There was a humorous attempt by United Methodist Memes a few days ago to advocate for the practice of infant baptism. Here’s the meme:

According to some comments I have seen, the attempted humor appears to have come across as condescending to some people in traditions who oppose the practice of baptizing infants. Some of the comments I saw advocated for what’s called “believer’s only baptism” and appealed to the fact that Jesus was baptized as an adult. (My initial reaction: According to Luke, Jesus was about 30 years old when he was baptized. If we’re going to be so strict about it, wouldn’t we all wait until we’re 30 years old to be baptized? Also…if Jesus’ baptism was a believer’s baptism as I saw one person put it, does that mean Jesus didn’t believe in God before then, or what exactly does that mean? I digress.)

Those comments got me thinking about my post from a couple of months ago when I confessed to being unknowingly baptized on two occasions. I promised in that post, which you can read here, that I would elaborate in a later post defending the doctrine and practice of infant baptism. I’m not going to spell it all out here, but I want to start in this post by laying a little groundwork. One of the aspects of the doctrine of baptism has to do with the question of timing, which came to the surface in the comments on the above meme. The question to be asked: when is the right time in one’s life when one is a proper candidate for baptism?

Let’s talk about timing. A question that gets asked from time to time, at least in the part of the world where I live, goes something like this: “When were you saved?” Or perhaps, less frequently, “When were you born again?” These are questions about the timing of something. In the past, I would typically respond to such a question by appealing to the moment in my life when I professed faith in Christ, which was when I was ten years old. But as I have learned more of the nature of salvation, I’ve come to think a little differently about the time I was saved. When Scottish theologian Tom Torrance was asked this question he said something like this: I was saved about 2000 years ago in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Maybe that wouldn’t satisfy the one asking the question, but I like that answer! It locates salvation not primarily in the experience of it, but in the work of God in Christ. So when we take this to the salvation moments/experiences within our lives, we’re transported to another time. When I was baptized, I was taken back to that divine moment when the kingdom of heaven was inaugurated and Jesus was raised from the dead. When I announced my trust in and alignment with Jesus, I was incorporated into Christ’s story, not vice versa. Strictly speaking, it’s not my inviting Christ into my life. It’s Christ inviting me into his life. As the sacraments are the graceful expressions of Christ’s uniting us to himself, the sacraments are not about us and our timing; they’re about God and God’s timing.

I’ll get around to talking more about age appropriateness in posts to follow, but first let’s get the story straight. Who is being brought into whose story?

When we settle on “it is we who are entering Christ’s story,” which I hope we can do, then perhaps we will begin to see things not primarily through a chronological lens of time (Greek: chronos), but through what the Greeks called kairos. Per the Liddel & Scott Greek-English lexicon, kairos conveys something like “due measure, right proportion, fitness (or) the right season, the right time for action, the critical moment…” In this sort of time, we’re not caught up on seconds, minutes, hours, or even years or millennia, but the focus is on the rightness or appropriateness of a certain action. The measures of time we are accustomed to using do not apply, at least not primarily.

Perhaps this idea sounds odd to some, but the point I wish to make is that salvation is a mystery of divine grace, which invokes and involves human faith and experience, but as it is the action of God, it is ultimately beyond our ability to fully comprehend, whether we are infants or adults. I hear some in other ecclesial traditions say that the sacraments (or “ordinances,” since some denominations avoid the term “sacraments”) are outward signs of inward faith or the decision to “receive Christ.” This notion appears to locate the validity of the actions in the consciousness of the one being brought into the waters of baptism or receiving the elements of Holy Communion. My community of faith (UMC) describes sacraments not as signs of faith, but as signs or means of grace. This means that the sacraments’ effectiveness is not dependent on human will or merit but instead on the will of God in Christ to convey grace through these sacred means.

And I would suggest the moment in one’s life when one is baptized, the Church is witness to the rightness of (kairos) God’s claiming of that one’s life in uniting the baptized with Christ in his death and resurrection. Said differently, in baptism, our chronos fades into God’s kairos, and we begin to be, as Charles Wesley penned, “lost in wonder, awe, and praise” as we join Christ’s story.

Stay tuned for more…

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