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Dunk and dash: the scandal of the “drive-by baptism”

GregorSQI am convinced that the most hurtful act we can do to the Body is to baptize “because the dress fits,” “because the family is in town,” “because we have had all our kids done here,” or need to “get them done.” A totally disembodied service to satisfy the family. Baptism as another ‘service’ or commodity in our consumer driven culture continues to make Christianity a meaningless irrelevant institution—the name given to musty old buildings, and the elderly who argue whether “to gay or not to gay.”

As Anglicans, who boast a ‘non-confessional’ faith, we are even more dependent on our liturgy as the true reflection of our faith. Of all the traditions, we Anglicans can truly say (and almost nothing else): “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.” So just what are we saying about what it means to be Christian when our foundational liturgical acts are turned into consumables? What does it mean to make renunciations, to ask a whole community to make vows, to ask candidates to make vows, to confess a change of life, to agree to death and rebirth in Christ, to “put on Christ”—to freely choose to follow Christ at whatever expense, to claim one’s inheritance as a prince or princess in the royal family of the Kingdom of God, and to prepare to receive the crown of eternal Glory?

Unless I am missing something, agreeing to be crucified is not something I try and squeeze into my busy schedule.

Are there exceptions? Of course there are.

Was Jesus hospitable? Were all welcome? Did he feast with outcasts and sinners? Yes. And, he demanded a change of life. Baptism is not about our biological family: it is freely choosing to join a new family.

To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:59-60).

Becoming Christ, which is our true end, is a matter of grace, but grace freely chosen. Love is always and forever, no matter what, always, always, free—or it is not love. Love is a choice. So when you say yes to Baptism, and to your life long conversion in the Eucharist, what are you choosing?

Check out Sunday’s Reading from Galatians:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery… For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. (Gal 5:1, 13-25)

Our transformation through Grace is also something we must choose to participate in. It is an embodied choice, made together, in, and with the Body, in the communion of saints. So what choice are we holding out to those who are coming for the dunk and dash baptism, or the free lunch? Are they choosing to struggle for the rest of their lives with crucifixion and life in the Spirit? Are we really living up to the faith we proclaim in our central sacramental liturgy?

Throughout the Gospel, Jesus always forgives, but I can’t find any case where he forgives a hypocrite. So out of our fear of declining numbers or appearing “non-inclusive,” let’s not fall prey to cheap grace; rather proclaim the glory upon glory we are choosing to become, together become the Church, a new family, on that incredible journey of conversion, and boldly hold out the claim of love crucified and risen. After all, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

Gregor Sneddon

About Gregor Sneddon

Gregor Sneddon is a Presbyter in the Diocese of Ottawa and the Rector of St Matthew’s, Ottawa. He received an MA from the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies and is the founding Coordinator for Contemplative Outreach of Eastern Ontario. Gregor is a council member of the Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission and serves on the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation. He is a husband, a dad, and enjoys being in the woods, a good dinner party and swinging the blues.
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26 Responses to Dunk and dash: the scandal of the “drive-by baptism”

  1. But when a person is not baptized what are they should they enjoy Christmas and Easter and when asked about what religion they are what does one say?

    • None of that persons business. I usually say “im an agnostic, dyslexic, insomniac.” When pushed for the meaning I tell them “I stay awake at night wondering if there really is a dog”.

      Christmas is a Hallmark holiday, religion is only a minor aspect of it now.. Easter is all about the chocolate and for those still hanging onto church it’s a time to champion their God and offer thanks etc.

      • Gregor Sneddon

        Hey Stephen – good to hear from you – sadly, I think you are right, Christianity has adopted the culture.

    • BTW, I grew up with Greggor, he’s usually on mark with his thoughts.

    • Stephen Smith As a an agnostic how would you validate him being “on the mark”?

    • Gregor Sneddon

      Hey Ed – one cannot really be a Christian alone – it is about the whole community. Becoming a Christian is a commitment to a life long jourey of conversion, fed by the Eucharist, with sisters and brothers on the journey into life forever. We are asked to return again and again to the font, to become the persons we are called to be, in communion with God and loving one another. We are Christ’s hands in the world…

  2. Did John the Baptist only baptize those who lived in his community or showed up regularly? Or did he baptize those who asked? Did Jesus give food and drink only to those who showed they were committed followers? Or did he give food and drink to those who asked?

    • Gregor Sneddon

      Hi Kit – great point. I agree fully. (mind you, John’s baptism is not a Christian Baptism, and his baptism was a baptism of conversion of life, of repentance). This is kind of what I am pointing out – people need to make the choice fully informed. Are they really doing that all the time? As I posted to Walter:I wonder, however, what we mean by taking vows – whether marriage, ordination, or baptism – are they casual, something we just kind of say? What do we we mean when as a community we make a vow to “do all in our power to support these persons in their life in Christ?”, or when we publicly make renunciations? When a presenter vows to “be responsible for seeing that the child is nurtured in the faith and life of the Christian community?” What do we mean as a community when we re-affrim our vows at the Vigil or at baptism? Do we affirm a similar intention when we make wedding vows? I wonder if we have more of a casual meaning around making vows together, we should change the liturgy to reflect that?

  3. What do you mean “become Christ” ? Maybe become like Christ but not Christ. Unless God changes our hearts first ,we will never ” choose to participate” in grace. I do agree with you that we,the church, do a poor job of defining what baptism is and what it really means. It is no just fire insurance . If we painted a clear picture of what baptism is , I am sure there would be fewer seeking it out.

  4. Indeed, vows are an expression of the sacred. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful piece.

  5. I never had my children baptized if I remember correctly we are all Gods children, I want my children grown adults to make their own choice. One they understand and for the right reason. I know many people who only stepped in a church to be married and one time to baptize their children in front of everyone and promised everything only never to step inside the church again.

    • Gregor Sneddon

      Hi Angela – I find the same thing. I wonder if there are other ways to have welcoming inclusive events, or experiences in the church that are not “sacramental” or that do not ask anything of someone – this way they could come and go with free consciences, without feeling they are betraying the commitment that the vows seem to be affirming!

  6. Baptism is always a beautiful thing and is a means of grace for the recipient of the sacrament. We do not judge the child or candidate just because of the situation of the family. No matter how often, or not, that a person comes, their child or another candidate should be able to receive baptism.

    • Gregor Sneddon

      I agree John – everyone is welcome to receive the sacrament of Baptism. As I posted to Walter, I wonder, however, what we mean by taking vows – whether marriage, ordination, or baptism – are they casual, something we just kind of say? What do we we mean when as a community we make a vow to “do all in our power to support these persons in their life in Christ?”, or when we publicly make renunciations? When a presenter vows to “be responsible for seeing that the child is nurtured in the faith and life of the Christian community?” What do we mean as a community when we re-affrim our vows at the Vigil or at baptism? Do we affirm a similar intention when we make wedding vows? I wonder if we have more of a casual meaning around making vows together, we should change the liturgy to reflect that?

  7. We had a “drive by baptism” Sunday, the couple brought 80 family and friends with them. One of those amazing Grace filled Sunday services, the impact of which, over time, is difficult to measure but … we did all go forth “rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.” … Perhaps best not to put the cart before the horse? http://stpaulsmonaco.com/news/index.htm#FathersDay

  8. Gregor Sneddon

    Thanks Walter, sounds like a wonderful celebration! “The Spirit blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”(John 3:8). It is amazing how folks can be moved or touched, or how they have an experience that only has meaning years later, wonderful to create a powerful experience. I wonder, however, what we mean by taking vows – whether marriage, ordination, or baptism – are they casual, something we just kind of say? What do we we mean when as a community we make a vow to “do all in our power to support these persons in their life in Christ?”, or when we publicly make renunciations? When a presenter vows to “be responsible for seeing that the child is nurtured in the faith and life of the Christian community?” What do we mean as a community when we re-affrim our vows at the Vigil or at baptism? Do we affirm a similar intention when we make wedding vows? I wonder if we have more of a casual meaning around making vows together, we should change the liturgy to reflect that?

  9. Gregor sneddon, In answer to your oft repeated question. I don’t know what I mean when I make a vow to do or be something in the future. I only know what I think it may entail. Perhaps I don’t even know where I am going spiritually or otherwise. When a parent asks a child to promise to be good that child will probably agree. That same child, however, may have no idea what that promise entails as the child is still growing and evolving. We too as adults may be moved to seek baptism for our child without understanding why. I believe the sacrament of baptism is a mystical and God filled moment in time. Not to be confused with membership in a club. Those of us who gather in a church community should freely offer a holy place to any who are thirsty even if they don’t have the right words to ask. A human life lasts a long time. How can we worry about where that God filled moment of baptism will bear fruit? I’m not worried. You shouldn’t be either.

    • Gregor Sneddon

      Hi Patricia – I agree “those of us who gather in a church community should freely offer a holy place to any who are thirsty even if they don’t have the right words to ask.” Baptism is certainly a mystical God filled moment in time, and it is not membership in a club! There are indeed many many ways we offer a holy place to the thirsty, many ways to encounter God without the right words to ask – relationship, worship, breaking bread together – in fact every time we gather it should be just that(“when two or more are gathered in my name…”). Baptism is a mystical God filled moment in time, but it is more than that. It is a public affirmation of a change of life. It is confessing one’s death to the world and rebirth into the Body of Christ (not a club). It is the agreement to yield, to surrender to God what-ever that may be, as the centre of your life. It is a a commitment to live into the Christian life, in community. Baptism is also a time when the community makes vows to support you in your life in Christ. A candidate also makes renunciations. This is why baptism was a 3 year process – 3 years in the catechumenate, leading to the moment of baptism – then followed by mystagogy.
      Baptism does not end in that moment, rather, it is the beginning of a new creation, a new life – and we return to the font every time we repent, every time participate in the Eucharistic celebration.
      Making love is also a mystical God filled moment in time. But we do not encourage young people to just go make babies – until they are prepared and understand the commitment of what it means to be a mother or a father. Holding up baptism is not denying people because of their worthiness, it is holding up baptism for the profound sacrament and commitment to become Christ – which I would suggest is not something to be ‘understood’ but a life of conversion, a falling down and getting up, to be chosen with all one’s heart, and soul and mind and strength.

  10. Gregor, I believe everything that you have just said. I guess I also want to invite everyone to the party. Peace to you.

    • Gregor Sneddon

      Yes, I agree – all are welcome – without exception! You are right, holding the two intentions in balance can be tricky – or miscommunicated….I think the main emphasis is as you say, EVERYONE is invited!

  11. Not so sure the tone of your article is inviting everyone, though.. by stating that some are coming for “the dunk and dash baptism, or the free lunch” even though you may not understand the full background of why they may not be regular participating member on a Sunday service, is imo shortsighted. Maybe they are practising Christians at home? Maybe their kids go to a Catholic school b/c the parents can’t make Sunday mornings? By stating that “Throughout the Gospel, Jesus always forgives, but I can’t find any case where he forgives a hypocrite”. Is it that black & white? Not feeling very welcome. In fact, feeling pretty turned off.

    • Gregor Sneddon

      Hi Sam – I am sorry if you feel unwelcome or turned off…may I ask if you would feel turned off or unwelcome if people expected you to keep to the vows you made in marriage? What about the commitment of having a child? Should we invite people to hold to those vows and commitments and support them in doing so? In Baptism we all make vows, together. My post is suggesting that we should hold this commitment up as normative. As I point out, there are indeed exceptions – rules serve us, not the other way around. In my view, to have people make vows together with absolutely no intention of following through on those commitments undermines what baptism and being a Christian is all about. Baptism asks something of us all. As far as I am aware, there is no such thing as a solo Christian – we need each other.

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