Sunday, 9 September 2007

A hymn for infant baptism: "O what a happy day!"

A hymn by Kim Fabricius

(Tune: Franconia / Carlisle)

       O what a happy day!
       We celebrate a death –
a dying into Jesus Christ –
       a girl’s/boy’s re-birth by Breath!

       All sin is washed away,
       now all is undefiled.
The Lord says, “I will be your God,
       and you will be my child.”

       Incorporate in Christ,
       and by the Spirit sealed,
this girl/boy will have a special place
       reserved for holy meals.

       Her/His bondage now is past,
       an exodus begins,
a pilgrimage in company
       of Christian kith and kin.

       This family of God,
       by water and the Word,
may all be found at journey’s end
       as faithful as our Lord.

14 Comments:

CJW said...

Struggle as I do to appreciate paedobaptism, this hymn helps. Not only we do we need to more fully develop narrative theology, but lyrical theology too. Thank you for this contribution, Kim.

JayBird's Joint said...

There even once is infant baptism even mentioned in the Scriptures,...something to consider.

Dustin said...

This wonderful portrayal of Baptism is well suited and indeed completely appropriate for ANY baptism. So weather one supports paedobaptism or not doesn't really matter in regards to this hymn. It is a splendid lyrical testament to the wonder, profundity, and beauty of baptism! Well done!

WTM said...

"All sin is washed away,
now all is undefiled."

Baptismal regeneration?

"Her/His bondage now is past,
an exodus begins,"

We're talking about an infant here - what bondage? Being in the womb?

I am a proponent of infant baptism, but I increasingly find that my brand is somewhat unique and formulated against both uber-sacramentalists, covenantal views, and credo-baptists. Guess I'm just an odd duck. :-)

Ben Myers said...

WTM, you ask: "We're talking about an infant here - what bondage? Being in the womb?" Good question! I can't speak for Kim here, but my own answer would be that we're talking about a promise, since baptism is nothing else than the performance of promise. The point is not (pace Augustine) that the infant is somehow already "sinful", but rather that the infant is already preceded by the performance of God's promise.

So the line "His bondage now is past, an exodus begins" is a good theological paradox: even before one enters into "bondage", God has already promised exodus and thus consigned all (future) bondage to the past. This might mean baptismal regeneration, but I don't think it has to.

IndieFaith said...

My thoughts were with wtm as well. My tradition does not practice infant baptism though I am not really against it. I struggled across the same two points with the same thoughts as above.

David Williamson said...

Is this fine lyric in response to the joyous event in the Myers household? Ben, I'm sure this young person will be surrounded by blessings which will serve as a foundation in the future.

I see baptism as the moment when the believer has the opportunity to say "Yes" to God. God's "Yes" precedes this, of course, and it is not a work which contributes to the individual's salvation, but it is an opportunity to respond to this gift - an act of the will in creation.

Can infant baptism really be said to be obedience, when parents are not commanded to this? It certainly can't be an act of thanks on the part of the child.

Of course, it can be an expression of dedication, and of thanks on behalf of the baby. But now we're borrowing the mechanics of a distinct sacrament. This wouldn't be so problematic if it didn't result in the exclusion of adult baptism, but it nearly always does.

As a result, there's the scramble to create a new rite, such as confirmation. We all know how Barth responded to this confusion, but it's interesting how little thanks he gets for these final thoughts.

kim fabricius said...

Ben can speak for me! I take baptism fundamentally to be declarative and promissory of our death and resurrection, respectively, in Christ. Romans 6 (with which the hymn begins) is the key text (not to forget Mark 10:38).

I would only qualify what Ben has written by saying that the child's sin and bondage are not just future (to use Barth's phrase) "impossible possibilities". To answer WTM's question, of course the child's "bondage" is not self-inflicted, nor by "sin" do I mean "transgression". I intentionally use the singular "sin" in the Pauline sense of power, not moral fault (cf. Ben's "pace Augustine"); and the "bondage" similarly is the Pauline slavery to sin which is the human condition, and so the neonatal conditon too.

Having said that, on paedobaptism as such, I am reminded of an expression of the late English historian A.J.P. Taylor, who once described himself as having, on a particular issue, "a strong position weakly held" - or was it "a weak position strongly held"? Whatever, I trust you catch my drift. And even if it is possible to hold a theologically responsible position on infant baptism, its ecclesial practice is a mess.

Canadian said...

"what bondage? Being in the womb?"

Original sin. May not be popular but I for one believe in it.

John Hartley said...

I'm in the odd position of quite liking this as a "hymn for baptism", but not particularly as a "hymn for infant baptism". The baptismal regeneration lines about dying into Christ, rebirth, sine being washed away, incorporation into Christ, bondage being past and so on are all sound and scriptural, but all the bible verses about them are about those whose baptisms are in the context of faith. They all ring true for believers ... and it's only the word "infant" that raises the hackles. And, strangely, the hymn actually says nothing about infants, except for using the words girl/boy/child instead of man/woman/person.

There is one bit which is denominationally divisive - the bit about baptism being an entry to the holy meal of communion. And if the reference was to believers instead of to infants, that line too would cease to be problematic

I would urge Kim to rethink these separatist aspects of the hymn. How about removing the word "infant" from the title? How about changing the last line of verse 1 to "new birth by Spirit's breath" (the capitalization of the word "Breath" is probably too subtle to convey much to the one-off attenders at baptisms)? And how about rewriting the second half of verse 3 so that it talks about a person healed (as a rhyme to sealed).

Obviously it's Kim's hymn, but we hymwriters are servants of the Church at large and we need to write hymns which unite rather than divide. (I write as an Anglican who promotes Thanksgivings instead of Baptisms for the infants of non-attenders.)

JOHN HARTLEY

Ann Chapin said...

How do we avoid deriving a ‘we now are God’s favorites’ insinuation from most hymns? There seems to be a hidden – maybe just to the oversensitive non-believers – innuendo of ‘now I’m better than you’ that one could get out of many hymns, including ‘Amazing Grace’ (the nonbeliever is lost, blind, etc.?)

But I do understand your point, John, and I resonate with it, although I also would not want to talk of every sacrament watered down so that no non-believer finds it offensive. Probably the person getting baptized or having an infant baptized does not have the thought ‘now I’m better than the non-baptized’ foremost on his mind. On the other hand, I find it very annoying when clergy ask if someone is baptized before being able to receive communion. So much takes us back to what difficulties are found in exclusionary talk. And, I like Kim’s hymn, even though I bristled at some parts as well, but I doubt any part was intended as such.

I would be a lousy hymnist – all mine would be ‘Help, God, Help, I’m making a mess of it all…’

Pastor David said...

Thank you. Much of the best theology of the church is expressed in song - as also is the theology of heaven. If I can find someone to perform it, I will use this at my own daughter's baptism (with your permission, of course).

kim fabricius said...

Thank you, David. Of course you have my permission - and my delight.

Josh said...

"Struggle as I do to appreciate paedobaptism, this hymn helps." (cjw)

That it does! It helps to show how utterly foolish the false doctrine of infant baptism is.

"Her/His bondage now is past,
an exodus begins,
a pilgrimage in company
of Christian kith and kin."


Saith the baby: Whoa! I sure am glad that long hard bondage is over! I don't think I could have taken the bondage of sin one moment longer! All the drinking and carousing with women...all the drugs....man, I sure am glad Jesus changed my life. 20 years later the baptized infant is lying drunk in the gutter with 5 or 6 stds from a long hard life of bondage to sin, thinking, man I sure am glad Jesus changed my life when I was 0.5 years old! What a change he wrought in me!

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