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HINSHAW: Coverage misses the mark on baptism

Prince George, 3 months old and in line to become King of England and head of the Anglican Church, was baptized this week in London, England.

My source for this news, a Weather and News app on my smart phone, assigned the article to the Entertainment Section, a place normally populated by Justin Bieber, Oprah Winfrey and Wolverine. The lengthy article, written by Maria Puentes and first published in USA Today is typical of how secular writers misunderstand the sacraments of the church.

Most of the article was devoted to the baptismal gown, the ancient font that held the water, the water itself (from the Jordan River), the guest list, the cake eaten after the baptism, the adoring crowds outside the chapel, the names of the godparents and the names of some who were absent.

Those who love the church and hold dear the sacrament of baptism know that none of these things matters. What does matter in baptism is the presence and power of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the beginning of life in Christ. Christians have disagreed for centuries over whether baptism is efficacious for infants or only for those who seek baptism of their own volition. They disagree over whether baptism must be by immersion or is effective with a few drops of water. They even disagree over whether to call baptism a sacrament. But all followers of Christ understand that the report of a powerful, Spirit-filled, life-changing ceremony isn’t entertainment.

Ms. Puente displayed the imprecision of baptismal language typical of many outside and inside the church. Although “christening” (naming the person to be baptized) is an important part of the ritual of baptism, George Alexander Louis was baptized. Perhaps the language of the Church of England lent to the confusion when they wrote that babies are baptized in a Service of Christening, but the Church of England is quite clear in identifying the sacrament itself as Holy Baptism. To call the baptism of an infant a “christening” is to diminish it. Whether this happens at 3 months old or 30 years old it is baptism, plain, simple, mysterious and powerful.

Buried deep in the USA Today article the writer finally mentioned the Bible verses read in the service, though never describing what they said or meant. I guess she ran out of room after depicting the “christening cake”. The two hymns sung by the congregation and the two anthems sung by the choir contained words of deep power, never mentioned. Same with the prayers. The words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who baptized Prince George, were paraphrased so briefly that I suspected the reporter missed their significance.

Blessings on you, Prince George, not because of the pageantry, as impressive as it would have been. Pomp – though not necessary for baptism – can lend gravity to any occasion and few traditions do pomp better than the Church of England. Blessings on you, little one, not for the pageantry, but for the promise of growth in grace and the acceptance and assurance of salvation. This child of royalty is now a royal child of the King of Kings.

Creede Hinshaw is a retired minister.