Baptism: The story continues

Baptisms can be performed in any body of water. Pictured is the baptismal font at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral (Episcopal). 

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Christian practice of baptism, focusing on a type known as “proxy baptism.” This allows people who died without accepting Jesus as Savior to have another opportunity for salvation. While this practice has raised some controversy, during the course of my research I discovered that the traditional baptism practiced since the early days of church is also becoming controversial.
Baptism is considered an essential rite in Christianity. The Gospel of Mark describes Jesus being baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, and the sacrament has been performed ever since.
Traditionally, the ceremony consists of three aspects:
– Promises made by the baptized, or godparents in the case of a child
– Application of water, by immersing the whole body or pouring or sprinkling over the head. (Some churches apply holy oil as part of the rite.)
– Use of the Trinitarian formula: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Christian doctrine holds that baptism removes the stain of Original Sin on the soul that bars even the newborn child from heaven. It also incorporates the baptized officially into the love and care of the Christian community, serving as a rite of initiation into the church, the body of believers.
Perhaps it is this last aspect that has caused an unprecedented controversy. Increasingly, people have been deciding that they no longer want to be associated with the Christian church, but there is no official way to leave except to die. An English journalist wrote, “With churches, everybody checks in but nobody checks out.”
People angered by actions of the church of their baptism have begun to seek ways to officially remove themselves from its rolls. In France, a 71-year-old man became disenchanted with Catholicism due to pedophile clergy scandals and pronouncements against homosexuality by Pope Benedict. When the local parish priest refused to cross his name off the baptismal registry, he filed a lawsuit and won. The bishop is appealing this decision.
London’s National Secular Society offers visitors to its website a chance to “Liberate yourself from the original mumbo-jumbo that liberated you from the Original Sin you never had.” Thousands of people have downloaded “certificates of de-baptism” as a way of officially rejecting their faith. One London resident prevailed on the Diocese of Southwark to allow his de-baptism certificate to be included in their register alongside his official baptism entry.
In Italy, the Union of Rational Atheists and Agnostics has provided de-baptism certificates to those without Internet access. Argentina’s atheists and feminists have an online petition to notify bishops of their desire to officially renounce their baptisms.
Some Evangelical churches avoid this problem by not allowing infant baptism, waiting until children may be reasonably expected to make their own decisions on their faith. Rather, they offer “Baby Dedication Ceremonies” in which parents publicly proclaim their intention to raise their children according to God’s Word. Then at some later date, when they possess more maturity, they can make their own decision to be baptized.

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