Baptism and Education


If you are a regular reader, you will have some idea of how I feel about the practice of paedobaptism. But that is only half the story. I have just as much distaste for “baptist” Christianity without a spine. I myself need a Church with a spine, a Church full of grace and light because vows are not only made by baptizands but also understood.

I believe baptists get the “vow” part right, but neglect solid accountability to that vow. Paedobaptists, on the other hand, get the accountability right, but allow the priestly vow to be taken by proxy. This is why I have used the analogy of knighthood to describe New Covenant baptism. Although paedobaptism truncates the New Covenant “boundary,” I’m in agreement with my Federal Vision friends on just about everything else.

So, with that understanding, here is a guest post by a reader, Sarah Culbertson, who, like me, has learned a great deal from the Douglas Wilson camp, where the “front end” of the Christian vow is skewed but the “back end” is right on target.

How Does Baptism Affect Christian Education?

by Sarah Culbertson

There is a Christian comedian who jokes that the non-denominational mega-church is actually just a Baptist church with a coffee shop. And, as a member of such a church, I have to laugh at his accuracy.

There is much to chuckle about in the mega-church, such as the remarkable ability of pastors to present their sermons in five points all beginning with the same letter, or the fact that the I.T. guy (my husband) had to explain that the new electronic finger check-in system was not actually the mark of the beast.

The most peculiar thing about my ten years in this church, though, is how I have at the same time grown to love the people and become frustrated with the way we “do church.” I blame Douglas Wilson for that. It was through his writings that I learned about reformed theology (I thought all Protestants were reformed), classical Christian education, and a happy world ending. It was he who inspired us to start a school in an effort to train our children in the paidea of the Lord and transform the culture with the gospel.

The problem is that 90 percent of the families at our church choose anti-Christian education for their children. My husband and I, along with a handful of like-minded families have spent countless hours over the past three years in information meetings, dinner parties, and individual conversations trying to convince our friends of the necessity of Christian education for every person, in every subject, for all of life. However, try as we might, very few seem to be getting it.

I think this is because they don’t have a deep and reverent understanding of their baptism. Just what does baptism have to do with enrolling kids in a classical Christian school?

Baptism requires the action of a professing person (even when infants are baptized). The problems come when that professing person does not really know that there are responsibilities that go along with baptism. Baptists need more explanation of the implications of baptism than, “Jesus said to do it.” From my observations in the Baptist church and comparisons with the reformed, here are areas that I think would help my brothers and sisters come to a better understanding of baptism and thus a better understanding of their duties as people of God.

And wouldn’t you know, there are five points all beginning with C.

  • Covenant. This, sadly, is a foreign word in the Baptist world. If anyone does know it, the other word that they typically associate with it is “unconditional.” The idea of stipulations at all, let alone stipulations that apply to themselves, is not understood. There is a large mental gap for the Baptist between the Old and New Covenants. Consequently, the requirements and promises given to Abraham, Moses, and David are not extended to include Gentile believers today. For Christian school enrollment, parents must see the application of Deuteronomy 6 to their own lives. Another mental disconnection is that the sinful mind believes salvation is ultimately a matter of one’s own personal will power to “make a decision for Christ” and does not acknowledge the calling of God on their lives that began before the world was made and continues until the last day. I believe this self-righteous understanding of God’s salvation reaches out into other areas of Christian thought as well, such as, “My child can feel when the teacher says something that is not right,” and “My child is already saved so she doesn’t need a Christian school.”
  • Corporate worship. The call to corporate worship is given each week, but the actions of the congregation speak more of individualism. The lights are dark, so no one can see you. The music is artificially loud to drown out the tone-deaf man behind you. You can raise your arms, or not; sit or stand. You can pick from an early or late service with either contemporary or traditional music. You can dress up or dress down. Basically, you can have it your way. They need to know that as members of one body, what an individual does affects everyone. For example, enrolling their child in welfare school affects their brother. There is one baptism. So let’s demonstrate that in our worship, both on Sunday and the rest of the week.
  • Citizenship. Baptist believers know full well that as Christians their citizenship is in heaven. What is not properly grasped is that heaven is coming to earth. The idea of Christian world dominion was completely new to me before Wilson’s “Heaven Misplaced.” There is talk in the church about victorious Christian living and every knee bowing, but for the gospel to have the power to transform nations? No. Everything is going to burn, they say, so we just need to maintain the status quo and hang around until we get sucked off planet earth. Thus, the Christian school is thought of as a bomb shelter rather than a training base for cultural transformation. As for the ruler of the kingdom, Jesus is King, they say, but Satan is the de facto ruler. With this perspective, baptism is reduced to merely a “spiritual” phenomenon and is not a political declaration of allegiance. Why is it that Muslims hate Christian baptism more than western secularists? It is because they live in a one-kingdom world where Allah is king. Their government, culture, and education reflect this. For them, to baptize into Christ is to reject everything they hold dear. Western Christians live in a two-kingdom culture where baptism only has meaning in “Christ’s kingdom.” The cultural result is Christian impotency in the public sphere and Christian students educated by atheists.
  • Catechism. From my limited understanding, pre-baptized individuals were once referred to as a catechumen as they were taught the doctrines of the faith in preparation for baptism. (Does Jesus command the opposite order in the Great Commission, to baptize and then catechize?) By catechism I don’t mean simply the historic question and answer recitations, although those are certainly included. Broader than that is the ability to have a Christian (biblical) answer for any question. Baptists need a bigger view of biblical worldview thinking and living. For a lot of people I know, if you are solid in your Bible stories and don’t believe in evolution then you possess a biblical worldview. Sadly, that is typically the extent of Christian education that students, young or old, receive. What about a biblical view of math? A biblical view of American history? A biblical view of table manners or riding in the backseat of a mini-van? If they can take the Creation, Fall, Redemption framework and look through it rather than at it the world might just become clearer to them.
  • Confidence. I once had a college professor tell me in front of the whole class that I was a wimp. She was probably right. As a child, I was baptized three times due to a lack of assurance of salvation. As a secularized adult Christian, I felt powerless and incompetent. I have noticed a greater sense of confidence in my reformed friends and in their children (their kids don’t even remember when they were baptized and that is good enough for them). Interestingly, my reformed friends use a different vocabulary than my baptist friends. The reformed speak frequently of blessings, faithfulness, joy, glory, and victory, while my baptist friends speak more of trials, brokenness, prayer, forgiveness, and evangelism. The baptist vocabulary reveals an introspective focus on life, preoccupied with a present state of mind. Even evangelism is about sharing “my story.” Conversely, the reformed are typically future-oriented with a vivid memory of God’s provision in the past. The confidence I see in them is rooted, I think, in their understanding of the sovereignty of God and is encouraged by their masculine music and study of faithful saints throughout history.

These are merely observations I have made from my vantage point of the two different camps and how the differences have affected the way children are taught. I look forward to the day of true unity in the church and for all children to be taught by the LORD (Isaiah 54:13).

Sarah is wife to Jed Culbertson and mother of four kids ages 6, 4, 3, and 1 with one more baby on the way. The Culbertsons live in Minnesota and helped found Agape Christi Academy, a classical Christian school in the Twin Cities. They are members of Grace Church where Jed works as the IT and Creative Director.

Share Button

Comments are closed.