Daddy, am I a Christian?
June 29, 2015
I appreciate IX Marks ministries, and their desire to take ecclesiology seriously. But I did read this from IX Marks and thought it would be good to interact a little with this perspective:
Daughter: Daddy, am I a Christian?Me: If you're repenting of your sins, and putting your trust in Jesus, then yes.Daughter: I am.Me: If you are, then praise God! Keep doing that, sweetheart!Daughter: Can I get baptized?Me: At some point, honey. Right now, while you're young, let's continue to learn and grow. We'll think about this more when you are older. I want you to stand on your own two feet as a follower of Jesus, and not just believe these things because I do. But I'm so glad you want to follow Jesus with me! This is the most important decision you'll ever make. There's no one better than him.Notice a couple of things. First, I don't formally affirm her as a Christian. Instead, I give her the criteria (repentance and faith) and I make conditional statements (If...then...). Second, I do rejoice with her in what she believes to be the case when I say "Praise God." But again, I don't go as far as employing my parental authority to say, "You are a Christian." I honestly don't believe God has given me such authority as a parent. Instead, I believe he has given the local church this affirming authority (Matt. 16:19; 18:18, 20).
As I read this, I am left asking some questions, hopefully in a spirit that will cause those who hold to the above-mentioned position to think through their view even more carefully, even if we still chose to agree to disagree. I recognize not all Baptists hold to this view, and some Baptists may (partially) join with me in my critique. So by "Baptists" (in this post), I'm talking about those Baptists who delay baptism until the person approaches or enters adulthood, whenever that may be - an interesting question, biblically speaking, for another time. I get the sense from the linked post above that Mr. Leeman is more comfortable with adulthood as the appropriate age for baptism.
I raise this issue because we live in a day and age where people are struggling with their identity. They need to know who they are. But what about the child described above?
In the scenario above, the Baptist father doesn't "formally affirm her as a Christian," even though his daughter believes she is repenting of her sins and trusting in Jesus. She may believe that she is repenting and trusting Jesus, but the father casts doubt upon this because she is not yet standing on her "own two feet as a follower of Jesus." His words, "if you are" (the second time), are regrettable. "Since you are" - based on the judgment of charity - would be a more appropriate response to such a wonderful declaration by a child, in my view.
Does anyone else think the daughter might be really confused after this conversation as to whether she is a Christian or not? She believes she meets the conditions for being a Christian, but she is told she can't be baptized. Why? Because the church refuses to formally affirm her (child-like) faith. In short, she has to "prove" herself. She also may not grasp the semantic games that are being played by the "theological" father.
When the daughter asked if she was a Christian, the father could also have said, according to the position offered by Leeman: "Well, let's let the church decide because I can't formally affirm you in your faith. And even if you do claim to believe in Jesus before the elders of our church, your profession will only really be taken seriously when you are 'closer to adulthood', because that's when the church will allow you to be baptized since you're finally standing on your own two feet."
Daughter: "So am I a Christian or not?"
The father above could say, based on the model provided: "If you are, praise the Lord. But we're afraid that some don't always maintain their confession (see #5 in Leeman's post), so we feel it would be better not to formally affirm you, ecclesiastically speaking, by baptizing you at this point in your life. We just want you to stand on your own two feet, not just please mom and dad."
Since when did we ever have to stand upon our own two feet as Christians? This is crassly individualistic. Of course we have to believe as individuals, but our belief is never an isolated faith. The body stands together, with Christ as the head. We are the family of God, all joined together so that we don't have to stand alone to be considered genuine. I hope and pray that I aid the faith of my children, and I see nothing wrong with them loving God, in part, because they want to please me. If they only said they loved God to please me then we have a problem, but that desire is not necessarily wrong in and of itself. Nature is not opposed to grace.
Now consider this issue from a Presbyterian perspective:
My children, who have been baptized, do not ask me, "Daddy, am I a Christian?"
In family worship, they worship the true and living God. They pray to him. They learn from his Word. They sing his praises. In corporate worship, they do the same. Between family worship and corporate (big family!) worship, there is consistency. They are baptized because God has chosen to identify himself with them, and they are to continually, by faith, identify themselves with him. Each day is a day of faith and repentance.
So we can understand the difference between the two positions by asking the following questions:
1. When my children sin and ask for forgiveness from God, can I assure them that their sins are forgiven?
The Presbyterian father says "yes". The Baptist father above would perhaps say: "I don't have that authority" or "if that is true" (because we can't know for sure at such a young age) "then praise God."
2. When I ask my children to obey me in the Lord should I get rid of the indicative-imperative model for Christian ethics? On what grounds do I ask my four-year old son to forgive his twin brother?
The Presbyterian father says, "forgive one another in the way that Christ has forgiven you. That is why you can and must forgive your brother."
The Baptist father can't consistently use an indicative to drive home the imperative. Because if the indicative is present (e.g., Christ died for your sins) then how can another indicative (i.e., baptism) not be allowed? In other words, if we allow for the thing signified to be present then surely the sign must be present. Thus the Baptist father has to keep saying "if".
3. Can my children sing Psalm 23 (esp. v. 6) or Be Thou My Vision (as they do) with the assurance that God is indeed their shepherd or their breastplate and sword for the fight? Can they sing "Jesus loves me, this I know" ("...little ones to him belong...")?
The Presbyterian father says, "yes". The Baptist father would never forbid his child from singing those songs, but he would have to qualify strongly whether the child can receive all of the assurances given to believers in those songs. For, if he doesn't strongly qualify, then there's no reason to delay baptism.
4. When my children pray during family worship to their heavenly Father, what are the grounds for them praying such a prayer? Do they have any right to call God their "heavenly Father" (Rom. 8:15)?
As a Presbyterian father, when my children pray to God as their father, I don't question whether their prayer is genuine. I simply rejoice that out of the mouths of babes and infants God has ordained praise. And I have no reason to doubt that God listens to them the same way he listens to me when I use the covenantal name for God (i.e., Father). I say "Amen" to their prayers in the same way I say "Amen" to my own prayers.
Because they are baptized, it makes sense to me that I can affirm them in their child-like willingness to receive the promises of God in Christ Jesus. I don't need to cause them to have a crisis of assurance simply because I don't know whether they are genuine or not.
In one respect, the most fundamental thing our children need to know is who they are. I'd rather allow for a hypocrite to be baptized than deny a true child of God that right given to him/her from above.
In the end, the view that insists that we delay baptism till adulthood is a position whereby Christianity is only for adults, as far as the judgment of the church. Because baptism is the visible sign of incorporation into Christ, whereby the church formally marks out those who belong to Christ, the position described at the beginning of this post views the kingdom of God as a kingdom where children are not present according to the judgment of the church.
This is not, I'm afraid, the type of kingdom I think the Bible speaks of (Matt. 19:14).
Whichever view one takes on this matter, we have to accept that this isn't about semantics. These are important issues. My children have a fundamentally different understanding of who they are than a child who has Christian parents, but isn't allowed to sing "Jesus loves me" (as is the case with many children I've met).