It is argued by the Catholic Church that the apostle Peter is the rock that the Church is built on. This is their primary defense for the entire Papal system and indeed the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
This argument is built on it’s own rock – this one verse in Matthew’s gospel.
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
What is the “rock” that Jesus tells Peter he will build his church on? The Catholic Church says it’s Peter and this is a position they have held for a very long time. For example, way back in 445AD, Pope Leo I justified his papal authority with these words:
“[Christ] wished [Peter] who had been received into partnership in his undivided unity to be named what he himself was, when he said: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’, that the building of the eternal temple might rest on Peter’s solid rock”
Pope Leo I (Letters 10:1)
And in 451AD, the Council of Chalcedon describes Peter like this:
“…The thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the orthodox faith.”
Council of Chalcedon (Acts of the Council, session 3)
“Peter, your name means rock, but you’re not THE rock”
Now, as you can tell from the title of this article, I disagree with the Catholic Church on this one. I was recently asked by a Catholic friend to explain my reasoning as in his mind, the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18 seems so clear.
He also insisted that as Peter was given the “keys to the kingdom” and the other disciples weren’t, this was another sign that he was being established by Jesus as the first Pope. I disagreed on this point too, stating that whatever these “keys” meant, I believe they were given to all the disciples.
I addressed this “keys” point first, so I’ll put this below and get on to my argument about why I don’t think Peter is the “rock” the church is built on.
The keys were given to all disciples
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
So the text (and indeed the rest of the bible) doesn’t give any other explanation of what it means to be given “the keys of the kingdom” other than “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
So if we accept that this is what it means to be given the keys of the kingdom, then we must accept that that was something given to all the disciples, not just Peter. Why? Because this privilege (or role or responsibility) to bind and loose is mentioned in other passages.
Just two chapters on, in Matt 18:18-20, Jesus is talking to all the disciples (as is made clear at the start of the chapter), and he says:
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
In fact, by that last line, one might be fair to extrapolate that wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, this role of binding and loosing is present. But either way, it’s clear that these “keys” are not only given to Peter, but to all the disciples.
Another passage that uses very similar language to the binding and loosing concepts in Matthew, is in John 20:23, where Jesus says to the disciples:
If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
As the context of Matthew 18:18-20 shows that Jesus is talking about sin and forgiveness, I think it’s fair to say that John 20:23 is talking about the same thing.
Why Peter is not the rock, Jesus is
The issue for Catholics usually rests more on the fact that they have been taught that when Jesus says “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church”, he is saying that Christ’s church will be built on Peter.
This is an incorrect reading of this passage I believe and I encourage you to, for a moment, try to read it with fresh eyes. I think it’s pretty obvious that Jesus, the disciples and definitely Peter, did not think of Peter as the foundational rock that the church was built on. The whole passage of Matthew 16:13-20, reads like this:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
So what is the focus of the story? Who is Jesus. It starts with that question and it ends with that as well.
Peter is the key person who gets who Jesus is and he makes the grand confession of Jesus’ identity: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus honour Peter for this confession and says “You are Peter and on THIS rock, I will build my church”.
What is the “THIS” that is the foundation of the church that Jesus will build? Is it Peter? No. If it were Peter Jesus would have said, “on YOU I will build my church”.
[Side note: I acknowledge that I am not addressing what to some Catholics might feel like the elephant in the room. Namely, the argument that Peter’s name means “rock”. Technically, in the original Greek the word translated as “Peter” is Πέτρος (Petros) and “rock” is πέτρα (petra) and so it’s not identical, but definitely can be considered a bit of wordplay by Jesus. The fact is though, this is not where Peter is originally given his name by Jesus. That happens early on in Jesus ministry (see John 1:42). It may indeed have been given by Jesus in anticipation of this moment in Matthew 16, but it still does not suggest that Peter IS the rock that is being referred to. Just that his name sounds similar to the word “rock”.
So when Jesus says, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church” it is like him saying, “You are Matthew and on this mat I will wipe my feet.” I know that’s a crude analogy, but hopefully you get my point. In the bible people can be given a name that points to something other than themselves. For example, John the baptist was also specifically given that name by an angel and his name means “Yahweh is Gracious”. It doesn’t imply that he himself is Yahweh, but rather that his life and ministry should declare the grace of Yahweh. Likewise, Peter’s life and ministry should declare the “rock” which is, as I argue below, not himself, but the confession of Jesus as the Messiah.]
The rock that Jesus is referring to is the confession that Peter spoke about who Jesus is. The fact that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” is the foundational rock that the church is built on. Peter is NEVER in all Scripture referred to or thought of a the foundational rock of the church. You’d think that if that’s what Jesus meant and it was so important, that it would be repeated elsewhere.
But even in the other gospel where this story is repeated (see Mark 8:27-30 & Luke 9:18-20) the whole section about the rock is not even mentioned. This seems odd, if indeed this is the key verse that establishes the entire Papal structure of the church.
No, I think the foundational rock that Jesus’ church is built on is not Peter, it is Jesus himself and the confession that he is the Messiah. And although there is no other Scriptural support for Peter being the rock, there is LOTS of support for Jesus being the rock.
Multiple times, Jesus and the epistle writers quote Psalm 118:22 which says:
The stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.
The cornerstone was the foundational rock that the building was built on. In other places like Romans 9:33, they talk about Jesus by quoting Isaiah 8:14 which says:
See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.
If you’re looking for what or who Scripture says is the foundation the Church is built on, it speaks of Christ, not Peter.
For example 1 Corinthians 3:9-11:
For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1 Cor 3:9-11
In fact, the whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 3 is worth a read, because Paul specifically refers to Peter (or Cephas) and describes him as not one that Christians should say they follow as they are just “mere human beings” (1 Cor 3:4, 21-22).
Peter’s own words
The most compelling argument to me though is from the words of Peter himself. His first epistle is full of this language of foundational rocks and cornerstones, and he is always talking about Jesus and not himself. I will leave you with Peter’s words.
I want you to consider, in Peter’s mind, when Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church”, did Peter end up thinking Jesus was talking about Peter or Jesus?
As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”
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.
Back around March last year, I noticed that when I asked my Google Home about Jesus, it responded like an overly polite person at a party who had just been asked about some controversial issue of theology:
“Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning.”
Yeah, right Google! Don’t give us that fake humility. You’re just afraid to nail your colours to the mast!
Who Do You Say I Am?
Well, to give Google a break, there are many different views about Jesus amongst Google’s customers. Muslims believe Jesus is a prophet but not divine. Jews believe he is a teacher but not a prophet. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe he is the Archangel Michael and some skeptics even doubt Jesus existed at all!
Even back when Jesus walked the streets of the Middle East, there were lots of views about who he was. Jesus actually asked his disciples this very question:
“And on the way [Jesus] asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”” (Mark 8:27-29)
So at least the disciples understand who Jesus was and what he came to do… Well, not exactly. Peter did initially answer the question correctly, but in the very next few verses, it all goes downhill. Jesus tells his disciples that he has come to die on the cross and that same Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him for getting his mission wrong (see Mark 8:30-33)!
Fortunately, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, his disciples finally came to more fully understand who he was and what he had come to do. This is seen in the clarity of the unanimous testimony about Jesus’ identity throughout the New Testament gospels and epistles. If you want to know who Jesus is, it is shouted from every page of the New Testament.
There are many passages I could point to, but one of the boldest (and my favourite) comes from Colossians 1:15-20…
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Google’s Still Learning
Despite this, I do understand Google’s tentativeness in giving a definitive answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” It is an important question and much of the population of the world disagree on the answer.
Also, to cut Google even more slack, last year they made it a policy to answer “Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning”, no matter which major religious figure you asked about.
They received a lot of criticism at the time from people who suspected Google of deliberately targeting Christianity and this was Google’s official attempt at explaining their reasoning:
A New Answer
Well, that was a year ago, and gone is the answer “Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning”. Religion may still be complicated, but Google seems to have done some learning. Or at least, whatever algorithm they had set up to side-step the taboo topic of religion, they have now opened the doors to allow Wikipedia to answer your religious questions.
I discovered this recently when I asked my Google Home the questions “Who is Jesus?” and “Who was Jesus?”, and I was rather surprised by the way it answered…
To “Who is Jesus?” Google replied:
“The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s will as revealed in the Old Testament, and he is the Lord of the Church. He is the “Son of David”, a “king”, and the Messiah.”
To “Who was Jesus?” Google replied:
“Jesus (c. 4 BC – c. AD 30 / 33), also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Christ, was a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader. He is the central figure of Christianity and is widely described as the most influential person in history.”
Both pretty good answers if you ask me!
In fact, after a bit of experimenting, I found a few other questions that have great answers. If you’ve got Google Assistant, try these out:
What is God?
What is the gospel?
What is the only rule of faith and practice?
What is the chief end of man?
Now as fun as it is to ask Google questions, you don’t need to own the latest voice-activated technology to ask “Who is Jesus?”. The answer is not found in the robotic voice of Google, but in the living Word of God. My hope is that if you are curious about the identity of Jesus, you might pick up a bible and read one of the gospels or New Testament epistles for yourself. Two thousand years after he asked it, Jesus’ question to his disciples still echoes to each one of us: “But who do you say I am?”
Google was right last year when it said that religion can be complicated. The answer to the important question of Jesus’ identity is neither simple nor easy. But like Google seems to have done in the last year, there is indeed much to be learned.
To some who were too familiar with Bible stories, Jesus told this parable:
“Two 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: ‘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.’
“But the Pharisee stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I 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.”
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 Professor 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 the 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 — If you don’t, you’ll suffocate.”
2. “You have a soul. Be careful with it.”
3. “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. “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. “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. “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. 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 sinned 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 of 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 simple 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.
The following is a pastoral article written by Rev Neil Chambers to the congregation of Bundoora Presbyterian Church.
It is reproduced here with his permission.
Also, it is worth noting that if I, Simon Camilleri, was to write an article explaining why I will be voting no, I might use different points or articulate them in a different way. I have simply shared Neil’s article below because I feel he has articulated his position well and his biblically wise and pastoral words are worth our reflection.
“Why I will vote No.” – Rev Neil Chambers
The postal plebiscite on same sex marriage will, barring a successful High Court challenge, take place in November. The plebiscite, as far as we know, will be seeking voters to indicate whether they approve or disapprove a change to the legal definition of marriage, removing the current requirement that marriage be between a man and a woman and replacing it with a requirement that marriage be between two people. Such a change would allow a marriage to be between two men or two women, i.e. open the door to same sex marriage. Such a vote has been a possibility since the last election, and as a congregation we have been preparing for it by looking at the issues of same sex desire and same sex sexual activity when we looked at Romans 1 [March 2016], considering what the Scripture says about gender and marriage when we looked at Genesis 1 and 2, and finally thinking about our attitude to those in authority and our obligation to love our neighbours [and how the law informs that love] when we examined Romans 13.
I have called this piece ‘why I will vote no’ and not ‘why you should vote no’ very deliberately. I am sharing with you the considerations that will inform my vote to help you inform your own vote. But it is your vote, to be made in good conscience before God out of your own faith in Jesus. Other reasons than those listed here may occur to you and move you to vote differently, or you may give different weight to those listed here. You may even decide not to vote. Just make sure that what you do proceeds from faith and a good conscience, not from fear or laziness.
I will vote.
You may not like the idea of a plebiscite, or the way it is being conducted, or the way it has shaped the conversation. In fact I hope your conversations about this focus on Jesus, and not on a vote or the very restricted options that will be presented to us.
But we do have a plebiscite which has conferred on us a democratic responsibility to cast a vote in a way that will best serve our society. Participation in the plebiscite is part of loving our neighbour as this plebiscite concerns a fundamental building block of our society which shapes both individuals and society as a whole. It will have long term repercussions for good or ill. As I think the normalization of same sex sexual activity and the eroding of the understanding of marriage, which would follow the endorsement of same sex marriage will be harmful to both individuals and society as a whole [regardless of whether they are believers or not] love requires me to vote to prevent, if I can, that harm – both to those who make up our society now and to those who will come in the future and inherit the society we have made.
Further, there are those who have exposed themselves to public abuse and ridicule by seeking to maintain what I understand to be marriage as it has been instituted by our Creator, and to give me a say on this matter of long term significance. I may not agree with all they say or do, but to fail to vote would be to fail to love them and further undermine them in public life. So I think love of neighbour tells me I should vote.
I will vote no because I should oppose moves to normalize sin, and same sex sexual activity is sin.
Same sex marriage is the normalization and affirmation of same sex sexual activity. Decriminalisation of same sex sexual activity is one thing, but endorsement of same sex sexual activity is another. Same sex sexual activity is sin, that is, forbidden by God [Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10. For more extensive treatments see Kevin DeYoung What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality; Sam Allberry Is God Antigay?; Steve Morrison Born this Way. Making sense of science, the Bible and Same-Sex Attraction, or listen to the March 6th 2016 sermon on Romans 1:24-27]. I believe God is good, and what He forbids, He forbids for the good of His creatures, to promote their flourishing, not to hinder it. I believe God rules; His standards are absolute, and sin provokes His judgment – and that is not just on believers, but on all. It is not love to normalize behaviour that will bring upon others God’s judgment. Further, laws have a role in instructing consciences. It is not helpful to others to have laws that endorse behaviour God condemns. It will further harden their hearts in their sin, make it more difficult for them to accept the Gospel’s verdict on their lives.
Same sex sexual activity is, of course, just one sin amongst many. But its promotion should not be acquiesced in where we have opportunity to resist it just because there are many other sins.
I will vote no because incorporating same sex relationships into the definition of marriage reduces marriage to the social endorsement of love between two people.
Marriage given by God is so much more – an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman for life which becomes the context for sexual expression, the begetting and nurture of children, and the formation of a new family. The complementarity of a man and a woman, expressed in sexual union, is at the heart of the gift of marriage in Genesis 2. Family, and the transmission within families of virtues and helpful habits, is at the heart of a stable society.
While not all male-female marriages produce children all are in principle open to that. This move is a further step in the erosion of the significance of gender distinction, a further step in the separation of sexual activity from procreation [one of the attendant blessings of sexual activity as God has ordained it, and one of the purposes of marriage], and the separation of sexual activity from marriage. This may seem paradoxical where more are seeking to enter marriage [i.e. have their unions recognized publicly as lifelong commitments], but that recognition is independent of exclusive sexual union. It is an endorsement of love, a love which by its nature is not open to the begetting of children which are the product of that union. Reducing marriage to an endorsement of love, rather than strengthen the institution of marriage, as some claim, will weaken it and further destabilise marriages for human love waxes and wanes.
I will vote no because we should not put instruments into the hands of those who may want to further restrict Christian freedom to teach the Scriptures and bring up our children in the faith.
We have not seen the bill, we have not seen the protections of freedom of speech, we have not seen the safeguards to our freedom to bring up children in the discipline and instruction of the faith. Despite the demands of some that we should just focus on whether we want same sex marriage or not, our current experience of the use of anti-discrimination laws to harass those teaching Christian doctrine [e.g. in Tasmania], and the experience of Christians in jurisdictions overseas where same sex marriage has been endorsed, suggest that such a change will further expose Christians teaching Chris-tian doctrine or maintaining it in public debate to harassment through anti-discrimination laws. It is not enough that ministers be protected from being compelled to participate in solemnizing same sex marriages, or that church buildings can be prevented from being used in same sex marriages. There needs to be protection for Christian schools in their employment and teaching, Christian adoption agencies, Christian hospitals, Christian groups on campus, protections that allow them to operate as Christian institutions and organizations in accord with Christian teaching. We must be able to continue a distinctively Christian corporate witness. A large no vote will encourage politicians to engage with the need for those protections.
I will vote no because these changes, unless they are wedded to further measures, will not achieve their goal and I want to prevent those further measures.
The change to the marriage law is not designed to achieve a freedom, but an endorsement and acceptance. Same sex couples are already free to live together, free to adopt children, free to be acknowledged in wills. They have equality in civil law. This change is about same sex couples being accepted as equals with male-female marriages. But a change in the law will not achieve that as it does not address the reasons people reject same sex couples as equivalent to male-female marriages. Those reasons are not only religious. Some have a deep commitment to family and to children without any religious motivation. Others have a respect for the wisdom of past centuries. None of these reasons are addressed in a change in the definition of marriage. And some, like me, will still consider same sex sexual activity as sin, and therefore relationships, however longstanding, that are built on same sex sexual activity as sinful. A change in the legal definition will not address that. And so for acceptance to be achieved, and that is the goal, it is logical that this change will be accompanied by restrictions on the expression of disapproval, and an attempt to prevent the transmission of world views that do not endorse same sex sexual activity [or a demand to be able to teach our children the alternate view with-out any input from of notification of parents]. Already the justifications for such moves are being developed – e.g. presenting the change in the definition as a preventative health measure. This lends further weight to the concern expressed in 4 above.
I will vote no because I should not support the promotion of sub optimal parenting contexts.
While I believe most same sex couples with children will be conscientious and loving parents, I also believe what David Popenoe [a sociologist] has written “Few propositions have more empirical support in the social sciences than this one: compared to all other family forms, families headed by married, biological parents are best for children.” [Quoted in a “Medical Critique of the AMA Position Statement on Marriage Equality, July 2017]. The fact that already many children are being brought up with varying degrees of success in families that are not headed by married biological parents [e.g. a mother and father] is not a reason for the government to support the establishment of another sub optimal context for the nurture of children to satisfy adult desires. It is still less of a reason to suggest same sex families are equivalent to the optimal context – children living in families headed by their biological parents [father and mother] in a stable, low conflict, permanent relationship.
I will vote no because I should not endorse false arguments.
I have found many of the arguments given to support same sex marriage unconvincing at best. It is not good for society to be swayed by arguments that are specious. Here are a few:
In what sense equal? While I understand the longing for faithful love, you cannot make unequal things equal by changing definitions. You can redefine a circle to include triangles, but a circle and a triangle will still be different. A relationship between two men or two women will never be the equivalent of a relationship between a man and a woman. This drive for victory by redefinition is the outcome of the feminist view that language shapes reality. That is only a half truth, for some aspects of reality are intractable to our linguistic shaping, and further blinding ourselves to the differences will not help us live together as men and women.
‘Born that way’.
Much of the sympathy for same sex marriage as a human right has been created by the assertion that people who are same sex attracted are born that way and therefore can only find satisfaction in same sex sexual relationships, and to deny them that is to deny them their humanity. This is an oversimplification at best. There is a genetic component to most human behaviour, but it is only one factor amongst many. Your genes do not fully explain same sex sexual attraction. Further, desire does not need to find expression, and our humanity is not defined by our sexual activity. Sometimes our humanity is more fully expressed by resisting desire.
At worst, born that way is a trap, a form of biological determinism that robs people of volition and the possibility of finding satisfying relationships outside of same sex sexual activity. It may in itself be a cause for despair.
‘A Human right to marry whoever you love’.
There is no internationally recognized human right to same sex marriage. Further, there have always been boundaries on whom you can marry – e.g. certain close relatives, and in our society age boundaries, and a restriction on marrying more than one person at a time. Love alone does not establish a right to marry.
Perhaps the most dangerous argument is the one that seeks to make society, and especially those who oppose same sex marriage, responsible for the mental health of same sex attracted youth. This acknowledges that there is a greater psychological disease burden amongst the same sex attracted population, but seeks to anchor responsibility for this not in the conflicted heart of the individual or in the activity, but in society’s attitudes. We should all speak kindly to all and never have anything to do with bullying – in fact we should be kind people with whom the other feels safe, but it is a dangerous and unfair step to make people responsible for something they cannot control – the inner workings of the mind of another, and to suggest to individuals they are not responsible for the one thing they alone can control – their own reactions to the words of others. It also leaves other causes of the psychological distress unexamined. It is hard for others to remove the shame of something someone feels is intrinsically shameful, and there may well be a perceived unnaturalness to same sex attraction [because of our bodies] that unsettles those who feel it whatever the views of others. Further the evidence is that many teens who experience same sex attraction will not go on to practice same sex sexual activity. It is therefore debatable whether moving rapidly to endorse or normalize same sex attraction in a teen will be helpful to them in the long run.
These are all the reasons why I will vote, and why I will vote no to same sex marriage. In the end, I do not believe it is love of neighbour to endorse and normalize a practice [same sex sexual activity] God calls sin. But these reasons will not be the substance of my conversations. The root problem is idolatry, in this case the idolatrous claim to be able to remake humanity in our own wisdom while we reject the Creator, the worship of our autonomy. The conversation I want to have is about Jesus – that He is Lord, that He loves us and can be trusted to tell us what is best for us, and that He will be our judge at the last day.
So, when you are talking to others don’t get lost in having arguments about the consequences of the change, or about the fears you may have about the change. Be honest – tell them that you think Jesus can be trusted and the life of human flourishing is found in following Him. Our goal is not to win an argument, but to commend a Saviour. And He will be Lord whatever way the vote goes, in the plebiscite and in parliament.
When people ask what I do for a living, I usually answer, “I’m a Graphic Designer… for a Funeral Company.” It gets a good reaction. I go on to explain that if you go to a funeral and receive a thank you card or an order of service, or watch a photographic tribute on the screen during the service… that’s the sort of stuff I do. The snazzy title for my job is a “Tributes Consultant” and I work for Tobin Brothers Funerals.
I love the job. It not only uses my creative skills, it’s not only a stable full-time income with a good company, but it’s also an industry that really serves people in their time of need and deep grief. I’m very grateful for finding such a great job and now I’ve been doing it for exactly one decade. Yup, ten years ago today, I had my first shift at Tobin Brothers Funerals. So today, on my 10th anniversary, I thought I’d share the wonderful story of how God gave me this job.
God’s Sovereignty and Our Decisions
I say “God gave me this job” not because I think my boss had no part in the decision (I actually rang him today to thank him for employing me 10 years ago), nor because I think I had no part in getting it, but I believe that the decisions that we make are both our responsibility and simultaneously under the sovereign will of God. The bible teaches that God is at work in and through and over our decisions.
In Genesis 50:20, when Joseph confronts his brothers who sold him into slavery and faked his death, he says to them: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” The same event is described as being born of two separate intentions from both the brothers and God.
Likewise, if you read the epistle written by James, Jesus’ brother, you’ll find this instruction:
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:13-15)
So we can make plans, but we should do it with the awareness that God’s will is ultimately the final authority as to what will happen. We are responsible for what part we play, but God is ultimately in control. Now, that idea may seem like a bit of a mystery or even a logical paradox, but when you’re talking about an infinite spiritual Being who created the universe and exists outside of all of its elements and limitations, then I am ok with there being a little bit of mystery in how the whole dynamic fits together.
Back in 2007
Ten years ago, I was in a very, very difficult place in my life. A year earlier (in early 2006), my wife had kicked me out due to my ongoing struggles with pornography. I was in the process of getting help to work through my addiction and grow up as a bloke and as a Christian, but her heart and trust in me was shattered and so after a year we were no closer to reconciliation. I didn’t know at the time that our painful separation would go on for another two and a half years before she would eventually file for divorce. At the time, I was literally spending every day agonizing about how I might win her heart back and prove to her that my repentance was genuine. One of the things I knew I had to do, was hold down a steady job. This was a sign of maturity and a quality important for a godly husband who was supposed to provide for his family.
At the time of the separation, I had just finished a directing job in my role with my Christian theatre company, The Backyard Bard. But once the separation happened, I took a step back from that ministry and so, I became unemployed. I got odd jobs here and there and eventually landed a 100% commission job doing direct marketing sales for a company representing various charities. This was bloody hard work. Some days you would work your butt off and not make one sale. And no sale meant no pay.
Fortunately, I became ok at the job and after 8 months I was still at it. I earnt pretty good money too. It was hard, soul-crushing work where every day I put myself out there and faced rejection after rejection… but that sort of mirrored what was happening in my marriage, so I guess it taught me resilience to some degree!
The problem was, the company I worked for was part of a pretty evil, money-hungry corporation that had a “pyramid scheme” type of hierarchy. I could see they were trying to groom me to step into leadership and develop my own team of sales minions, but I really wasn’t interested in turning into what I saw the managers became. So when the Christmas break of 2006 came (which was only a week), I knew it was time to at least consider looking for other work.
Seek and You Shall Find
I jumped on seek.com and looked at what was being advertised. I had an interest in graphic design, but I had two issues. One, I didn’t have any official qualifications. I didn’t even know how to use Adobe Photoshop at the time! The other problem was that, as a Christian, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work designing advertising for companies that I might morally object to.
So, I wasn’t all that hopeful, until I stumbled upon an ad from Tobin Brothers Funerals. They wanted someone to join their department called “Memories and Tributes” creating all the stuff I mentioned earlier. They didn’t specifically require graphic design qualification (they have since changed that policy), and so I felt it was perfect! I never dreamed of working in the funeral industry, but hey, why not? I’d be serving people and doing some good in the world, and the work sounded creative and interesting. At least it was worth a shot.
So I filled in the form on seek.com and sent off my resume. Then, a few days later, my sales job resumed. I had gotten a confirmation email saying that Tobin Brothers had received my application, but after a week or two of hearing nothing I decided to show my interest and give them a call. This did not go well. The lady I spoke to abruptly said something like, “Yes, we have your application, and we will get back to you if we are interested.” This was really disheartening. I thought I would show them my enthusiasm and that might win me points, but it had backfired. She seemed more annoyed than anything. (I have since learnt that the person I spoke to gets hundred of phone calls a week from overly keen people wanting to work in the industry and so she just deals with interested people via email, but at the time I had thought I had blown it.) After that, the days went by and I heard nothing, which confirmed my suspicions. The hope of finding other work seemed dashed and so back to the grindstone I went.
Death of a Salesman
In the sales company I worked at, you had to always be in a hyper-positive mood. It was one of those “high five everyone in the morning to get pumped” cliche environments. But with my marriage still in tatters and a major lack of job satisfaction, that became harder and harder to do. This took its toll and my sales began to suffer. Big time. I went literally a whole week without making one sale. That was crushing, and my boss wasn’t happy. See, after 9 months at the job, he used me as a trainer and an inspiration for the others in the team. So when I was flat, the others began to go flat as well.
One day, we were set up at Flinders Street Station, trying to get passers-by to stop and consider signing up to support World Wildlife Fund, and I was trying my best to keep my energy up, but it was like walking through treacle. It got worse and worse and eventually my boss, seeing how I was failing in my role as his model salesman, took my name badge and told me to go on a break.
Break I did. My heart was broken from my wife’s rejection and my spirit was broken from my constant failure, and so I broke down in an emotional sobbing mess as I walked away from Flinders Street Station and down by the Yarra River. I sat down on the grass by the water, praying to God, asking him what I should do.
You see, I used to have this principle that you shouldn’t ever leave a job, unless you had another one to go to. This was especially relevant to me at a time in my life when I was trying to woo my estranged wife. She already didn’t want anything to do with me, I didn’t want to also be unemployed.
I wasn’t sure what God wanted me to do. Should I leave the job because I knew I couldn’t stay there long term? Or should I buck up, get my crap together and work harder to get my sales back? Was this the job God willed for me, or did he have another? And how could I know what God’s will was? I definitely didn’t want to be out of step of his will. That would surely lead to more failure and misery. But if I didn’t know which path was God’s will, how would I avoid that disaster? These were the thoughts that were tearing through my heart and mind as I prayed in my own private inner Gethsemane – my soul overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death as I cried to God, “Yet not my will but yours be done!”
The Kindness of the Father
Eventually, I rang a guy who I had become friends with through the support group I was attending to work through my struggles with porn. I told him about my dilemma and my utter terror of living out of step with God’s will. I knew the fate of my marriage was ultimately in God’s hands and so I was afraid of stepping out of line or disobeying his will (even unknowingly). I thought that if I did everything God wanted me to do, then – and only then – would God bless me and my marriage.
After hearing all this, my godly friend said: “Simon! Don’t worry so much! God is your heavenly Father. You’re his child! He loves you no matter which decision you make. Even if he does have a plan and you make a wrong choice, he will use your mistakes. Just try to make the best choice you can and let God look after the rest.”
His words, honestly, were life-changing. They exposed my faulty understanding of God and how his will worked. The revealed to me my “works-based” confusion about who God blesses and why. And most importantly, they reminded me of the kindness of God. If I am in Christ, then God is my Heavenly Father and he is kind. I don’t have to overly stress about seeking his will if it is unclear. I don’t have to fear confusion or doubt or ambiguity. I just have to be his child, trusting him and walking with him as best as I can.
Now that I have a daughter (from my second marriage), I understand that message even more. She just needs to hold my hand and walk with me. If there are unseen dangers, I have her back. If she wanders off, I will look for her and find her. I don’t want her worrying about whether or not she is out of step with my will in order to secure my blessing and love. She is my daughter. I am God’s child. And knowing the Father’s kindness should give us peace. As Jesus said: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)
The Leap of Faith
I was comforted by my godly friend’s council, but he hadn’t actually told me what I should do… other than trust in my Heavenly Father. So I walked back to Flinders Street Station, grabbed my name badge and tried to get back into work. My mind was still full though with questions and reflections, so the rest of the afternoon was a write off for sales. As I left for the day, my boss pulled me aside, clearly still disappointed with my lack of performance. “Simon,” he said, “I want you to go home and think about whether this job is really for you.”
All the way home and into the evening, I struggled with what to do. In the end though, I had to answer my boss’s questions honestly. No, the job wasn’t for me. I was happy to keep working at it if that was God’s will, but in the absence of a clear instruction from God, I simply had to make a choice.
I had to give up my principle of never quitting a job if you have nothing to go to. I entrusted my needs to the kindness of my Heavenly Father, grabbed my phone and gave my boss a call…
“Hi. It’s Simon. I’ve been thinking about what you asked me, and I think it’s not fair to you or me if I stay in the job.”
“So, you’re quitting?”
“Yeah I think that’s best.”
“Well, I thought you were better than that Simon. But if you want to just give up, then I agree. You should go.”
His harsh words stung as we ended the conversation, but I knew I had done the right thing. So that was it! I was unemployed! I’d taken the leap of faith trusting that God would provide me my “daily bread” and eventually guide me towards some other work. I also trusted that being unemployed would not railroad whatever God was doing in my marriage. God was my Heavenly Father and I placed my life in his hands.
So what was next? I didn’t know. I didn’t have any prospects or other options. It had been over two months since I had had that disheartening phone conversation with Tobin Brothers and I had not heard a peep since, so I had given up on that and faced an indefinite season of unemployment. How would I survive? Well, I had a little bit of money in the bank and so I thought, I’d have a break for a week or two and then I would get back into looking for a new job. It may take a while, but I knew other Christians facing long-term unemployment, and so I knew God could see me through it as well.
That night I went to bed at peace with my decision, remembering my friend’s words: “Just try to make the best choice you can and let God look after the rest.”
New Every Morning
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion;therefore I will wait for him.'” (Lamentations 3:22-24)
So I woke up the next day, staring into the great unknown. I had my breakfast and began to enjoy my first day of “holidays”.
That was when the phone rang…
“Hi, this is Wendy from Tobin Brothers Funerals. May I speak with Simon Camilleri?”
“Yes, I’m Simon.”
“Hi, Simon. Sorry that it’s taken so long for us to get back to you. You applied for a position a few months ago. Are you still interested?”
“Great! When would be free to come in for an interview? Do you have any time on Monday?”
“Actually, I have LOTS of time! I just quit my job last night!”
I immediately regretted saying that last bit in case it made me look bad, but I was so blown away I couldn’t help but express it! Literally the morning after I quit my job, I get an offer for a new one! I truly believe that God orchestrated the whole scenario. He could have easily gotten Tobin Brothers to contact me a day or two earlier and if he had, I would never have faced that spiritual dilemma on the banks of the Yarra River. I would have quit my job without ever needing to question whether I truly trusted God. But like a loving Father, God wanted to teach me something important. God let me get to a place where I would see my need and how dependent I was on his provision. God wanted to challenge and refine my trust. God wanted to teach me to rely on him as my Heavenly Father and to find my confidence and security in his kindness rather than in my employment.
So once that lesson had been learned, he could then let Tobin Brothers give me a call. True, I decided of my own will to apply for the job and I decided of my own will to quit my sales job three months later. True, Wendy from Tobin Brothers decided of her own will to give me a call on the next morning. But the fact that my quitting and her calling came only hours apart, was a message of God’s kindness and sovereign provision that I could not miss.
I Didn’t Get the Job
Now, just because God miraculously provides a perfectly timed job interview, is no guarantee that you will get the job. Just remember that if this same thing ever happens to you!
Over the weekend I had seen the Will Smith movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” which tells of a man who does not take his opportunity for employment for granted, and so inspired by this, I did everything I could to prepare for the interview. Not only did I put together a graphic design folio (as best as I could), but I even studied the philosophy of the company and committed to memory their company motto of the 6 C’s: Care, Competency, Contemporary, Creativity, Community and Celebration.
I went in prepped and I was called back for a second interview, giving me even more confidence. Though I didn’t have the graphic designer qualifications, I think I made up for it in my attitude and genuine desire to serve people in their time of need.
Despite this, I didn’t get the job.
It was between me and another girl and she had a bit more experience in graphic design than me, so she got it. Fair enough, I guess. But I was, as you can imagine, disappointed. Tobin Brothers was disappointed too actually, and they said, although they didn’t have a job for me in this department, they’d still like me to join their team as a Funeral Director’s Assistant. This would not be a creative job at all, but I thought, maybe this is how God was getting me to where he wanted me to be. So I said I was interested.
There was just one problem… They didn’t actually have a Funeral Director’s Assistant job available. They just would like to keep me on the books to consider me if one of those roles ever came up (which they did now and then). They understood that I was looking for work and that by the time there was an opening that I may have found another job, but they said, “That would be our loss.” What a nice compliment!
I didn’t help me with my unemployment situation though and I remember my parents quickly encouraging me to not be disheartened, to “get back on the horse” and to look for other work.
But I didn’t.
It wasn’t because I doubted the wisdom of their encouragement. I just sensed that God was doing something with this Tobin Brothers job. I just felt like God was saying, “Just wait Simon. I have something in store for you.”
I didn’t have to wait long. A few days later later Tobin Brothers called me back saying that the lady they hired decided that the job wasn’t for her and they asked if I could start pretty much straight away!
10 Years of Gratitude
So that’s how my job at Tobin Brothers Funerals began. I started my first shift on Wednesday, 14th March 2007, and I can honestly say after 10 years, I am still incredibly grateful to God for his provision.
In the last 10 years I have faced a lot of experiences that have challenged my faith and deepened my trust in my Heavenly Father. The most devastating came around 2 and a half years into my time at Tobin Brothers, when my wife eventually decided to file for divorce. That event raised many more questions for me in terms of the sovereignty of God in the midst of our suffering, but that is for another blog another time. What I can say is that as I went through the divorce, I did remember that moment on the banks of the Yarra and the way God had provided for me with such wise timing.
The wonderful way God had provided my job at Tobin Brothers taught me about his sovereignty, his wisdom, his comfort and his kindness. Lessons that I think God knew I needed to learn before greater trials than unemployment came into my life.
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
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.