Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Baptism: dunk, dip, douse or dribble?

Baptism by the Book (of Common Prayer)
Our daughter was baptised on Sunday morning with little fuss and great joy. Praise God!

Although the service used a more contemporary liturgical pattern, I took the opportunity to re-read the baptism services in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. I was struck by a number of things. First, as always, the saturation of Scripture throughout the service. The most obvious difference between traditional and contemporary Anglican liturgical services is not language, but length. And much of what has been cut is the reading of and reference to Scripture. For example, it really adds something to a service of infant baptism to read the passage in Mark 10.13-16 where Jesus tells his disciples (who are acting as overzealous bodyguards) to "let the little children come unto me".

Another more surprising element came in the rubric (the instructions accompanying the words to be said) at the point of baptism. But to show why it was surprising, first a little personal background.

Growing up in a Baptist church, I had only ever witnessed full immersion baptisms (dunking), where the candidate is plunged entirely under the surface of the water and then brought up again (for the hardcore, this can be done thrice: once for the Father, once for the Son, and once for good measure the Holy Spirit). This was how I was baptised just short of my sixteenth birthday. For me, immersion has always made good sense of the apostle Paul's discussion of baptism in Romans 6.3-4, where he speaks of our baptism as our having been "buried with Christ". Thus, full immersion baptism symbolises the burial of the old life and the resurrection to the new life that is experienced when a person is united with Christ by faith.

More recently, and in a tradition that embraces the baptism of infants, I have become familiar with two other methods of baptising: sprinkling (dribble) and pouring (dousing). The former can look to the sacrificial practice in the Old Testament temple (as recorded in the Pentateuch and referenced in the New Testament) and especially to the divine promise of a future cleansing through sprinkling with clean water recorded in Ezekiel 36.25. The latter may look to the frequent New Testament language of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon believers, an event associated with baptism.

As long as it was done in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and using water, all three methods (dunking, dribbling and dousing) were accepted by the early church, though there seems to have been a preference for immersion.

Yet contemporary Anglican practice (insofar as I've seen or heard about it) only ever sprinkles or pours water on infants. Given this, I'd asked our minister to at least splash around as much water as possible, pouring rather than sprinkling. He agreed, saying that the water also symbolises God's love, so the more the merrier.

Therefore, it was with some interest that I noticed that in the 1662 service for "The Ministration of Publick Baptism of Infants" the actual baptising is described like this:

Then the Priest shall take the Child into his hands, and shall say to the Godfathers and Godmothers,
Name this Child. And then naming it after them (if they shall certify him that the Child may well endure it) he shall dip it in the Water discreetly and warily, saying,
I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

But if they certify that the Child is weak, it shall suffice to pour Water upon it, saying the foresaid words,

I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Notice that pouring is a concession for weak babies; the normal practice is for the child to be dipped. Is this immersion (done discretely and warily)? Or immersion without putting the head under? Is anyone familiar with this practice?

I checked, and the same instruction is found in all the early English Prayer Books (and the Scottish one too). Unfortunately, I was too late to ask for this to be incorporated into the service, but I think it should happen more often. If you are having a child baptised, make sure you take along the BCP and ask your priest for a dipping!


Anonymous said...

Congrats Byron, I'm sure that was a lovely day for you.

I have a question for you though. In Acts, new disciples are baptised "in the name of Jesus". I was baptised in a church which used that "formula" rather than F, S, HS. Would you say I need to be rebaptised with that formula instead?


byron smith said...

Hi Jonathan, and thanks!

Thanks also for your question. It was an issue that the early fathers debated, since Paul also speaks of simply being "baptised into Christ" in Romans 6. Are they alternative formulations, competing formulations, or is the shorter form merely an abbreviation? From what I have read, they seemed to conclude fairly consistently that the trinitarian formula mentioned in Matthew 28.18-20 is not only best practice, but that other baptisms are invalid. As far as I am aware, this remains the position of all the mainline denominations (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran and most other orthodox Protestant groups).

Does the church in which you were baptised believe in the Trinity? Do you know why they do not use that formula and what they think of it?


PS Are you one of the Jonathans that I know in the flesh?

byron smith said...

PS I haven't explained why the early fathers came to this conclusion, but I confess that my knowledge of this is not particularly strong. There are some hints in the passages that I linked to.

Anonymous said...

Alas Byron, we haven't met in the flesh. I used to blog (briefly) so we did chat several years ago about Christology and Bauckham.

The church I was brought up in was Oneness (form of modalism) and not trinitarian. Having said that, I should add that I was baptised at 12 and am now 34! Plus, I became trinitarian during my Bib Studies/Patristics degree almost a decade ago.

To be honest, I think historically-speaking "in the name of Jesus" is more primative, while the triadic formula came later. Personally, I don't think it matters enough to get re-baptised; it's not the mechanics but rather the intent and symbolism of being baptised into Christ and his death/resurrection etc (as per Rom 6 as you mentioned). But, I'd be interested if you think another dip (I was fully immersed) would be necessary.



Anonymous said...

About immersing infants: I can't remember where I read this, or whether or not the source was reputable, and I'm certain that I wouldn't want do empirical research on the matter without further reading, but I recall reading that for about a week after being born, infants retain the reflex to hold their breath when they are immersed in liquid---just as they have done for 9 months in the womb. If that's true, you could immerse an infant soon after she or he was born without worrying about drowning the poor little sinner. The weak/strong distinction is interesting though.

I'm curious if anyone else knows anything about this?

Matthew Moffitt said...

Hey Byron, what I was told in confirmation class 10 years ago is that normal Anglican practice was for babies to be immersed.

However, if babies were wearing baptism robes/dress, then the water should be sprinkled/poured rather than immersed. I never found out why the robes represented weakness.

Anthony Douglas said...

Rather than make any useful comment here, I will simply indulge my own weakness and point out the opportunity for an outrageous pun:

Newsflash: ad fontes trumps ad font

Amanda Carson said...

Your article, research and thoughts on baptism, were particularly interesting!

I had never heard of any of that before.

I am so glad that God really blessed you, Jess and Aurora on this day!

And that Aurora got splashed with lots of water.

Love Amanda

Drew said...

Most Anglican churches I know don't have the equipment for a dipping! Or should I take my baby bath along?

byron smith said...

Eric - I've heard that too. And you have just anticipated my next post...

Matt - I hadn't heard that.

Amanda - thanks! It was indeed a joyful time. Jess has posted some pictures.

Anthony - trust you to be the first one to see the opportunity for a pun in Latin! For those scratching their heads, ad fontes means "to the sources" and was a slogan during the early modern period used by both Renaissance humanism, which wanted to return to the classical sources of wisdom from Greek and Roman authors, and by Reformers, who wanted to return to the Holy Scriptures as the source of Christian faith and theology. Ad font means "to the source" (singular), though a "font" is also a fixture of most traditional church buildings and means a place for baptism, usually a small bowl (and so implies baptism by sprinkling or pouring). Thus, returning to the source of Anglican liturgy (the Book of Common Prayer) trumps the use of a baptismal font that is (often) too small to dip an infant in. Speaking of size, on to Drew's comment...

Drew - that was precisely the problem at ours. If I had made this realisation earlier than the night before, I might have had time to arrange something. The irony is that our church has recently put in a baptistry into the stage for full immersion adult baptisms! Perhaps we should have asked that it be cracked open for Aurora.

byron smith said...

Jonathan - thanks for sharing more of your story. Can you remind me what your blog is/was called?

I'm glad to hear that you're now a trinitarian! :-)
I'd love to hear more about what it was that convinced you to change your mind.

Can I ask how you currently feel about your modalist past? I have not met (m)any explicit modalists personally as the movement is not very large in Australia (at least, I've never really had any firsthand dealings). Do you see a possibility of faithful discipleship in the gospel of Jesus Christ within modalism?

I held back from sharing what I personally thought for two reasons. First, as I said, this is not something that I've thought and read a great deal about, and so I always find it best to take my initial guide from what great minds have thought about it in the past. Second, I felt that perhaps it might make a difference whether you were baptised in a community that affirmed or denied the Trinity, since that is really a large part of what this issue (the use of the trinitarian formula) is about. Hearing that your baptism did not simply omit-yet-assume the Father and Spirit, but actively denied the Triune God, I am more inclined to suggest that a trinitarian baptism may be a good idea.

What I see it as coming down to is the question of whether modalism is (effectively) in denial of the gospel and so of the Lord who saves them. That was the conclusion of the early church. However, I am not familiar with any similarities and differences between early and contemporary forms of modalism. This is why I asked you how you currently feel about it.

Grace & peace,

Anthony Douglas said...

Hey, I live to please. Though secretly I hoped to scrounge some points for the entertainment value ;-)

Anonymous said...

Oh Byron, you've got me thinking now.

My blog was called According to Jonathan, and was rather short-lived as life got in the way of blogging.

BTW when I asked about the "formula", I wasn't trying to pick a fight or anything. Rather, I've been reading your blog with profit for some years and was just curious; didn't mean to drag either of us down this rabbit hole.

I hadn't considered that my baptism was not just using a different formula but explicitly within an anti-trinitarian context. Hmm... I'll have to mull that one over before I answer. Can't help but thinking that this is one of those conversations that would be much easier in person as it incorporates wide-ranging questions! I'll give this is a bit of thought and maybe drop you an email rather than clutter up this blog post further.


byron smith said...

Jonathan - Sorry if my last comment came on a bit heavy. It was not intended to be hostile in any way! I am genuinely interested in your story and how you now feel about it. As you say, it would be easier to discuss in person. Do feel free to drop me an email, which can be found here.

Anthony - you are relentless! Points are on pause, so if they never re-open, then you will be the winner.

Unknown said...

Hi Byron and thanks for your thoughts on baptism, I have read your posts with interest and have even ordered my very own copy of the 1662 Common Book of Prayer, which interestingly enough is coming from the UK as it was about 1 third of the price of buying it in Australia!

Your posts have made me think of the importance of not taking Church traditions for granted and to always go back to the Bible as the ultimate authority. Our founding fathers had great intentions and put a lot of thought, study and reason behind them. But time, like Chinese whispers can distort this and change the whole feel and meaning of things we do in Church.

A thought for Jonathan... if your family and friends are still followers of the 'Oneness' belief, your being re-baptised may be a great witness and opportunity to share your faith with them.

Eric... a common practise when teaching babies and young children how to swim is to blow in their face before dunking them, this causes them to draw in a breath and hold it long enough to dip them.

Drew... the Anglican church I was baptised in did not have the facilities for full immersion so my Minister agreed to baptise me in a pool at the beach, he also gave me the option of going across to the local Baptist church as he was friendly with the Minister there.


Matthew Moffitt said...

@Byron and Anthony: There's only thirty points in it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Byron,

I didn't take what you said as even remotely heavy-handed, but quite rightly as pressing me to think the issue through more fully. It's just that I realised afterwards that my initial question was very open-ended and could have easily presaged an apologist's attack on the Trinity.

I'll have to write all my thoughts up on both this and my whole journey. Thanks for the good questions ;)


Thank you for the suggestion, but I'd only get rebaptised if I became convinced of its theological necessity. At least in my personal situation it would be profoundly provocative and hurtful to friends and family, not a witness (they already know my stance - I left the church over it). Nonetheless, thank you for your thoughts.


Murray said...

just catching up on this :-)

we baptised seven people at kirkplace on easter sunday. 3 adults and 3 infants. Steve doused two of the smaller babies (one was 3 weeks and one only a few months old) but dunked Reuben (2 years). it was fantastic! we're planning to dunk many more in the future :-)


byron smith said...

Via Jason Goroncy.