Testing the Waters

An article from Get Religion (apparently now a ‘channel’ on the spirituality site Patheos.com) on the recent baptism of Prince George, the first-born of the much ballyhooed Prince William & Princess Kate caught my eye.  The first article led me to another article on the same topic.  Some folks are wondering if the royal baptism will reignite public interest in baptisms, or perhaps even in Christianity.  Some of the statistics regarding baptisms included in the first article are truly staggering.

But both articles overlook a more important issue – why are the Prince & Princess doing this?  Why are they having lil’ Georgie baptized?  Is it a formality, part of the persona of the royal family and How Things Have Been Done for a Very Long Time?  What are the respective religious backgrounds of William & Kate?  How often do they attend church?  
If we’re going to talk about baptism we need to remember that it is part of Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28.  Yes, we are to baptize, but we are also to teach.  As such, baptism simply for the sake of baptism is not nearly as appropriate as baptism combined with teaching, bringing the child up in the Christian faith.  Equipping them with access to Scripture and a way to make sense of it.  
In seminary the joke was often made that if baptism in and of itself, as a rite or act, was all that mattered, then Christians should be hiring blimps equipped with fire houses and loudspeakers to float over stadiums and baptize people en masse.  No muss, no fuss.  Well, undoubtedly there would be a fuss – maybe we don’t need the loudspeakers, then people won’t know what’s been to them or for them.  
But we don’t do this.  And it isn’t just because we’re too cheap to rent blimps.  We profess that it is not the rite in and of itself that matters, but rather the rite joined with faith.  Going through the motions without faith is not the point.  The motions should stem from faith – either the faith of the individual engaged in the motions (in the case of an older child or adult), or the faith of the family and Christian community in the case of an infant.  
I’m glad that William & Kate are baptizing George if they intend to raise George as a Christian.  If not, then this really is just a tradition and a photo-op.  And that’s too bad, and it isn’t the sort of thing we want to be encouraging people to do (photo-ops with a religious facade).  
All that being said, what is baptism?  Is it what we do or what God does?  I believe it is definitely what God does.  But if the person baptized is never taught this, then they are at great risk for never knowing God and what He has done for them in creating, redeeming, and sanctifying them.  And without that faith, regardless of their baptism, they are separated from God.  God has done what He has promised to do with water and the Word, but we have failed in what is expected of us – teaching and bringing up the person with that Word and an understanding of it.  

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