Monday, 27 February 2012

Is delayed baptism of adults justifiable?


Acts of the Apostles Chapter 8:

36And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
 37And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
 38And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. 


Why do Catholic (Eastern and Western) Christian denominations, for whom baptism is regarded as a necessary sacrament for salvation - and who will 'pull-out-the-stops' rapidly to baptize a new born child in danger of dying - so often behave behave so casually about baptizing adult converts?

Why are adult converts made to wait weeks, months, a year before baptism or confirmation? 

Why does this delay in baptism sometimes prevent adult converts from receiving Holy Communion? - when (for a Catholic) the act of receiving Holy Communion is itself such a powerful help in the Christian life, and such a powerful help in understanding? 


(It is an excellent aspect of the Church of England guided by the Book of Common Prayer that a firm intent to be confirmed is sufficient to allow full participation in the Mass - I found the fact that I could take Holy Communion enormously helpful in my first months of Christian life - leading up to confirmation.)


Adults converts could die, be killed, become mentally incompetent - or fall away from faith - before becoming baptized if it is delayed and if the process of catechism (teaching the new convert) goes badly for any of a thousand contingent reasons (and with so much corruption and ignorance in the Churches and real Christian Priests sometimes being few and far between, this is highly likely to happen) the convert may be put off Baptism and/ or Confirmation by bad teaching and may fail to join the Church.


A priest meets a soul who is able to declare that Christ is Lord, to become a Christian - that is the moment ideally when he should be received into the Church - not delayed until after months of turgid, impersonal, bureaucratic 'instruction'.

Christianity is not meant to exclude those who have a low boredom threshold, or who lack  conscientiousness - yet it may be that membership requires the ability to tolerate months of impersonality, dullness and incorrect teaching.

The Church does not exclude innocent (and ignorant) new born babes from instant Church membership - why then should sinful adults - who need the Church so much more than the babes - then be effectively excluded by 'raising the bar' for admission so high?


It seems that there is nothing in principle to prevent a priest arranging a rapid, even instant, baptism or confirmation - as St Philip did with the Ethiopian Eunuch in the passage from Acts above and as has been normal in some times and places in the history of the Church - as soon as he is satisfied by direct and intense communication that the convert accepts Christ as Lord. 

Delaying baptism and confirmation are matters of expediency, of Church organization, and indeed of bureaucracy - and should not stand in the path of doing what is right for the soul of the convert, here and now, at the moment of choice.

This is not a matter of laxity; but would be to take baptism and conformation with real seriousness.


Note added: Another factor is that - as is the case for children - many adults in many parts of the world are cognitively incapable of understanding and remembering the abstract and detailed aspects of Christianity. This has, indeed, always been the case. (In legal terms, these people are 'unfit to plead' - cannot understand the nature of the legal process).

Yet such persons ought surely, to be admitted to the Church? Indeed, there is much in scripture to suggest that 'simple' people may make the best Christian - or at least that simple folk be the most assured of salvation.

This fact means that elaborate and specific catechism before baptism/ confirmation is something of a fraud since there cannot be any genuine comprehension or retention - a fraud not only due to its tendency to exclude those of short-termist and impulsive natures, but also because it renders baptism and confirmation inaccessible to those of low intelligence. 

H/T commenter StewartG - 

which reminded me to blog on this topic.