"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Reflection on Jesus and Children

Matthew 18:1-5: At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

19:13-15 - Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.

When the disciples ask a question about the greatest, Jesus uses a child as a model. Jesus uses a child to say “unless you turn/change/convert (all are valid translations of this word) and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Now Jesus did not mean act childish, the disciples were already good at this. “Who's the greatest?” already is a childish question. Paul says we grow up and put away childish things. It's almost as if it is like Jesus says: stop having the bad qualities of a child and get some of the good ones.

And Jesus gets a lot of mileage out of this example. The child offers an example for

2)How to welcome others
3)The responsibility we have to others (in the graveness of sin)

I once heard John Piper say that one of the traits he looks for in an elder is how they interact with children. Is the Christian Life a matter of one's individual piety and outward cleanliness? Or is it found in community and not the individual? For Piper, children were the ultimate test because they are needy, they can be annoying (as they were to the disciples later), and they can give you nothing back for the time you give them. They may, if an infant, sit there and look cute, but they will not return the favor. You don't take them out to lunch then they get the bill next time. A child may say thanks but then runs off to do his own thing.

So what I think Jesus is getting at in “becoming like one of these” is in rank and importance. It is not acting childish, though the innocent trust of the child is held up. It is humility, welcoming people like children who cannot give you something, and in not leading them into sin.

But as a side note before we get these traits in action in the rest of this chapter, I want to also show how this is a great argument for infant baptism. I'm serious. In other words, it is not entirely spiritualized that the kingdom community belongs to the children. In Matthew 19:13-15, the disciples may have only taken this as spiritual, and as people brought children to Jesus the disciples send them away. In Luke, it tells us that mothers carried babies to Jesus to touch. Children that could not come of their own accord, that had little knowledge of what was being done to them. The disciples did not see that children belonged in the new community that Jesus was making just as they belonged by circumcision in the community of Israel, as Jesus says that indeed they are members of the kingdom subject to his Kingship. Peter, I believe, gets it in Acts 2:38-39. When he invites the first Jews to new covenant obedience in receiving their Messiah and submitting to baptism, Peter says “for the promise is for you and your children.” Peter learned by this point children were included. Clement of Alexandria has a great line about this incident: “In Jesus' time mother brought their children to Jesus to touch, as they continue to do today in baptism.” There. My short case for infant baptism based on Matthew 18 and 19.

But I do think it is true. Having children as covenant members reminds us of the importance of community. We then see the dependence that child has on others. The community is not a social club where strong pious individuals, that are maintained by their individual personal piety come together. It is ground of the individual growing. Think of trees growing out of the building of the church, rather than trees growing out side of the church that stick a branch in the building. A child's dependence reminds us of our dependence. That a child is brought unable to help itself to have Christ touch reminds us of our helpless condition apart from being carried by the workings of the Spirit.


mattldn said...

Great post. I was talking over with a friend who is "on the fence" on the issue; I was referencing that Matthew passage specifically. I said Baptist theology is great, under the Old Covenant Christ with open arms accepts and welcomes children. After His resurrection he says get the reprobates away from me! I used such hyperbolic statement to show the nonsense of the issue from Christ's perspective. One day he welcomes, the next he shuns from covenantal unity?

Aaron said...
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Amy said...

I have yet to find an actual scriptual reference to infant baptism. No one has ever been able to show me where it says that we as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should practice infant baptism...

Jared Nelson said...

I'm happy to defend it as Scriptural in the same way that the actual word "Trinity" is not in the Bible but the concept is.

I would need to see if we are on similar ground in understanding certain teaching though.

I believe Abraham was righteous by faith (Gen 15:6) and that faith was how one was a beneficiary of the promises of the covenant.

Would you agree that one was made a beneficiary of the Abrahamic covenant by faith?

Aaron said...

As for the over all case in the words of John Piper “It must have something going for it”

As for the hyperbole, Until Christ unites His church, I am trying to get used to it and expect it.

Amy said...

"one was made a beneficiary of the Abrahamic covenant by faith?" Excuse my lack of knowledge, could you explain this to me? Then I can better answer your question.

Jared Nelson said...

(some of this is copied from how I have previously defined it on the blog under "covenant")
We must start with what is a covenant?

A major motif through Scripture is covenant. From the book of Genesis through to the Prophets to the New Testament (or New Covenant), the word and concept of covenant repeats as God’s main mode of dealing with humanity, appearing over 280 times just in the Old Testament.

The most simple definition would be an agreement between two or more parties. The agreement would include some sort of exchange or promise and conditions for that promise to be fulfilled. Usually, in the Bible, these covenants are also accompanied by a sign.

So starting with the Abraham Covenant (Genesis 15, 17) we can identify the parts:

Parties: The believer and their offspring / Abraham and his offspring. (Genesis 17:9-12)

Promise: Salvation ("I will be your shield and reward" Gen 15:1) and make you a great nation, the land of Canaan.

Stipulations: Faith (Gen 15:6)

Sign: Circumcision (Gen 17:9-13)

So God makes a covenant with Abraham and his offspring in Genesis 15-17. God says he will give the promises if he meets the stipulation, which is faith. If there is no faith, then that person is not a beneficary of the promise. If God made a covenant with Abraham and Abraham says "I don't believe you" then though God had been in covenant with Abraham, Abraham is not a beneficiary of that covenant because he broke it by not meeting the stipulation of faith.

Does that make sense?

Amy said...

Thank you for the explanation :) Yep, I agree with the Abraham Covenant. How fun to actually learn the lingo that goes along with what I believe :)

Jared Nelson said...

Second part of my explanation of seeing infant baptism as Scriptural is asking what relationship children had in the Abrahamic covenant. Gen 17 specifically says that children are included in the Abrahamic covenant and receive the sign of the covenant (circumcision). Their relationship is, because they are the children of believers, they are said to be in covenant with God. But this does not mean they are saved, but are only saved if they come to faith. So Abraham has Isaac and Ishmael, Isaac comes to faith but not Ishmael. Isaac has two sons, Jacob and Esau, and Jacob believes and values the promise but Esau does not (so Malachi says God loved Jacob and not Esau, even though both were children of Isaac).

So in the Abrahamic Covenant, children of believers are included by virtue of their parentage (Gen 17:7), but must come to faith to be a beneficiary (get the promise of salvation) of the covenant.

So you see in the Old Testament, there is a community mixed with believers and unbelievers that have the sign of the covenant (circumcision) but not all are true believers. The Old Testament then identifies them differently by telling them they must not only be circumcised on the outside, but circumcised in the heart, meaning believing and being renewed by God inwardly, not just outwardly. (Paul talks about this in Romans 2:28-3:2 for more)

That's the second step in understanding why I think there is a Scriptural case. So far so good?

Amy said...

Yeah I can understand that. I too believe that children must come to faith on their own. Is this sort of like "not everyone that goes to church is a believer". There are some that are church attenders that do not have a relationship with the Lord. Am I making a good analogy?

I get a little iffy on the part of my parents were believers and as a result I am. But I am not sure that is what your saying. Am I right in thinking that your point is that the children are part of the church community (like church goers who are not saved)? And that it is in the future, when they encounter the Lord for themselves that they are truly a follower of Christ?

Jared Nelson said...

[long explanation, then the short summary at the end]

With Abraham, children were considered part of the community (the OT calls them "sanctified" or set apart as special), and it was the responsibility of the community to bring up children and train them in the faith. Something along the principle of Prov 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. ” Having children as part of the community lets the community know they have a responsibility to them. So many of the rituals that Israel did like passover or certain events had instructions attached that said, like in Joshua 4:6 “When your children ask in time to come, 'What do those stones mean to you?'” Then you instruct them in the faith. Or “why do we celebrate passover?” Or the like. To some degree, being the children of believers does priviledge their children in being exposed to the faith in a way that other children that are not the children of believers are not (Rom 3:1-2). So the children of believers are set apart and having them in the community lets everyone know their responsibility to them.

That is under the Abrahamic covenant. The final part of why I believe it is Scriptural is that Paul says that Abraham's covenant with God is still in force (Galatians 3, Romans 4) The New Covenant builds on that covenant, it does not abolish it, like the Mosaic and Davidic covenants did not repeal the Abrahamic covenant, but built on it. There are things that change (the sign of circumcision is changed to baptism in Col 2:11-12, because Christ's blood does away with the need for a bloody sign) But children are still included. Notice the similarity in covenant parts in Peter's speech in Acts 2:38-39, where he is introducing the changes that the Messiah brought about. He still says “the promise is for you and your children.” Not a realized, given promise, but a promise if the stipulation of faith/repentance is met. But the children are still set apart. 1 Cor 7:13-14 says the child of at least one believing parent is “sanctified” not as saved, but covenantally set apart. It still seems the household is talked about in Acts (11:14, 16:15,31, 18:8, and Paul's epistles (1 Cor 1:16, 16:15, 1 Tim 3:4).

So here's the short version:

1)the sign of the covenant is commanded to be given to children (Gen 17)

2)The sign of the covenant is changed from circumcision to baptism (Col 2:11-12)

3)No where has the command to give the sign of the covenant to believer's children been repealed, it has in fact been affirmed (Acts 2:38-39) and believers' children are still considered part of the covenant community throughout the New Testament (1 Cor 7:13-14, Matthew 18:1-10, Luke 18:15-18, Acts 2:38-39, etc).

Amy said...

O.K. So you believe that infant baptism lets the church population know that they have a responsibility to help lead this child to the Lord? Somewhat like the church dedication at EWO?

I really do not believe that children of saved parents are set apart form other children. I do believe that they have the added blessing of being brought up in a Christian home. And that is obviously an advantage.

I tend to think that the whole infant baptism debate is a matter of personal opinion. Something that will not truly be answered until we are before the Lord. Not trying to discount everything that you have written. You have given this a lot of thought and study. And I have thoroughly enjoyed learning how my brother :) thinks. But I think that many scriptures can be interpreted to say that infant baptism is not correct. I have a very black and white sort of mind set. I really dislike gray areas. This is why I normally stay out of theological debates.

I do have some personal questions for you..

1. What about babies who have passed away before being baptized? Do you think that they are in heaven or hell?

See the infant baptism concept falls apart at this point because it becomes very personal. I have talked to Catholics and their point of view upsets me (obviously not all Catholics believe the same thing). I have been told that this one particular Catholic family was nervous until their baby was baptized. Because if something were to happen and the child were to pass away, he would not go to heaven.

2. I have always been taught and as a result believe that baptism is an outward sign of our commitment to the Lord. So shouldn't a baptized baby get baptized again after they come to know the Lord on a personal level? (So that they can show the church that they have made a commitment.)

Jared Nelson said...

I can see personal opinion coming into it a little bit. There are some things that are more subjective than others.

I would explain myself on one point: You said you don't believe that “children of saved parents are set apart from other children.” I only say that because of 1 Cor 7:14:

“For the unbelieving husband is sanctified because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are sanctified.”

the word “sanctify” is a covenant term also meaning "set apart." Because of 1 corinthians 7:14 is why I say children of believers are set apart. Paul says there is something different about the children of at least one believing parent. The question has come up, what if only one parent is a believer: what is the status of their children? Paul says only one believer is necessary for their child to be “sanctified” or literally: “set apart.”

Jared Nelson said...

On the personal Questions:

1.Roman Catholic and Reformed views of baptism are different. For Reformed, baptism is a sign of the covenant promise of God, not a work done that saves someone. They confirm and assure, they do not save as acts by themselves. Therefore, God is the only one that decides the fate of a child. Baptism would have nothing to do with it. God saves. (You can see the Westminster Confession 10.3, and 28.5-6)

2.Scripture talks of “one baptism.” So just as one would not circumcise someone twice (Thankfully!) one would not baptize someone twice. (Westminster Confession 28.7)

Because the Reformed definition of baptism is about the promise of God, and not what someone is doing or saying about their faith, they would not need to be baptized several times. For our definition of baptism, when God promises to give salvation if faith is present, He promises it once formally, and continually in the Lord's Supper. If one is wanting another sign to assure them, we would send them to the Supper, not to baptism.

Amy said...

Thanks for all the information. I have learned a lot. I don't agree with infant baptism. But it is neat to know the theology on the subject. Thanks for your time I know you guys are busy :)