I’m actually rather disappointed in this video by Archbishop Justin Welby in which he attempts to explain what baptism, and particularly the baptism of Prince George, is all about.
I like Justin Welby and I think as a bishop he is incredibly focussed on the Good News of Jesus Christ, on prayer, on Christian witness, and on reconciliation.
So I find it a little disappointing that our Lord Jesus Christ barely gets a mention in this video about the meaning of baptism!
In the New Testament, by contrast, baptism is inextricably linked, not just to God, but to Jesus the Son of God. Jesus clearly identifies the meaning of baptism in Matthew 28:18-20:
‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Baptism in this passage clearly means becoming a disciple or follower of Jesus. The call of baptism, for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as parents bringing a child to the sacrament, is for them to be sure that they are following Jesus as their Lord, and committing themselves to raising their son George in ‘the School of Jesus’, so to speak.
But it is impossible for George to grow and learn in the School of Jesus without supernatural help. John’s Gospel therefore talks about ‘being born of water and the Spirit’, the miracle that God does by his grace, granting us the free gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us to do the things he calls us to do. This is one of the things that baptism signifies.
Baptism is not just about ‘belonging to God’. Surely every child born on earth belongs to God, in the sense that God is their Creator and God loves them! No, baptism is about being born again into the family of Jesus, and it is the beginning of a life of following Jesus in the context of his people, the Christian church.
In this respect, it is disappointing that Prince George will be baptized in ‘a private ceremony’. Most of us Anglican Christians have long since given up baptizing people in private ceremonies. We believe that if a person is being baptized into the people of Jesus, then the people of Jesus should be there to support them, to welcome them, and to witness the promises being made. I am sure the Archbishop believes this. Surely, in this day and age, it’s time for the Church of England to make it clear that, whether a baby is born to be King or not, he gets to be baptized in the same way as anyone else – at public service, so that the people of Jesus can be present to welcome him into the School of Jesus.
I wish the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge well, and I hope that when their son is baptized tomorrow they will be sincere in the promises they make and in their desire to help him grow up as a follower of Jesus. But I wish that Archbishop Welby had taken the opportunity in this video to be clearer about what the Gospel of Jesus really is, and how baptism is connected to it, and I do wish that by his actions he would make it clearer that, whatever privilege a person may or may not have been born into, they receive the sacrament of baptism in the same way, and under the same circumstances (i.e. the corporate worship of a Christian congregation), as anyone else, and it confers on them a dignity greater than any royal dignity on earth – that of being a follower of Jesus Christ, born again of water and the Spirit.