I want to talk briefly today about the nature of the conversation experience in the Christian faith.
It’s a difficult topic to discuss. Why? As Derek Rishmawy succintly put it, discussing conversion is like trying to, “look at your own eye ball.”
Nonetheless, I find myself constantly thinking the process through with increasing frequency and intensity. Why? I think because my daughter is beginning to discuss and understand eternal concepts. She’s pretty sharp. How do I go about talking with her on these issues?
My Baptist tradition is big on conversion. We evangelize. We push people to model their lives after Jesus. We invite people to church and hope to see them commit to the Christian lifestyle. This is a good thing. But it can be abused. I’ve observed people make decisions at tender moments only to revert to old ways when the moment passes. I’ve had friends publically commit and re-commit to living a life of holiness after falling time and time again. I’ve even “walked the aisle” and been baptized twice. There are some preachers and churches that encourage these emotion-driven responses. Most that do so have good intentions. They genuinely want the best for people. However, I have seen too much first hand to think that making religious decisions under emotional duress should be a normative means for sustaining religious faith.
Which brings me back to my daughter.
The deepest desire of my life is for her to follow Jesus as a disciple. Do I push her at a young age to “pray to accept Christ?” Even if sincere how could such a decision possibly have lifelong meaning for a young child? It can’t right? It seems to me pushing a young child to make such a decision is essentially infant baptism – i. e. a hope for future faith as opposed to the commitment to a life of repentance. So if that’s what we’re doing we need to be honest about it. Whatever profession the child makes, he or she is unable to think independently of the schema built by mom and dad. Surely my young daughter is not capable of mourning sin, thirsting for righteousness, and forging towards the narrow gate. Or is she?
I can certainly see the appeal of infant baptism as taught by the magisterial traditions. Baptism serves in such systems as a covenant promise over the child between his or her parents and God. The promise is then confirmed as the child matures and learns to live the Christian life independently. In this view, there is no need to provoke an emotional crisis and give one’s heart to Christ. It is a normal socialization process. The child is viewed as a Christian from the beginning – albeit one in need of guidance and maturation. It seems so clean cut. I wish it were true. Maybe it is. But I don’t think so.
The church is at root a body of disciples. This is the strength of the Baptist way. – to be Baptist is to be a disciple. Infant baptism is a beautiful, but believer’s baptism is scary. It’s scary because it marks the beginning of discipleship, of killing the the sin within and radically loving those without. So I can’t baptize my daughter because my daughter, however much she loves God, does not yet understand what it means to be a disciple. When will the understanding come? What is the appropriate age to discuss it?
I don’t know.
I do know this: I will pray my guts out for her. I will read the Bible to her. I will discuss sin and holiness with her. I will model repentance and sacrifice in front of her. Most importantly, I will involve her in our church community – our community of disciples. And there, as she sees others taking the plunge (see what I did there), I will trust that one day she will decide to do the same.
But ultimately it’s not up to me. I hate that part.