Baptism divides Christian people.
On the one side are those who are convinced it is reserved for those who believe in Jesus. A minority within that group says it is necessary for salvation and an even smaller number says it’s only effective when done by their church.
There are also those who see continuity in the Old Testament signs of faith. Passover gives way to the Lord’s Supper. Circumcision is replaced by baptism.
The familial nature of faith is part of the essence of the redemptive story. But it was blurred when the revivalists of the 18th and 19th centuries, capturing the spirit of American individualism, emphasized the individual’s relationship with God to the virtual exclusion of the family. We live with that legacy today.
In a discussion of marriage, the apostle Paul said, “the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife” and vice versa. That is strong language. The least we might conclude is that a believing spouse provides some sort of covering for the unbelieving spouse. Perhaps implicit in this is that the unbelieving partner might be more open to faith in Jesus.
Even more compelling is Paul’s virtually throwaway line “otherwise your children would be unclean but as it is, they are holy.” (1 Cor. 7:14)
When a baby is baptized in the Presbyterian Church in America, the child becomes a member of the church. That recognizes the covenantal umbrella. The child belongs by virtue of the faith of the parent(s).
Sometimes it has meant that we assume too much. The gospel is not clearly and compellingly presented as the child grows. I believe that happened to me. But we might also assume too little, urging the child to pray the “sinner’s prayer” at the earliest possible opportunity. There is no magic in such a prayer. It might or might not signal belief. And a commitment to Jesus can be made without ever uttering the words to such a prayer.
We can’t take this challenge lightly. Money spent to help build up families and disciple children and young people will bear significant dividends. Examine your church budget. Where does the money go? Look at your statistics. What’s happening to your young people? Are your households maturing in the faith?
There are occasions when an unbelieving parent has had to stand or sit silently by while the believing spouse takes the vows of their child’s baptism. That’s appropriate but it ought to stir a restlessness to see the family united in faith.
There are many stories of congregations that have gotten used to the involvement of one spouse such that the other is virtually forgotten because he/she seldom if ever attends.
Many years ago a woman came by herself to our church in Connecticut. On one occasion I heard her say that she wished some man in the church would reach out to her husband. I decided to try and God blessed. After months of getting together to talk about anything and everything, always coming back to the gospel, he decided he was ready to follow Jesus. I wish I could say I’ve done that regularly. I wish that were a common practice in our churches.
Some of the most effective evangelism I know involves a believer inviting an unbelieving brother or mother or grandchild or adult child to services where the gospel is able to take root. The process might be more complicated in blended families but that’s where we are. So believing stepparents are presented with a great opportunity and challenge.
A synergism becomes possible when the church as the extended family builds up its households. And those households in turn build up the churches, which then impacts the community, enfolding others in the family of God.