PRIVATE MEMBERS’ MOTIONS - INDISCRIMINATE BAPTISM
Mr Roger Godin (Southwark): I
beg to move:
Synod calls attention to the concern over apparent indiscriminate
baptism, as expressed in the Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry documents, and increasingly shared
by many people of differing theological persuasions in the Church of
England and, with a view to the presentation to Synod by the end of 1988
of a discussion document concerning current theological, pastoral,
evangelistic and ecumenical issues, calls upon the House of Bishops to
give it further study.’
want to introduce this vexed question of indiscriminate baptism in as
gentle a way as I can. At
the outset, I would like to suggest that my main concern is to try to
create a forum in which such phrases as “loving discernment” might
begin replacing the more pejorative expressions such as
“indiscriminate” or “rigorous” and maybe, in due time, to help
our great Church of England move to a pastoral practice where everybody
feels more at ease with the tensions within which we all live,
concerning especially the care and nurture of young children brought
into the life of the Church. I
have had some lovely talks with people across the range of theological
opinion in the past few days, and I believe that this is a real
Knapp Fisher in one of his monographs, which has not yet come back to
the Synod and probably never will, wisely pointed out that in an open
debate about infant baptism there can be few converts to either
particular point of view. So
for this debate — and I have only a few minutes — I would ask Synod
to concentrate on the words actually in front of it.
It is an admitted sub-sector of the wider issue of Christian
initiation. It is not about
confirmation; it is not about the abolition of infant baptism nor about
the admission to Holy Communion before confirmation; it is addressed
solely to the words “apparent indiscriminate baptism” and, within
that, to indiscriminate child baptism.
The motion is an attempt, in the words of The
Times a few weeks back, to find “a bridge over troubled baptismal
troubled they are. Statistics
I do not very much believe in, but whichever way you look at them only
about three per cent of our baptised membership are regular communicant
members; and this must mean something about what has happened in past
days. But leaving statistics aside, there can be few people here,
clergy or laity, who have not at some time been involved in some serious
pastoral situation concerning this matter.
In the average PCC meeting people can be quite placid about the
latest excesses of the youth club or about the new church hall; they can
be even apathetic about General Synod; but mention any variation in 200
years of parish infant baptism policy and any problems about the church
heating system immediately disappear.
so often there is an outbreak of correspondence in the Church press, and
less frequently a comment in the secular press or even in Parliament.
Six years ago we as a Church were challenged to respond to the
following words, quite familiar by now: “ . . believer baptists and
those who practise infant baptism should reconsider certain aspects of
their practices. The first
may seek to express more visibly the fact that their children are placed
under the protection of God’s grace.
The latter” — and that is us — “must guard themselves
against the practice of apparently indiscriminate baptism and take more
seriously the responsibility for the nurture of baptized children to
mature commitment to Christ”. So
spake the prophet BEM. As I
have re-read those words several times and been impressed by the careful
words used and the excellent doctrinal statement preceding them, I feel
that we should not be lulled into apathy by the gentleness of the
rebuke. What have we done
to respond? I suggest that it is not as much as we should.
were only ten lines of direct response.
While accepting that “the text is right to warn of the offence
which the practice of indiscriminate baptism can cause, where admission
to baptism is granted to those who do not seem to have given any
evidence of wanting to be identified with Jesus Christ and his
Church”, FOAG went on to say that “baptismal discipline may be so
over-discriminating that those requesting baptism are required to
provide unreasonable evidence of the authenticity of their faith.
So-called ‘indiscriminate baptism’ reflects a view of the
Church as a ‘mixed community’; a more rigorous policy emphasises the
‘gathered’ nature of the Church’.
find it sad that the concluding reflections of that report, endorsed by
the Synod debate in 1985, made no actual reference at all to the words
about which we were challenged, “apparent indiscriminate baptism”.
Make no mistake: the fact that the word “apparent” was used
did not mean that the writers did not think that there was
the subject was raised before it was stated on behalf of the Assessors
of York that “we believed we had taken action synodically against
indiscriminate baptism . . . under the impression that the canons and
ASB rubrics contained words, relating to godparents . . ‘willing and
able’ to make the requisite promises . . . The express intention . . .
was to rule out indiscriminate baptism . . . but Canon B 23 was . . .
never. . . revised or amended to take account of that Synod
resolution”. That remains
the position, despite assurances given in response to two Questions in
February that a draft amending Canon would be introduced when the
legislative programme was less full.
I understand too that the sector report from the Lambeth
Conference will reaffirm the problems of our practice.
a sort of self-imposed penance in preparing for this debate I have now
read almost every word said in this place since 1971 about Christian
initiation. It is tempting
to throw the whole lot into my word processor, get the computer to
eliminate all repeat phrases and come out with a short speech which
would say everything. In
fact, doing that tells us why we are where we are, because if we accept
all the words which have been said 99 per cent of them seem to accept
that we do not practise indiscriminate baptism.
Is this, I wonder, another example of the General Synod being out
of touch with what is going on in the parishes?
No, I do not think so, because Mr Packer’s amendment points to
the dangers of the so-called “rigorous” policies and brings us right
back to the coalface.
is not the time even to try to reiterate a theology of baptism.
In general, most of us in such sessions as this try to quote and
read what most suits our particular standpoint.
An appeal to Church tradition, I suggest, can only be supportive,
and must never be regarded as foundational, of Christian doctrine.
We can use proof texts but they simply do not demonstrate the
propriety of baptising infants, and it is futile to imagine or argue
that they do. The apostolic writers of the New Testament give us no
explicit and unambiguous evidence about the baptism of the children of
Christian families, but neither is there any account of teaching of the
adult baptism of a child born into a Christian family. We must all have
personal integrity and openness on this issue — me first.
what I hope Synod will do as a result of this motion is at least to
accept that the position is canonically and pastorally unsatisfactory.
I suggest that it would avoid duplicate debates in the future,
and repeating the whole thing many times over if, when that amending
Canon is brought to Synod, it comes with a suitable report, prepared not
in monograph form but perhaps in trigraph form by a group of three
people who might be able to bring forward what I would call best
pastoral practice. It is
what happens in industry these days; even the DTI are saying to
industry, “Use best management practice.”
If we can bring forward an amending Canon with a statement of
best pastoral practice we stand a chance of being able to deal with the
issue very clearly, so that the world outside, the people we want to
bring into the Church, understand that we do know what we are talking
hope that such a group would address itself to such things as welcoming
people when they make the first move towards us, a quick welcome,
possibly by layfolk. I hope
that it will concentrate on encouraging people towards an understanding
of what the Christian faith is about, without being dominating and
making them feel overcome; on nurturing them and, above all, on loving
them. I hope that it will take every opportunity to suggest best
alternative practices, for example, the creative use of the thanksgiving
have tried to use measured language in my introduction and I hope that
the debate, which I trust will follow this session, will follow that
wonderful example I am giving, because this is a subject, I believe, on
which we can get somewhere. The present position is unsatisfactory, and
an amending Canon is overdue. If
we give suitable guidance with that we can help confused clergy,
strengthen the bishops — who sometimes do not seem quite to know where
they are in supporting or denying — and can give, above all else, a
clear-sounding Gospel call which says to the people in the pews." We
want you, we love you, we love your children.
Please come and join the family of the Church”.
motion is designed to create the start of that atmosphere, and I hope
that the Synod will support it.