Post mortem baptism?

by Richard on October 7, 2009

Christians in Context asks a hypothetical question about baptism that every hospital chaplain will recognize

One night, you’re in the sleep room; it’s 2am, and you get an urgent page to the intensive care nursery. Not knowing what to expect, you hurry to get up to the unit on the 12th floor. When you step out of the elevator, a nurse quickly points you to the last room at the end of the hall, where a distraught couple stands at the bedside of their just deceased, 2 week old infant daughter. You pray with the couple, who comes from a particular sort of Christian background that will remain unnamed for the sake of this little theological exercise. As you try to comfort them in their grief, the couple asks you, through a stream of tears, to baptize their little girl as their final wish for this life cut short. Regardless of your own theological view on this issue, they tell you that it’s something that would be deeply meaningful and comforting for them to know that their daughter has been baptized, even in her current state.

What would you do?

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Mike Claridge 10.07.09 at 1:59 pm

I would Baptise the child. If death has just occurred the child’s body will still be warm, a sign of the life that has ended. There may still be residual brain activity as the oxygen in the tissue is slowly used up and other biological processes will still be operating. Leaving aside the medical details the fact of there still being warmth in the body would convince me that it would be the right thing to do.

2

PamBG 10.07.09 at 3:43 pm

I would certainly baptize the baby.

I’m increasingly traveling down the road that dogma is the servant of human growth in love and service, not vice versa.

God has certainly taken this little one into his Kingdom to grow in love and knowledge of him. Why not acknowledge that with the physical rite that the church uses to acknowledge this?

3

peterp 10.07.09 at 4:07 pm

I would baptize the child. Every time. We are merely God’s hands. The Spirit of baptism baptizes we just have the privilege of helping. It is absolutely the pastoral thing to do. God will sort out our theology. The child of course was, is and will be eternally God’s.

4

Will Grady 10.07.09 at 4:07 pm

This was actually an assignment for my Liturgy and Worship Class. We had to write a letter to a couple who had asked for it and we were to tell them why we couldn’t do it (i.e., it isn’t theologically appropriate). We all did it, but we all said we would baptize the baby anyway.

5

DH 10.07.09 at 4:13 pm

I don’t know the answer to this question because I don’t believe in infant baptism but Believers baptism. I might Bapize the baby like what Mike acknowledged with clarification. I would further explain that Baptism does not save a person but I will state with great certianty and care to the parents that the child is in heaven and that they can take great solace in that fact. If the child is literally dead in every way I don’t believe I would baptise the child. The Apostle Paul makes clear in the Epistles the admonishment of not baptizing dead people. So we need to be careful under this particular hypothetical situation. It appears for what Mike said that the child is not fully dead which makes the answer even more difficult. I think I would pray hard in this situation and let God speak to me as to what to do. Prayer is always good and standing firm on what God says in His Word as well are things that help to get the answer needed in this situation.

6

fat prophet 10.07.09 at 7:15 pm

I would have no hesitation in doing this - I am certain that whatever our theological viewpoint our loving Father God would understand that we were reaching out to the family at a time of very real need.

7

DH 10.07.09 at 7:21 pm

I agree fat prophet. However, if I were to baptize the child I would clarify what the Apostle Paul said regarding baptizing of the dead which he stated is wrong and I would also state from the Word of God how baptism doesn’t save a person for eternal life.

8

Richard 10.07.09 at 8:22 pm

I don’t think Paul did say that baptism for the dead was wrong, though. My recollection is that he sounds as though he approved of, or at least tolerated, the practice.

But that’s by-the-by. You wouldn’t really get into a conversation about the theology of baptism with a couple who’ve just lost a child?

9

DH 10.07.09 at 8:48 pm

I personally believe that he didn’t tolerate it. He asks “what need is baptism of the dead?” in 1 Cor. if there is no need then really it seems that he disapproved of it. However, here is a site that gets into an analysis on it. So it may be a bit more complex then I or we are letting on.
http://allanturner.com/magazine/archives/rm0306/Blackaby008.html

Richard, I don’t think a couple would get into a discussion about having their child baptized either. That is why it is called hypothetical.

10

Richard 10.07.09 at 9:25 pm

No, it was called hypothetical because the blogger didn’t have a specific couple in mind. But this sort of situation does arise: I have myself been asked to baptize a stillborn baby.

As for Paul and the baptism for the dead, tthe scriptural pickings are slim. But as I read I Corinthians 15:29, it seems to me that the simplest explanation is that baptism on behalf of the dead was indeed practised in at least part of the Church — and Paul does not condemn it. Clearly, this is a bit of an embarrassment to some modern Christians, but I haven’t found any of the attempts to wriggle out of the simple explanation (including the link you offered) to be distinctly unconvincing.

11

fat prophet 10.08.09 at 6:28 am

I really do think the debate about the rights or wrongs of what the apostle Paul might have said or even meant misses the very important point that I think I tried to make very gently in my previous comment. I really do think this is more about what we can do for the living, what we can do to support the bereaved parents and I believe the words of Jesus who I take to be a much higher authority than the apostle Paul would be my yardstick in this type of situation ‘The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25v40).

12

Richard 10.08.09 at 7:25 am

You’re absolutely right, FP. I should have been explicit about that. My approach in a case like this would be to do whatever seemed most pastorally helpful. Following Pam’s point, I reckon it is better to compromise my baptismal theology than add to the burdens of the bereaved.

The stuff about Paul is a side issue at best.

13

Rachel 10.08.09 at 9:39 am

If baptising the baby was what was specifically asked for then that’s what I would do. However in my (very) limited experience, what many grieving parents are looking for in this situation is for someone who represents the church to take the baby in their arms and to name, touch and acknowledge her/him. I have therefore offered naming, anointing and blessing which has been gratefully received. The main thing, I think, is not so much what you do as how you do it.

14

DH 10.08.09 at 2:55 pm

Richard, just because part of the church did it didn’t mean Paul thought it was right. “”Else what shall they do which are baptized for THE RESURRECTION OF the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for THE RESURRECTION OF the dead?”

He is basically saying “what is the point of baptism of the dead if it is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgement?” “What is the point of baptism of the dead when there is the hope of the coming resurrection?”

Fat Prophet, Richard and Rachel there are other ways to comfort the family beside baptizing the dead. I do know the practice is common among the cult of Mormonism.

Fat Prophet, all of the Bible is equal in God’s eyes. The Epistles are just as much God speaking as Jesus speaking. The Bible is part of God’s Word and should be treated as such. Fat Prophet there are was to care for the “least of these” without doing baptism. It isn’t a “zero-sum-game”.

I will say Rachel I love your response here: “However in my (very) limited experience, what many grieving parents are looking for in this situation is for someone who represents the church to take the baby in their arms and to name, touch and acknowledge her/him. I have therefore offered naming, anointing and blessing which has been gratefully received.”

And this can be done without baptizing the dead child.

15

Joel 10.08.09 at 4:13 pm

The United Methodist Church struggled more recently on the inability of United Methodist clergy to baptize prisoners who requested that sacramental act because we tied baptism and church membership together as an absolute and there was either no mechanism for a prisoner joining a local church, the clergy who would do the baptism headed a prison or other specialized ministry and was not appointed to a local charge, or the prisoner didn’t desire to join a church they knew nothing about or had no connection to. Leaving unbaptized any of those who have come to the faith hardly seems invitational, missional, or evangelistic.

As to baptizing recently deceased infants, I admit that I would prefer not to be asked to do it and would prefer never to do it, period. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t, however.

16

fat prophet 10.08.09 at 8:06 pm

DH I think we will have to agree to differ on this particular issue - I don’t think that I said the Bible wasn’t the inspired word of God or that what is written by Paul was not the word of God.
I am reminded that John wrote in his gospel ‘ In the beginning was the word and word was God and the word was with God’ Jesus is the word!
I am equally not sure how you know what God thinks about the Bible or how you can argue he sees it all as equal - have you had some divine inspiration that gives you such an insight?
I also do not understand the zero sum comment that you make but then of course I am the other side of the pond.
I still think that the biggest issues here is the pastoral needs of the relatives and I would hope that our Lord would take the child in his arms and bless that child regardless of the situation or circumstances.

17

dh 10.08.09 at 9:33 pm

Fat prophet, I totally agree with this and nothing I wrote disagrees with this: “I still think that the biggest issues here is the pastoral needs of the relatives and I would hope that our Lord would take the child in his arms and bless that child regardless of the situation or circumstances.”

Fat Prophet, the Bible is part of God’s Word and all of God’s Word is God’s Word and is looked at equal because it is all God’s Word. Since Jesus is fully God then ALL of the Bible is part of God’s Word and ALL of the Bible is God/Jesus/HolySpirit at the same time. I don’t believe one passage of Scripture is looked at in a higher light then another passage of Scripture. ALL of Scripture is equal because God spoke whether it be God the Father or God the Son or God the Holy spirit. They are the three in one and hense all looked at the same in God’s eyes for Jesus has always been at all times fully God and while on earth for 33 years fully man and fully God.

18

dh 10.08.09 at 9:38 pm

Joel, I’m with you. Baptism shouldn’t solely be for membership but should be based solely by ones Faith in Christ alone as the foundation. I agree wholeheartedly with what you said. I still would state the clarifications to the family as to the reasons for the reservations and I would say it with care and respect. If I respect them on their baptism I would hope they would respect me on the reservations. They may say “Thank you so much for considering it. Can you at least pray for us and take the take the baby in our arms to name, touch and acknowledge her/him?” To which I would say wholeheartedly. “Absolutely, yes”

19

Tim Chesterton 10.08.09 at 9:53 pm

DH said: the Bible is part of God’s Word and all of God’s Word is God’s Word and is looked at equal because it is all God’s Word. Since Jesus is fully God then ALL of the Bible is part of God’s Word and ALL of the Bible is God/Jesus/HolySpirit at the same time. I don’t believe one passage of Scripture is looked at in a higher light then another passage of Scripture. ALL of Scripture is equal because God spoke whether it be God the Father or God the Son or God the Holy spirit.

If that’s true then why aren’t you executing adulterers and sons who curse their fathers?

20

dh 10.09.09 at 12:42 pm

This conversation is Tim is getting ridiculous. You don’t seem to understand the hermeneutic of Mosaic Law and the fulfillment of that Law in Christ. That doesn’t mean that one passage is looked at stronger than others but that all of Scripture is equal to the words of God because God said it.

21

Tim Chesterton 10.09.09 at 1:35 pm

This conversation is Tim is getting ridiculous. You don’t seem to understand the hermeneutic of Mosaic Law and the fulfillment of that Law in Christ On the contrary, I do understand it, and that’s why I see the authority of Christ as being superior to that of Moses. This, by the way is entirely consistent with the theology of the letter to the Hebrews.

To me the flat view of the Bible is impossible. In the Old Testament it is purported that God commanded his people to kill entire populations including babies and small children. Genocide and infanticide are apparently OK. But in the New Testament God in Christ tells us not to resist an evil person but to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us, and he tells us that children are so important that if anyone causes them to stumble it would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around their neck.

In the Old Testament we’re told that anyone who refuses to be circumcised is cut off from God’s people, but in the NT Paul tells us that circumcision or uncircumcision count for nothing (a position that was highly controversial amongst Christian Jews who believed that everything in the Bible was spoken by God). Food laws are the same. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus sets aside plain Old Testament teaching about murder and oaths and replaces it with a new ethic of his own.

So it’s a bit rich when you accuse me of not understanding how Christ has fulfilled the Law. You’re the one who doesn’t understand it, DH! What exactly is it that Hebrews is on about, if it’s not that Jesus is a better and clearer and (in fact) final Word of God?

22

dh 10.09.09 at 3:00 pm

Tim, I DO understand how Christ fulfilled the law. Also, I DO believe that Christ is superior to Moses but what Moses said in the Bible is just as much part of God’s Word as what the NT says. How the OT and NT are looked at in their time is different but that doesn’t mean one is more important than the other. I will say that Christ fulfilling the Mosaic Law is important but like Christ said “I did not come to do away with the Law but to fulfill the Law.” Also Jesus never said war in the absolute sense is wrong. He never says that it is wrong like you say to not come to the aid with violence when a child who is being attacked violently. Also Jesus did use vioolence when He used a whip to overthrow the moneychangers.

The fact remains God is the “Lion of Judah” and also the “Lamb of God”. Sometimes God for judgement operates like a Lion and other times for those whose hearts are soft He operates like a Lamb. In both cases we know that God operates perfectly in every way for His maximum Glory and maximum redemption affect to the greatest number of people who are willing to accept Him by Faith in Him.

23

Tim Chesterton 10.09.09 at 4:25 pm

DH, I don’t think there is any point in us continuing to have these discussions, as the likelihood of either of us convincing the other is very remote. To me, the positions you are taking seem to be contradictory, but you yourself obviously don’t see them in that way. Also, to me some of your views seem to be diametrically opposed to those of Jesus himself and so a denial of his Lordship, but, again, you obviously don’t see it that way. And I’m quite sure that you feel the same way about some of my views. So it might be better for us to metaphorically shake hands, agree to disagree, and pray for one another. I know I need all the prayer I can get!!!

24

dh 10.09.09 at 4:48 pm

Tim, I have no problem letting “bygones be bygones”. I’m sure that if you and I met for lunch with you I have no doubt that we would get along.

I hope in future discussions that we could at least find the middle ground. I have found that many times the truth is in the middle. However, we do know what happens to people when they are on the fence. Just kidding. :)

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