A young married woman at my church became pregnant with her first child. After ten months, the baby finally came. She was perfectly healthy, mature, and beautiful. The Sunday after the birth, the mother brought the baby to the 10:30 church service. Of course, the very presence of the newborn monopolized the attention of the usual Sunday worshipers - so much so that I had to call attention to the clock.
After the service, I, too, went to admire the child, and as I did, the mother asked me if we could arrange to BAPTIZE the baby in the near future. Joyfully, yet apprehensively, I said that it could be done within two weeks.
I was apprehensive because I had never baptized an infant before. In fact, I was pretty sure that infant baptism was unscriptural and unnecessary, and I had said so on various occasions.
The next time I saw the mother, she reminded me to set the date for the baby's CHRISTENING. I arranged for the celebration to happen the next Sunday. When I phoned the mother to explain the baptism liturgy to her, she exclaimed that she was happy that she didn't have to postpone the DEDICATION too long, for she believed that in was of utmost importance that it be done soon.
Obviously, I though Mama was confused about the very meaning of the Sacrament, for she had first asked for baptism, then called it christening, finally dedication. As I attempted to explain it more fully, I realized that we might incorporate all three works, baptism, christening and dedication, into one ceremony!
So I wrote a liturgy for baptism based on my denomination's standard infant baptismal order. The first part consisted of a vow taken by the parents, grandparents, and finally, the congregation, dedicating themselves to bring the child up in the faith of Jesus Christ, and to be examples of his grace in all circumstances. The child can only be dedicated through the dedication of her family and congregation.
The second part was the christening, or the application of the name of the Lord Jesus, the "name above all names," along with the child's "Christian" name (Stephanie Marie in this case). Finally, the water was to be blessed and applied to the child's head; the child would then be presented to the congregation.
Now this babe was not a repentant sinner and surely will never remember the feel of the water on the forehead, the vows of the family, or the "coos" of the congregation. "How could this baptism be efficacious," I thought to myself? "Have I done something in the will of the church, but out of the will of God?"
It had been a terrible week, and this was my last Sunday morning at the church. I was struggling with family problems that stemmed from the rigors of ministry. I had not slept the night before and it showed. The church ushers had not prepared the sanctuary as I had asked. Even the copy machine decided to break down, causing me to enter the sanctuary late. And there were more people in church than I had ever seen before. As I played the service's opening chorus on the piano, I prayed, "Lord Jesus, I'm sorry, but I just can't do this today."
But later on, when I put my hand in the water to baptize the child, I decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it in faith. When I laid my wet hand on that innocent head and spoke the precious name, I felt a special infilling of grace unlike I had experienced before. When I touched that precious little head, I was the one baptized in power, and I know power went forth as if from Jesus himself. Yes, I felt power! It brought me back to the land of the living! Yes, the Holy Spirit became my salvation in that instant. And as I felt that power, the precious child received grace in abundance - that force of protection that would encompass her through her childhood and beyond, preserving her unto the Lord Jesus and his purpose for her life. That wonderful baptism anointing lasted not only through the rest of the church service, but on into the challenges of the rest of the day and the week ahead. (And, I realize now, on into the future, even as I edit this essay ten years later.)
I have never hesitated to baptize an infant again. For I have found the real meaning of Baptism, its dedication and christening, as SACRAMENT - the endowment of supernatural GRACE through a WORK of the flesh done in FAITH.