December 15, 2017

“A Good Christian Is Always an Infant”

Sacramental Thoughts for Sundays
Sunday, October 28, 2012

“A Good Christian is Always an Infant,” from Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, by Heiko Oberman

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…for Luther this constituted a decisive point. Infant baptism revealed the meaning of  baptism. From Luther’s standpoint one could not genuinely preserve baptism while repudiating infant baptism, for it was in the child to be baptized that the meaning of Evangelical faith became visible: trusting only in the “alien” justification granted by God; acting out of the “alien,” the new conscience; and living on the intercession of others. Where one’s own faith begins to waver, the alien faith appears on the scene. And this is the exact situation of the “infant,” for whom the Church, godparents, and parents believe vicariously. The baptismal font is the reservoir of alien righteousness surrounded by alien belief.

For enlightened Protestantism, which has developed faith into a rational system and eliminated the Devil from it, this belief is not alien, but alienating and peculiar. Luther, however, insists on this very alienation when faced with the menace of an intellectualization of faith: if the Devil is to be withstood, intercession is indispensable; “loners” are defenseless against his threat and subject to his tyranny. A good Christian is always an infant in his dependence on God and in the way he is bound up with Christ and His Church.

Comments

  1. scrapiron says:

    Thanks for this, CM. I have recently left the fundagelical circus for good and have begun attending a Lutheran church in my area. My kids are in confirmation classes and we are moving toward membership as a family. I have been planning every argument I’ll have with my fundamentalist dad over Thanksgiving, and infant baptism was the one I was having the hardest time articulating. This really helps put into words why infant baptism makes sense. To boot, it also pretty well describes why I am leaving the “every man for himself” brand of Christianity for something more grounded in community.

  2. Good stuff, Chaplain Mike.

    If there’s not external Word and sacraments (Christ actually present in Baptism, and Holy Communion), then the whole thing will inevitably be ‘about you’.

    I saw this just recently as a young lady who I work with was telling me that she gave up all caffeine and alcohol, so that she could be “closer to God”. That’s what you get at churches where Baptism and Holy Communion are merely symbols. You get a whole lot of …’you’…and what you should be doing.

    • Steve,
      How would you like it if I said, “Wherever the sacraments become more than symbolic inevitably people will trust in their baptism or taking the Lord’s Supper for their salvation rather than trusting in Christ. And when churches follow the liturgy it becomes an empty ritual devoid of the Spirit and any real faith.”
      Now if I said something like that it would be neither fair nor accurate, though it probably does describe some people and churches which are liturgical. The statment you have made is not fair, though it would be true of some people and churches which are not liturgical. We don’t need to put down other people’s theology in order to support our own. Even this young lady you mentioned. If she thinks that will help her be closer to God, who are we to judge (Romans 14:3-4)? People have done stranger things.

      • Jon,
        I’m with you. What you write, Steve Martin, seems to suggest the all those African American Baptist churches where Christ was and is proclaimed in preaching and worshipped in ecstatic song, but which don’t look for his Real Presence in the sacraments, are somehow narcissistic. And the churches that are spreading like wildfire in the Two Thirds World mostly have a symbolic view of the sacraments: do you, Steve Martin, believe that these new Christians, many of whom risk their lives by witnessing to Christ, are practicing a truncated and narcissistic form of Christianity?

  3. I agree with the total dependence idea however Scripture does tell us to grow up, to no longer be infants.

    Ephesians 4:14,15 – Be no longer children, but grow up in Christ.

    1 Peter 2:2 – Desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.

    Hebrews 5:11-14 About this we have much to say, and it is chard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again dthe basic principles of the oracles of God. You need emilk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is fa child. But solid food is for gthe mature, for those who have their powers hof discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil

    In fact one of the worrisome things in the American church at large is the lack of maturity, the lack of growth. Christians are satisfied with someone else spoon feeding them once a week instead of studying the word for themselves. Thus the lack of spiritual strength and growth.

  4. I agree with the total dependence idea however Scripture does tell us to grow up, to no longer be infants.

    Ephesians 4:14,15 – Be no longer children, but grow up in Christ.

    1 Peter 2:2 – Desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.

    Hebrews 5:11-14 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil

    In fact one of the worrisome things in the American church at large is the lack of maturity, the lack of growth. Christians are satisfied with someone else spoon feeding them once a week instead of studying the word for themselves. Thus the lack of spiritual strength and growth.

    • Mary Anne Dutton says:

      Adrienne this is so accurate that I cried. We are gladly giving up the last fortress of our freedom – our minds – because it is just too uncomfortable to “chew and digest” real mind food. It does require real work.
      Thank you so much for your thought provoking piece, one that should be of concern in our homes, schools and churches – but if that were the case, I guess there would be no necessity for the post, right? In yesterday’s Business-week there was a powerful and succinct piece about this very thing, noting that not only is it costing our competitiveness and greatness as a nation but is endanger our national security. Interesting that the Orthodox and Judaism teach that a nation’s spiritual condition is analogous to its fate…very significant!

    • I have always wondered what, exactly, is the milk and the meat of which the Apostle writes here. What precisely does “becoming mature” in the faith mean? What do you think we have to do to achieve it?

  5. I’m guessing it is yet again a place for a Luther-like “both-and” paradox, where we strive for maturity in Christ (Colossians 1:28-29) while maintaining an unpretentious, child-like faith and dependence upon God’s grace.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Luther, however, insists on this very alienation when faced with the menace of an intellectualization of faith: if the Devil is to be withstood, intercession is indispensable; “loners” are defenseless against his threat and subject to his tyranny.

    So much for the Evangelicals’ de facto Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. “Just Me & Jesus and NOBODY Else.”

  7. The phrase, “intellectualization of faith” probably needs some unpacking. Faith is not anti-intellectual. But faith in a gracious God is absurd. Belief in a god who smiles on our human efforts to please him appeals to an intellect, but one of the fallen, sinful nature. I can’t say whether that was Oberman’s point. Not all intellectualism is equal. The apostle Paul, a very learned and intellectual man, called the cross “foolishness” to the gentiles (I Corinthians 1:23).

  8. Our relationship with God is one of total, passive, dependence. Our relationship with our neighbor is total, active, service. Loving God and loving neighbor are done in very different ways.