The resolutions about confirmation have stimulated some wonderful conversation about the sacramental requirements for church leadership, the meaning of confirmation, the sufficiency of baptism for church membership. There has been more chat on facebook (of course). It's clear that we're as uncertain about confirmation as we have been for centuries. It's clear that we're changing our views about baptism over the past few decades. The whole thing got me thinking:
Perhaps it's time to consider scrapping infant baptism?
In the Episcopal Church, we claim that baptism is "full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body the Church." But given the current trajectory of our sacramental and ritual theology, for what reason should babies be given this initiation? If we only baptize people who are old enough to ask for it, then we don't actually need what confirmation has become: "mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism." (The language of the prayer book actually says that even those baptized as adults ought to receive the laying-on of hands from the bishop, but this doesn't in any way complete or fix or finish the work of baptism). We won't need to be concerned with whether lay leaders have demonstrated commitment and fidelity to the church they are leading. And perhaps, actually, dropping the confirmation requirement for leadership in the church based on the notion that baptism is all-sufficient is a way to open the door to Sydney-style Lay Presidency.
If we no longer require a person to be baptized before receiving communion, then our toddlers can come to the altar rail with no impediment. I suspect that many or most Episcopalians tend towards universalism, and certainly a comparison of the baptismal rites from 1928 and 1979 prayer books will reveal that we have stopped thinking of baptism as "fire insurance" or as a way to protect the infant from the fires of hell.
Tim Sean, on facebook, brought his Baptist roots to bear on the implications. He wrote
Having come for the Baptist denomination "adult" baptism isn't really the answer either. You end up shaping your whole ethos and community practice to ensure that children (and eventually young adults) voluntarily seek baptism, which then raises the entire conundrum of what is the minimal amount of understanding one needs before (an eight year old some, a twelve year old more, a seventeen year old, etc...)It's a good point. I don't know that it would be such a bad thing to orient the church around helping people (of any age) towards and through the font. But what is the minimum necessary understanding of the faith required for baptism? Presiding Bishop Katherine encouraged us to be more quick to baptize, to provide "on-call baptism". And if we're going to offer communion to people regardless of baptism (and regardless of a minimum level of understanding), then there shouldn't be any intellectual barrier to the sacrments, surely? If they ask for the waters, they get the waters.
Now, to be absolutely clear, I personally don't think we should do this. I am too catholic in my religion to do away with a practice that is as old, at least, as St. Augustine. I am one of those Episcopalians who thinks that something does happen, both in confirmation and baptism. But neither is this post tongue-in-cheek. If our theology and practice are heading this direction, adapting and modifying our sacramental theology in such radical ways, then isn't this a logical next step?