Does it work?

Sometimes it makes sense to look at church practices with a pragmatic eye.  Does the thing or method have its intended effect?  Does it work?

Consider the following hypothetical conversation:

Teenager to adult Christian friend:  I’m going to quit school and __________ [fill in the blank with a negative direction in a believing young person’s life].  I don’t really care what anyone say anymore. It’s what I want to do.

Adult friend:  But we were there at your baby dedication 15 years ago, and we promised with the whole church community to uphold you as you grew into a Christian young woman.

Teenager:   Oh. I almost forgot that.  Well, I guess I won’t continue on my current path, then.  I’ll recommit to following Jesus instead.

(Said no one ever.)

Through the years, I’ve actually felt a great deal of empathy with the idea of baby dedication ceremonies.  (We are not talking about “christenings” here.)  No, there is no biblical pattern for them, and that fact alone makes many of my siblings back away from any practice—at least until they realize that many of the things they’ve been practicing for years also have no biblical backing.  But most of the baby dedication ceremonies baby-dedicationI’ve observed¹ have been fairly well conceived, with a strong concept of Christian community and a desire to do something that supports young families.  Some of the hallmarks of these ceremonies may be 1) introductions and insights into who the families are, 2) a pastoral (in the truest sense) prayer, and 3) recitation or response by the whole congregation, i.e., some type of pledge to uphold the family in their desire to be Christ’s family and to raise the children to be Jesus’ followers.  Not one of those is a bad thing, right?

Unfortunately, I think there’s no more effectiveness in such a ceremony than in the post-Constantinian practice of infant baptism, which I take as a shallow, perhaps desperate attempt to perpetuate an institution by forcing the young into it.

The day before this essay is made public, our family will have attended the wedding of dear longtime friends’ daughter, and we have looked forward to sharing in the celebration.  We look hopefully with all of them to the future of this particular marriage.  But wedding ceremonies don’t have a terrific record of effectiveness, either.  Whatever the current stats are for weddings/marriages/divorce—whether taken in the whole or in any cross-section—I imagine we could generally agree that there is a limited correlation between ceremony on the one hand and long-term stick-to-it-ive-ness on the other.  (It’s not the ceremony, after all, but the people’s character and commitment that makes the difference.)

There is to my eye a much more notable lack of correlation between baby dedication ceremonies in all religious traditions and the likelihood of said babies actually turning out to be disciples of Jesus.  I’m not saying baby dedications should cease, necessarily.  I’m rather saying that they’re not effective.  Possibly, in a less mobile society in which small Christian groups existed familially for 20 years or more, they would be more effective.

What works better than ceremonies?  What do you think?


¹ I think we might have even participated in such a ceremony ourselves about 6.5 years ago, but the fact that I can’t remember for sure may say something.

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3 thoughts on “Does it work?

  1. John Eoff 04/24/2016 / 8:15 pm

    Not too well. —-or is the new post not the new format where most of page is blank and article has to be pulled over to the left to be read. (That’s how it was on my computer). jde

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    • Brian Casey 04/24/2016 / 10:07 pm

      I received one private comment as well about something not working, but I wasn’t sure what it meant. Everything looks just as usual on my end, and I’m not sure what might or might not have happened. I edited this post on three different devices over a period of several days, and something must’ve gotten askew behind the scenes. Are you looking at an e-mailed format or at the actual website here?

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  2. Brian Casey 04/25/2016 / 5:12 pm

    via Facebook:
    James D. Wallace As a person who deals with statistics occasionally I find correlations interesting. However, a lack of correlations just means that there is not a linear consistent relationship of magnitude. Given sufficient numbers, I would imagine that saying “I will love you for the rest of your life” and actually accomplishing it has even less of a correlation than what you describe. But it does contribute and make the world a better place and I would not recommend it not be done (or if you prefer I would still recommend it be done).

    Brian Casey: Thanks for the clarity. I was surely a bit careless in terms of suggesting any clear patterns/correlations. It’s more of a general sense based on observations.

    As for marriages and commitments, I would recommend that they be continued in perpetuity, too. It’s the effectiveness of the ceremony, not the character or intentions of those involved, that I challenge. There are probably instances in which on-the-rocks marriages were saved when one party or both parties watched the wedding video and remembered the commitment made. There again, I’d say it’s more about the character of the person, but the ceremony could be seen as a tool. Just my thoughts.

    James D. Wallace: Good thoughts and I don’t think anyone should consider the ceremonies causal. But they do have an effect even if it not the one intended. Take marriage for instance. Certainly character is the issue for the bride and groom, but what about the intangible effects the ceremony has on the other participants (entourage, watchers, ministers, etc.) These are rarely considered and may be the more important outcome. I would love to know if long-term intact marriages attend more ceremonies than not. Ceremonies are funny things, they both define who we are and who we want to be. However, your point is valid, in that they themselves probably have little to do with causal outcomes and are rather symptomatic of either a desired or idealistic outcome.

    Brian Casey: I’m glad you brought up the effects on others. Perhaps every married couple should make it a point to attend at least one good wedding a year. smile emoticon

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