Friday, June 03, 2005

Baptism for the remission of sins

A very interesting post at Millennial Star about the accountability of seven-year-olds brought to mind the following question (already raised by Grasshopper at M*): if we baptize for the remission of sins, why do we baptize eight-year-olds? They might have a couple sins, but with one or two exceptions, they probably don't have many major ones.

I have already argued that we should raise the baptismal age to eighteen.
My view is that we're wasting a very important ordinance on the very young and sinless. We get a kind of consolation in that we can do proxy work as adults and be baptized for others, but for me this just reminds me how much more powerful my own baptism could have been. Baptism is the most physical of all the ordinances, and thus makes a much larger impression than, say, the laying on of hands.

Thinking about my resistance to Jonathan Stone's bright line distinction between 7- and 8-year-olds, I am starting to wonder if I agree with any absolutes in the Gospel. Do we really believe that every sin is washed away in baptism? What if the person secretly doesn't feel bad about it or even think it is a sin? Is mild dishonesty in a baptismal interview enough to render the cleansing part of baptism invalid? Or is God bound by his promise to wash us clean?

7 comments:

Steve said...

Interesting post. I largely agree with you, as I posted on the M* thread. Troublesome stuff indeed. BTW Ned, shoot me an email.

nshumate said...

"Do we really believe that every sin is washed away in baptism? What if the person secretly doesn't feel bad about it or even think it is a sin?"

I think the clear doctrinal understanding is one of forgiveness of sins of which we have repented. If one doesn't feel that an action is a sin, one would be hard-pressed to have "repented" of it, wouldn't one?

Sue M said...

I vividly remember being seven, dreading the day of my baptism. Why? Because after that, all my sins would COUNT. Until then, I felt free to lie with impunity, steal nickels off of my dad's dresser, etc. I was sort of a brat.

When I was baptized, I didn't know that I was supposed to plug my nose - I thought my dad was going to do that for me - not sure why I thought that... Anyway, I came up coughing and sputtering, and I remember thinking that God was making sure I knew he was wise to me. That's probably one of my most vivid memories of childhood.

Ann said...

In the DAMU, one of the consequences of eight year-old baptisms is that when a member of the underground decides to exit, any children (minors, mind you) who have been baptised have to write their own letter. A child can be baptized and never set foot in a church again, but as far as the church is concerned, until they are (what is it? 105?) they are members.

Of course, if you really want out, you have to play by the church's rules unless you are a lawyer yourself or have a lot of money. It is my understanding that a minor is not able to enter in to a contract, but the church considers them bound.

I know for believers, this seems like a silly thing to get your underwear in a bunch about, but membership carries with it certain inevitabilities. Like home teachers hassling you.

For that reason, I agree entirely with Ned. Eighteen. A child should not be able to be baptized until they are able to join the military, because unlike most protestant churches, you can't just say "No thanks, I'm not interested" when you're done being a Mormon.

NFlanders said...

Sue-- I am jealous of your vivid baptismal memories. As I think I mentioned in my previous baptism post, I don't have any recollection of mine, except the meeting before and the locker room after. Very weird.

Ann-- I've never thought of the children of former Mormons. I guess I just assumed that people would leave a family alone after they'd decided not to come any more. I've found moving to be an effective way of getting your records lost.

Allison said...

Ned, I'm not sure I remember who wrote it at M*, but someone mentioned that remission of sins isn't a one-time wipe. You're baptised not just for the remission of sins you've committed, but for the sins you will commit in the future and subsequently repent of. Sin remission is a process, not just a single occurrence.

NFlanders said...

Allison--
That is a good point. I hadn't thought of remission working forwards or continually. But I still do think that 8-year-olds are a bit young to really comprehend and take advantage of baptism. It's cold comfort to look back and say, "I think I made a convenant that will help wash these sins away".