Before I was a parent, I used to think of infant baptisms at our Church as a sweet opportunity to watch kids dressed in cute clothes do funny things. I listened to the vows as earnestly as I knew how, but they were not the main event.
A decade into parenting our three boys, the vows spoken at baptisms have taken on a whole new level of significance and sobriety. When I hear and watch parents taking the vows on behalf of their children, my soul shakes a bit in reverence at the beauty and the weight of the promises spoken.
Whether you are an advocate of infant dedication/adult baptism or infant baptism (another topic for another person at another time), there are profound principles of parenting that can be drawn from the parental questions recorded in the Book of Church Order.
Parenting can be utterly overwhelming because it is so all-encompassing. The questions below help to provide a sort of rubric for parenting, giving us categories in the spiritual development of our children.
1. Do you acknowledge your child’s need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit?
2. Do you claim God’s covenant promises in (his) behalf, and do you look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for (his) salvation, as you do for your own?
3. Do you now unreservedly dedicate your child to God, and promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace, that you will endeavor to set before (him) a godly example, that you will pray with and for (him), that you will teach (him) the doctrines of our holy religion, and that you will strive, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring (him) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
The third question particularly provides a checkpoint for me whenever I hear it from the front. In this one verbose yet very significant question, I find four guiding principles by which to evaluate our parenting in regards to the faith: dependence, decision, demonstration, and development.
Do you promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace…Dependence.
When I first took these vows, I think I glossed over this phrase. Yet, three children in and many stages and seasons of parenting later, that is the statement in which I find the most comfort, the phrase that jumps up and clutches my heart when the questions are asked. Parenting is one the highest and hardest tasks in the world; one will not get far in the task until one begins to realize that a desperate dependence upon God and His empowerment must be the basis for all godly endeavoring. We cannot do this task alone, nor were we meant to. Like Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, we cry out, “Who is adequate for these things?” 2 Corinthians 2:16.
That you will endeavor…that you will strive...Decision.
We make a decision, a resolved choice of the will to lead our children by demonstration and development. In a culture that does not commitment and that is often tethered to emotions and feelings, we must recognize that we are, at once and then daily, choosing a course of action and setting our faces in a Divine direction. There will be days when we are exhausted or don’t feel it, yet we have made a decision before God and others to keep pressing on toward the upward call of Christ in our lives and in the lives of children.
To set before him/her a godly example…Demonstration.
More is caught than taught, and our children are watching the trends and trajectories of our lives. They take note of our immediate and reflexive responses to daily duties, disasters and decisions. Do they see us depending daily upon the Lord? Do they see us scouring our Bibles for the the daily bread we need? Do they see in our lives a deep commitment to the people of Christ? Do they see the ways our hearts break for the lost world? Do they see us moving towards the broken people and places or watching with disdain from afar? This dynamic of the question always convicts and challenges me, reminds that little eyes are watching to see whether I am watching Him and looking up to the hills from whence shall come my help (Psalm 121).
To bring him/her up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord…Development.
While the parents’ relationships with the Lord significantly shape the children, God does not have grandchildren. Our children who initially ride on our coattails to the King’s presence must learn to walk there on their own (by grace through faith in Christ, of course). We must offer them truths and tools that will train them in how to own the faith we are trusting God to kindle in their souls. Just as we train our children to drive through painful and precarious hours of driving school, we are called to come alongside them and see that they have the tools and truths they need to get to the throne room on their own.
We make these vows within the context of the body of Christ because all of this requires the help of a supportive community of faith. We cannot do this alone. We need to share sorrows and supplies and skill sets with each other.
May we, with renewed vigor and dependence, continue to press on in this ever-important work.