These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
I am always looking for creative ways of having spiritual, theological, biblical and gospel-rich conversations with my daughter. I especially wanted to give her an open forum to ask me any question about God that she might have.
This is a difficult thing to do without the conversation feeling forced. If I just point blank asked her, “Do you have any questions about God?” she would always say no, and fair enough. Not only is that a big question for anyone to just respond to in the moment, she’s also only 5 years old!
Having said that, 5 years olds can be incredibly reflective and curious, and my daughter Dorothy is that and more! So I was so happy when I discovered a little game we play that has inspired some wonderful discussions.
Dot started listening to a podcast on ABC Kids Listen called “Imagine This“. It’s an engaging podcast targeted at little kids, where they answer some scientific question. Now, whenever Dot is interested in some show or activity, she always wants to use imaginative play to act it out. So, I thought I’d see if she wanted to act out doing a podcast where kids ring in and ask a question about God. We called our show… Godcast.
Dot LOVED it! She could make the ringing sound of the phone and invent the name of the child who rang up. And then, she would make up a few questions. That’s where the magic happened.
At first she would ask questions that she knew the answers to, but after a few times, her questions would get deeper and more interesting. Sometimes she would ask something really poignant that philosophers have been wondering about for centuries.
To mix things up, I would also now and then take on the role of being a caller and I would ask a question I was curious to see how she might answer. It has been really insightful to learn not only what questions my daughter has, but what is her current understanding of the Christian faith.
Welcome to Godcast
A week or so ago, I asked Dot if she would like to record this little game we were playing and share it with others. She was delighted to, and so I’ve begun posting them on podbean.
At the time of writing this, we’ve done four episodes, and we’ve covered such questions as:
Why do we have to read the bible?
What’s the biggest thing God knows about?
Did God create himself?
Why do we sing about God?
Why do we pray?
How did God make the birds tweet?
And then, the other night, something even more wonderful happened. Dot asked to play “Godcast” because she had a question about God she personally wanted to ask. It touched me that she knew that I would listen to her questions, make her feel safe about asking them and help her think through the answers in a fun and easily understandable way. And for a Christian dad, that is absolute gold.
If you’re a parent, get creative and experimental in your efforts to teach them the faith. Keep working with your child’s interests and personality and don’t be afraid to be a bit silly along the way.
And as Deuteronomy 6:6-7 encourages us, integrate spiritual conversation with your kids into every part of life. Talk with them about God “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
In Melbourne at the moment, weddings are banned until we achieve an average of less than 5 new cases of Covid-19 in the entire state AND that no new cases come from an unknown source, for two weeks straight.
That means that if there is an outbreak in a country town somewhere, then even if there are no cases of Covid-19 in the rest of Victoria, then no Melbournite will be able to get married (in the eyes of the State).
Not even if the minister social distances and wears a mask and performs the ceremony through livestream. Not even if the witnesses are viewing it via Zoom. Not even if you only have a group of 5 and everyone involved come from two households, even though during Step 2 the DHHS website says you are allowed to have outdoor “public gatherings – up to 5 people from a maximum of two households”… Just not for a wedding apparently.
To put this in perspective, since the 16th of March there has been only 6 DAYS that achieved that benchmark. That’s right, in the last 176 days, 170 of those days would have prevented people from being allowed to marry under the Victorian Government’s current standards.
The DHHS website states that this could possibly go on indefinitely as we will only be able to transition to Step 3 (where small weddings are allowed) “once the thresholds are met; there is no set date.”
There is a petition going around asking Dan Andrews to change his mind on banning weddings. I hope it is effective.
But if it doesn’t, and the wedding ban in Victoria goes on indefinitely, at what point do Christian couples just get married and worry about the formalities later?
At what point do we remember that marriage is not created by the Government. It is created by God. The State acknowledges it, registers it, records it and grants it certain legal rights and privileges. But the State does not make people married, nor can it ban people from making vows before God, with people witnessing (even if remotely).
History tells of the Roman Emperor Claudius II, who around 270AD apparently banned weddings for the sake of the Empire. It was thought that married men love their wives and children and so don’t join the military to go off to war as willingly.
The legend goes that St Valentine defied the law and married couples in secret because he saw marriage as not a right granted (or forbidden) by the government, but a sacrament given by God.
I’m not saying we should disobey the law, even over this issue. But I do think we need something of a St Valentine attitude. Marriage is a good gift from God, and like the ancient proverb from Nike says… maybe we should “Just Do It” and worry about the paperwork after we one day meet the crazily ambitious numbers the State has currently set.
There have been so many changes over the past few weeks that it is hard to keep up! The learning curve for adults and kids alike has been huge, as we have adjusted all aspects of life to a new corona environment. Our family has had fun working out how to ‘do church’ at home and I thought I’d share a few of the things we’ve been doing in case they help your family also. So here are 5 tips for making the most of live streaming church with your kids.
1) Be Prepared
One of the key things we have tried to do each weekend is ‘set up’ for church. On Saturday night (or usually Sunday morning) we pack away the toys, place out bibles, set up a table of activities and have nametags ready for when the congregation of three ‘arrive’ at church. A set up space makes the room feel different to the rest of the week and communicates that we are doing something special. In the morning we prepare kids snacks for the service, we get the livestream ready and make sure we have had breakfast (and caffeine for the adults!). The basic goal is that when church begins you can all participate without having to come and go.
2) Involve the Kids
We have found that the more we involve our daughter with this preparation, the more she is engaged with the service. Helping to set up the room, making nametags and choosing musical instruments tell her that this is something we are doing as a family together. For young children especially ‘imaginative play’ can help them get excited about church and give a sense of ‘normality’ to these strange times. Some families ‘walk to church’ by walking around the block before the service begins, others do ‘welcoming’ and we often do ‘drop off’ for Little Sunday School complete with pick-up tags!
3) Explain the Service
Livestreaming has provided us a new and rich opportunity to engage our kids in the Sunday Service. When else can you have a conversation with your kids during the service about what the word repentance means? We have used a variety of things to help engage our daughter during the service. From having a kid’s bible open with the same passage, to acting out the bible story as it’s being read or having home-made musical instruments ready for the singing. God’s Word reminds us that he wants us to explain our religious practices to our children so let’s make the most of this unique opportunity!
And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’ ” Then the people bowed down and worshiped.
Exodus 12:26-27 NIV
4) Modelling Worship
“Church at home” gives us a great opportunity to model to our children our worship of God. More important than any creative tool you could use is the model we set as they watch us each Sunday. Making time and space in our home for church shows our kids how important God is in our lives. Our attention and participation in the service models how we listen to God in his word, talk to him in prayer and praise him in song. Never underestimate how significant a witness you are to your children simply to listening and responding to God. So make the livestream time on Sundays a priority and be aware of your own distractions. This may mean leaving your phone elsewhere if it is not needed!
As government restrictions are lifted we may also have the opportunity to model hospitality to our kids as we welcome other believers into our home to worship with us on Sundays. (A great opportunity to also model sacrificial love by cleaning and disinfecting in preparation!)
5) God’s Word for Everyone
The most challenging part of the livestream service is what to do during the sermon. We want our kids to engage with God’s Word but we need to hear it for ourselves also. For us, we send our daughter to “Little Sunday School” with activities she can do by herself and morning tea to eat. As a back-up we have our iPad with headphones ready so she can watch a kids’ talk whilst we listen to the sermon. For older kids, this could be a great opportunity to teach them how to listen to sermons. You could print off the sermon outline or transcript or give them a special notebook for their own notes or drawings as they listen. You could even think of one or two questions to ask them at the end.
I recognise that a lot of this is made easier for us having only one child, so if it is not possible to hear the sermon during this time either alternate which parent is ‘on duty’ or plan another time when children are sleeping to sit down and watch the sermon together. Whatever you decide, make it a priority to be able to hear from God’s Word for yourself. Remember, God’s Word is powerful so there is much for your children to learn even by hearing his word preached in the background whilst building a Lego tower.
Have grace for yourself and your kids
Even before coronavius, some Sundays are just difficult! Grumpiness abounds, kids are crazy, adults exhausted, the house is a mess and the list goes on. Your Heavenly Father loves to hear from you and provide for your needs so ASK for his help each Sunday. God has shown grace to us, so have an abundance of grace and patience for your kids and yourselves in this season. God doesn’t expect us to do things perfectly. In fact, our weakness exists so that we would trust his sufficient grace! (2 Cor 12:9-10)
So pray, prepare and try new things until you find what works for your family. We have been doing this for a number of weeks now and each Sunday we have seen more and more fruit from our efforts. Our daughter is participating in the singinging and children’s talks, we are able to hear more of the sermon and there are less meltdowns on Zoom after the service.
There has been lots of prayer, conversation and experimentation to get us to this point. But it is worth it to make the most of this and every opportunity to teach our daughter how amazing our God is and that he is worthy of all our praise and worship, both on Sunday and forevermore.
This year I attended the March for the Babies and had the opportunity to have some interesting discussions with some pro-choice advocates who were attending the counter-rally. Some were aggressive and didn’t want to engage, some were thoughtful and wonderful and were saddened by the aggression of others on their side.
The following is an online conversation with one lady who wanted to ask me to defend my pro-life position. At times she is pretty aggressive, but I am not posting our discussion here to critique her, and if you are offended on my behalf at any point I ask you to let it pass. I think she asked me some interesting and valid questions that all pro-life advocates should be able to answer.
So I have posted below our conversation in full. I have made some slight editing to the grammar to make it easier to read, but I have not edited the content. This is so you can see how I engage in these discussions “in real time”.
I don’t think I handled every question or accusation perfectly, but I do hope reading this will be an encouragement to you and maybe give you some tips for your online discussions in the future.
NOTE: To make this conversation easier to read, I will format the pro-choice person in Italics and my comments will be in Bold.
I was wondering if I could ask you why you’re pro-life? As in, pro-life of a clump of cells, not pro-life of all the women who’ve died because of anti-abortion laws. do you feel like you have blood on your hands? or do you just ignore that part of it
I’d also be happy to discuss my position on this issue. But do you want it to be productive or are you just wanting to vent?
As a staunch pro-choicer and also (believe it or not) devout Christian, I would like to know where your beliefs come from. I can only imagine it to be misinformation and brainwashing. I genuinely want to know why.
As a devout Christian then, I encourage you to start from a more generous position. Presuming my ignorance or brainwashing or starting with an attack is not the best way to invite someone into open respectful dialogue.
I’m not attacking you, the criminalisation of abortion directly causes gruesome deaths of women and I wasn’t sure you had made that connection yet.
I’m sure you know I could throw the same accusation on the pro-choice side. I’m not really interested in lobbing hand grenades at each other though.
I can’t logically find a reason why someone would hold your beliefs unless they were misinformed, ignorant, or hated women. if you have a fourth option, please let me know. i haven’t had one person give me a good reason to be pro-life. I invite you to do so. I don’t think I’m being rude or aggressive at all.
It is a very valid concern to worry about the women who may try to harm themselves and their child if they find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy and feel that abortion is their only option. I do care deeply about women in that situation.
I think any legal prevention of abortion HAS to be accompanied by a huge increase of financial, emotional and practical for women in that situation. I have personally donated thousands to crisis pregnancy programs and I would do more.
Anyone who wants to simply ban abortion and do nothing to support women in need, I think is a hypocrite.
It is a hypocritical standpoint to have, to completely disregard the lives of living human beings. But I would like to know why you think abortion should be illegal in the first place.
Well, I think there are two angles to this issue – the principle and the practical.
The principle is about whether abortion is right or wrong. Should it happen in any situation?
The practical is about whether should be legal or not and whether there should be any limitations or restrictions.
They are two different issues.
You are asking about the second issue, the practical.
I think that is a trickier issue to work out how best the law should relate to abortion.
But my premise for all my thoughts on the practical side is based on the principle side.
Does that make sense?
Ok so if you want me to ask more specific questions… Why do you think abortion is wrong?
And secondly, why do you think your belief is important enough to literally take away legal autonomy over someone’s body.
Thirdly, have you heard of a man called Michel Foucault?
Philosopher right? I’ve heard the name but couldn’t tell you anything about him
French philosopher. He has written a lot about what we call biopower, the power a government has over it’s citizens bodies.
And regardless of your opinion on abortion, I think fundamentally, to take away the right to autonomy over my body through law is very VERY wrong.
And I think that not only do you have to argue why abortion is wrong, and then why your opinion on why its wrong is so important that it should be made law, but you also have to argue that governments should have power and control over people’s bodies.
I do understand that. I actually believe in the general principle of bodily autonomy, though I think it has to have limitations when it comes to how it affects others.
If you’re busy you don’t have to reply right now. But I think it’s fair to ask you to answer all of that.
They are great and fair questions to ask a pro-life person.
Having an abortion does not affect anyone other than the person having an abortion.
Well, this may be our big point of difference, but I also believe that it effects the one being aborted and that is an important factor.
And here is why I hold the belief that anti-abortion protestors such as yourself have beliefs rooted in misinformation.
Have you had a look at the REAL science behind an abortion and the stages of pregnancy? because the anti-abortion and “pro-life” movement are renowned for using falsified statistics and factoids.
Happy to look at any scientific evidence you may have that you think I am ignorant of.
I’d also like to pitch to you a hypothetical scenario to see how you answer it.
It isn’t to catch you out or trick you or anything like that. Just a thought experiment.
I’m happy with thought experiments, though you’ve asked several questions and I haven’t really had too much opportunity to answer them.
Maybe we’ll stick with one question at a time. Happy for you to pick which.
Ok if you’d like more time to answer your questions, I can sit back until you let me know you’re completely finished, and then I’ll read through it all and let you know how I feel.
Well, how bout I just start with my basic premise.
Four years ago, my wife and I attended the March for the Babies. This is us on that day.
That very morning we had just learnt from our doctor that my wife was pregnant with our daughter, who we would later name Dorothy.
Last Saturday, all three of us were back at the March with our daughter Dorothy.
I believe that my daughter has the right to be free from violence, free from harm and free to live out her bodily autonomy.
Where we differ is that I believe that was just as true of my daughter four years ago as it is today.
Is that all?
That is the basic premise.
I believe all women should be free from violence and harm.
I believe all human beings, no matter what race, age, gender, sexual orientation, social status, location or stage of development, have the right to life and to be free from violence.
My opposition to abortion is due to the fact that the human is harmed in the process of ending the pregnancy. If there was any way of not harming the human in the womb in order to end the pregnancy before the time of gestation is naturally complete, then I would be very supportive of that. I do not wish to force women to carry the baby to term and would support any alternative to that.
Do you think an embryo is a human?
Can I ask what you mean by “human”? Are you meaning scientifically is an embryo a member of the species homo sapien, or do you mean something more philosophical, like is an embryo a person with rights?
Ok let me pose a scenario to you and you’ll understand what I mean.
You’re in a fertility clinic. Why isn’t important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help. They’re in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labelled “1000 Viable Human Embryos”. The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one.
Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no “C.” “C” means you all die.
Ah, Patrick S. Tomlinson’s famous argument from October last year.
That’s not an answer.
I think you’re trying to find a way to theoretically work your way out of this problem instead of admitting that an embryo isn’t a person. And a zygote is not a person either. Between a literal clump of cells, and an actual human being, the human being is more important. every time.
I don’t think, every time.
Can I tweak the analogy a little?
No you can’t.
I’d like you to answer the question as I posed it, please. I think the scenario isn’t hiding any missing nuance. it is very straight forward in comparing the human-status of a child and an embryo.
Firstly, I am happy to acknowledge that most people’s moral instinct in the midst of the fire is to save the screaming 5 year old whose face they can see, rather than the embryos that they only see the label of. That doesn’t really prove anything. Our moral instincts are not always correct.
If you will allow me to present another thought experiment, I will explain how.
So you would choose the 1000 embryos over the 5 year old child.
I don’t really know what I would do in the midst of a fire if I didn’t know what was going to happen. If you’re asking me to choose between the two now, in a cold calculated way, you are basically presenting a version of the old “trolley” moral dilemma.
1. Would you choose to save the life of one person or one thousand people, if you could only save one option, otherwise everyone died?
2. Would you choose to save the life of a 5 year oldchild or one thousand embryos in the same circumstances?
My wife and I are dealing at the moment with infertility. If for example, there was a random 5 year old child and only say, two embryos on the table, but they were my wife and my children, then my moral instinct would probably be to save the embryos.
When you are given an ultimatum and you only can save one of two choices. Just because you choose one over the other does not in any way prove that the other is not a human.
For example, if my 3 year old daughter was in one room and 1,000 adults were in another, you can be sure I’ll probably be saving my daughter. That doesn’t mean the 1,000 men are not human to me.
That’s why I think Tomlinson’s thought experiment is clever, but it doesn’t prove what he claims it proves.
Thank you for proving to me that my original premise was correct.
Anti-abortion and pro-lifers beliefs are entirely rooted in either misinformation or hatred of women.
You don’t seem like you hate women.
But you are very misinformed and have a skewed view of what constitutes as a human being.
Great topic. So how do you constitute a human being?
The normal way. With science and logic. A living breathing fully formed human being.
I do actually think there’s a point of pregnancy where a fetus is fully formed, and in that case abortion, if it causes pain to the fetus, should only happen in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, or if the baby isn’t going to make it to full term anyway.
But this whole argument about ‘late stage abortion’ is utter crap because it literally doesn’t happen other than when the woman’s life is at risk, or the baby isn’t going to make it to full term.
What would you do if your wife found out that if she didn’t get an abortion, she would die giving birth?
Sorry, I want to understand you clearly. I agree science and logic is very important.
You said “a living breathing fully formed human being”.
Does that mean that it needs to be breathing?
And fully formed.
If you could c-section the fetus prematurely, and it could live outside of the womb on its own or with a bit of medical assistance.
Well, that’s lots of different things to constitute a human being.
No it’s not.
Can we list them so I am clear on your position?
Living, breathing, fully formed.
Do you consider a child in the womb to be breathing at any point?
I define “fully formed” as able to live outside the womb on its own. But again, that’s just me. I don’t think that should be part of legislation.
Ok, so in your definition fully formed means fully formed to a specific goal (ie, to be able to survive out of the womb).
It means fully formed.
Simple as that, not that complicated.
Because you know, the skull isn’t fully formed when they are born. Human brains aren’t fully formed til they are in their 20’s.
You know pro-lifers brains never fully form.
C’mon. Was asking for it.
Happy to end the conversation if that’s the road you wish to engage on.
You can’t say that wasn’t a good one.
Fine. I have a thick enough skin. I just am not interested in patronising each other.
So instead of patronising me, you can just admit that my definition of ‘fully formed’ is fine.
And that all you’re doing is trying to poke holes where there are none.
Well, I disagree.
I think your definition of “fully formed” is only defined around one purpose.
There are lots about a newborn that is not fully formed.
Instead of countering my argument, you are countering language.
And if you’re going to start picking apart the English language, you may as well admit that you have nothing to say about my actual argument
Don’t patronise ME when you know exactly what I mean
Otherwise I’m not interested in continuing this discussion either.
I feel sorry for your daughter. I hope you never have another daughter, I truly truly hope you never have another daughter. and I hope your daughter now finds someone to guide her, properly, when she’s old enough to understand these things.
My position is that all humans are equal and equally deserving of a right to life. I think the quality that makes all humans equal can not be a sliding scale such as viability outside of the womb.
Consider this, if one child is removed from the womb and is healthy and so is able to survive, you would define them as human. But if another child is removed at the same age, but is too sick to survive or has some abnormality that means it can’t survive, by your definition that child is not human.
You are defining humanity by one’s ability (to survive).
I’m sure you don’t do that with humans at any other age.
(THE NEXT DAY)
I am sorry you believed you were being patronised during our discussion and felt you had to end it.
I definitely wasn’t patronising you and if you feel I wasn’t addressing your actual argument then I’d be happy if you wanted me to try.
I also understand if you aren’t interested in that.
Facebook conversations, even when not done publicly, are ripe for misunderstandings and offence unless both sides approach it with a lot of generosity of spirit.
I must give acknowledgement to Josh Brahm, a brilliant pro-life apologist and educator from the Equal Rights Institute in the US. I listened to THIS TALK a day or so before having this conversation and it definitely helped me engage in a more thoughtful and level-headed way.
Waking up at 5:45
To the whimpers of your 3 year old
Crackling through the baby monitor
Finding your slippers in the dark
Because you forgot to plug in your phone
So now you have no light to guide you
Shuffling through the cold house
Sneaking into her room
Trying not to wake her
Seeing that her kid feet
Are tangled in her sheets
And her bunny is out of her reach
You peel back her doona
Untangle her feet
The brief moment of cold
Causing her to stir
You quickly tuck her in snug as a bug
And place her lost bunny
Into her empty arms
She hugs it close
Snuggles into her doona
And in the dark you hear
The sweetest sound
“Thank you daddy”
You shuffle back through the cold house
With those three words warming you
Better than slippers ever could
Betty Botter is a tongue-twister written by Carolyn Wells. It was originally titled “The Butter Betty Bought.” By the middle of the 20th century, it had become part of the Mother Goose collection of nursery rhymes.
I used to be into tongue-twisters as a kid and my favourite was “Betty Botter”. The version I committed to memory was:
Betty Botter bought some butter. “But”, she said, “This butter’s bitter. If I put it in my batter, it’ll make my batter bitter. But if I buy a better butter, it’ll make my batter better.” So Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter and that made her batter better.
A nice tongue-twister, but not very exciting. She has a problem with some butter and she just goes out and buys a replacement.
Well, I thought I might be able to expand the Betty Botter story a little bit. Here is what I came up with…
Betty Botter’s Batter My expanded version of a classic tongue-twister
Betty Botter bought some butter, “But”, she said, “This butter’s bitter. If I put it in my batter, it’ll make my batter bitter. But if I buy a better butter, it’ll make my batter better…
But Betty’s brother Buddy Botter said, “Why not try adding water?”
So Betty Botter blended bitter butter with a bit of water that her brother Buddy brought her. But no matter how much water, the bitter batter wasn’t better. All it was was a bit wetter.
“Wet and bitter batter isn’t better!” Betty barked, but before her brother said rebuttal, Betty’s mother butted in. “I’m sure it could be a bit better. Why not add bit of feta? Salt’ll balance out the bitter, and absorb a bit of water.”
Then Betty’s father Mr Botter contributed to the banter.
“Back when I was but a boy, my best friend Billy’s neighbour’s, barber’s brother was a brilliant baker. He always bragged he blended better with the best electric beater. Your broken, busted baby beater is why your batter isn’t better.”
Though it sounds bonkers, Betty Botter couldn’t let this batter beat her. So Betty, bartered, begged and bought a brand new, bright blue, Breville beater! Then with the best electric beater she beat the batter mixed with feta, blending water Buddy brought her in with bits of bitter butter.
And in the end this beaten blend of wetter, bitter, feta batter, was just plain bad and Betty muttered “I shoulda bought a better butter.”
Her brother Buddy smiled and bade her, “Come on Betty, don’t be bitter. Sure we botched a basic batter, but we’re blessed with something better… You see, what matters is not batters, but bonding with our fellow Botters.”
This is the inevitable follow-up article from my previous post entitled: “9 things I like about Credobaptism (as a pedobaptist)”. Before reading on, I encourage you to read this article to see the respect I have for credobaptism. I wrote that article because I wanted to first show that I had not simply glossed over the credobaptist arguments and I wanted to state clearly that I think they aren’t bad. In fact some of them are weighty and I would not blame anyone for being convinced of credobaptism because of them.
My journey exploring the issue of baptism has felt a little like someone throwing a ball up in the air on a windy day. Each argument I read blew me in different directions. I’d hear one good argument and I’d be pushed towards one position, then I’d read counter-arguments, or think of some myself, and I would be blown in the other direction. This to-ing and fro-ing has gone on for the last 20 years – ever since I became a Christian. But a ball can only stay in the air for so long. Eventually, gravity will pull it back down and you will see where it has landed. For me, the force of gravity has been the birth of my daughter.
Basically, before you have a child, the debate over whether or not Christians should baptise their children is mainly theoretical. But when a child comes on the scene, you have to choose which side of this debate you fall on. To not decide is to decide credobaptism, as if you come to agree with pedobaptism when your kid is 20 years old, you have sort of missed the boat! So gravity has been pulling and the winds of arguments have done their blowing, and as the ball hits the ground, I find that I have landed on the side of pedobaptism… sort of.
What I mean by “sort of” is that I have not come to the conviction that all Christians must choose to baptise their children. I have definitely not come to think that Credobaptists are sinning or disobeying Scripture by choosing not to have their kids baptised. As I expressed in my last article, I think there are valid reasons to believe Credobaptism, and if the winds of those arguments have blown you on that side of the fence, then I understand. As for me, although I was pushed by those winds, I either found weaknesses in the arguments for credobaptism, or I found the pedobaptist winds were stronger. Some may say, “You should have read this book, or listened to this sermon, or downloaded this thesis”, and you may be right. In an ideal world, I would have loved to have been exposed to many more winds and I honestly can’t say that with more reading I wouldn’t have been convinced to change my position. But gravity is gravity, and I did my best to do my reading, discussing, thinking and praying within the time I had. The ball has fallen and I am at present convinced of this position:
It is gospel-honouring, biblically appropriate, scripturally permissible and even spiritually helpful for Christian parents to have their children baptised.
To flesh out that conviction and to explain some of the “winds” that blew me to land there, here are 6 conclusions I have made.
1. I believe the act of baptism does not save you.
This may be obvious to most, and my Catholic family and friends may not even be aware that this is what the Catholic Church teaches, but it needs to be stated first and as clearly as possible. Getting baptised – whether as a child or an adult – does NOTHING to you spiritually. What I mean by that is that the act by itself, does not affect your relationship with God. If you were a stranger to God before getting baptised, you will be one after. Baptism will not save you from hell, it will not give you God’s Spirit and it will not regenerate you (make you “born again”). On this point, I strongly disagree with the Catholic Church when they specifically teach: “Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.” I believe this is profoundly false. In relation to infant baptism, if you were thinking of getting your child baptised in order to somehow secure them getting into heaven or to impress God or to even just to have some religious spiritual box ticked off, know that it won’t do any of that.
Cat & I have concluded that it is appropriate for us to have our daughter baptised, but you should know, we believe that her salvation (her being forgiven and cleansed for all her sin, being given a new heart and entering into a right relationship and standing with God both in this life and the next) is reliant completely on the mercy of God. The bible says clear as crystal: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God —not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) For her to be saved, our daughter will need to choose Christ, not rejecting his offer of forgiveness but trusting in his atoning death for her on the cross. Baptism won’t do it, her parent’s faith won’t do it, her good works won’t do it… only Jesus will do it. And so, Cat & I are, even now, praying that God shows her mercy and gives her the saving faith that the passage calls a “gift of God”. Whether we baptise her or not will not change her eternal destiny and it definitely won’t sway God to be more likely to show her mercy.
So, if I think baptism doesn’t change her state with God, what is baptism about?
2. I believe baptism is a symbol of salvation.
Although the act of baptism itself doesn’t cause salvation, it is a symbol of salvation. There is lots of different imagery wrapped up in baptism. Water is a powerful element and having water poured on you or being submerged in water can express various ideas, but the simplest idea is that of washing. In baptism, the physical act of being washed with water symbolises the spiritual act of Jesus washing our sins away (see Matthew 3:11, Acts 22:16, Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 3:21).
So, don’t take my first point to imply I think the act of baptism does nothing at all – it does something very meaningful. It points us to a spiritual reality. In the same way that the bible says that the Old Testament laws and sacrifices were a shadow pointing to spiritual realities that are found in Christ (Colossians 2:17 & Hebrews 10:1-10), the physical act of baptism is a shadow of the spiritual cleansing that we all need in order to be right with God.
3. In the bible, symbolic acts can point forward as well as back.
This is pretty obvious I guess, if you know your biblical symbols. Here are a few examples:
Circumcision pointed forward to the”circumcised heart” that the person needed to have. (Jeremiah 9:25-26).
The rainbow points forward to God’s promise never to flood the world again (Genesis 9:12-16).
The animal sacrifices pointed forward to Jesus’ sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 9:11-14 & Hebrews 10:1-10).
The Passover lamb pointed forward to Jesus dying so that God’s judgment may “pass over” us (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Even marriage points forward to the union of Jesus with the church as his bride that will be culminated at the “wedding supper of the Lamb” (Ephesians 5:31-32 & Revelation 19:7-9)
Now when it comes to baptism, some credobaptists claim that if baptism symbolises the washing away of sin, it must only look backwards to the fact that the person being baptised has already had their sins washed away. Now, if someone is baptised after they have converted and been forgiven, then yes, it does point backwards. But as we can see from the above examples, biblical symbolism doesn’t always point that way. It is quite consistent with scripture (at least principally) to think that a symbol like baptism could also point forward. In the case of children born to those converted to Christ, their baptism doesn’t point to a spiritual event in the past, nor does it point to any spiritual event happening during the baptism. Infant baptism points forward. It points to the promise that if they put their trust in Christ, he will wash away their sins.
4. The principle seen in circumcision.
The Old Testament practise of circumcision illustrates the principle perfectly. When Abraham believed God’s promises, God “credited him with righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). It was after that, that Abraham was introduced to the symbolic act of circumcision (Genesis 17:10-14). It was a sign of the right relationship – the covenant – that God had established with Abraham and with his descendants. His children and all in his household (remember that word, it will be relevant later) were also brought into this covenant. As Abraham led his household, so his children were introduced to the faith that he had embraced. This is why God commands Abraham to also circumcise his children (the males, at least). Abraham’s physical circumcision looked back to his the fact that he had experienced a”spiritual” circumcision (what the bible calls a “circumcised heart”) when he embraced God’s promises. But his 8 day old sons had no such experience. They had not been spiritually circumcised, but God still wanted them to be physically circumcised. Abraham’s circumcision pointed back, but his children’s circumcision pointed forward.
Now, some pedobaptists put too much of a connection between circumcision and baptism, suggesting that baptism directly replaces circumcision. I don’t actually think that argument is very strong. Still, one can not deny the principle that God endorses in the act of circumcision being given both to the believing and to the children in their household. I don’t think baptism is the exact replacement of circumcision, but I do think that the principles used in circumcision in the Old Testament can (and possibly should) be applied to baptism in the New Testament.
Like Abraham with circumcision, when a new believer in Christ converts, they should get baptised. And like with Abraham, those in the household of the new believer – including infants – should receive this sign as well. This is the pattern from the very beginning, as parents are charged with the responsibility of passing on the faith and teaching their children about the promises of God.
Also, for those that are concerned by the dilemma, “What if I baptise my child but they eventually reject the gospel?”, that is not a new problem. The children circumcised into the faith of God’s people in the Old Testament weren’t guaranteed salvation. Some of them eventually rejected the faith, and God knew they would, and God still commanded them to be circumcised as infants. Being circumcised didn’t guarantee them faith, but it did open them up to rebuke if they only had a physical circumcision with no change of heart. Through Jeremiah, God warned his people, “The days are coming…when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh… For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.” (Jeremiah 9:25-26). I think that baptism is like this. Children of believers get physically baptised, with the awareness that they need to also be spiritually baptised.
Now, some suggest that since Jesus came with the gospel, the principles used with circumcision in the Old Testament shouldn’t be applied to Christians in the New Testament. But when I look in the book of Acts, that’s not what I see. What you find, several times over, is when someone converts to Christ, not only do they get baptised but so does their entire household (Acts 16:15, 16:31-34, 18:8 & 1 Corinthians 1:16). In fact, one of the very few exceptions to this is the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39, who naturally, being a eunuch, did not have any children. It seems the records of baptism in the New Testament support the view that the first Christians related to baptism with the same “household” principle that they did with circumcision.
To explain how this applies to me personally, my wife Cat & I are converts to Christianity. We both embraced the gospel in our teens and we have both been baptised (me before my conversion and my wife after hers). And now that we have been blessed with a little girl, we feel that since she is a member of our household, it is appropriate and good for us to have her baptised as well. As Joshua said to the people, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Our daughter’s baptism will point forward to the spiritual truths that we will raise her to know and embrace – that Jesus is the Lord that we serve and that if she trusts in him, he will wash away her sins.
5. I believe the biblical instruction (and lack thereof) supports pedobaptism.
Now, all this discussion about the principles of circumcision and the direction of biblical symbolism, really counts for nothing if the bible tells us whether or not children born into converted households should get baptised… but it doesn’t. There are many cases of instructions given to new converts about whether they should get baptised – they should. But there is not one direct instruction to those converts as to what they should do with their kids.
So why do I think that the text supports pedobaptism? Well, you have to think about what would have been the assumption of the new converts. I think the cultural evidence suggests that new Christians in the first century would have assumed that when they embraced the gospel, turned to Jesus as their Lord and gotten baptised, that they would also baptise the children in their household, and as I’ve said, the “household baptisms” in Acts seem to give some evidence that this was the case (acknowledging that no infants are specifically mentioned). Now, if this is true, we shouldn’t be looking for an instruction TO baptise children, we should actually be looking for an instruction NOT to. But there is no teaching or instruction that would forbid converts from baptising their children.
On top of that, if converts were expected not to baptise their children, then we should expect other instructions as well. For instance, where is the instruction to the children brought up by converted parents that they should one day make a “profession of faith” and get baptised? Where is the instruction to parents to encourage their children to get baptised when they have matured? Where is the instruction to church leaders as to how to discern which children are “qualified” for baptism?
These are commonplace issues that credobaptist churches face today and if credobaptism was the norm in the first century church, one would expect these issues to be addressed somewhere in the New Testament. But they aren’t. In fact, when Paul does address children in the church, his only instruction is not for them to consider “becoming” a Christian, but simply to live out being one. He instructs children to “obey your parents in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1) giving no indication that the Christian community is made up of some baptised believing kids and some non-baptised kids. There is no suggestion that children are categorised in this way. If they are in the community of believers, they are related to as being “in the Lord”. Now, to me, these words of Paul seem to support a pedobaptist understanding of how children are to be viewed. Unless they one day reject the gospel, the children of converts are considered to be “in the Lord” from the beginning.
Now, it is true, both sides of this debate have to grapple with the absence of clear, biblical instruction about whether Christians should or should not baptise their kids. But after considering what we would expect to find if either was true, I have concluded that the absence of any instruction is a greater problem for credobaptists than pedobaptists. In fact, if the practice of baptising children was as assumed in the first century as the practice of circumcising them, then the absence of any instruction is actually unsurprising. You don’t have to instruct what would be assumed.
Now, all this doesn’t prove anything, but it does show the weakness of the primary credobaptist argument – namely, that scripture is clear in its instruction about baptism and those who advocate for infant baptism are simply adding to scripture. I don’t think the New Testament, nor the flow of the whole bible, really supports that view. As much as I do not judge my credobaptist friends, I actually think their decision to withhold baptism from the infant members of their household would have, for the average converted Jew, been considered quite odd in the first century.
6. I believe history supports pedobaptism.
The key mystery at the heart of this debate is What did the first Christians actually do? What was the common practice of the early church? Which view did the apostles endorse? I call it a mystery because the biblical record really isn’t clear. In the New Testament’s four narrative books, we have no explicit record of a baby being baptised. But, we also have no explicit record of converted parents choosing to not baptise their baby, and we have no record of a child being brought up in a converted household who eventually “owns” their faith at some point and then gets baptised. On top of the biblical record, as I have shown, we have no teaching in the epistles that would clearly instruct parents one way or the other! No wonder Christians have been arguing about this for centuries. Which brings me to my next point. What has been happening for centuries? And more specifically, what about the first couple of centuries? If the biblical record doesn’t give us a clear picture, what does the historical record say?
Well, there isn’t heaps to go on, but the earliest record that we have discussing infant baptism is in documents written by a Christian author named Tertullian who lived 155-240 AD. He talks about infant baptism as if it is pretty commonplace, though he suggests that “the delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children. For why is it necessary—if (baptism itself) is not so necessary — that the sponsors likewise should be thrust into danger? Who both themselves, by reason of mortality, may fail to fulfil their promises, and may be disappointed by the development of an evil disposition, in those for whom they stood? The Lord does indeed say, ‘Forbid them not to come unto me.’ Let them ‘come,’ then, while they are growing up; let them ‘come’ while they are learning, while they are learning whither to come; let them become Christians when they have become able to know Christ.”
So Tertullian here is giving advice that delaying baptism of infants might be preferable. His argument is not that infant baptism is uncommon, or unbiblical, or not permissible. His argument seems to be that the promises that the “sponsors” make when they bring the baby for baptism, may not be able to be fulfilled, and that may make waiting a better option. Tertullian does acknowledge Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:4 as a good reason to bring babies to be baptised, but suggests waiting til they are a bit older and “become able to know Christ”.
Tertullian seems to discourage infant baptism, but he does so in a context where infant baptism is the normal practice. Also, if you’re a credobaptist, before you get all excited and supportive for Tertullian’s advice, he also goes on to say: “For no less cause must the unwedded also be deferred—in whom the ground of temptation is prepared, alike in such as never were wedded by means of their maturity, and in the widowed by means of their freedom—until they either marry, or else be more fully strengthened for continence. If any understand the weighty import of baptism, they will fear its reception more than its delay: sound faith is secure of salvation.”
So, if you didn’t catch that, for the same reasons he thinks babies shouldn’t get baptised, he also thinks single people shouldn’t get baptised either. Clearly, we must not see Tertullian as the authority on what we should or should not do in regard to baptism! Fortunately, he does serve to show us that infant baptism was commonly being practised around 200 AD. Possibly the reason why he is the first commentary on infant baptism, is because for the first two centuries no one had reason to raise any concerns about the practice.
Around the same time as Tertullian, we have Hippolytus of Rome who lived 170-235 AD and was the most important Christian historian of his day. Although is it disputed by some, he is attributed to writing a document called “Apostolic Tradition”, around 10 years after Tertullian’s writings. As the name of his document suggests, Hippolytus’ purpose was to write the tradition handed down by the apostles as he knew it. His brief reference to infant baptism is as follows: “First you should baptise the little ones. All who can speak for themselves should speak. But for those who cannot speak, their parents should speak or another who belongs to their family.” Baptism of the “little ones” who “cannot speak” for themselves, is a clear reference to the practice of infant baptism and gives weight to the suggestion that infant baptism was an apostolic tradition and a common practise in the early church.
I don’t have the time to go through every historical writing on infant baptism that came after that, but you can do your own research and discover that there are many, like St Augustine in 408 AD who wrote: “The custom of mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to be regarded in any way as superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic.” Though it must be noted that the heresy of baptismal regeneration (the idea that baptism itself saves a baby) had started creeping into the church and eventually became the commonly held view.
Due to this false teaching and due to the church becoming powerful and political, the practise of baptism lost a lot of its biblical meaning over the centuries. The Catholic Church grew and several key gospel issues began to be distorted, leading to the Reformation in the 1600s. In the political turmoil that followed the Reformation, baptism was still being misused as a political tool. Terribly, the public decision to baptise your children in a particular denomination became an important political statement of allegiance.
The baptist movement came out of this, led by John Smyth in 1609, who saw the corruption of baptism that had happened and wanted to return to the simplicity of the New Testament. To ensure that children could not be used as political pawns, the baptist movement was very strict on the idea that only professing Christians should be allowed to be baptised. Their movement was very effective at cleaning up nominal churches and I would say was an important protest against the misuse of infant baptism. Unfortunately, they threw the baby out with the bathwater! As is common in a movement that is reacting to the misuse of something good, they swung the pendulum completely in the opposite direction and flat out banned infant baptism. They also became super strict about the mode of baptism, saying that unless it is done by “full immersion” it is not really baptism. Sadly, these legalistic and reactionary views plague several baptist churches even today.
What I conclude from all this historical evidence is that when you look at the earliest writings on the topic, you find that the debate over whether Christians should baptise their children has been around as far back as we can go… but so has the practice. There is no evidence that infant baptism was introduced as a later, extra-biblical teaching. Although history has shown us that this practice can be easily corrupted, it still seems most likely that it was the practice of the early church.
In my previous blog, my 6th point was that one of the strengths of credobaptism is that “it aims to avoid the heresy of baptismal regeneration”. I agree that is a noble goal, but I also think that just because something is easily corrupted it does not follow that it should be banned completely. Heck, the teaching that we are saved by grace and not by good works, can be easily corrupted! If infant baptism was practised by the early church, as I think the evidence suggests, then we should embrace it too – being wary of how it could be corrupted and being aware of what it actually means.
7. I believe reality supports pedobaptism.
Now this heading may sound extreme, as if I am saying that credobaptists are not facing reality or are fooling themselves. That’s not what I mean at all. What I mean is that pedobaptism seems to better represent the reality of how Christian parents relate to and raise their children. It also seems to better represent the experience of kids who grow up in gospel-saturated Christian households.
The reality of Christian parenting
There are various privileges that are extended to Christians. They can pray with confidence, knowing that there is no condemnation in Christ and that their forgiven sins are not a barrier between them and God. They have the Holy Spirit, who will guide and shape them into Christlikeness. They can call God their Heavenly Father and pray the Lord’s Prayer. They are included in the Christian community expressed in the local church and considered a part of the family of those who believe in Jesus and call him Lord.
Now, if someone is clearly rejecting the gospel and the Lordship of Jesus, then we do not extend these privileges to them. That is obvious. These are only privileges for converts. But what do coverts do when they have children? The reality is, most Christian parents – no matter what they think about baptism – relate to their children, not as “outside” these privileges, but as “inside”. Maybe not all of them and maybe not to a complete degree, but the line is definitely fuzzy.
Christian parents teach their children to pray with confidence, they teach them that they can rely on God’s Spirit to guide and protect them, they teach them to say the Lord’s Prayer and call God their Heavenly Father, and they include them in the Christian community, teaching them to sing songs about how Jesus is their Lord. Also, like Paul does in Ephesians 6:1, Christian parents teach their children to live a certain way because Jesus is their Lord – in fact, in the verses directly after this, Paul commands them to do so: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). If Christian parents actually thought of their children as non-believers whom may or may not one day respond to the gospel when they are mature enough to make a profession of faith, then they wouldn’t disciple their kids in this way. If they didn’t relate to them as part of the family of believers, they wouldn’t teach them to pray to God as their Heavenly Father. At least, not if they were being consistent.
The reality is, converted parents generally relate to their children as “little converts” as well, extending to them many of the privileges that only should be extended to Christians. Now, they don’t do this because they think that their children are necessarily saved or have been born again. No, most parents on both sides of this debate believe that the potential date of their child’s actual salvation is in God’s hands, not theirs. Despite this, they will raise their child with the truths of the gospel being, not an option in the smorgasbord of life, but simply part of their reality. As I like to say, my children will be “marinated” in the gospel. This doesn’t secure their salvation, but it does give them an experience that is unique, compared to those who are introduced to the gospel as an adult non-believer.
I was converted to the gospel at aged 16. It was very much an experience of drawing a line in the sand and crossing it, into a new spiritual life and a whole new way of relating to the world. Despite this, I hope my daughter never has a “conversion” experience. In fact, I hope that her testimony is quite boring (by the world’s standards). I hope that if and when my daughter does make some form of a profession of faith, she will say, “I know this doesn’t sound very dramatic, but I have always believed that God loved me and Jesus is my Lord. I can never remember a time that I didn’t go to the cross for my forgiveness and all my life I have looked for my hope, identity, security and satisfaction in Christ. I’m not really sure when God saved me or when I ‘crossed over the line’ from death to life, but I’m thankful every day for his mercy.” Isn’t that the testimony we want for our kids? We want them to have David’s experience as he wrote it in Psalm 22:9-10 “You brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” That is the Christian parent’s hope and goal for their child – that from their mother’s womb, Jesus is their Lord.
Now, if that is (God willing) my daughter’s testimony, when would baptism be most appropriate? When should she receive the symbol of God’s promises? When should she be given the sign that she “belongs” to Jesus? When did her journey with Christ begin? I reckon, from the very beginning.
But what if she rejects the gospel, you ask? What if she has an “anti-conversion” experience? Well, as I covered earlier, that is a question God’s people have faced from the very beginning – there were Jews who were circumcised into Israel, but in rejecting Yahweh, they showed they weren’t truly “Israel” (see Romans 9:6). As Christian parents, we don’t step over the line when we convert to Christ and then raise our kids back on the other side of the line. Not at all! We say, like Joshua “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). We raise our kids on the convert’s side of the line and we build the walls high, so that if tragically, they do end up turning away, they will have to actively and consciously reject the truth in order to do it.
When converts baptise their children, it is making the statement that the gospel is reality – both for them and for their children. As Peter declared on that wonderful day of Pentecost when he called people to turn to Christ and be baptised: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:39) For a child of a gospel-saturated home, following Jesus is not an option that they need to one day consider when they are mature enough. It is simply reality. Jesus is Lord.
The reality of growing up in a Christian household
Now this is a point that I, unfortunately, can not express from my own experience. As much as I am grateful for the Catholic upbringing I had, I would not say that I was clearly taught the gospel. I also was baptised as an infant, and so I was conscience that I could become biased on this topic due to my lack of an example of a gospel-saturated credobaptist upbringing. So I asked around. I chatted with Christians who I knew and respected who had not been baptised as an infant. I asked them their experience. I asked them about when they got baptised and what prompted it. What I learned convinced me even more about the merits of pedobaptism and the problems of credobaptism.
Despite holding a view that baptism should follow believing, I did not find one who thought they actually got baptised when they believed. They were brought up (like any child in a pedobaptist household) being taught that Jesus was their Lord, that they could rely on the Holy Spirit and they should pray to God with confidence as their Heavenly Father. Their moment of becoming a believer was no real moment. It was organic. Some said that they always believed the gospel. Others spoke of a moment in their teens when they “owned” their faith as something that they truly knew was true for them as individuals rather than just kids brought up in a Christian home. Despite this moment of ownership being quite important, none of them thought that this was the moment they were saved. They acknowledged that they were probably saved at some point in their childhood.
Baptism then, was not a symbol that marked the moment of their conversion or their believing or their salvation. It marked, for most of them, the moment of their personal ownership. It was then that they had the courage and the maturity to give a “public declaration of faith” and in doing that, they became qualified (in their credobaptist church community) to be baptised.
For some it wasn’t even about their ownership of the faith. It was about obedience. They knew they had been believers for years, but as there was never any great “ownership” moment, they had simply put off getting baptised. Baptism, in the end, became simply a statement that they knew that Christians should get baptised and so now they were.
Now, don’t get me wrong. If you are a believer and you haven’t been baptised I think you should do it. Being obedient to Jesus’ instruction on this is important. I also think that owning your faith as something more than just a family tradition is a very important step for any kid brought up in a Christian household. But all the reasons I heard for why and when credobaptists got baptised, seemed to portray a distortion of the meaning of baptism to me.
Despite defending a “believer baptism” position, I never heard of a baptism at the point of belief or even to mark the point of belief. Instead, credobaptism seems to turn baptism into a rite of passage – a commemoration ceremony celebrating the entering into the world of being a mature adult, like a debutante ball or a bar mitzvah. The focus of this type of baptism can easily be the maturity of faith of the person getting baptised, rather than the gospel itself, and this causes many problems.
When baptism represents some sort of maturity level of faith or belief, then that becomes a recipe for self-doubt. Think about it. If you are given confidence that you’re a Christian because the church leaders let you get baptised – since only the truly saved are allowed to get baptised – and you proved that you qualify by this sense that you were now “owning” your faith, what happens if your faith grows cold? What happens if you stop having the confidence that you had on the day you professed your faith up the front at church? Well, what can easily happen is that you begin to doubt your own salvation. You wonder, “Were they right to let me get baptised?” The trap is that in credobaptism, baptism can become about the strength of one’s personal belief rather than the strength of God’s promises – and that is very shaky ground for a life of Christian confidence.
For my daughter, in her moments of doubt, I don’t want her looking to a decision she made once. I don’t want her to look to her own faith. I want her looking to the cross. If she is to look to her baptism as a place of reassurance and comfort, I don’t want it to symbolise to her that at one point in her teens or childhood she felt like she owned her faith. I want it to be because her baptism symbolises something much bigger than her fickle faith. It symbolises a picture of the message of the gospel and the cleansing that is offered to all. That is why we baptised our daughter at the point that she entered into a believing household, where the gospel would be taught to her every day.
This is why I said at the beginning of this article, I believe that it is not only gospel-honouring, not only biblically appropriate, not only scripturally permissible, but it is actually spiritually helpful for Christian parents to have their children baptised.
I don’t think pedobaptism is without its flaws and without its dangers. Too many children are baptised in households that do not teach the gospel, filled with people that do not know the gospel. These kids can grow up with a terrible false belief that they are right with God simply because they got splashed as a baby. That sort of scenario is tragic and I hope you have heard loud and clear that I do not believe that is what the bible teaches about how baptism should be practised or taught.
Despite this, after I have considered all the arguments from the bible, from history and from personal experience, when the ball hits the ground I have concluded that it was right and good for me to have my daughter baptised. I think the bible backs it up, both in the New Testament and across the sweeping themes of Scripture. I think history shows that it most likely is what Christians have always done. I think it reflects the reality of a Christian household. And I think it presents the gospel to my daughter in a way that will hopefully be a foundation for her confidence in the promises of God for her entire life.
My Other Articles on Baptism
I have now written 6 articles on this issue of baptism.
There is a long and beautiful biblical tradition of exploring ideas through stories. From Samuel’s “you are the man” hypothetical that he uses to confront King David in 2 Samuel 12, to the parables of Jesus, stories have always been used to draw people in and help them think about how spiritual beliefs might play out in the real world.
This is a story I have written to try to explore how I think about baptism and whether or not Christians should baptise their kids. The question that is left hanging at the end will answer for me whether I sit more comfortably in the credobaptist or pedobaptist position. It may or may not help you also if you are thinking through this issue. Either way, I hope you like it.
WHAT WOULD JACOB DO?
Jacob loved and followed Yahweh, the God of his ancestors, all the days of his life. His parents poured the scriptures into his heart from the moment they held him in their arms. He can not remember a time that he had not had the promises of God, the stories of God’s great works and the songs of the psalms filling his ears and mind. He knew the prophets as well, and longed for the day that the promised Messiah would come to establish God’s kingdom and bring the great shalom that this world so desperately needed.
Now in his late 20s, Jacob was a father himself. Sadly, his wife had died giving birth to their first daughter Mariah, but Jacob had promised her that he would pour the scriptures into the heart of their daughter in the same way that it had been poured into him. As Jacob has learnt from Deuteronomy, Yahweh wanted him to do just that… “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-19)
And so that is what Jacob did. Every day, he sang to Mariah the psalms he knew, told her the stories of God’s great acts of salvation and reminded her of the promise that God’s Messiah would one day be sent and that they should be ready. “Yahweh has made a promise, little Mariah,” he would say to her. “And when our Lord makes a promise, he never breaks it. You will see. The Messiah will come and make all things right again and like our father David, we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Now, Jacob lived with his daughter in a fairly isolated village and although he had relatives in Jerusalem, he rarely visited them. Consequently, he knew little of the great events that had taken place there only a few weeks earlier. Over the last couple of years, he had heard rumours about the Nazarene man, Jesus, and his claims to be the Messiah, but he had never seen him and so didn’t give him too much thought. There had been people claiming to be the Messiah before Jesus and there were sure to be ones after as well. Also, the latest rumours were that this Jesus had now been arrested and killed by the authorities for being a trouble-maker and so any hopes that God’s promises were now being fulfilled were put to rest in Jacob’s mind.
As Mariah had been sick, Jacob had not been able to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover meal with his relatives there. Fortunately now she was better and so he decided to make the belated journey for the feast of Shavuot.
As he travelled through Jerusalem, with Mariah strapped to his back, he marvelled at the crowds of people from all walks of life. The sounds of different languages buying, selling and trading, the interesting colours of clothing and the smells of food and animals were an exciting feast for the senses.
He had not gotten too far, when suddenly out of nowhere, the sound of a great wind came racing through the streets. It started off as a whispering breeze, but eventually thundered as a gale that raced past the crowds of people and disappeared around a building. Everyone ducked to the ground and Jacob reached for his daughter to shield her from the roar of the tempest. After it had gone, everyone stood up slowly, stunned and confused as to what had just happened. People began talking amongst themselves and it didn’t take long for people to follow where the wind had gone. The trickle of curious people became a river as the crowd moved down the dusty road, everyone chatting away in their own tongue about what it could mean. Was there a dust storm on its way? Why did the wind travel in such a curious manner? Where was it going? And is it crazy to even think that wind could be “going” anywhere?
Jacob checked that his daughter Mariah was ok before joining the swarm of people as it moved down the street, following the path of the wind. As they turned the corner, Jacob could hear people shouting praises to Yahweh and speaking of the Nazarene Jesus. This confused Jacob as he thought all interest in Jesus was as dead and buried as Jesus was himself, but what was even more confusing was the discussion that began to spread through the crowd. Somehow, it seemed, everyone could understand what these men were saying as if they were speaking in their own language! Amazed and bewildered, the crowd started to realise that something supernatural was happening. A stranger, standing next to Jacob looked at him and said, “What does this mean?” “I don’t know.” Jacob replied, “But the Spirit of Yahweh is at work here!”
As he said this, a couple of sceptical men stood up on a cart and began making fun of the men who were praising God. “Ahh, stop your crazy yelling!” they hollered mockingly, and then turning to the crowd they said, “Let’s get out of here. These men are clearly just drunk.”
Then one of the men who had been praising God motioned for his friends to stop. He climbed up on a ledge so that he could address the crowd. “Fellow Jews” he began, “and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you… listen carefully to what I say.”
His voice boomed with a sense of earnestness and strength, and Jacob hushed those who stood near him so that he could hear what the man was about to say…
“These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of Yahweh. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him: ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope,because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right handuntil I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!”
This last word, “Messiah”, rang out and echoed across the crowd as everyone stood in stunned silence. For Jacob, this word cut straight through to his heart and rested there like a seed falling on good soil. God opened Jacob’s heart so that he could receive this word and all at once Jacob knew it was true.
“Mariah! Mariah!” he cried, taking his daughter out of her sling and holding her up to his beaming face, “Jesus is the Messiah! Jesus is the Messiah!” Jacob’s heart filled with joy as he realised that all the promises, all the stories, all the songs and prophesies had finally come to pass! The Messiah that he had longed for and spoke to his daughter about every day, had finally come and his name was… Jesus.
People in the crowd were responding in a variety of ways. Some scoffed and walked away, some were debating passionately amongst themselves, and others were pushing forward, wanting to speak to the man who had made the speech. Jacob was one of this last group and he moved through the crowd, his daughter in his arms and his mind racing. So Jesus was the Messiah. Now what? What should we do now? God’s Spirit was poured out on these people. What does that mean? How do I receive this? And how could I? These and many more questions raced through his mind, but instead of doubt or fear holding him back, the joyful opportunity to embrace the Messiah compelled him forward.
When he finally reach the front of the crowd he stepped forward and knelt before the men, holding Mariah close to his heart that was racing in his chest. “Brothers,” he asked them earnestly, “What shall we do?”
The man who had spoken earlier, who people nearby were calling Cephas, looked at Jacob and smiled. He then looked around to all those who were standing there wondering the same thing and invited them with joy, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit!The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom Yahweh our God will call.”
For all whom Yahweh our God will call. Jacob looked down at his daughter Mariah and whispered to her, “Mariah, that is us. Yahweh is calling us to follow the Messiah Jesus.” Mariah, looked up at her dad, squinting in the sunlight and looking around at all the sights and sounds that she wasn’t used to in their small village. Jacob knew Mariah had no idea of the significance of this day, but he also knew they were forever changed. They had always been a family who worshipped Yahweh, but now Yahweh had sent his Messiah and nothing would ever be the same.
For a few moments Jacob was lost in thought, staring into his daughter’s face and wishing his wife could have been there with them this day. When he looked up, the man Cephas had climbed back up onto the ledge, trying to appeal to those in the crowd that were still unconvinced or had began to walk away. He pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation!” Some stayed to hear more, some left shaking their head, but a large portion of the crowd, like Jacob, had heard Yahweh’s call and wanted to respond.
They journeyed to the edge of the city where a spring of water formed large pools. The men who had led them there waded into the water and began to baptise those who had accepted Cephas’ message about Jesus. Jacob stood at the edge of one of the pools, as person after person stepped forward to accept Jesus as the Messiah. They each went in differently. Some joyfully, some solemnly. Some with a weary heart and some singing psalms of salvation.
Jacob watched them wade in and watched them wade out and he thought about what this beautiful ritual meant. The water of these springs was not magical, but they were powerfully symbolic and it evoked for Jacob the many images of water throughout the Scriptures – The waters of creation, the great flood, the parting of the Red Sea, the waters used in ritual cleansing. It reminded him of God’s promises spoken by the prophet Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 36:25-28). In this simple ritual, all of these promises and images were being embraced as being fulfilled, just as much as Jesus was being embraced as the Messiah.
As Jacob watched the crowd filing in to be baptised, waiting for his turn, he also noticed an interesting thing. Some waded into the pools with their young children in their arms. There were even some whole families with infants who came forward to be baptised. But Jacob noticed that others didn’t take their children. Jacob saw one man who had just come out of the pool after his baptism, go to his wife, take their baby from her arms and then she went in to be baptised.
This perplexed Jacob and made him wonder, when it came to his turn, what he should do. Should both he and his daughter be baptised together, signifying that Jesus was their Messiah and they would follow and love him as they had followed and loved Yahweh? Responding to Jesus as the Messiah seemed to him the most natural thing for a Jew. If only he was baptised, would that mean that his daughter and he were separated in a way that they had never been? Would it mean she was no longer a Jew? Or that he wasn’t?
But on the other hand, should he only be baptised, to signify that he had received the forgiveness and cleansing that the Messiah offered. He could tell God had moved his heart to respond and although he knew the call went out to his daughter as well, it was he who was consciously responding to it. If little Mariah was baptised, what would it mean? Would it be meaningless? Would it be a lie? Would it be offensive to Yahweh? Or would it be the right response for a Jewish family embracing the Messiah? In fact, would it be offensive to Yahweh if he did not baptise her?
His head was filled with questions and confusion. In his arms, Mariah began to cry. As Jacob calmed his daughter he thought to himself, “This is ridiculous! Today is a day of good news! Where has my joy gone? A moment ago I was in awe that Yahweh had fulfilled his promises and shown my family such kindness, and now, I am stressed about causing him offence?” Then he prayed this prayer, “O Lord, please forgive my lack of faith in your compassion. Some people are taking their children with them to be baptised and some people are not. I am not sure of your will. Help me make the right choice with joy in this great day.”
When Jacob opened his eyes, it was his turn to step into the pool.
And so, Jacob stepped forward his daughter in his arms…
I looked at Jacob as he waded through the water, towards the apostle James who stood in the middle of the deep pool. James was smiling and speaking to all those who came forward briefly before baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had commanded. I was very curious to see what Jacob would do when he reached the front of the line, but suddenly, my view was blocked. At first I was frustrated, but I couldn’t stay that way. Stepping in front of me was a group of newly baptised converts, dripping wet and singing praises to the Messiah with laughter and tears and dancing and joy. “God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah!” they cried, echoing the words Cephas had spoken to the crowd earlier. I looked around at the crowd that was full of others doing the same – praising God and declaring the gospel. All those who had accepted this message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
This story was inspired by the record of the events on the Day of Pentecost, which you can read for yourself in Acts 2.