Greek Baptism

Father Aristotle Damaskos baptizes Anna Jean Damaskos during a baptism service at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church Saturday, December 29, 2018. Brad Nettles/Staff

The children's ministry at Royal Missionary Baptist Church is filled with young people who want to go to heaven.

When the Rev. Isaac Holt was told one Sunday that 60 children accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior in a session, he welcomed such good news.

But the North Charleston pastor was in no rush to baptize them. 

“It’s easy to tell a child if you don’t want to go to hell, raise your hand," he said. "A person’s heart has to be pierced. It can’t be a ritual.”

Several years ago, a task force with the Southern Baptist Convention reported that the only consistently growing age group of baptisms were children ages 5 and under — suggesting that the denomination was becoming more open to baptizing children at a younger age. 

But local Baptist pastors are saying that infant baptism is still against the denomination's belief.

The concept has split the Christian church for centuries. Infant baptism speaks to the larger question of how baptism ought to be understood and interpreted, and how Christian parents should raise their children in the faith.

Many denominations, including Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Presbyterian, Lutherans, Methodists and several others, say the religious rite brings children within the Christian family. Many view it as an act of grace by God that should not be restricted based on a person's age.

For many parents, it's about making the commitment to raise their children in the faith.

Goose Creek residents Enrico and Christina Chandler grew up Methodist. They had their 2-year-old son baptized and plan to have their 6-month-old daughter as well. 

"As a parent, you want nothing but the best for your child," Enrico Chandler said."This is how we want them to be brought up and we want everyone in the church family to know that we need everyone’s help." 

Others, like evangelical churches that include Baptists and nondenominational churches, see the practice as a symbolic. Baptism, they argue is a public profession of a person's conversion. 

Biblical history

While adult baptism is clearly present in the Bible, nowhere in Christian Scriptures are there explicit instances of infant baptism. 

The Gospels describe John the Baptist submerging Jesus, as an adult, in the Jordan River before he began his earthly ministry. The Book of Acts tells of an adult Ethiopian eunuch being baptized by an apostle.

For many, the legitimacy of infant baptism relies on whether it's explicitly evident in Scripture.

“There's no documentary evidence from the first century that points us in either direction," said Dr. Lenny Lowe, a global Christianity professor at the College of Charleston.

But some evidence suggests babies could have been baptized during the New Testament era.

In books such as 1 Corinthians and Acts, writers describe how entire households would follow an adult who was baptized. Historians say that this is assumed to include the entire family where babies could have been present.

In second century records, the Apostolic Tradition made references to infant baptism and later provided instructions on how it should be done.

While there was no specific evidence of the practice prior to the second century, the writings suggest infant baptism was not completely new and could have occurred earlier.

“By the the time you’re approximately 150 years removed from the Apostle Paul, [infant baptism] is already common practice," Lowe said. "It's so common that they’re talking about it, not as if it's something new."

What they believe

Eventually, infant baptism became the norm.

Historically, mainline denominations and some other churches practice it. Most see it as an act where, through grace, God removes a person's sins and welcomes them into the Christian Church.

Father Aristotle Damaskos, who leads Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on Race Street in Charleston, encourages parishioners to bring infants for baptism.

"We want to make sure they are with the rest of us in the kingdom of heaven," Damaskos said.

Damaskos added, however, that baptism does not grant salvation.

When asked whether a baby who died without being baptized would go to hell, he said, "That’s up to God’s mercy."

Methodists view the practice as participating in God's grace. Because grace should not be restricted to a person's age, the denomination baptizes children by sprinkling water on their heads.

The denomination also places emphasis on parental participation.

Chandler said having his son baptized was a way of invoking God's presence in his son's life.

"This is our way of professing and asking for God’s blessing," Chandler said. "Even in this young age when they’re not fully aware, we’re asking God to surround them with his blessings.”

The Baptist Church, however, interprets the practice differently.

In the early 17th century, the church formed, in part, because of its position on baptism.

Today, the congregation views baptism as a public profession of faith. A person should only be baptized after they have personally confessed and received Jesus as their savior and are willing to live a godly life, Baptist pastors say.

The emphasis, then, is on determining whether a person fully understands this confession and commitment.

“The danger in that is you will have people growing up thinking they’re already saved, without being converted," Holt said.

This is why Holt encourages parents to allow children to decide for themselves.

Still, it can be tricky. At what age is a child making an independent decision, free of coercion?

Holt said at his church, he welcomes children as as early as age 6 or 7.

In place of baptisms, many churches conduct blessings or christenings where the child is blessed by God.

“It’s so important that person understands. Jesus said you must be born again. There must be a change of heart. We don’t see how that happens in a baby," Holt said.

Most Christian parents want their children to have a relationship with God. Whether that requires baptism or not, is left up to interpretation.

But what's important for most Christian parents is that youth are exposed to the faith.

Marvee Hardee, who attends a nondenominational church in Summerville, has two preteens.

She said she'll leave it up to them to be baptized. But it's her responsibility to teach them about Christianity.

“Its up to me to put them in that environment so they come to that understanding," she said. “I do my best to raise my children in a Christian atmosphere. But it's still up to them.”

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