Well, it’s been a few weeks, what with Christmas & the New Year, and our series looking at prayer and fasting, but we are finally back in our series on the integral place of children in the life of the Church. Let me re-iterate that I’m not arguing that everything should be childish, or even child-focussed. Neither am I suggesting that everything becomes about ‘the children’. But I am contending that they are a part of the people of God, and that we should have a vision for their spiritual growth. And it isn’t just that they are the Church of tomorrow - they are part of today’s Church. We shouldn’t be thinking about children solely in terms of the contribution they might make in 20 years. Obviously enough, that is part of the equation (Ps.78:6; Dt.5:16) - we are investing in the future of the Church. But the fact remains that children are part of the Church now. Many of them are Christians, or will become Christians, and as such need to be nurtured in their discipleship just as much as adults, if not more so. They need to be involved in the life of the Church for the same reasons that adults are: so they can worship with the people of God, serve the people of God, be taught from the word of God, learn what it means to be a disciple, benefit from fellowship with each other, and receive the sacraments. This last one can provoke a few questions. Over the articles to follow, I will be exploring with you part of why I am convinced the Bible teaches us that the children in our midst should share in the sacramental life of the Church.
But before we get into this, I need to stress a few things by way of introduction, and of setting the context in St. John’s:
St. John the Baptist is an Anglican Church. As such we remain committed to the practise of the baptism of infants who are to be “received into Christ’s holy Church, and be made a lively member of the same” (BCP 264). Contrary to what is often perceived as Anglican tradition, the Church of England does not (or at least should not) operate an indiscriminate Baptismal policy. Clear expectations are laid down in the rubrics of the Church as to the integrity of the Christian faith of parents, godparents and the expected involvement of parents, godparents and the child within the covenant community of God. Indeed, if a minister is unsure that these expectations are met, they are instructed that the baptism should be delayed until ‘suitable instruction can be given’, and (s)he is satisfied that ‘the provisions relating to godparents are observed’. At St. John’s we seek to honour these obligations through our baptism preparation team. If you would like to be involved in this area of our life and mission, have a chat with me…
Our commitment to baptising our children is conscientiously made on Biblical, missional, theological, pastoral and liturgical grounds, and stands within the ancient traditions of the wider visible Church, including the Church of England. And it will remain the normal practise of St. John’s.
That said, we wish to be generous and hospitable to brothers and sisters in Christ who are in varying degrees of fellowship with us, but whose thinking on the place and administration of Baptism in the life of a disciple, and of a Church differs from that traditionally held by the Church of England, and other denominations which hold to the baptism of infants.
I will be outlining my own convictions as your pastor in a number of articles. I do so aware that these are sensitive issues, over which the Church of Christ has struggled to come to a common mind, or even to maintain unity, and that much contemporary inter-denominational work and ministry is only possible because issues such as who and how we should baptise are assiduously avoided. I do so aware that there may well be people who worship at St. John’s who are unsure of their own beliefs in this matter; or who perhaps disagree with the baptism of infants, but who for a variety of reasons may have decided to worship here in spite of that. I do so aware that godly theologians, pastors and parents throughout the ages have – in good conscience – disagreed as to what they think the Bible teaches on these matters. I do so aware that there is much misrepresentation and assumption made on both sides about those who take differing views on these subjects.
So as we launch into this new series of articles, let me assure you that I will not be attacking those positions or people with whom I disagree. And in outlining my own understanding of the Bible’s teaching, I appreciate that I will not necessarily persuade everyone who attends the Church. Although public teaching and instruction at St. John’s will remain from within the context of a reformed, covenantal framework of Biblical theology, and in agreement with the Articles of Religion of the Church of England, there will be the recognition that the mode and administration of baptism remains a secondary issue among Christians, and as such, that it should not and need not undermine the unity and fellowship enjoyed by those who worship together at St. John’s.
 Is the vision of children and young people in the life of St. John’s privileging them above adults? I would want to say: ‘No’. But a series of articles like this might create a sense we are investing far more time and effort in sorting out how and what we teach them in Church, than we seem to be doing with adults. I’d be more than happy to redress the balance, and to get some form of systematic theology / discipleship class up and running for adults too… Talk to me if you are interested and if there are enough of us, we’ll get going later this year!