I’m often asked this question with Tweens who want to get Baptized right away, traditional Anabaptist congregations postpone Baptism until the completion of catechism which can take 6 months. But often in the catchism process, the newfound passion of becoming a Christian gets lost in the shuffle of doctrines and waiting for the right time to Baptize.
Is there a better time to Baptize? Given that our ecclesiastical rituals either support or sabotage explicit theology, then what does the act of Baptism, four to six months after conversion, implicitly say about our spoken theology? How do our rituals shape our definition of Baptism? What is the real message we are giving to our youth by the way we practice Baptism?
Baptism was familiar as an entrance ritual to the Gentiles of Jesus day and possibly also the Jews. The mystery religions used Baptism in this way, and some scholars believe that Gentile to Judaism were Baptized in the faith as well. Jews in the first century of Palestine, on the other hand, would not have considered Baptism as an appropriate ritual for themselves, for they had already “crossed though” the waters of the Red Sea via their ethnic heritage and had no need to cross over again. Thus, Johns call for fellow Jews to be Baptized was provocative and unexpected. That so many responded to this call signaled a great desire in many for a new way of life.
My twin, Cindy Daniel and I were Baptized at a very young age (6) and certainly not educated enough or worldly enough to grasp the full meaning and emotional depth of the ritual. Years later we were “ready” to undergo the ritual with full understanding of the symbolism and knowledge of the powder to cleanse, restore and rebirth ourselves before the congregation. You see, the first ritual frightened both of us as the tank was a story above the congregation and, dressed in white robes we were suddenly “dunked” backwards. At six years old, my personal belief is that a child is not fully aware of the commitment or, much less the ceremony. For these reasons, I find it necessary to meet with both the child and the parents to inquire and assure myself that younger children are aware and understand the many different variations of the ceremony. It isn’t necessary to fully submerge children for this ceremony and, my concern over something to be celebrated “backfiring” and scaring the child rather than giving them peace isn’t worth it to the parents, the child or myself. Sometimes, I believe waiting a few more years works out better for the family or, a Christening at the infant state and later, Baptism as a youth in later years can still be done at any time the family is comfortable to have the ceremony.
Often, the entire family wishes to share in a Baptism as a unit and I believe this is perhaps the most wonderful and honored event that a family can share together as a team.
Jesus himself did not Baptize with water (John 4.2). Rather his Baptism denoted an inner experience, a coming of the Holy Spirit and fire, an experience that happened prior to the water ritual. The book of Acts contains the most clearly defined Christian Baptisms. The Etheopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), the jailer from Phillippi (Acts 16:16-34), and the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48) are examples of persons who expressed and/or acted upon belief in Jesus and then experienced Baptism.
The Etheopian eunuch is another example. What is so captivating about this Baptism is the approach taken by the Etheopian. “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being Baptized? (Acts 8:36 NRSV, passim). He does not ask “Am I ready?” But “Can you think of any reason why I’m not ready?” The burden of proof in this story does not rely on readiness but with delay. The way to Baptism, as seen from this story, is open unless proven closed.
Although not every Baptism story has the teaching element, many stories show evidence of the early Church’s understanding of the need for instruction in the way of The Lord.
Baptisms are beautiful celebrations of the entrance of a person, usually a child, into the faith of the community.
In the Hispanic community, there are many wonderful traditions (as are in all faiths but, I have experienced numerous Mexican Traditions in Fort Worth that were especially festive). Piñatas, lots of family and friends, food and fun. The Hispanic Community “goes all out” for Baptism in a way of community celebrating together that if you have never witnessed, you certainly should. The Catholic religious ceremony is the most important aspect of el Bautismo. The child wears a white Baptismal garment called a ropon; the white color symbolizes purity in the newly Baptized and often the ropon is a family garment handed down to the child with delicate lace details and, occasionally hand stitching. The Baptismal Candle symbolizes that the child is now enlightened by Christ. Parents choose the Godparents very thoughtfully (reference previous blogs to understand the Honor of being a Godparent or, Grandparent as the role in the child’s life is a very important and honored election for Godparents and certainly not to be taken lightly.) The parents will ask a couple (a male and a female, but not necessarily a married couple) to be padrinos. The padrinos and parents of the child call each other compadres, a very strong lifelong bond. There is a very big meal served with a party and, often a mariachi band (I LOVE mariachi bands!) it is tradition to throw coins or, “bolo” into the crowd after a religious ceremony symbolizing the Godson/Goddaughters prosperity to come. White everywhere with splashes of color with food, friends and a celebratory environment are remarkably different from my first baptism at 6 years old, I’m always wishing that first Baptism for my twin and myself had been with community, friends and family rather than (without warning) being dunked in front of the congregation.
I’m hoping this better explains my reasons for advising waiting and my apprehension regarding a full body submersion for young children. There are many variations and other Faiths that have beautiful tradition honored ceremonies but, I’ve yet to see a celebration as festive as those I have been a guest or clergy within the Hispanic Community.
As always, I welcome your questions and opinions by using the contact us link tab on the homepage of my website.
Reverend Wendy Wortham
The Pawning Planners