Forty years ago this evening I was baptised. The baptism, by immersion, was at the Merrilands Baptist Church (which doesn’t exist any more) in Oranga. It was conducted by my father, the minister. And I was 12 – the sort of age then thought fit for Baptist children to be baptised (revealed preference suggests a much higher age now: I don’t recall seeing a 12 year old baptised for many years now).
It was a step along my journey. Raised in a Christian family, I’d made an initial “decision” for Christ at 9 – that service is lodged clearly in my mind – reinforced, or renewed, a couple of years later. As was Baptist practice at the time, baptism went hand in hand with formally becoming a member of that local church.
I still have the Bible (RSV) my parents gave me that day, and stapled in the front cover is the “Certificate of church membership”, which I’d always taken as being evidence of my baptism and yet, reading it now, I see the word isn’t used (it is implicit, in that culture, in “having publically confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour”). Perhaps what means most to me now are the verses my father inscribed on the back of the certificate – Lamentations 3:27 and Matthew 11:30, “given to your great grandfather at his reception into membership of the Vivian St Baptist Church, 3/12/1886”. Wellington meant nothing to me then, but later I too was a member of that Wellington Central Baptist, and find myself now living in the same suburb as those ancestors, and fellow disciples in Christ.
A few years ago I inscribed the same verses in the Bible we gave our daughter at her baptism. It was 3 Dec 2006. She was six weeks old.
Infant baptism was the one thing that kept me out of the Anglican church for a long time. And then, as was my way, through copious reading and reflection I reached the conclusion that it was not just an acceptable variant, but distinctly preferable as a model for the children of Christian parents. And thus I embraced, perhaps submitted, to the centuries-long wisdom of the church. I rejoice that the children are baptised – as much a part of God’s church, by God’s grace, as I am. They won’t remember their baptism – most Christians don’t – but I hope they will look back, and rejoice that they were brought into the household of faith from their very earliest days. It is grace that drew us all, often mediated through family. I thank God for that, and for my baptism.