Saturday, October 22, 2011

Baptized in the Hospital

Well, this afternoon, at 1:52, my son Victor was born. Then, at 1:57, I baptized him. Indeed, the first time I spoke his name to him when he was outside of the womb was when I baptized him.

I know people talk about how Baptism in the Church is a wonderful teaching opportunity - how the rite being a public thing on Sunday morning teaches its importance. No. You know what teaches how important Baptism is? When tomorrow morning I show up and say, "Yeah, my kid was born yesterday, and guess what, now he's a member of this congregation because he was baptized -- baptized before I even let anyone know he was born."

Things we are willing to push off and delay are things that we subconsciously think aren't that important. It doesn't matter how big a production we make about it -- if we can push it off, it has a lower priority.

Consider it this way. If I can't be bothered to actually show up on your birthday, sure, I can try to make a big production 3 weeks later when it's convenient for me. But I still missed the actual day... and why? Oh, yeah... um... that episode of that TV show was on. See how important you are? Or how unimportant you are?

So, which is more important - your son being cleansed of his sin... or aunt Bertha getting to show on up? I'll choose forgiveness every time.


scott said...

Congrats on the new son. And congrats to him for being adopted by the Triune God. Excellent news.

Phillip said...

This was our good parenting example in Sunday School. Hospital Baptism is a wonderful teaching tool.

George said...

I disagree... not because you're wrong in principle. The proper location of baptism is at a church. Just like the proper (human) baptizer is the ordained minister of the church. Changing location, or having a nurse baptize, or whatever is for extraordinary situations. Now, I also think that babies should be baptized as soon as is practical, perhaps the first sunday after birth or even midweek, but it shouldn't be disconnected from the life of the church.

Waiting for the perfect time to have a nice party does show poor prioritization, but having a baptism at a church is only proper

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

George - having a baptism at Church is only proper... why? What about the locus of the Church makes it the proper place for Baptism?

I'm not arguing that it is IMproper to have a baptism at church - but why is it only proper to have it there? This promise is for you and for your children... repent and be baptized, you and your whole household... what Scripture leads one to say, "Ah, yes, this should be done in the physical building of the Church"?

Again - *should* is the question. I'm not doubting that it can be done, or even that having baptism being done at the font isn't a fine tradition. But what makes it scriptural that it should, that it is only proper to do it that way?

Of course, I could also ask why you think a pastor baptizing a child in its mother's arms is "disconnected" from the life of the Church?

George said...


What I mean is that the Church building is the sacred space of the community. It's the natural locus of the sacrament of the altar, no doubt you agree. It's the natural place of preaching too. Neither of these must be done in a church. In fact, what could be more life-giving than communion in the hospital?

Any pastoral act is absolutely "connected" to the life of the church. no problem there. Only take your post to its logical extreme and the nurse (or father) or whatever should be prepared with water as soon as baby's head crowns. I mean, why wait 20 minutes for the pastor to get there? I'll take forgiveness any time.

I certainly don't mean to suggest that there was impropriety in baptizing your child. I meant "proper" in the technical sense. Should fonts be taken out of churches (and, no I don't mean to the narthex... I mean eliminated) because we do baptisms in hospitals or wherever we first see water?

The Church, in the broad sense, is involved in every baptism. Locating baptisms outside of the regular worship of the Church is unnatural. Necessary, sometimes, but still not ideal.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

George, your statement "Locating baptisms outside of the regular worship of the Church is unnatural" is historically off. Seriously. Catastrophically off.

If one travels to Europe, one will see that the Cathedrals don't tend to have fonts in them -- and that is because they have Baptistries instead, separate buildings holding the font, because Baptism was done as soon as possible and not in the context of normal corporate worship. The Doors at the Florence Baptistry are wonderful, and the accoustics at the Baptistry in Pisa almost got Dr. Just, Dr. Scaer, and myself arrested =o)

Indeed, Luther wasn't baptized in a church service - he was born the 10th of November, and on the 11th his dad dragged him to the Church to be baptized -- on St. Martin's day.

Or in the Early Church, if you look at the wondrous rites of baptisms on Easter Vigil - even they happened out of the view of the congregation.

So, no - the idea that it is "natural" to have baptisms in the Sunday morning service isn't true. It doesn't hold weight historically speaking.

In this we are perfectly free to baptize in Church or outside -- I'd rather just get it done asap... because it is important.

(Also, you wait until the child is born - first breath. First the normal, physical respiration, then the Waters giving the Spirit and true Life. And I'd gladly be in the room during delivery if requested.)

George said...


The history (as I already knew it) supports my position rather than yours. To clarify, I think the best practice is to have a child baptized at the earliest regular opportunity at the church.

Your position suggests there should be no baptismal fonts, unless perhaps they should be placed in hospital rooms... The historical nature of baptistries suggests that the church understood that there was a place to be set aside for baptisms. I gladly grant that a reasonable discussion could be had regarding the placement of a font -- in the chancel, directly in front of the chancel, at the entrance of the nave, outside the sanctuary. These are all reasonable in their own way, maybe some better than others... But you advocate having no need for a font. If daily masses are said and priests daily baptize babies as part of the church's normal life, that's great. I have no problem with that. But still, the proper location of mass and baptism is at a space set aside for it.

I never made the argument that the view of the congregation was essential. We could argue about the merits thereof, but that's not my point.

I still think you haven't addressed the logical extensions of your argument. Is the proper location of communion an altar in a sanctuary? (I say yes) Does that mean that it should never happen outside of that? (I say no)

I know my suggestion of baptism upon crowning was absurd (reductio ad absurdum) but I don't know how you have arrived at the idea that baptism must follow breath. Do you really suggest that life starts at the first breath? I doubt it. But fine, you want the baby to have the breath of life. Still, why not have whoever is there (pastor or not) ready to sprinkle/pour when the first cry comes? I also would be glad to be invited into delivery rooms for pastoral care, and I want to baptize every unbaptized child I see... right away. But so also I want to offer people the life and salvation offered by Christ in His Supper and yet I (generally) wait until we're at the proper location.

To make this all the more clear, finally answer this situation (not far fetched in the slightest). A couple has a baby, perhaps sooner than expected or in a far-away location. Through no fault of their (or his) own the pastor is not able to come for, say, an hour. Should a nurse, the father, the mother baptize the child (I say no)? Would it be wrong to baptize the child (I say no)? Are there circumstances which might change your answer (I say yes)? But it seems to me your logic dictates that the baby should be baptized by the first competent adult... despite the fact that the proper administer of baptism is an ordained minister (as Christ himself indicated) and that only the genuine possibility of death would be reason to alter it.

Thanks for reading -- I do appreciate your thought on this (we never get too much interesting theological discussion in my circuit... :) )

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


1. I have no problem with baptism at the font. However, I'd much rather pastors go to the children when asked. My wife requested that her pastor be there and baptize quickly.

2. Where have I advocated having "no need" for a font? Where? While I did not use one because I baptized in the hospital, if I baptize in the Church, I use the font.

3. Read the Didache? So, your font got cold living water in it (i.e. is it a river)? =o)

4. The buildings exist for the sake of providing a place for Word and Sacrament to take place... but they are totally unnecessary. I'm in Oklahoma - if my sanctuary gets hit by a tornado, we can meet in the parking lot. If someone brings a child to be baptized at Church, we'll use the font. But if the parents want a child baptized quickly, I'll go without hesitation, just as if a parishoner says, "Pastor, I need the Supper" I'm not going to say, "Oh, just wait until the weekend."

5. If a kid looks wrong at all, God bless the faithful nurses who care for the littlest in His kingdom!

6. As for the Breath thing... the 1/8 of me that is Jewish and the 1/4 of me that are Irish are conspiring to make an argument towards that -- but I really can't. It probably would be better, in terms of the New Testament, that you need to let the child be born once before he is to be born again.

As for your situation: I am not going to encourage the laity to baptize their own kid - rather I will make every effort to be there ASAP if they want their child baptized ASAP (of course, if this is a couple that wants their child baptized ASAP - I shouldn't be to the hospital an hour late, because I'd have instructed them to let me know when they go into labor).

However, if there is any concern, fear, or doubt about the kid - baptize 'em. And, I don't worry about the affront to the pastoral office, because this is a conversation I have with my folks -- if I am not in the room and things look rough - go and baptize. That is not a usurpation of pastoral authority. As Ignatius puts it - let nothing be done without the bishop. If I am not able to be their physically, and the parents are concerned and baptize, that is not done in spite of me or my office, but as those who listen and have learned from their pastor.

You overplay things here far too much (and I think underplay the "genuine possibility of death" for infants) in terms of pushing logic upon things.

What I recommend is this - have your kid baptized as soon as possible (normally by your pastor unless illness).

Thomas Lemke said...

Acts chapter 8 seems pertinent here:

"And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, 'See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?' And Phillip replied, "Silly eunuch, locating baptisms outside of the regular worship of the Church is unnatural. We need to wait until we're at the proper location. Tell you what, why don't you show on up this Sunday and we'll do it the right way - with a font!'"

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...


Again congratulations on the birth and rebirth of your son!

I baptized my first son in the hospital, and the other three with the congregation present. One of those three was a hospital chapel where our church was worshiping at that time in Puerto Rico, one was in a garage where our church was worshiping at that time in Mexico, and the last was baptized in my present church.

I would never suggest there is anything wrong with a hospital baptism. But I think you're perhaps discounting a bit too much what's good about a baptism in the presence of the congregation (whether it's a nice church with a font or a tiny garage with a bowl of water).

We should not underestimate the prayers of the gathered church for the baptized, especially a little child. Luther speaks of this in his Third Sunday after Epiphany, and summarizes, "So here we also say, that children are not baptized in the faith of the sponsors or of the church; but the faith of sponsors and of the church prays and gains faith for them, in which they are baptized and believe for themselves."

Luther doesn't say this to suggest that "the more prayers, the more likely the child is to be given faith." But neither should the benefit of the praying church be discounted as unnecessary or irrelevant.

Then, by your "as soon as possible" encouragement, you risk unnecessarily burdening the consciences of parents who very properly wait to have their children baptized in church, as if the hospital choice were the better one. The 8th day stipulation for circumcision is certainly not a mandate for baptism, but it does guide us to understand that God is not playing games with us, as if we had to race to get the Sacrament to our children the moment they take their first breath, or else God will condemn them eternally. That almost seems like the functional Arminianism H. Curtis has referred to. God is good. We should not put him to the test. But you would be hard pressed to demonstrate that waiting a few minutes (or a few days) to baptize our children would qualify as such tempting of God.

Phillip said...

Nothing says the Sacraments are real and matter like Baptizing a child within five minutes of him or her being born.

Brian Yamabe said...

Pr. Brown,
Congratulations on all accounts! I want to say this with all due respect, but this would seem to be an exercise of freedom that does not promote good order. It makes me uncomfortable in that it could give the appearance that the Office of the Holy Ministry has this special perk in which office holders can baptize their kids right out of the womb. And what if I, as a layman, can't convince my pastor to do the same, then why shouldn't I be free to do it myself.

But my understanding (and please correct) is that baptism is part of the keys given to the Church and public administration is typically done by the Office and also because it is a part of the keys given to the Church she should be regularly be present as well. That could be all wrong, but it's what I've pieced together.

Anyway, I just wanted to voice a concern and in no way wish to detract from these blessed events.

Brian Yamabe

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Brian - I think you are spot on when you say that the pastor is the one who ought to baptize. However... on the "because it is a part of the keys given to the Church she should be regularly be present as well" I'd ask a question.

Was not the Church present in that hospital room? In what way? Is the Church somehow more churchy if we get more than 2 or 3? When I go visit the shut-in in the nursing home (even though they could be brought to the church and have been) is that less... church?

Also - something to note is that this is something I have offered to every single family expecting a child in my congregation. If one of my sheep is in the hospital, that room *is* part of my pen, my church, and I will be there for whatever is needed.

As for your question: And what if I, as a layman, can't convince my pastor to do the same, then why shouldn't I be free to do it myself?

The key word there is "shouldn't". Because you ought to respect your pastor and his office. I think the pastor who would say, "eh, just wait" is foolish and callous and should get off his backside and administer the sacraments to those who ask for them. But, he's your pastor. If you are going to be under his care, be under his care -- unless you get worried about the life of the child. Then you've got the emergency baptism aspect that we've always had in the LCMS.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Paul -

1. Who says the Church doesn't pray for my child because the baptism happened in the Church? I have encouraged people to pray for my child - even before his birth. Also, when he can get to church we will have the rite of the public announcement of a baptism previously done (can't remember the specific title). This is not a discounting of congregational prayer.

However, why would you think that the prayers as I baptized my son were lacking in any way because the congregation on Sunday morning wasn't present? Therefore with angels and archangels ain't just whistling dixie... and my own baptism didn't stick better because there were over 100 at that service. "Our Father" doesn't become "My Father" on a Saturday afternoon.

2. What does it mean to "very properly wait"? Is that 2 days until the child can be taken out of the hospital and brought to the font (I'd be fine with that, let's set it up)?

Is that 3 weeks after being home when mother and child are healthy enough to come to service (I'm okay with that)?

Is it 6 weeks because aunt Bertha can't get time off until then?

Is it 3 months because we know that God is merciful and a God of grace... besides my baptist cousin hasn't had his kids baptized yet and he's a good fine Christian.

I would rather burden the conscience of parents with respecting God's gift of Baptism and not disdaining it for worldly concerns than talk to the mourning parents of a child who dies unexpectedly at 2 weeks but hadn't had the kid baptized. I'd much, much rather be able to point to Baptism in that discussion, be able to say that God has called their child by name and say that they will see him again, rather than just piously say, "Oh, well God is good."

I'm not worried about tempting God -- I just realize how craptastical this world can be - especially to Christians, and thus let us be in the Word with little hesitation.

What hinders us?

Brian Yamabe said...

Pr. Brown,
I can't argue with what anything you've said, but then this leads me to 2.5 questions? Why wasn't this the practice of the early church? (or was it and my understanding is flawed). Why isn't this there a push to make this standard practice?

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...


I meant "very properly wait" as in, until the gathered Church can be present, which is usually within a week. It's not about the "official font." It's about the saints who gather around it.

I'll tell you what happened after I baptized my fourth son (this one in church on Sunday morning). Just think about it. One of my members came up to me after the service and thanked me. I said, "For what?" "For letting me be here for the baptism of your son. Most pastors I've had have baptized their own kids privately. It's only the lay members who usually bring their children to the font. So thank you for letting me be here, and thank you for showing us it's OK."

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Brian - Why wasn't it the practice of the early church? Because it wasn't until 70 years ago that being born in the hospital was the norm =o)

Paul - if most of her pastors had baptized their kids privately, she's had some strange pastors, or maybe there's more of a push (a la Brian) to make this a standard practice than I realized.

Now, what I will say is this -- if I were in a situation where baptizing in the Church was disdained and not treated as less - than I'd probably delay until the first Sunday, or more probably have plan a service for after discharge and invite whoever wants to come. But that ain't the case around here.