Baptism — How Important is it?
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
I was teaching an adult Sunday school class recently at a local suburban Presbyterian Church. Staying on for worship, I experienced a real treat: a Baptism. The infant was winsome; the young parents were beaming; the grandparents were both elders in the church so they asked the congregation to promise to nurture her in Christ.
After the water on the child’s forehead and the prayers, the pastor lovingly walked with the baby up and down the center aisle as the congregation sang,
Child of blessing, child of promise, Baptized with the Spirit’s sign,
With this water God has sealed you Unto love and grace divine.
(The Presbyterian Hymnal, 498)
As I watched and reflected that day, I thought, “This child may grow up to awaken to being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.” How important is this Baptism for this person and for us?
Baptism is the ancient entrance into the family of God, which is the Body of Christ. Christians in the past have killed one another over the meaning of Baptism and the question of whether children should be baptized or not. The Presbyterian Church bases its practice of infant and adult Baptism upon references in Scripture. And Presbyterian tradition is clear that our Baptism is the primary qualification for service in any office of the church. God adds to it the call and the gifts to do the job.
It is thirty-three years since the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) barred lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members from ordination to the offices of deacon, elder and minister. One of the serious consequences of this prohibition has been the undermining of Baptism as a Sacrament of the church. In essence, we have said to our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members, “Too bad, your Baptism pales in the light of our judgment of you.” This weakens our faith in the power of the Holy Spirit at work in all our Baptisms.
In her testimony last summer at the General Assembly, Libby Davis sounded a ringing call for returning the standards for ordination in the PCUSA to gifts, call, readiness and suitability for service. She sees the revision of the ordination standards to be a reestablishment of Baptism as God’s adoption of each child. Check out her thoughts by the power of the Internet.
Think about all the children we have baptized, taught in Sunday School, lovingly invited to the front of the church for the Children’s Sermon, seen head off to church camp and service trips, cheered on as Youth Group leaders. When some of them realize at some point — Chuck Nichols said he knew he was different when he was five years old– that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender what they hear from the church is, “You now no longer have a place here. Go away.” Even silence shouts this at them. Their friends and families hear this chilling judgment, too.
How important is Baptism? I stand with Libby Davis in crying out to the Church and the world: The falling of the Holy Spirit upon each child at Baptism is absolutely the most important thing. That is true the day before our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children share the truth about themselves with us, and the day after.