This past Sunday my friend, Ross Guthrie, gave the following homily preceding the baptism of three children at his church. I sought permission to post this here for two main reasons. First, the age at which children should be allowed to be baptized is an issue of significant discussion and debate. While this is not a full scale theological argument for one position here, it is a very pastoral defense of the view my church has settled on as well.
Second, I think this is simply a beautiful example of pastoral address. This is very clearly a shepherd speaking. The blessing and encouragement to the families noted here and the tenderness with the children is compelling. I hope it encourages and blesses you as it did me.
Baptismal Homily by Ross Guthrie
for Emma, Katelyn, and Karrah Jean
For just a moment, observe our candidates for baptism. A nine year old, an eight year old, and a seven year old. Children. Not only children, but children from Christian homes where following Christ is prayed for, is hoped for, is discussed frequently, and is encouraged regularly. So, I’ll ask the questions that are often on people’s minds when they see a child baptized: How can we know the child has real, saving faith? They haven’t been tested seriously by sin and the world. Do they really understand what they’re doing? Don’t they believe just because their parents believe? Is their belief really prompted by a need for Jesus? I obviously believe that these little ones should be baptized, so I’ll make an attempt to defend them from these questions often asked.
How can we know the child has real, saving faith? They haven’t been tested seriously by sin and the world. Frankly, how can I know if anyone has real, saving faith? I can present the message of Jesus’ death, burial, and bodily resurrection from the dead for the forgiveness of sins to a person and they may confess with their mouth that they believe that Jesus is Lord. But I can’t possibly know if they believe inwardly. I can only accept their testimony as an evidence of their inward belief. Accepting their testimony only assuages my own conscience in entering these waters to baptize a person. God alone knows the belief that exists or doesn’t exist within the person.
Well, these little ones haven’t been tested seriously by sin and the world. I recently heard of a congregation that set the age of eighteen as the age that they would baptize someone who had grown up in their congregation. They instructed their young ones and teenagers thoroughly and baptized them into full membership when they were eighteen. They could then begin partaking of the Lord’s Supper with their brothers and sisters in Christ. I shared this with the elders here at Christ Community Church and Walt’s response was, “That’s too late.” We then began, once again, the age debate. What is too young? What is too old? Shouldn’t they have time to prove that their faith is real and that they will withstand sin and the world? Maybe we should wait until someone is eighteen like that congregation. The teenage years are tough. Or maybe we should wait until they are twenty-four, after they’ve experienced some hardship, trouble getting employment, trouble finding a husband or wife, etc. Or maybe we should wait until they're thirty-five to see how they manage the death of a parent, or an announcement of a birth defect in their child, or an addiction that doesn’t seem to let go. Or maybe we should wait until their sixty, seventy, or on their death bed. You see my point.
Do these little ones really understand what they’re doing or do they believe just because their parents believe? Well, did any of us really, really understand what we were doing when we followed Christ? Did the apostles understand that it would cost them their very lives to follow Christ? Did Patrick and Lana really understand all that it would cost them daily to serve their family and the families of their brothers and sisters in Ethiopia? Did Katherine Guthrie really understand when she was ten what it meant to take up her cross daily and die to herself and come follow Jesus? Well, she does now. Do these little ones simply believe because their parents believe? Yes. We all come to Christ through various means. The gospel of Jesus Christ reaches us all in many different ways through the mouths of many different people. Chris and Karen are God’s grace to Connor, Cameron, and Katelyn. Being placed in a Christian family is no guarantee of eternal life, but it should be acknowledged as God’s kindness and mercy, His favor to those whom He saves through Christ-like parents.
That’s a lot of words and human reasoning and at some point I should quote some Scripture. It’s probably where I should have begun. If people were to ask the questions I addressed to Jesus on why should a child be baptized, His tone is simply, “Why shouldn’t they be?” I want to once again remind you of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” Is their faith real? These little ones have expressed to their parents that they want to follow Christ. They trust their parents and they trust God through Jesus Christ. This is the kind of faith that Jesus exhorts us to have. My heart for you in this moment is that you will look on these little ones and desire to have faith in Jesus like they have faith in Jesus. You want to help them in every way you can in their life in Christ. That is right and good. But let them help you as well. Let them be your little sisters in Christ who model a faith to you that Jesus commends.
Finally, brothers and sisters, I’ll close with these words of Christ: “Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.” Things are all backwards in this world. We are all enamored with professional athletes, movie stars and musicians, those who acquire great wealth and power. In the church, we admire the strong leader of the large church who touches us with his eloquent preaching and latest book. Celebrity-ism and professionalism are unfortunate marks of the church that can hardly be separated from the rest of the world. Therefore, we are more in need than ever of having our minds reworked on what it means to be great in the eyes of God. This morning, in these waters, let our little sisters serve you in reworking your mind. Let them help you think thoughts that are like God’s thoughts. In these waters, everything about greatness in God’s eyes will be made clear. These little ones who seem to be the least among us, in truth, they’re actually the greatest. “For the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.” If you want to be like Christ, be like Emma. If you want to be great in the kingdom of God, be like Katelyn. Let your minds be reworked, renewed, transformed. Your hero shouldn’t be Billy Graham, John Piper, Walton Padelford, Cindy Denker. No, no, no. Model yourself after Karrah. The one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.
My little sisters, bless you for your faith. We bless you for following Christ. Come and be baptized and remind us of when we first believed in Jesus. Come and follow Jesus.