It was the end of World War II and Hitler had just committed suicide. His soul flew off to the afterlife and Hitler found himself waiting in a queue to stand before the Judge with three other soldiers in the line in front of him.
The first soldier stepped forward and the Judge asked, â€œWhat was your greatest sacrificial act?â€
The soldier replied: â€œWell, I was flying over Germany and Iâ€™d run out of bombs, bullets and was low on petrol. I was about to land in a field when I saw a convoy of Nazi tanks and so I decided to sacrifice my life and fly my plane into the convoy, killing several Nazis including one commanding officer.â€
â€œWell done!â€ the Judge said, and with an angelic sound the gates of Heaven opened and the soldier walked in.
The second soldier was a German SS Officer and the Judge asked, â€œWhat was your greatest sacrificial act?â€
The SS Officer replied, â€œWell, once, I torched a whole village to the ground because the mayor refused to say â€˜Hail Hitlerâ€™.â€
The Judge shook his head and pulled a level, opening up a trap door underneath the Officer. He screamed and fell down to hellfire.
Then the third soldier stepped forward and the Judge asked, â€œWhat was your greatest sacrificial act?â€
The soldier replied: â€œI helped smuggle seven Jewish families out of the country and when I was discovered, I was shot in the town square.â€
â€œWell done!â€ the Judge said, and once again the gates of Heaven opened and the soldier walked in.
Hitler was next and he was terrified, not knowing what he was going to say to save him from Hell. Then he got an idea.
He stepped forward and the Judge asked, â€œWhat was your greatest sacrificial act?â€
He replied proudly, â€œI killed Hitler!â€
This is a silly joke, but it does express a few things about how many people perceive the final judgment. Or at least, it’s how some people think Christians perceive it.
I once had a non-Christian work colleague say to me, “Yeah, but you HAVE to do that because you think that will make God love you.” I was baffled as to how she got that perception of how I, or indeed any Christian, thinks about their realtionship with God.
The perception that Christianity teaches that “good people go the Heaven and bad people go to Hell” is one that is still out there, both in our secular society and indeed, I expect, amongst those who might think of themselves as Christians.
But that is not the gospel.
The Bad News part of the Good News
The first part of the gospel message of Jesus Christ teaches that no one is “good enough” to go heaven. Jesus himself said the words “No one is good, but God alone” (Luke 18:19) and other passages, like this one, make it even clearer:
…Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: â€œThere is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.â€
No one can stand before the Judge of the Universe and claim innocence. We are all guilty, no matter what selfless act of sacrifice we can claim to have done. The standard that God expects from us is not that we have one really impressive thing on our resume, or even that we have done more good things than bad things.
Jesus explains the standard to a Teacher of the Law in Mark 12:28-30, when he explained the two greatest commands of God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.â€™Â The second is this: â€˜Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This is what it means to be a “good” person.
And so, the line “good people go to Heaven” is sort of true. The problem is that, no one fulfills this “goodness” other than Jesus and so no one deserves to go to Heaven but Jesus.
Now, the word “gospel” means “good news”, but the reality is that everyone stands guilty before God is not really good news. But it is the problem that Jesus came to solve. It is when we accept this bad news, that we see our need for a Saviour and hear the good news that he came to declare.
The Good News
The Good News is that God does not leave us to face the Judge and the Judgement without hope of forgiveness.
Jesus came to not only show us how to truly be “good”, but also to take the punishment of behalf of the “bad”.
Jesus came to call people to turn from their sin and to put their trust in him.
Jesus came to offer forgivess and freedom and eternal life and reconciliation.
And all those who would see their need and respond to his call, can stand before the Judge when they die and not pretend that they are good enough for Heaven. They can be honest about their deservedness for judgement because they know that that judgement had already been taken for them in Jesus’ death on the cross.
That is why the gospel is not “good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell”.
The gospel is “There are none good enough to go to Heaven. In fact, those who think their good enough end up in Hell. And bad people like you and I are offered Heaven as a free gift in Christ.”
Or to simplify it: “Good people go to Hell and bad people get to go to Heaven”.
When I was a kid growing up Catholic, my family observed Lent.
For the uninitiated, Lent is a six week season leading up to Good Friday and Easter. It was supposed to be a time of contemplation, of self-denial and sacrifice, as we stepped closer and closer to the most important time in the Christian calendar.
In the spirit of this sacrificial season, every Friday during Lent (and especially on Good Friday) my parents would buy fish and chips for dinner. The idea was that we were giving up red meat on Friday and instead, having fish.
Of course, to a young kid, this was no sacrifice… It was a treat! I mean, how could you compare a pile of salty deep-fried deliciousness to the usual grilled steak and over-boiled veggies? If that’s self-denial, then give me my cross and sign me up! The true symbolism of “giving up” for Lent was lost on me and there was absolutely no sacrifice on my part.
Eventually, by God’s mercy, I came to know the gospel and over the years, though I now no longer observe Lent, I have grown to have a deeper understanding of the Good Friday that Lent was supposed to prepare me for. Now, many years later, as I reflect on my family’s fish and chips tradition, I have come to appreciate that was actually a perfect illustration of what happens in the gospel.
Good Friday is not in fact a day where we give something up. It’s a day when we receive something. It’s not a day where we make a sacrifice. It’s a day where we remember that a sacrifice was made on our behalf. Jesus took our guilt and the wrath of God that our sins deserve. And we? We are onlookers. We are called to respond to his sacrifice with trust, and repentance and dependent faith. But we do not make the sacrifice. We do not even contribute to Jesus’ sacrifice. It is all his work on our behalf. We simply receive it in gratitude and joy. Like a child being given a plate of salty deep-fried deliciousness that he did not pay for and did not earn.
So whether you observe Lent or not, I encourage you to not treat this season as a time that you have to prepare your soul for the holiness of the Easter weekend. As the old Catholic hymn that I still recall says, “Come as you are”. Or as Jesus himself said when he was asked why he ate with sinners, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: â€˜I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.â€™ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)
We do not prepare our soul to be acceptable to God. We do not make a sacrifice. We come to God with nothing but our empty hands and repentant hearts. And we hear those delicious words from Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Lent is not a time to sacrifice. Sure, give up chocolate or smoking or Facebook if it helps you reflect on the truth on the gospel. I am making no comment or criticism of fasting in this article. I’m just saying, if you’re going to do something to reflect on the gospel as Good Friday approached, make sure you really reflect on the gospel. The gospel that declares that the great sacrifice that brings us to God has already been done for us. It is what makes Good Friday so good.
So come as you are, grab a plate and pass the chicken salt, and “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.Â 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.”
Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.
Most Christians know that they should be like Philip in Acts 8:35. We should share “the good news about Jesus” whenever we have the opportunity and we should try to make as many opportunities as we can. This, of course, is challenging. We often feel like we don’t know the best thing to say, or if we do, we can easily feel nervous or even fearful about how people may respond.
In my own journey of facing these challenges, there are the three key things I try to remember as I share the good news about Jesus:
It’s good. It’s news. And it’s about Jesus.
#1. It’s about Jesus
If you want to share the heart of Christianity, your focus has to be on the Christ at its centre. The gospel isn’t the good news about you. It’s not about how your life has improved since becoming a Christian. The gospel is about Jesus – about who he is and what he has done – and we must make sure we remember that focus.
As Paul the apostle wrote:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:1-2
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…
2 Corinthians 4:5
One way I challenge myself to remember this focus is with a funny little test I call “The Three Levels of Wussiness”. If I have a face to face conversation about spiritual matters, I reflect afterwards on which words I chose to use and which I chose to avoid.
Now, if I just talked about “Christianity”, or used phrases like “As a Christian” or “my faith”, I consider that a Level 3 of being a wuss. It’s not that I said anything particularly wrong. It’s just that there is little to no risk to me or to my listeners when you keep it that vague. There’s also little to no chance that the actual gospel was communicated.
If I have a bit more courage, I may get to Level 2, which means I talked about “God”. More personal, but still nice and broad as people can often inject their own definition as to what that word means.
Level 1 is where I actually use the “J” word and talk about Jesus specifically. For me, that is clear. That is courageous. That where I might actually be sharing the gospel. Because the gospel is specifically the good news about Jesus.
You may think I’m being harsh on myself, or maybe for you, just telling people that you’re a Christian is a big step. If it is, then don’t let my “Three Levels of Wussiness” test make you feel overwhelmed. God is glorified by (and can use) any small faithful word that we say in an effort to point people to the gospel.
My goal is not to guilt-trip you or myself. To be honest, I fail heaps of the time. It’s simply easier to answer a religious question with “Well, as a Christian…” rather than “Well, Jesus teaches that…” I do these reflections with a big awareness of my weakness and need for God’s grace and help. I simply want to challenge us to not wimp out by avoiding using the “J” word. As God gives you these opportunities to share the good news, pray for courage and remember – it’s about Jesus.
#2. It’s News
The second thing I want to remember is that the good news about Jesus may involve lots of things, but fundamentally… it’s news.
When Paul tells us to remember the gospel, look at how he summarises it:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-5
The gospel – the central message of Christianity – is not a philosophy for how to live. It’s not a list of moral rules or a system of religious practices. The gospel is not even a presentation of theological truths or a creed that people need to sign up to. Of course, the New Testament does contain all of those things, and they are good to discuss. They just aren’t the gospel.
The gospel literally means “good news”. It is a declaration of something that has happened in history – centred around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. So, even if you’re using the “J” word but you’re not sharing the news about Jesus, then you probably aren’t sharing the gospel.
Why is that an important distinction to get right? Because it’s only the good news that is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). It is coming to hear and believe this news that is the primary method God uses to save people. Ethical philosophy, social commentary and systematic theology are great topics of conversation, but more than anything else, people need to hear the simple news about who Jesus is and what he has done.
This also implies something else important – you can’t just use your good works to share the gospel.
I’m sure you have heard the popular saying:
Preach the Gospel at all times.
When necessary, use words.
This quote is wrongly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (there’s actually no evidence he ever said this), but whoever said it, the way these words are often used is to argue that you don’t really have to use words to spread the gospel to the world. You just live it out.
Although, the New Testament does commend living “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14), it never suggests that sharing the gospel could ever be done silently. If the gospel is actual news that people need to be informed about and respond to, then actions alone will never suffice. Like any sort of news, both the spoken and written word will need to be the primary way that it will be communicated.
Now, I say “primary” because I do think there is a place for visual mediums such as illustration, painting, theatre and cinema. I have used lots of these creative tools over my life and know that can be very effective at communicating the gospel. But no matter what tool you use, if your goal is to share the good news, then you must remember that it is news.
Consider this illustration: A bushfire is sweeping across the countryside, approaching a nearby town. That is the news and all in the town need to hear it and respond to it. Now, you could communicate this news through phone calls, text message, sirens and visual alerts popping up on people’s phones. There are many ways that you can tell people the news that a bushfire is coming.
It’s also true that if you believe this news, then you will act in such a way that demonstrates that – hosing down your house or packing your bags and evacuating the area. In fact, if you weren’t acting like that, then even if you did tell people about the bushfire, why would anyone believe it was true. So our actions definitely do back up our words, but they can not replace them.
Like an approaching bushfire, the gospel is important news that needs to be responded to. We must live lives that show that we believe the gospel, but we must not rely on just our lives to communicate it. As the first part of that saying says, “Preach the Gospel at all times”. Just remember that words will almost always be necessary.
#3. It’s Good
Sharing the gospel is not easy. The news about Jesus is challenging and for some, offensive. There is also an increasing movement in the West to simply write off the gospels as fairy tales with no historical value that requires a response. If that wasn’t discouraging enough, the bible tells us that the human heart is naturally blind to the light of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that no one is able to respond to the gospel unless God enables them (John 6:65).
Turning hearts to respond in faith to the news about Jesus is literally an impossible task – conversion is God’s work, not ours. In that context, it almost seems futile to share the gospel. If the expectation is that, unless God acts, the message (and maybe the messenger) will be ignored, rejected, mocked and opposed, why would anyone share it? Why put yourself through that?
I used to answer that question with “Because it is true.” But I am more and more convinced that even believing in the truth of the gospel will not actually get us sharing it. More than knowing that the news about Jesus is true, we need to know deep in our soul that the news is good.
So, the third thing I need to remember in order to share the “good news” is that it is indeed good news! The gospel is the hope for the world, the light in the darkness, the solution to the problem of the human condition. It is epic enough to fix the brokenness of the entire universe and intimate enough to reconcile an individual soul to their Creator.
God the Son truly did come to earth 2,000 years ago. He truly walked the dusty roads of Jerusalem, performed miracles, taught the truth about God’s kingdom and loved people as we never could. He truly did take our sins and die in our place on the cross and on Easter morning he truly was raised from the dead and now rules the Universe! And all people, no matter who they are or what they have done are called to abandon their sin, turn to Jesus and take this free gift of forgiveness, reconciliation and eternal life. This is the good news and it is truly good!
But do we really believe that? Do we honestly believe that your friends and family will be better off if they embrace the gospel? If we do believe it is good news, then why aren’t we sharing it?
When someone has discovered a new crazy diet that has changed their life, or has started watching a show on Netflix that is blowing them away, or has just won TattsLotto, or is going to get married and everyone’s invited, they have no problem telling people about it. It is natural to share good news, especially when others can join in on it too.
But is that how you think about the news about Jesus? Or do you think about it as simply a weird set of beliefs that we Christians ascribe to, but you wouldn’t want to burden anyone else with? If that’s the case, then you will never share Jesus with anyone, or if you do, it will only be out of some begrudging sense of duty.
If you want to joyfully and naturally introduce people to Jesus, you have to be convinced, as Paul was, of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
Consider these poetic words of King David:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
His lips can’t help but speak about God because he knows that God’s steadfast love is better than life. We need to remember that too. We are such distracted and forgetful creatures. We need to daily remind ourselves and each other of the goodness of the good news.
In this “dry and weary land”, we need to spend time in God’s Word, drinking deep from the gospel and letting it overflow onto our lips in words of praise and gospel sharing. Then we will join with King David as he calls to people in another great psalm:
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
I hope this article challenges and encourages you. I hope for some it convicts and humbles you. But really, this article is for me. Even in the process of writing it, I have become more aware of the words I use and the opportunities I have to talk about Jesus.
Most importantly, I have become more aware of my need to continuously thirst for God and be reminded every day of the goodness of the good news. May we all spur each other on as we try to share the good news about Jesus with prayerful dependence and godly courage.
And as you do, remember these three things – the gospel is so good, it’s wonderful news and it’s all about Jesus.
To some who were too familiar with Bible stories, Jesus told this parable:
â€œTwo men went up to the temple to pray, one a tax collector and the other a Pharisee. The tax collector stood by himself and prayed: â€˜God, I thank you that I am a character in bible stories that is known for being a marginalised outcast who you’re supposed to sympathise with, not like the obvious villains in the story – the teachers of the law, the Jewish rulers, the rich, the powerful – or even like this Pharisee. I’m always the one that Jesus wants to eat with and the one that in the end, you are supposed to want to emulate.â€™
â€œBut the Pharisee stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, â€˜God, have mercy on me, a sinner.â€™
â€œI tell you that the Pharisee, rather than the tax collector, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.â€
Ever wondered what it really means to call the bible the â€œWord of Godâ€?
Can we trust that the words in the book we hold are a reliable record?
How does our understanding of the Bible shape the way we read and interpret it?
Discover answers to these and many more questions in this brilliant collection of 7 hours of Rev Neil Chambersâ€™ insightful, scholarly and in-depth teaching on the Christian understanding of the Bible.
Presented during the 2018 Winter Teaching Series at Bundoora Presbyterian Church.
Note: Unfortunately, a fewÂ of the talks start halfway through Neil’s first sentence.
Now I am not one to get excited whenever a celebrity starts talking about their faith or mentioning God. I think there is way too much celebrity worship and Christians seem to get sucked into it like everyone else. It’s like we feel that if we get a celebrity endorsement for Jesus then that means something. It doesn’t. So don’t take it the wrong way when I say that I was really excited when I heard Hollywood actor Chris Pratt’s acceptance speech for the “Generation” Award at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards.
The guts of his speech was a presentation of what he called “9 Rules from Chris Pratt”. When I heard that title, my mind immediately went to ProfessorÂ Jordan Peterson’s bestselling book, “12 Rules for Life”, which recently was a talking point amongst many Christians. In this list of “rules” though, Pratt is no professor. His speech was peppered with poop jokes and other silliness. But amongst theÂ humour, you could see that Pratt’s primary intention was to communicate some important ideas about God, human beings and yes, even the cross of Jesus.
Watch his “9 Rules” here:
Here are Chris Pratt’s 9 rules:
1. “Breathe â€” If you don’t, you’ll suffocate.”
2.Â “You have a soul. Be careful with it.”
3.Â “Don’t be a t*rd. If you’re strong be a protector and if you’re smart be a humble influencer; strength and intelligence can be weapons, and do not wield them against the weak. That makes you a bully. Be bigger than that.”
4.Â “When giving a dog medicine, put the medicine in a little piece of hamburger, they won’t even know they’re eating medicine.”
5. “Doesn’t matter what it is, earn it. A good deed, reach out to someone in pain, be of service. It feels good and it’s good for your soul.”
6.Â “God is real. God loves you. God wants the best for you. Believe that. I do.”
7. “If you have to poop at a party, but you’re embarrassed because you’re gonna stink up the bathroom, do what I do: lock the door, sit down, get all the pee out first. Okay? And then, once all the pee’s done, poop, flush, boom. You minimise the amount of time the poop is touching the air, because if you poop first, it takes you longer to pee and then you’re peeing on top of it, stirring it up, the poop particles create a cloud, it goes out and then everyone in the party’ll know that you pooped. Just trust me, it’s science.”
8. “Learn to pray. It’s easy, and it’s so good for your soul.”
9.Â “Nobody is perfect. People are going to tell you you’re perfect just the way you are, you’re not. You are imperfect. You always will be. But there is a powerful force that designed you that way, and if you’re willing to accept that, you will have grace. And grace is a gift. And like the freedom that we enjoy in this country that grace was paid for with somebody else’s blood. Do not forget it. Don’t take it for granted.”
The Silly and the Serious
Although the occasional silly or vulgar comments grab our attention and superficially make us laugh, if you look carefully at the structure of Chris Pratt’s 9 Rules, you can see what he is actually focusing on.
Number 1 is a funny life lesson. Then 2 is a spiritual truth and 3 a deep life lesson.
Then he breaks it up with 4 which is another funny life lesson, and follows that up with another two important ones – 5 a deep life lesson and 6 a spiritual truth.
With 7 he gives one final funny life lesson, before finishing it with 2 more important ones – both of which are deep life lessons wrapped in spiritual truths. Sure the silly jokes are there, but they simply serve the purpose of breaking up the serious points he wants to make.
The ideas that stuck out to me were his proclamations about the reality of the soul, the reality of a loving God and the reality of human imperfection. I loved his call to use our strengths to serve those in need and his encouragement to learn to pray. But most of all I loved his mention of grace and the cross of Christ. Now, you might have missed that last one, but it was there right at the end of his last rule.
Grace that’s free but not cheap
In Rule #9 he begins by reminding us of the universal truth that we all know about ourselves – none of us are perfect.Â That’s a soft way of saying that we are all sinful and broken and in need of a Saviour. Pratt is right. As Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “all have sinnedÂ and fall short of the glory of God”.
Pratt goes on to say the truth that God designed us and we need to accept the reality of our sinfulness. He is right again. God’s Word teaches clearly that we are uniquely created by God and accountable to God. Now, when he talks about God, he again uses softer language, calling God a “powerful force”, but we at least see from Rule #6 that he actually believes God is a personal Being that loves us and desires our good.
Finally, Pratt goes on to say that those who accept their imperfection in the light of God as our creator, will be given grace. Now, Pratt is a bit fuzzy here on the details, but he does give us some characteristics of this thing called “grace”.
Grace, says Pratt, is a gift. It is free. But it is not cheap. In fact, it cost a great deal. Comparing it to “freedom” that was achieved only through the blood of those who fought to win America’s independence, Pratt suggests that the gift of grace is the same. The grace that we need was paid for, not with our good deeds or our moral effort, but “with somebody else’s blood”. This, if you hadn’t picked it up is referring to Jesus. It is his bloody death that pays for our sin and imperfection and purchases us the grace that reconciles us to God. This is the gospel. It was a bit obscured, but it was there and it was exciting to hear it proclaimed from a stage like the MTV Awards.
“Nobody is perfect”
Now, there are many things I wished Chris Pratt had said, or hadn’t said during his speech. Mostly, I wish he had mentioned the actual name of Jesus. It would have given people a direct person to go to to find grace when they follow Rule #8 and start praying to the God that is real and who loves them.
But like the commentary surrounding the recent royal wedding sermon ofÂ Bishop Michael Curry, I think it’s best to simply look at the positives and put our energy into using it as a launchpad to gospel conversations, rather than tear down the messenger or the imperfections in the message.
To be honest, after listening to the speech, I wasn’t focused on the parts Chris Pratt missed out. I was excited. And it wasn’t because these words came from the mouth of a Hollywood actor. Not at all. I was excited because his speech, mixed with comedy and crassness, also contained a few simpleÂ nuggets of spiritual truth that – if heard correctly – actually would point people to the gospel. It was exciting to hear these truths being proclaimed from a platform that will be heard by millions. Remember, just a few days earlier, Robert Deniro’s virtue signaling, self-congratulatory “F*** Trump” speech at the Tony Awards was getting headlines. Let’s hope Pratt’s speech about humility, grace and a loving God, replaces it.
Sure some who hear it will respond with mockery and many others will simply forget it in a day or so, but I pray that there may be a few who are intrigued by these declarations of unpopular spiritual realities. And most of all, I pray that someone out there will wonder what Chris Pratt meant when he spoke of a “grace [that] was paid for with somebody else’s blood”. May God guide them to find that the answer is in the grace-giving sacrifice of Jesus.
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 withÂ 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 expressedÂ 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 convictionÂ and to explain some of the “winds” that blew me to land there, here are 6 conclusions I have made.
1.Â I believe the act of baptism does not save you.Â
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 youÂ 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.â€Â 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 & IÂ have concluded that it is appropriate for usÂ 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 completelyÂ on the mercy of God. The bible says clear as crystal: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith â€” and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God â€”not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)Â 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 mercyÂ 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 IÂ 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 causeÂ salvation, it is a symbol of salvation. There isÂ 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 waterÂ symbolises the spiritual act of Jesus washing our sins away (see Matthew 3:11, Acts 22:16, Â 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 aÂ 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 scriptureÂ (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 eventÂ 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 practiseÂ 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 heÂ 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’sÂ 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 TestamentÂ 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 inÂ 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,Â for those that are concerned by the dilemma, “What if I baptise my child but they eventuallyÂ 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…Â 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 getÂ physically baptised, with the awareness that they need to also be spiritually baptised.
Now, some suggest that since Jesus came withÂ 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 butÂ 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 sinceÂ 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 truthsÂ 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.Â I believe the biblical instruction (and lack thereof)Â 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 toÂ baptise their children, then we should expect other instructions as well.Â For instance, where is theÂ 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 haveÂ 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 beingÂ “in the Lord”. Now, to me, these words of PaulÂ seem to support a pedobaptist understanding of how children are to be viewed. Unless they one day reject the gospel, the children of convertsÂ are considered to be “in the Lord” from the beginning.
Now, it is true, bothÂ sides of this debate have to grapple with the absence of clear, biblical instruction about whetherÂ 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 theÂ 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 primaryÂ credobaptist argument – namely, that scriptureÂ 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.Â 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?Â I call itÂ a mystery because the biblical record really isn’t clear. In the New Testament’sÂ four narrative books, we have no explicit record of a baby being baptised. But,Â we also have no explicit record of converted parents choosing toÂ not baptise their baby, and we have no record of a child being brought up in a converted household who eventuallyÂ “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.Â 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 discussingÂ 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 necessaryâ€”if (baptism itself) is not so necessaryÂ â€” 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;Â let them become Christians when they have become able to know Christ.”
So Tertullian here is giving adviceÂ 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 bringÂ 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 deferredâ€”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 freedomâ€”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. PossiblyÂ 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 suggestionÂ 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 yourÂ children in a particular denomination becameÂ 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 legalisticÂ 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 ChristiansÂ should baptise their childrenÂ 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 isÂ 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 teachingÂ 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.Â I believe reality supports pedobaptism.
Now this heading may sound extreme, as if I am saying thatÂ 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 inÂ the local churchÂ 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 theÂ Lordship of Jesus, then we do not extend these privileges to them. That is obvious. These are only privileges for converts. But what do covertsÂ 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 sayÂ 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 parentsÂ teach their childrenÂ 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 actuallyÂ thought of their children as non-believers whomÂ 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,Â they will raise their child with the truthsÂ of the gospel being, not an option in the smorgasbord of life, but simply part of their reality. As I like to say, myÂ 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, IÂ hope that herÂ testimony is quite boring (by the world’s standards). IÂ hope that if and when my daughterÂ does make some form of a profession of faith, sheÂ will say, “I know this doesn’t sound very dramatic, but I have always believed that GodÂ 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 forÂ my hope, identity, security and satisfaction in Christ. I’m not really sure when God saved me or whenÂ 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 haveÂ David’s experience as he wrote it in Psalm 22:9-10 “You brought me out of the womb;Â you made me trust in you, even at my motherâ€™s breast.Â From birth I was cast on you;Â from my motherâ€™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 sheÂ receive the symbol of God’s promises? When should she be given the signÂ that she “belongs” to Jesus? When did her journey with Christ begin? I reckon, from the very beginning.Â
But what if she rejects the gospel, you ask? What if she has an “anti-conversion” experience? Well, as I covered earlier, that isÂ a questionÂ 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.Â
When convertsÂ baptise their children, it is making the statement that the gospel is reality – both for them and for their children.Â As Peter declared on that wonderful day of Pentecost when he called people to turn to ChristÂ and be baptised: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far offâ€”for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:39)Â 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.Â 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.Â 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, thenÂ that becomes a recipe for self-doubt. Think about it. If you are given confidence thatÂ 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 itÂ 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 groundÂ 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.
The “mark no religion” campaign is a targeted and determined movement run by a few atheist lobby groups with the goal of representing Australia to be more atheistic than it is.
It is very true that some people tick a particular religion on the census form for pretty shallow reasons, and dedicated adherents of those religions may think that their religion should be taken more seriously. But the census form is not asking you to express the level of dedication you hold towards your religion. The question on the form is simply: “What is the person’s religion?”
The Atheist Foundation of Australia is trying to instruct you as to how you should answer that question. But that is a question for you to answer without having to justify your answer or prove whether you meet their standards for identifying with a particular religion.
For example, on their website, they state: “The position of the Atheist Foundation of Australia is that no one should consider themselves Christian if they do not accept the basic tenets of the Nicene Creed â€“ or at the very least, they should reflect upon whether there are good enough reasons as to why they consider themselves Christian.” As good as the Nicene Creed is as a basic foundation of Christian beliefs, is should not be treated as a qualification test for whether or not one chooses to be a Christ follower. Many youth or new Christians may still be getting their head around some of the ideas contained in the Nicene Creed and yet are still Christians. Why would you let the position of an atheist organisation instruct you as to what you should or should not consider yourself?
Not only this, but they also tell you how your children should identify themselves as well! Their website says that all young or adolescent children should be categorised as “no religion” suggesting “Richard Dawkins and other prominent authors have pointed out that no one should consider children Muslims, Hindus, or Christians.” It is clear that they are really pushing that particular agenda.
Their main tagline is “Not religious anymore? Mark ‘no religion’ on the 2016 census”. But just because you do not consider yourself “religious anymore” does not mean that you do not have any form of spirituality or beliefs about spiritual matters. It is a false dichotomy to tell people that if they do not identify as being “religious” then they must identify with having “no religion”. They are deliberately discouraging people from the fact that they are very free to describe their spirituality in the section marked as “other”. In fact, after determined lobbying, they have been able to get “no religion” as the top pick on the list, giving a false impression of its importance in the hope that people will tick that and not bother considering the “other” category at the bottom of the list.
Now, I am not informing you of this because I want you to tick any particular box. Quite the opposite. I want you to feel free to tick whatever box you like. If you want identify as a Christian or a Buddhist or a Hindu, tick that box. If you identify as having “no religion” then tick that box. If you identify as something else, then tick the “other” box and tell the Government what that is so that you can be better represented.
It is the “mark no religion” campaign that is trying to persuade people to tick one box over another. A census is about your information, not their political agenda. Don’t be fooled or pressured by the Atheist Foundation of Australia to tick your census form for their ends.