Baptism and Christian Education Print
Written by Toby Sumpter   
Monday, 09 August 2010 07:23

There are many factors that can and should go into a family’s decision regarding how they will educate their children. But consider this an argument for educating our children in community and consider this an unabashed argument on the basis of infant baptism.

One of the most important statements made in any baptism is that we do not belong to ourselves. In the famous and wonderful words of the Heidelberg Catechism, we are confessing that we belong body and soul, in life and in death to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. Baptism is the sacrament of union with Jesus and with His people. But this is also a statement about natural families. When parents bring their children to baptism, they are simultaneously confessing that their children do not belong to them but rather to Jesus Christ and to His Family, the Church. Jesus has radical things to say about who His family is, and He didn’t mind reminding His own mother of that as a young boy.

But the point is that we are not enough for our children. Moms and dads, if they don’t already recognize their own limitations and weaknesses, ought to recognize that one of the meanings of baptism is that they are insufficient. Our children need more family than we can offer. They need more parents than just their mom and dad. They need brothers and sisters beyond what any family, even the most godly, can offer. Of course in God’s goodness, our own families often come to mirror the family of Jesus. And the callings of husband and wife, parents and children are not set aside but rather redeemed and glorified. But this glorification takes place in and through the body of Christ. The old family dies in the waters of baptism and comes back to life on the other side of the grave 30, 50, and 100 fold. But sometimes the sword of the gospel also prunes and divides families, and this is where the family of Jesus especially underlines how our own families are insufficient in themselves.

And this has everything to do with Christian education. If we are not enough for our children, if Jesus clearly says that His family is made up of all those who do the will of His Father in heaven, then Christian education must come to reflect that. The most obvious application of this principle would warn against certain forms of homeschooling. These reclusive families believe they are good enough on their own, fear the dangers of outside influences, or recognize the kind of scrutiny and accountability real community offers and fend off that kind of light shining into their lives. But apart from extreme scenarios (the mission field, stranded on a desert island, military families), God ordinarily calls us to be part of a broader covenant community.

In most covenantal baptisms, there is a vow (or vows) taken by the congregation, promising to assist the parents in the nurture and training of their child. In some traditions this is underlined by the presence of specific godparents. But in the covenant, the entire Christian community takes responsibility together in the training up of covenant children in the faith. What this has historically meant is the thoroughly Christian instinct to start schools. If Jesus says we need one another when it comes to raising our children, this means that we need one another. That may sound radical, but there it is. We are no good on our own; two are better than one and a three strand chord is not quickly broken.

Why are we better together? And why is it better for our children to be trained up in the context of a faithful covenant community? Because the Body of Christ is where the Holy Spirit dwells, and where the Spirit is, there is life. In the Body, the Spirit uses the gifts in all of the saints to perfect God’s people. There are other people in the Body of Christ who are better teachers than you, who will pick up on strengths and weaknesses in your children, who struggle with different sins than you (and need your encouragement), and who can love and influence your kids in ways you can’t. And that it is not something to resent and imagine away. God does not leave us on our own to inflict our kids with all our foibles and idiosyncrasies. In God’s kindness, He knits us together with the saints through the mighty working His good and wise Spirit.

In this raucous Body there is all kinds of sin and folly mixed together with the Spirit’s faithful pruning and fruit production. And parents still need lots of wisdom and lots of prayer and lots of careful decision making. But the point is that the Body of Christ and baptism in particular drive us into community, drive us toward raising up and training our children together rather than apart. Sometimes this takes the form of families banding together and hiring tutors, sometimes it looks like a home school cooperative, and sometimes it takes the form of a full blown Christian day school. But the covenant requires us to be thankful for the presence of others in our lives and in the lives of our children. Wisdom compels faithful parents to weigh their options and resources carefully in this decision making and planning, but wisdom is found in a multitude of counselors. Wisdom is found in the body of Christ. Wisdom is a woman, and she is the Bride of Christ.

Of course embracing the gift of others in your Christian community immediately means working through differences and learning to love one another through them. In other words, there is reason why the apostles have to exhort believers to submit to one another and to pursue like-mindedness. But this pursuit and the challenge of loving others takes place in the context of differing educational philosophies, differing visions of how long the school day ought to be, differing hopes and opinions about curriculum choices, extracurricular activities, gender and age segregation, not to mention all the normal failings and sins of ordinary sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. Sounds like a recipe for headaches and dissension, but this was God’s idea, not ours, and God says it’s better this way. Welcome to the Church, and welcome to life in the covenant. If this works, it will only be because of the work of the Spirit. And thank God for that.

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