Bad Sermons 101

001 bad sermons

by B. Thomas Peck

This is the first in a series of occasional articles on bad preaching and how to avoid it. 

If you’re a Christian you have likely sat through at least dozens of homilies and sermons, whether they be about forgiveness, love, repentance, or fire-and-brimstone style. Chances are you’ve heard one of each: some were good, some were bad, and some were just plain boring. Below we’re going to talk about some common mistakes in preaching and sermon giving. These same mistakes are also commonly made in other kinds of public speaking.

The Sleeping Tone

Let’s start with the biggest problem when it comes to public speaking and sermon preaching. Your tone is essential to delivering your message; it keeps the crowd alert and interested in what you’re going to say. A man could talk about the most exciting project the world has ever seen, but if his voice is dry and monotone he’ll lose the attention of the crowd. Keep the topic lively by changing your inflection and emphasizing important subjects vocally. One simple tactic is to soften your voice, make it delicate and gentle, and then crescendo gradually emphatically to drive home your point. It’s a rhetorical technique that works. Sure, it’s dramatic, but have you actually tried it, deliberately? Not only will this keep the crowd awake, but the soft start will draw the crowd in to hear and understand your words. It makes them pay attention.

The Stone Body

One of the most awkward things I’ve ever seen in a sermon is when the speaker’s voice is loud, boisterous and enthusiastic but their body is still as stone. It doesn’t match, it doesn’t work, and it just looks weird. Hand motions, gestures, walking to and fro need not be frantic, and are all things that help keep your audience’s attention on you and what you’re talking about. If they’re watching you, they’re not watching the floors, the stained-glass-windows or their old High School buddy’s latest coffee and bagel on Instagram. Keeping moving can also help to keep your mind on track, it can give you the energy you need to proclaim the Word and propel your voice for all to hear.

The Fire, Brimstone and Failure

The last thing I want to touch on is the method of preaching most people hate. It’s the Fire and Brimstone, we’re all going to Hell, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon. This method of sermon is designed to try and instill fear in our hearts so that, through fear, we will sin less and repent more, but it only occasionally works. Only one of two reactions seems to ever be goaded from this form of sermon:

A) people roll their eyes, face-palm, and seek another Church that actually teaches the Gospel.

B) People are driven AWAY from the Faith because they assume what they see is all Christianity is about – hatred, fearmongering, and disdain. This kind of sermon often forgets to talk about the love of God. Yes, it is a very good thing to remind people what sin is, and yes, we absolutely must teach repentance. Fear, however, is not a method that has ever been more than temporarily successful in any situation.

What we have above are three things we’ve all probably seen in sermons. They’re common mistakes due to anxiety, nerve-wracking self-doubt or plain ignorance. We’ve all been there – but we must not stay there!

Now we’re going to switch gears and talk about something that will save any sermon’s content, because, let’s face it, even when you avoid the above you can still deliver a poor sermon. It can be discombobulated, confusing, and even pointless.

The Resurrection

The cornerstone of all Christianity is this one event that started the entire movement. Christ’s crucifixion, death and Resurrection are the only reason our Faith even exists. Without it, Jesus Christ could’ve been construed as a Saint or another Prophet who did great things through the Blessings of God. It is His Resurrection from the dead and the destruction of the gates of Hell that placed the immovable stone upon which the Church has been built. Everything ties back to the Resurrection, and reminding the people of its wondrous purpose will never fail you. When it doubt, talk about the Resurrection and tie it to the lesson you wish to deliver to your flock.

Preaching at a funeral? Talk about the Resurrection.

Preaching at a wedding? Talk about the Resurrection.

Preaching at a baptism? Talk about the Resurrection.

Are you preaching at all? TALK ABOUT THE RESURRECTION!

B. Thomas Peck is an author, son of a preacher, and participant in the Academy of Preachers Festival of Young Preachers (2011). You can find his blog at bthomaspeck.com

 

“You Baptize Babies?”

infant_baptism1

by Fr. Aidan Wilcoxson

Do we baptize babies? Do we! 

As an Orthodox priest here in Central Texas, I get that question on a fairly regular basis. A lot of congregations in this area only baptize adults or children who are old enough to understand what happens in the ceremony, so folks are just naturally curious when they find out that we baptize infants just a few weeks after they are born.

And when I say baptized, I mean the child is immersed in water three times in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So we’re not just talking about sprinkling or christening here—we’re talking about good old fashioned going-down-under-the-water baptism.

But what a lot of people want to know is how we can do that to an infant when there’s no way the child is old enough to comprehend what’s going on.

Let’s start with the Bible. In the Holy Gospels, Christ Jesus instructs His apostles not to hinder children who wish to come to Him (see, for example, St Mark 10.13-16). In the Acts of the Apostles, entire households of people are baptized, and those households presumably included children and infants (see, for example, 16.15, and 18.8). But that’s about all the Bible has to say when it comes to the issue of children and baptism. So, while there are passages which support, in a general way, the baptism of children, the biblical bottom line is that Holy Scripture neither commands us to do nor forbids us to do it.

However, the earliest written evidence that we have indicates that Christians have always baptized children and infants. The first writers to mention the subject are two men named Tertullian and Origen; Tertullian lived in the mid second century; Origen lived in the mid third century; both men categorically state that the Church has, from the beginning, baptized children and infants. And the archaeological evidence backs that up. For example, in the Lateran museum at Rome, there is a tombstone which dates to around 150 A.D.; on the stone are written these words:

“I, Zosimus, a believer born of believers, lie here having lived 2 years, 1 month, and 25 days.”

The inscription is in Greek, and the words ‘believer’ and ‘believers’ were only used of baptized Christians.

So, in the Church, it has always been the practice to baptize children like two year old Zosimus. But 1400 years after little Zosimus departed this life, folks began to approach baptism differently. This was during the Protestant Reformation, and the first Protestants placed a tremendous emphasis on rational thought. In other words, they believed that in order for a person to be baptized, that person had to understand what was going on, and that meant the person who was being baptized had to be old enough to think rationally. And, five hundred years later, that’s still the position of most Protestants here in Central Texas.

Nevertheless, the Church disagrees with that way of thinking. Here’s why: All of us, both Orthodox and Protestants, believe that baptism marks the beginning of a new way of life. All of us teach that those who are baptized must grow into this new life, and we also encourage those who are already members of the Church to assist those who have been baptized and nurture them and hold them accountable.

But there’s absolutely nothing to prevent a child or an infant from participating in that process of spiritual birth and spiritual growth. They simply start at a different point than the adults do. So, just as someone who is baptized as a grown-up will continue to mature in their understanding of what happened to them during that service, a child is going to do the very same thing.

And it’s just not true that an infant has no awareness of what happens to them when they are baptized. Every child knows when it is loved; every child responds to affection and tenderness. An infant may not be able to articulate any of that in a rational, conscious way, but that doesn’t mean that the child has no understanding of life’s most important intimacies. And if all infants, at some level, comprehend and react to human love, surely every child can do the same with the love of the Most Holy Trinity.

And, sure, infants are not going to remember the service in which they were baptized. When they are older, they’ll get to watch the videos and look at the snapshots; they’ll get to see the special clothes they wore for the service; they’ll get to hear their parents and their grandparents and their godparents talk about the event. Nevertheless, the fact that the child has no conscious memory of their baptism is not going to prevent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from working in that child’s life as a result of that service.

After all, how many of us who are married actually remember that much of the wedding? And, for that matter, how many of us really understood what we were getting ourselves into as a result of that service? But we grew into that new life; we matured; there were a lot of older, more experienced couples who nurtured us and held us accountable. And our cluelessness did not prevent the grace of the Most Holy Trinity from working in our lives.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul calls the members of that congregation

“infants in Christ” (3.1).

That’s a metaphor, it’s a word picture, and it’s one that, ultimately, applies to all of us—because, when it comes to our relationship with our Lord and Master, even though we each strive to become ever more mature, there’s not a single one of us who will get to the point where we are all grown-up. So, when we Orthodox baptize infants and children, we are just giving them a head start on that life-long process of spiritual growth.

Source: St. John Orthodox Church 

 

Baptismal Sponsorship, Past and Present

godparents

by Fr. Lawrence Farley

The parents may say, “Church is very, very important,” but if they do not go to church every week and devoutly receive Holy Communion, and say their private prayers, and pray at meal-times, such exhortations will be recognized by children for the hypocritical clap-trap it is.

When infants are brought to the baptismal font, they not only come with parents and friends, but also their sponsors—traditionally in churches of the Russian tradition, a man and a woman.  These sponsors have liturgical duties to perform during the service, such as holding the child, and making the responses when the priest requires that the child renounce Satan and unite himself to Christ.  But there are other duties as well, which remain after the service is over.

In the classic “Priest’s Guide” as quoted by Archpriest David Abramtsov, we read the following:

“The sponsors in Baptism are guarantors pledging to the Church that the baby to be baptized will be brought up in the faith of that Church; therefore they must be members of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church.” 

Father David also writes,

“Among the other duties of sponsors is the duty of seeing that their godchildren receive Holy Communion frequently, that they attend Sunday School and church regularly, that they learn their prayers and fulfill all the other requirements of the Orthodox Faith.” 

Sounds good.  The only problem is that given our modern North American nuclear family, it is difficult for anyone to promise that their godchildren will fulfill these duties if the parents do not do their bit.  And rash promises aside, we should be clear:  if the parents do not raise their children in piety and faith, making sure that a living faith is communicated to their offspring, there is precious little that a godparent can do about it.  A sponsor can nag, of course, and encourage, and maybe even plead.  But the overwhelming lion share of responsibility falls with the parents, and especially with the dad.

The reality is that children learn what is important by observing what their parents do.  Grandparents can inspire and influence to some degree, but theirs is a subordinate and supportive role.  The parents will model piety for their children (or not), and this will provide the formative effect.  Note:  the children will learn from what their parents actually do, not just what they say.  The parents may say,

“Church is very, very important,”

but if they do not go to church every week and devoutly receive Holy Communion, and say their private prayers, and pray at meal-times, such exhortations will be recognized by children for the hypocritical clap-trap it is.  That is, the exhortations will have no lasting effect.  In such a house where the parents do not exercise a living faith, the effect of the godparents’ exhortations and offers will be distinctly minimal.  Auntie Sophie and Uncle Walter can be as winning and loving as ever, but their winning love cannot compensate for the poor examples of the parents.

One might be tempted to ask:  this being the case, what’s the point of having sponsors?  One might begin an answer by looking at how sponsorship functioned in the early Church.  In those days, all candidates for baptism had sponsors, even the adults. 

The pilgrim known to scholars as “Egeria” tells us in her memoirs of her trip to the Holy Land how baptismal sponsorship functioned in Jerusalem in her day.  She writes,

“On the second day of Lent at the start of the eight weeks, the bishop’s chair is placed in the middle of the Great Church, the Martyrium, the presbyters sit in chairs on either side of him, and all the clergy stand.  Then one by one those seeking baptism are brought up, men coming with their fathers and women with their mothers.  As they come in one by one, the bishop asks their neighbours questions about them: ‘Is this person leading a good life? Does he respect his parents? Is he a drunkard or a boaster?’ He asks about all the serious human vices. And if his inquiries show him that someone has not committed any of these misdeeds, he himself puts down his name; but if someone is guilty he is told to go away, and the bishop tells him that he is to amend his ways before he may come to the font.” 

Thus in the early Church the function of the sponsors was to witness to the propriety of the baptism by testifying that the catechumenal candidate was indeed living a Christian life.  (Presumably in cases of infant baptism, the issue was whether or not the parents of the infant candidate were living a Christian life.)

At very least then, sponsors function as vestigial witnesses to the nature of Christian discipleship.  Baptism is not simply a “get it over with” sort of thing, like a child’s first vaccination.  It is the beginning of a life of commitment to Christ and of striving for holiness.  The presence of sponsors reveals that something is required of the candidate after the service is all over, and that this requirement is life-long.  Baptism is thus like enrollment in school—the process of enrollment is important, but it is essentially meaningless unless one follows it up by actually going to school, attending classes, studying, and taking exams. Enrollment in school looks forward to the day of graduation; baptism looks forward to the day when we die and step into the Kingdom.  Auntie Sophie and Uncle Walter stand by as sponsors and point the little candidate to that final and glorious day.

infant bapt 3

Source: Pravmir

 

 

Death by Baptism

baby

by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Nowadays, children get baptized for any number of reasons: because their family is Russian (Ukrainian/Greek/Serbian, etc.), because it is what they have “always done,” because the grandmother insists, because the parents want the child to be able to take communion or to go to Sunday school, or for any number of other reasons. But the Apostle Paul says that baptism is a manifestation of Christ’s death in our lives (Rom. 6:3)–no, no, not a symbol of His death, not a theatrical re-enactment, not a remembrance, but the “making-real,” the “making-present” of His death. Paul says that the baptized

“put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27)

but what kind of Christ? The one who was tortured. The One who was crucified. The One who died. The One whose wounds did not heal even in His glorious resurrection (Luke 24:39).

The fundamental vision of Christ’s death in our lives begins with the full acceptance of our own physical death. Unfortunately, here in the U.S., we have outsourced our death to various companies and are not acquainted with it anymore. Not all that long ago, people would die in their family homes, surrounded by several generations of relatives. Their bodies would remain in the home, in full view of everyone, for as long as was practical. Young siblings would die of disease, adult relatives would die in accidents, older people would dies of old age… Death was all around, it was real, tangible, visceral. Nowadays, babies no longer die, and if they do, it happens in neonatal ICUs; adult deaths are whisked away and disposed of; old people are hidden in hospices. Relatives come to visit hospice patients and say the strangest things:

“How are you feeling? Hope you get well soon. You and I are gonna go fishing together!”

knowing very well that the person has a few days or hours to live, but being in denial all the same, denying the loved ones the right to say:

“I am dying. Pray for me. See you on the other side.”

When the death is finally undeniable–that is to say, when the person is actually dead–they still try to deny its reality: they embalm the body to prevent natural decay, they decorate the dead body with makeup and dress it in nice clothing and spray perfume; by the time they are done with it, this dead body looks and smells far better in the coffin than it did in real life! All is fake, all is denial, all is pretense. It is as if Christ did not suffer and did not die. It is as if one minute He is teaching and preaching, and the next minute He is risen. But it does not work that way. In order for there to be Pascha, there has to be the Cross; in order for there to be resurrection, there has to be death. He, who has not died, cannot rise from the dead.

A Christian is to die every day, day after day, even minute after minute, for 525,949 minutes each year. The death that we accept at baptism is not symbolic at all; it is as real as the life that we accept. The life in Christ is no symbol, and neither is the death. Both are an ever-present reality of our condition. If we want to be living, we have to bedying. Christ’s death did not happen on that Good Friday. It was ever-present since at least before He agreed to create Adam. Maybe, this is the mystery of the Son’s ever-being-born–He is also ever-dying for the sins of mankind.

A Christian’s death is not something that is “symbolized” when he is “dunked” in the font, but is something that he puts on as his very essence, his nature–the nature of life in Christ.

In this context, Christian asceticism is foundational to Christian life and is the very core of our daily dying in Christ–dying to sin, dying to the world, dying to self, in order to be born in Christ to the life with God. As Christians, we are called to live our life as a sacrament, or, even better, as a sacrifice.

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I think that one very troubling modern phenomenon deserves special attention: the phenomenon of morphine. Modern Americans most often seems to die in one of two ways: in hospice care or at a hospital. In both cases, the relatives often go through a denial of the approaching death and do not call the priest until the very last moments when it is already too late. By that time, the person is pumped full of morphine–either because they have become “restless” or because they are in pain. At that point, it is impossible for the person to have a confession, to pray, to take communion, or to hear words of comfort from the reading of the Psalms or the Gospel.

Very often, these are also the people who have never had a confession or taken communion in their entire life or in the last several decades of their life–chronic illness, lack of mobility, extreme busyness of the relatives are some of the realities of the life of an older person that tend to prevent them from participating in the sacramental life of the Church.

Thus, modern ways of dying in the “comfort” of morphine coupled with the lack of understanding of the progression of dying and the reality of death on the part of the relatives, deny these people their last rites even before death. It is as if the devil has successfully kept those people away from church sacraments during their life and has won a victory even in their death. Or, maybe, it is not “as if”? maybe, this really is what is happening?

Source: Pravmir

What Happens to a Child in Baptism?

child baptism

by Fr. John Hainsworth

About What Happens to the Child in Baptism

IS BAPTISM JUST A SIGN?

Everything I have said assumes that baptism is more than just an outward expression of an inward acceptance of Christ. Of course, baptism is an outward expression in that physical hands are laid on a physical person and that the rites of baptism are tangible, visible, and physical. But the Orthodox embrace completely the Incarnation of Christ. For us, Christ’s body was not just an outward expression. Christ’s physical body was not an incidental part of His saving Incarnation. His body was indivisibly part of His whole person. So important is the body to God that the Christian promise is that we will be raised with our bodies.

Baptism effects a change in one’s status with God. It is more than a mere sign. The views held by most Christians about marriage provide a useful comparison. Few Christians would say that a marriage ceremony is merely a “sign.” A change clearly occurs. The man and the woman are separate before the ceremony, but they are “one flesh” after. This is a profound change, one which is effected by God through the ceremony itself.

Baptism is no different. The rite of baptism has always been understood as a baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ, an entrance into the saving covenant, an enrollment in the Lamb’s book of life, a union with the whole people of God, and the giving of a new citizenship in the Kingdom not of this world. Clearly, this is more than just a formality.

WHAT HAPPENS TO A CHILD WHEN HE OR SHE IS BAPTIZED?

First of all, children are baptized into a story. Christians are the people of a story. The Lord did not appear from nowhere with a message and language of His own inven-tion. He came as the fulfillment of a promise made in the beginning to Abraham, in conformity to the prophecies concerning Him. The subsequent promises and prophecies, the peoples and the sins, the punishments and the mercies, these are our story.

It is the story of Christ, and it is the duty and joy of every Christian to know and teach this story. When children are baptized into this narrative, they become part of it. The stories of the patriarchs, the judges, the kings, the prophets, the apostles, the saints who followed them, and of Christ Himself, become their stories. This is clear in Exodus, when Moses and the Israelites are commanded to tell through a ritual re-enactment, the Passover Supper, the story of God’s glorious and nation-making act in Egypt. Children are commanded to be part of the ritual, because this story is their birthright.

The same is true of the fulfilled Passover of Christ, when the Lord again commanded us to “remember” what He accomplished for us on the Cross through the ritual remembrance of the Liturgy. We tell the story of God and His people because we are His people. And when we preach—as Peter did, as Stephen did, as Paul did—we preach our story. Our children are raised in this story, and by virtue of baptism this story becomes their own.

Second, children are baptized into a people. From the beginning God’s covenant was made with a people, not with a person. The promise to Abraham was made to all nations, the covenant with Moses was made with the whole of Israel, and the New Covenant of Christ was made with the New Israel, the Church of God. We are a people called out of the nations, called out of the world, and through baptism we come to belong to a people who belong to God. We are made citizens of Heaven. We join a heavenly ethnicity. My daughters, through baptism, belong to this people more than they belong to Canada, their country of birth.

We have our Kingdom culture of daily prayer, regular fasting, festal cycles, and biblical storytelling. We have oaths of allegiance in the form of the Creed. We have our national anthems in the hymns we sing. We have our national heroes in the saints and church fathers and mothers. Our king is God. This sounds cute to the modern ear, but it is true. And it is deeply Orthodox and fundamentally biblical, so much so that this alternative nationalism was the basis for the early Roman persecution of Christians.

Third, a child is baptized into life in Christ.

“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus,” says St. Paul, “were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3–4)

This newness of life is what we all participate in through baptism, adult and child alike. Certainly children participate differently than adults, but no less authentically. Learning to pray, to read the Bible, to understand their inheritance, to walk in the way of the Lord, eating and drinking of the Eucharist, being trained in righteousness—this is as much walking in newness of life as anything in the spiritual life, and sometimes children are more engaged in these activities than adults in their church. And because they have been baptized into life in Christ they also receive the benefits of that life—the Grace, the forgiveness, the Fatherhood of God, the nourishment of the Body and Blood of Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The difference of twenty years and the ability to pay bills and stay up late does not make an adult more needful of these things than children, or more worthy of them. Children become full participants in Christ, as He ordained them to be and indeed as He became incarnate for them to be.

This means as well that they are baptized into a promise. If they are buried with Christ in baptism, they will be raised with Him as well. They are raised with the promise of eternal life, with the expectation of the Resurrection. We do not hang this promise in front of them like a carrot (or a lollipop) to lead them to some future acceptance of Christ. By virtue of baptism, they participate in this promise now.

They do so because they already experience life in Christ.

Indeed, they grow up at His very knee.

Read this series from the start by CLICKING HERE.

 

Fr. John Hainsworth is pastor of All Saints of Alaska Orthodox Mission of Victoria, British Columbia. Fr. John converted to Orthodoxy in 1992. He graduated from St. Vladimir’s Seminary in 2002 with a Master’s degree in Divinity. He is a popular retreat leader, the author of several articles in AGAIN Magazine, and hard at work on multiple book manuscripts.

Source

 

 

 

 

Will Unbaptized Children Go To Hell if they Die?

by Fr. John Hainsworth

baby baptism all the way underOften on the heart and mind – will unbaptized children go to hell?

No. The Orthodox Church does not believe that children are born guilty of Adam’s sin and that unless freed of that guilt through baptism and communion they will die without God’s mercy. Such a notion is pernicious both for its barbarism and for its distortion of God. Do we really think that God is so small that He is bound by our rites, the rites He has given us? God is sovereign, and He will have mercy on whom He has mercy and judgment on whom He has judgment (Romans 9:15).

We can talk about sin and guilt in three ways.

First there is primordial sin, the sin of Adam. We understand this not in terms of inherited guilt, but in terms of a fallen world. Primordial sin introduced sickness, suffering, evil, and death into God’s perfect creation (1 John 5:19; Romans 5:12). We are born into Adam’s sin in that we are born into a fallen world. But without our participation, there is no guilt.

Second, there is generational sin, which we see in terms of specific propensities to sin. A child of alcoholics, for example, will inherit not the guilt of his parents but the tendency to sin as they did, or other sins associated with this generational heritage.

Again, we do not have to submit to this sinful heritage, we do not have to carry it on ourselves.

Finally, there is personal sin, the stuff we do ourselves, whether as perpetuation of the general fallenness of this world, the generational fallenness of our parents or surroundings, or as the invention of sins of our own. A person becomes guilty when they personally sin.

infant bap

A child is not guilty until they make sin a personal decision, either consciously or unconsciously.

It is true that baptism is the washing away of sin, and one could say that it seems senseless to baptize a child if they have no inherited guilt to wash away. However, Christ’s sacrifice, in to which we are baptized, was a sacrifice of His whole life as a submission to God —

“not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42)

and His death on the Cross not only washed away our sins, but also destroyed death itself. When we are baptized we are baptized into His life and death (Romans 6:4), and we become co-beneficiaries of a life which finally brought God and man into a union of love and a harmony of will. The infant is initiated into that union. This initiation will include the forgiveness of their sins, but is not limited to that forgiveness.

The life and death of Christ, which reverses the primordial, generational, and personal falleness of this world, is what the child enters through baptism.

Click here to read “What Happens to a Child in Baptism?”

What if a Child Leaves or Rejects Christ Later in Life?

infant_baptism1

by Fr. John Hainsworth

Another concern folks have about infant baptism in the Orthodox Church – what if a child rejects Christ later in life?

This is a real concern, but not a reason to keep children from full membership in the New Covenant by denying them baptism and communion. We should rather accept them as the Lord commanded us to do, because raising them up in the life in Christ will give them a much better chance of carrying this life beyond our parental guardianship. If someone has no intention of raising a child in Christ—if they have no intention of attending church, praying as a family in the home, teaching the Bible, encouraging questions about the faith, and giving their children every opportunity to experience the life of the Church—then they should in no way bring their child to be baptized.

When we decide to baptize a child we make the most solemn of promises to God. We are promising to do everything in our power to bring that child to Christ, and this is a promise that we can only make if we are doing everything we can to draw near to Him ourselves. Children take seriously what we take seriously. If they grow up in a home in which conversations about Christ, prayer, and reading from the Bible and the lives of the saints are part of normal daily life, they will feed off this as much as the food we put on their plates at the dinner table. Children are deeply impressed by candlelight and incense, by flowers at Pascha, by late-night processions during Holy Week, by palm leaves on Palm Sunday, by icons, by lake blessings at Theophany, and by vestments and altar service. All of this fascinates them and draws them into Christ. As a priest, I see just how real the life of faith is to children when they approach the chalice to receive communion. It is in their eyes, and I am humbled. When they see that we are excited and involved, they will become excited and involved.

Raising a child in Christ is simple. Just be a child yourself in Christ. Take it seriously. Children take faith very seriously, and we should either honor that faith ourselves or we shouldn’t baptize them.

But what if they do leave Christ? What if we do all that we can do and they still walk away? Wouldn’t it then have been better not to baptize them? Of course not! Would a responsible parent ever dream of keeping their child outside full family membership until they were sure that the child wants to be in the family? Peter Leithart, a Presbyterian and father of ten children himself, makes an excellent point in his book Against Christianity:

“Romans normally excluded children from the dinner table until the age of fifteen or sixteen, at which age boys received the toga virilis that marked their entrance to manhood. Family dinner as we know it was a Christian invention, not some ‘natural’ form of family life. The family dinner is a reflection of the eucharistic meal, the meal that welcomed all members of Christ to the table. Opposition to communion of children is pagan and seeks to reverse the revolutionary table fellowship established by the Church. It is an attempt to return to Egypt.”

The family that eats together should receive communion together, the one an image of the other. A child raised in the fullness of the faith has the greatest of foundations. Every human being is free to do God’s will or not. He wants us to choose to do His will. But even when He knows that we won’t, He still does not deny us food, clothing, or shelter. He does not deny us love, joy, long life, and children of our own. Will we be so afraid of what our children might do that we deny them the one thing everyone needs—communion in the Church and full membership in the life-giving covenant of Christ? Where is our faith? Where is our resolve? Where is our love for God and for our children? To whom is Christ speaking now, when He says,

“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them”?

Click here to read Part 5: Will Unbaptized Children Go To Hell if they Die?

Baptism: But Children Don’t Understand the Faith!

infant bap 2

by Fr. John Hainsworth

Children don’t understand the faith – does that make them ‘second class citizens’ of the Body of Christ – is that a reason not to baptism them into the Church?

The assumption behind this objection to infant baptism, one which did not exist in the early Church or in the centuries which followed, is that faith is a product of reason. That to truly believe, our minds must be capable of understanding why we believe, or at least able to provide intellectual consent. For the adult convert to the Orthodox Church, intellectual consent is crucial. Baptism is not magic. It is a voluntary act of submission to God, a consent to live in relationship with God within the covenant He has established through His Son with a larger body of baptized believers, the Church. But at the same time, faith falls flat if it does not go beyond individual reason. It falls flat because it is so individualized, exclusive, and self-centered.

Tertullian said famously that

“one Christian is no Christian.”

It is true that our faith must be personal, that we must have a personal relationship with God. But our faith must not be limited to that personal relationship alone. Our relationship with God is valid only if it is realized in communion with the whole Church.

I’ve spoken of the Church as family, and I want to return to that image. Children can break fellowship with the family if they consider themselves outside the family’s fate. They are family members only in so much as they live as part of the family, accepting all the responsibilities and self-sacrifice that such family status demands. I don’t have to explain this to my children. They understand from birth that they belong to a larger group, and belong in the most intimate way. They know who their father and mother are and where to go for help and for security. The concept of ‘family’ is beyond them, but the reality of family life is not. In other words, children have a sense of belonging a dozen years or more before they understand what this belonging means.

The earthly family is an image of the heavenly family, the family of the Kingdom of God. Children born to a Christian family are born again into the heavenly family through baptism. A child baptized in the Orthodox Church belongs to a spiritual family. This family bridges both heaven and earth, stretches backward and forward in time and includes both saints and angels. Children belong to this family exactly as each of my daughters belongs to my family. They know in a profound way that they belong long before they have some kind of cerebral understanding of that belonging.

Our modern world so exults reason and cerebralism that young children are sometimes treated as not fully human, or are at least treated less seriously than adults because they can’t think like we do. The truth is that a child is a full human being. A child of any age is capable of expressing and participating in the glory of God. Christ Himself sanctified every age as God-bearing, since He was as much the perfect Word of God as an infant as when He was a grown man. We must remember that children are not second-class persons. Their baptisms are as significant to them and to God as adult baptisms. Even if they do not cognitively understand what that baptism means, they are certainly capable of intuitively understanding it.

Click HERE to read part 4: What if a Child Leaves or Rejects Christ Later in Life?