Friday, September 01, 2006

A Theology Of [God]parents

Like his sister and brother before him, Elijah will be baptised as a baby.

Baptism is the sign of the covenant-agreement between God and humanity inaugurated by, and in, Jesus; biblical covenant-agreements are by definition made between two parties and their children/descendants, so that the children of the parties are in the covenant community until such time as they opt out, as opposed to being out until such time as they opt in; and as such children bear the sign of the covenant into which they are included. While I value the many things I have learnt from Christians of traditions that dedicate, rather than baptise, their children – and, indeed, love being part of a local expression of the Church that practices both (Anglican) paedo-baptism and (Baptist) dedication – I honestly believe that the dedication tradition that arose in certain expressions of the Church within the Modern historical era flows from an inadequate theology of covenant; allowing a reactive response to indiscriminate paedo-baptism that literally threw the baby out with the bath-water.

While we waited for Elijah to be born, we thought seriously about whom to ask to be godparents. We know that we cannot raise children on our own; we need the help of the community around us; and our tradition appoints certain individuals to be representatives of that wider community – that do not absolve the wider community from its role, but are ‘effectual signs’ (that is, signs that have the power to effect a change – in attitude, in behaviour – in the viewer) to the community to remind them of their role; to us to remind us that we have the support of the community; and to Elijah to remind him of both these aspects. The community of which I am speaking is first the Church (the family of God), but also the wider community of humanity (the children of God).

As we did for Susannah and Noah, we chose two couples. But unlike before, only three of the people we have asked would consider themselves to be a Christian, and able to make the liturgical promises of the Church before God. Elijah will have a godfather, two godmothers, and – I don’t know what the term might be, but it isn’t a lesser or second-rate appointment.

In the particular Christian tradition we come from, that might be a controversial decision, or even an error. I am committed to the human activity of evangelism, or, proclaiming God’s good news; and the divine activity of conversion, the process whereby the fractured image of God is restored, by degrees, in a human being. And that means that I must be open to being evangelised, daily, myself – even by someone who does not claim to speak for God but through whom God can reveal Jesus to me – or to my children – nonetheless. That is not relativism: I believe that God is reconciling all things uniquely through Jesus; but recognise that God is not limited to acting through the Church alone in this. I trust my children to the care of all their [god]parents; and entrust them into the greater care of the God to whom all those friends, ultimately and inadequately, point.

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  1. Anonymous11:49 am

    Hi Andy

    Interesting this. We decided to do the same thing when Naomi was born last November (that is, to include a person who doesn't call himself a christian among the godparents). She isn't baptized yet however, as I've been contemplating a lot of different alternatives, including baptizing her myself. I mean, why not? Most importantly, I've felt that God is encouraging me to do it. But it's been a difficult step to take, due in part to opposition but also that I've just wanted to take my time and know for sure what I think about the whole issue of baptizm. These were helpful thoughts!


  2. Hey Ben!

    You can't baptise a baby in November in Finland anyway - all the water is frozen solid...I guess you get a window of opportunity each July, and that's it for another year ;-)

    On fathers baptising their own children: I think I'm inclined to agree with you in principle; but in practice I belong to a Church tradition (Anglican) in which ordained priests baptise, and, whatever I think personally, I choose to submit myself to my community. That's the default position.

    The same is true for Lutherans...and were it not for the fact that you feel God's specific lead to do differently, I'd suggest the same choice of submission. general my counsel to anyone would be, always respond in faith whenever you - in the context of a community to which you are accountable, who will help you weigh your hearing - sense God's voice. Some people put various (other) caveats on that, but I'm cautious of caveats: one might be, "so long as it doesn't contradict scripture"...but then, God's telling Peter to kill and eat unclean animals contradicted scripture...

    It seems to me that one aspect of prophetic acts - and I'd say you have a prophetic gifting - is a holy rule-breaking; a shedding of specific traditions of our faith community in order to remain true to our faith, our response to God (such as the Peter example above).

    If the opposition you mention is from within the group to whom you are directly accountable, I'd suggest you ask God to bring you into a unity of view, one way or the other. If the opposition is from the wider tradition (i.e. this is not the Lutheran way), perhaps you have to take that prophetic stand - which is always lonely and draws out opposition from within God's people...

    Whatever decision you reach, God be with you and your family!