Infant Baptism—Why Some Priests Say No!
ALAN and Sonia simply wanted their baby to be baptized. It therefore came as a shock when their Anglican priest not only refused to perform the rite but also added this piece of advice: “Do it yourself.” The reason? Neither Alan nor Sonia were regular churchgoers.—The Christian Century, June 3-10, 1981.
Quite a few couples have recently experienced such rejection—a clear signal that some churches are changing their view of infant baptism. Consider the Roman Catholic Church. Following the Vatican II council, the church revised its infant baptism rites. Yes, the church is still baptizing babies, but now the parents must first give assurances that they will bring up the child as a Catholic. Decreed the Vatican: “If these assurances are not really serious, there can be grounds for delaying the sacrament; and if they are certainly non-existent, the sacrament should even be refused.”—L’Osservatore Romano, “Instruction on Infant Baptism,” December 1, 1980.
This is a far cry from the days when, according to Catholic priest Joseph M. Champlin, “zealous missionaries [would] baptize pagan babies abandoned along the road,” and priests “admonished parents not to delay an infant’s Baptism over a month under pain of mortal sin.”
What is behind such changed attitudes? For one thing, church leaders now recognize that baptism does not make a Christian. Sagging church attendance and a general lack of devotion among baptized Catholics have become a real source of concern. “Why should the church compound the problem by baptizing children who are practically guaranteed to be nonpracticing adults?” argues an article in U.S. Catholic.
The new hard line on baptism, though, also exposes a serious rift among theologians. As Catholic writer Joseph Martos observes, many clerics simply do not believe that infant baptism is a “magical rite with invisible effects on the soul.” To them, such a view is medieval, outdated.
No wonder, then, that many sincere Catholics are confused. Has not the church always taught that unbaptized infants could land in a fiery hell or linger in purgatory? If this is true, wonder some, why would baptism be denied under any circumstances? These are important questions. As Catholic priest Vincent Wilkin observed, the sum of those who have died unbaptized is “a vast and incalculable number indeed, that it is easy to imagine constitute the bulk of the human race.”
Therefore, let us take a brief look at infant baptism—historically and Biblically.