Vows, Baptism, and You
Before a baby is baptized, the pastor asks the parents a set of questions dealing with their understanding of the Gospel and their commitment to nurture their child in the Faith. But then (at least in Presbyterian circles) something odd happens. The pastor turns to the congregation and asks us this question:
"Do you as a congregation undertake the responsibility of assisting the parents in the Christian nurture of this child?"
Do we really understand what's going on in this question? On the surface, it sounds like a nice statement of solidarity with weary and beleagured parents (especially if this is their fifth or sixth child!). But there's a problem here. This question isn't just a nice sentiment of solidarity. It goes far deeper than simply suggesting that "this church is one big happy family."
This is a vow.
This may be surprising if you've never thought about it before, but that's exactly what it is. Think about it. The parents have just sworn an oath to raise their child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. To help the parents achieve that goal, we're being called upon, before God and one another, to pledge our assistance. In a very real sense, the entire local body of believers becomes quasi-godparents! Yet how many times have we thoughtlessly taken this oath and sinned as a result by not following through?
As Jesus said in Matt 5:37, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.'"
I don't want to sound harsh about this; however, I do think we need to be more self-conscious about this baptismal promise. I don't remember ever receiving any instruction about this vow (even during seminary!), and I figure that others are in the same boat too.
So what does this vow mean? Obviously, it doesn't mean that each member becomes a pseudo-parent, with the corresponding authority and responsibilities, BUT it does mean that everyone who says, "YES!" has some responsibility to "assist." There's a lot of flexibility as to what that looks like. Here are some ideas to help you "assist":
First, we have an abundance of opportunities to serve as an assistant in Children's Worship or Sunday School on Sunday mornings, or at Youth & Family Night on Wednesday evenings. It could involve helping as a volunteer during Vacation Bible School during the summer. Many people in the church already help by bringing meals for Youth & Family Night and sticking around to get to know students. This is exactly the kind of ministry that Paul envisions in Titus 2:2-6 between the older and younger generation in the church.
Another way to assist is to meet with other parents—fathers with fathers and mothers with mothers—to encourage and pray for each other. No parent should feel alone in the struggles he or she faces. Other parents are facing the same frustrations, the same financial worries, the same pressure to have "good Christian kids." Plus, if we'd only ask, the older generation has much wisdom to share about how they dealt with those stresses and pressures too.
You see, we need each other. That's why God placed us in a community of believers. That knowledge lies at the heart of this oath. Parents are sinners. We are going to mess up and make mistakes. It's inevitable, but that's not the end of the story. God gives more grace, and sometimes he gives it in the form of other people—people who come alongside us, gently correcting us and giving us guidance, showing love and modeling godliness to our children. We were never designed to be Lone Ranger parents in the same way we were never designed to be Lone Ranger Christians. God designed us to live in community with others, with all of us pointing each other to Him.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:15-16)
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