves and become “a full and responsible member of Christ’s holy Church.” This decision is what we call a person’s “confirmation” in the faith.

            Last Sunday I had the extraordinary honor of baptizing an infant who was given the name of my deceased sister, Laurida Emily. As a young pastor I was privileged to perform the marriage of Laurida to Dick Berkstresser in our parents’ home. Laurida and Dick were blessed with seven children, the youngest being Margaret Emily. Margaret and her husband Keith Krawzynski asked me to baptize their infant daughter, Laurida Emily, in the early worship service at Mulder United Methodist Church near Wetumpka.

            The baptism of this little girl, the granddaughter of my dear sister, was deeply emotional for me. I took the liberty of singing a verse of Laurida’s favorite song, “Shall we gather at the river.” With other members of my family I was remembering the raucous laughter of Laurida and giving thanks to God for her infectious enthusiasm for life. Nineteen years ago Laurida went home to the Father’s House – all too soon it seemed to us who loved her. But while we wish she was still with us we have learned to yield to God’s sovereignty by saying, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  

            During the baptismal ceremony I presented Keith, Laurida Emily’s father, with a “Clinging Cross.” I told him it was a gift for the baby but asked him to care for it until the Lord told him it was the right time to give it to his daughter. The little brown cross is a simple thing, small enough to hold in one hand. A card with it explains that it is not a magic piece but when you cling to it, it reminds you of the nail-scarred hands of the One who died upon the cross for our sins. When I hold that little cross in my hand I remember the song that says, “The cross upon which Jesus died is a shelter in which we may hide.”

            What happened to Laurida Emily as I baptized her? I don’t know. She was actually asleep most of the time. Then she woke up, yawned and looked around as though she was wondering what was going on. Did she experience the grace of God? I believe so since God is not limited by our understanding or perception. I believe God put his hand upon her even as her pastor Mark Jackson and I put her hands upon her in the act of baptism with water.

            There is nothing magical about baptism. We pastors do what we do but we do not control God. It is entirely possible that in the sacrament of baptism God works in the small heart of a child in ways we do not understand. The water of course is symbolic of God’s cleansing power of the human heart. The amount of water used has no bearing on the efficacy of baptism. For that reason we Methodists allow people to choose any of the three typical modes of baptism: immersion, pouring or sprinkling.

            What I do know about Laurida Emily’s baptism is that her parents presented her to the Lord in the holy sacrament of baptism and pledged to nurture her in the faith as she grows up. The church entered into a covenant with Keith and Margaret to assist this child to grow in grace and one day affirm Christ as her Savior and Lord. The lay leader of the church, Jenny Hamilton, led the congregation in affirming this covenant.

            In the presence of a lively congregation of believers I prayed that the Lord would guide Laurida Emily’s parents and the church to help her grow up to know, love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that is a prayer the Lord delights in answering.

            The baptism of a baby – is it just another routine ritual of the church? Heavens no! It is a magnificent experience of the grace of God! Glory! + + +