Q: Recently during a discussion about believer’s baptism, one of our class members raised the question about our denomination’s position on infant baptism. We discovered there were many differences of opinion. Additionally, some new members of our church from another tradition said that since they had been baptized as infants in their former church they didn’t see the necessity of being baptized again in our church as adults. So I guess the issues are complicated. Can you help us sort it all out?
A: Your question concerning infant baptism points to continuing misunderstanding as to the nature of the sacrament. First, one should note that the Church of the Nazarene’s 1908 Manual speaks of two kinds of baptism—the baptism of believers and the baptism of infants. No mention is there of infant dedication at all.
While allowances have been made to include infant dedication in our rituals (see 2013-2017 Manual, §800.2), there is a much longer standing tradition within the Church of the Nazarene, coming through our Methodist ancestry, that expressly includes infant baptism among our sacramental rituals.
Admittedly, the acts of infant baptism or dedication do not save the child. Nevertheless, both of these holy actions place the child under the canopy of God’s grace and initiate the child sacramentally into the community of Christian faith, the Church.
We also acknowledge in the Church of the Nazarene, that believers’ baptism is the “sign and seal of the new covenant of grace” (2013-2017 Manual, §800.1). We do not dictate what form the baptism takes: immersion, pouring, anointing.
Regardless of form, on the basis of the believer’s assent to the creed (the Apostles’ Creed), and their public witness of saving faith in Jesus Christ, an adult believer is also initiated into the community of faith. If that adult wanders from the truth, or slips into sin, but later repents and returns to the Lord, we would not require that adult to be “re-baptized.”
Technically, one cannot be “unbaptized” although the rejection of the grace of baptism would place that person in a backslidden state. We would extend the opportunity for a repentant believer to reaffirm their baptismal vows publically, preferably during a service of baptism where new believers are being baptized.
Now to your particular question. When an infant is presented to the Lord for baptism, parents or guardians, on behalf of the child, will be affirming a Christian creedal statement such as the Apostles’ Creed and expressing their sincere desire that the child will acknowledge a personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. The same is also true for the ritual of infant dedication.
Later, when that child or youth has embraced the Christian faith as his or her own, it would not be necessary to be re-baptized. The same is true for an adult who has been baptized as an infant.
Instead, during a service of baptism —while not participating in the sacramental ritual itself along with the other baptismal candidates — the child, youth, or adult would be invited to affirm publically the baptismal vows made by their parents at the time of their infant baptism.
Let’s propose a baptismal scenario. Among the candidates for baptism is a young adult who grew up in that local church and was dedicated as an infant, standing side by side with a young teen from the local church who was baptized as an infant. The young adult and the young teen would both participate in the ritual, assent to the baptismal creeds and give personal testimony along with any others being baptized. Yet while the young adult would be immersed, the young teen would not. The teen is choosing to affirm the baptismal decision made by his or her parents or guardians.
This has been our position on infant baptism since the earliest days of the Church of the Nazarene.
Merritt Nielson has been serving as director of curriculum and now is on special assignment in the office of the general editor at the Global Ministry Center
Q: How can we explain “holiness” to children?
A: First let’s talk about why teaching about holiness is crucial to our children’s faith.
We can trust and depend upon God because He is holy. When kids learn that God is holy, this creates a life-long foundation of trust in God.
We become who we worship. Kids must understand God rightly to become holy as He is holy. Children are evangelists. Children love sharing what they’ve learned. Teach your child about holiness and soon the whole neighborhood might understand it.
Now let’s define it in two parts:
God is set apart: Even children can categorize. Blue, red and green are all colors. Frogs, birds and dogs are all animals. When we say that God is holy, we mean He can’t be put in a category with anything else. God is bigger and greater than anyone or anything.
God is perfect: Everything about God is perfect and has no bad in it at all. Since God is “holy” in his love and justice, that means we can trust him entirely. This is the way God made us to be too.
So how do we explain this to children?
Begin with scripture: Since children learn through word-pictures and examples, Bible stories will show them how God reveals himself as holy. We see God’s holiness very dramatically on the cross. Ask children to imagine how God felt dying on the cross for others’ sins. Explain to them that Jesus was self-giving on the cross. Self-giving is the opposite of selfishness. That’s holiness! When you read the Bible story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19), talk with the children about how generous Jesus was when He forgave Zacchaeus for all the wrong things he had done. That’s holiness.
Show them in daily life: Children learn through the world of play and they often play out in their imaginations what they’ve seen in real life. My nephews play that they are real fishermen because they’ve watched their dad fish. When they play, they are confident in how to bait a hook because they’ve witnessed their dad do it in “real-life.”
Their imaginations have been shaped by seeing their dad fish. Our children will understand what holiness looks like when we give of ourselves to others in front of them. When you have a hard time being thoughtful toward someone, share about that struggle with your child without using names. Let them know that you are asking God to make you holy in this difficult situation. They will watch your life and learn what holiness looks like.
Point it out in their lives: As holiness people, we believe that the Holy Spirit is able to make us holy. Help your children see the Holy Spirit at work in them. After lunch, say to your three-year-old, “Jacob, I noticed that you looked like God just now when you shared your fruit snacks. God is making you holy!” In this short interchange, you’ve pointed out God’s sanctifying work in your child’s life.
When I recently asked a group of kids to describe God, I received a wide range of responses:
God is nice and loving.
He talks in a deep voice.
He is like Santa Claus, only around all the time.
God is like a strict judge.
God is kind.
I noticed that not one of the children mentioned God’s holiness. Let’s change that. Let’s teach our children that God is holy for they will become like the One they worship. Let’s explain to them, using scripture, that God is perfect in love and justice. Let’s talk about God’s self-giving nature with them. Then let’s show them that God made us to be holy too and model before them how to surrender to the Holy Spirit’s work in us.
Danielle Jones is senior pastor of Summit View Church of the Nazarene