Tuesday, January 29, 2013

NC Pastor's post receives interesting comments

Talbot Davis, minister of Good Shepherd (a UM Congregation) in Charlotte, NC, ran a post on his blog entitled, Top Five Things I Don't Really Believe.  It was picked up by the United Methodist Reporter's Facebook page.  His #1 Thing is on Infant Baptism.  The methopherse has been in an uproar since.  What is really interesting are the comments, both on his blog and on the UMR's Facebook page.  

Here is what Davis wrote on his blog; (go to the link above for full version)
1.  God Does The Baptizing.  In seminary and beyond, I heard teaching on the subject of infant baptism that grounded the practice in the confidence that "God does the baptizing."  The logic goes  something like this:  "The reason we Methodists can baptize babies is because we put the emphasis on God in the sacraments.  The reason Baptists don't is because they think sacraments are more about people."  Sounds good, doesn't it?  Makes our tribe a bit more erudite and theological than our immersion-happy brethren.  You can baptize an infant because even though the baby doesn't know what's happening, he or she now has a divine, moist seal of approval. I was taught it, I believed it, I spoke it, and that settled it.  My own children (now 23 & 20) were even baptized as infants.
Here's the problem:  God doesn't baptize.  God saves.  We respond by getting baptized.  
Nowhere in the New Testament do we read the words or even intuit the concept that God baptizes.
Whether it's Peter's emphatic "Repent and be baptized" in Acts 2:38 or the wandering Ephesians who get re-baptized in Acts 19:1-7 or even Paul's subtle yet unmistakable picture of baptism-by-immersion in Romans 6:3-5, the New Testament is consistent and clear: people choose their own baptism.  They come to faith and then to make that faith public, they get wet.
It's not complicated, it's not a spiritual birthmark, it's not a naming ceremony, it's not even the New Testament equivalent of circumcision.  It's death to the old life and resurrection to the new.  And babies don't have old lives to die to.  
And . . . best of all the practices I've learned from some of our non-denominational friends . . . in the context of a church gathering parents can baptize their own children and friends can do the same for folks they have led to faith.  
That may not be very Methodist but it sure is contagious.
The comments that are range from support to utter shock that Davis is United Methodist.  There are critiques that since Good Shepherd is one of the top 100 largest United Methodist Congregations that the DS and Bishop turn a blind eye (see comments on Facebook).  Others are glad to see him profess this openly and are proud of the work he is doing.

I will confess it made my blood curdle a little bit but this is not the first time that I have seen Davis come out like this on infant baptism.  I have questioned him on his stance in other posts of his on blog in the past.  Is this theologically controversial, yes.  But it leads to good questions and dialogue.

Whether you agree that Davis is in alignment with UMC theology or not, it does demonstrate the basic value of the UMC.  As we attempt to hold down the extreme center we will have people we disagree with theologically, practically, politically, and personally.  That will happen and I think that is a great image of the Kingdom of God.  We should have open and honest conversations about what we believe and what we disagree with when it comes the theology of the UMC.  God knows I don't agree with 100% of what the Discipline says too.

Through conversation we grow deeper in our understanding of and relationship with God.

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