Talking to Your Kids about the Sacraments

Parents, you have probably wondered where you begin when it comes to talking to your kids about sex and drugs and choosing friends and why nothing good happens in Taco Bell’s parking lot after 11pm. I know I have. But have you ever wondered how to talk to them about baptism and the Lord’s Supper?

In this post, I want to think through how we can talk to our kids about the sacraments. It’s one thing to explain them as something Jesus told us to do. It’s another to talk about them in a holistic, gospel-centered way so that they are seen as much more than mere memorials. If we can do this well, by God’s grace, they will become what God intended them to be for us and our kids: means of grace that cultivate vibrant, spiritual life.

Let me suggest three emphases to tether ourselves to as we think about and discuss the sacraments with our kids (or anyone for that matter!). There are certainly other things the sacraments emphasize, but these three are most critical in my mind.

  1. Gospel on Display. When the sacraments are rightly taught, administered, and received, we are dramatizing the gospel. Baptism points to Jesus passing through the waters of death, only to rise again to new life. It is God’s confirmation that we have risen from spiritual death and one day will rise bodily from the grave. The Lord’s supper points to Jesus’ being given up for us and our participation in his life and death and with his people all over the world. Furthermore, in an age that is increasingly visual, our kids may often ask, “Why can’t God give us something to see to prove himself, to prove his love?” The truth is, he has: he has given us water, bread, and wine–three very physical, tangible, visual elements to demonstrate the gospel to us.
  2. Body and Soul. Because God has given us physical means (water, bread, and wine) to understand spiritual realities, the sacraments teach us that God cares about all of us, body and soul. It reminds us that we will forever be embodied souls.  Baptism and the Supper both give physical form to our faith. Since we are embodied souls, we need a way to sacramentalize our faith (i.e. use physical means to point to spiritual reality). The sacraments teach us that God loves our bodies and values materiality–after all, he made everything material! We don’t worship our bodies as god; we don’t reject them as gross; but we rejoice that our bodies are to be stewarded as a gift because of Christ who gave up his own body that our soul and body might be redeemed.
  3. A New Family. The sacraments are for God’s new covenant people: his sons and daughters who were redeemed by the blood of his Son. When we are baptized, we are initiated into a new family, God’s family. We now have new allegiance. Our first allegiance is no longer to our parents, children, aunts, uncles, or even a spouse. It is to God and his people, the Church. Baptism is therefore for those who are united to Christ and have God as their Father. The Lord’s Table is a family meal and outsiders are not welcomed. This is a visible sign to the world that there are insiders and outsiders. It is a visible sign to our children that only belief in Jesus opens up the door for us to come to this meal. In light of these things, we must model for our children priorities that are in accord with the gospel and our sacramental faith. Where and how are we spending our time, money, energy, words, etc.? If we really are members of a new family, it will show in our lives.

What other things do the sacraments emphasize?

This I Believe: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
I believe that the Lord Jesus Christ appointed two ordinances/sacraments to be observed by his church until his coming: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is the immersion of the believer in water into the name of the Triune God and is connected with entrance into the new covenant community. The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus Christ to commemorate his death and is connected with ongoing covenant renewal.

Matt. 28:19-20; Rom. 6:3-5; 1 Cor. 11:23-26

This I Believe: God’s New People

God’s New People
I believe that from all eternity, God ordained to redeem and justify a multitude of guilty sinners by grace through faith in Jesus Christ from all ages from every tribe, language, people, and nation. He has set his love on this people for no other reason than that he loves them. God’s new covenant people make up the universal church, the body of Christ. The universal church manifests itself in local churches, of which Christ is the Head. Local churches are gatherings of this new people who observe baptism and the Lord’s Supper and exercise the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by God’s word. The primary mission of the church is to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth, making disciples of all nations. The church’s only proper offices are elders and deacons. God’s new people are not only justified by grace through faith but also sanctified by grace through faith. Above all, God’s new people must be characterized by love for God and love for people. They are to be salt and light in the world and holy in all their conduct.

Deut. 7:7-8; Matt. 5:13-16; 22:37; 28:19-20; Acts 2:38, 42-47; 26:18; Rom. 3:20-28; 8:1, 34; 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Gal. 3:1-7; Eph. 1:22-23; 2:19-22; Col. 1:18; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-16; 1 Pet. 1:14-16; 2:9-10; Rev. 5:9-10; 7:9-17; 21:2-3

Thinking About Infant Baptism

Note: I have updated the first bullet point with a few thoughts from Doug Moo’s commentary on Romans.

I often joke that I am one sprinkled baby away from becoming a Presbyterian. Aside from infant baptism and their church governance structure, I am fairly aligned with most of the theological convictions of the PCA (the conservative branch for those of you who get worried when the word “Presbyterian” comes up), the RCA, or the EPC.

I doubt I will ever baptize an infant, or have my children baptized as infants, so let me get those cards on the table now. I am a credo-baptist (“believer’s baptism”). In light of this, I have some honest questions for paedo-baptists (“infant-baptists”). These four bullets are not exhaustive (of course), or an attack on my infant-baptist brothers and sisters. I love you and appreciate your desire for gospel-saturated, Christ-centered ministry. These are just thoughts that sprung to mind this morning.

  • Romans 6:1-4: You would be hard pressed to fit infant baptism into this scenario Paul presents to the church in Rome. Can an infant say he has died and risen with Christ to new life? Can an infant say he can “walk in newness of life.” This is what Paul connects with Christian baptism. In saying baptism is “connected” to the newness of life, it does not mean baptism brings about new life. Rather, it is a symbol of what is true in the heart. According to Doug Moo, Paul would think it an oxymoron to meet an “unbaptized” Christian. He says, “Baptism is introduced not to explain how we were buried with Christ but to demonstrate that we were buried with Christ” (NICNT, Epistle to the Romans, 364). Moreover, it seems that a baptized unchristian (an infant) would be just as unbelievable because of the context. Moo also notes that “in the early church [they] conceived of faith, the gift of the Spirit, and water baptism as components of one unified experience, which [J. Dunn] calls ‘conversion-initiation'” (Romans, 366). If an infant has not exercised faith and received the Holy Spirit, why would they be baptized? They do not need to be “initiated” since they do not belong to God’s family yet.
  • Matthew 28:19-20: Would the disciples have assumed a connection with circumcision and baptism in this scenario, so as to baptize infants, even though they cannot be taught and thus become disciples before regeneration? Furthermore, Is not the promise of heart circumcision connected to, and what makes obsolete, flesh circumcision (Rom. 2:25-29)?
  • Though it is true Acts speaks of “household baptisms” (twice, in Acts 16:15, 31) it nowhere says that infants were, in fact, baptized. Of course, infant baptism is nowhere forbidden in the New Testament. Nevertheless, is this the case because the apostles would have thought it absurd to do such a thing? On Pentecost, the men responded to Peter’s sermon by asking, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-39). Peter indeed says the promise of the Holy Spirit is for “your children” but there is a conditional clause: it is for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Not all children of Christian parents–not even all baptized infants–are effectually called and saved by God. Will a child experience the blessing of being raised by a Spirit-filled parent? Of course! Will that Spirit be imparted to them apart from God’s grace and a true belief in Christ? No. So I ask: would Peter have expected a baby to stand in line that day? Probably not. Peter connected repentance and baptism. In the same way, John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3), which Paul said pointed to Jesus’ coming (Acts 19:4). Jesus’ whole ministry expanded on his opening words: “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Again this is something a baby–not even a toddler–can do. Paul’s own testimony connects baptism with the forgiveness of sins (Acts 22:16), something that cannot be given to a baby who is unregenerate.
  • Finally, as a side note: it is interesting that the same Reformed theologians who say that “household baptisms” occurred in Acts, thus giving credibility to infant-baptism is Scripture, will be the first to say that Acts was not “normative” as it concerns spiritual gifts (i.e. the so-called “sign” gifts). In order to be consistent with the issue of what is, or is not, normative in Acts, those theologians would have to say that all gifts continue until today or say that “household baptism” are either 1) not normative for today, or 2) may not have implied infants were members of those households.

No matter what side of the debate you are on, what are your thoughts?

Christian and Unbaptized? Unthinkable.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3)

How could someone, Paul argues, who has died with Christ through the public display of baptism (the external display of an internal reality; the symbolic representation of our death and resurrection with Christ) still continue to obey sin as a master?  Baptism is a display of what Paul spoke of in 2:29, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”  Baptism is an outward act that one has been circumcised in the heart and wants to display it to the world.  Baptism is what signifies our death and resurrection with Christ.  It is not the instrument through which we die and rise with Christ.  John Piper gives the analogy of a marriage and the wedding ring:

All of us who have put on the ring of marriage have, by putting on this ring, forsaken all others to cleave only to our wives. Therefore by this ring I am united to my wife alone and dead to all others.

Now you could press the language and say, “Aha, it was the actual putting on the ring that caused your forsaking all others and your cleaving to Noel alone. You said it explicitly: ‘By this ring, I am united to my wife alone.’ What could be plainer? The ring does it all.

But that is not what I would mean by these words. I would mean that putting on the ring is a sign of my forsaking all others and cleaving only to her. The decisive leaving and cleaving is in the promise, the covenant, the vows. “I plight thee my troth.” “I promise you my faithfulness.” Then comes the ring, the symbol.

The vows stand for faith in Christ, and the ring stands for baptism. And the point is that we often talk this way. We often speak of the symbol as though it brings about what it only signifies.

But is baptism just a symbol? In Galatians 3:27, Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  This, and Romans 6:3, does not mean baptism saves you.  Grace through faith alone justifies a person before God (Rom. 3:24-26, 28; 5:1; Gal. 3:5-6; Eph. 2:5, 8-9).

However, baptism in Paul’s day has a much more significant meaning than it does today.  We have cheapened the meaning of baptism in the Christian church. In his commentary on Romans, Doug Moo writes, “J. Dunn…points out that the early church conceived of faith, the gift of the Spirit, and water baptism as components of one unified experience, which he calls ‘conversion-initiation’” (Moo, Romans, 366).

In Acts 10, when Peter is preaching Jesus to the Gentiles, in the middle of his message, the Holy Spirit came upon them and immediately.  Peter did not wait and have them complete a spiritual gift survey or go through a membership class or a doctrine class.  He said, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people?” (v. 47).  In Acts 8, when Philip preaches to the Ethiopian eunuch, the Ethiopian believed and immediately asked Philip if he could be baptized (v. 36).  In Acts 16, Lydia and her whole household were saved and on that same day they were baptized (v. 15).  The point is that when people believed in the NT, they were immediately baptized as a public declaration that they identified with and were saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus. To these new believers, and the New Testament writers, it was unthinkable, even inconceivable, that a person would believe in Jesus yet not be baptized with water.

Would Paul have a category in his mind for a Christian who believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior and repented of their sin, yet was not baptized? No. There are many reasons that baptism isn’t done immediately today, but I won’t discuss that here. The point is this: if you are a Christian and are not baptized, what is holding you back? Don’t disobey. Believe and obey, and get baptized today!