Mailbag #54: Personal Conviction v. Church Tradition; My Wife Doesn’t Want Me to Pastor
What’s your advice on how to handle a mom and dad who want their 8-year-old to be baptized? I am two and a half years into a revitalization and God has done great things. When I first got to my church, I baptized two children, but I no longer feel comfortable doing so (semper reformanda). I’m in the process of writing a paper on this issue that the elders will present to the congregation. But I don’t plan on listing a specific age for baptism in the paper. I do want to formally address the issue to help reset expectations for existing members and have something to guide the thinking of new members on this issue. What is your advice? Being that I am only 2.5 years into this, I don’t want to die on a hill that I should not die on.
I thought your question would be worth answering in this space not so much to make a point about the age of baptism, but to reflect on dealing with issues where your convictions as a new pastor tell you one thing, while a church’s long-running practices demand another thing. Not every hill is worth dying on, as you say.
First, ask yourself whether your conviction is a matter of sin and righteousness or a matter of wisdom. If something is sin, you cannot do it. Period. If it’s a matter of wisdom, well, then, we need to get into the weeds. And my sense is that your question falls into the latter domain.
Second, ask yourself, even if something is not evidently sin, is it foolish? That is, will it hurt people, or tempt people to sin, or potentially jeopardize their discipleship over time? Some follies are insignificant or inconsequential enough that you can overlook them. Others are not.
My own view is that baptizing someone before he or she is ready (for whatever reason) is a fairly significant matter. It risks giving false assurance. It risks inoculating them against the gospel by assuring them that they have the gospel when they really don’t. It risks compromising the regenerate integrity and therefore the witness of the church. (Yes, of course we can go too far by striving for an overly pure church. That’s always a risk. But can we agree that it’s possible to be too complacent and careless, too?) Plus, you need to be mindful of the precedent you are setting. Yes, you have baptized young children in the past. But right now you can, with integrity, explain that your convictions have changed, and with humility you can ask parents to be patient with you as you continue to grow (semper reformanda). Yet if you continue to baptize now with your present convictions, such requests in the future will be less honest.
Now let me bring in another factor: how unified are your elders on this issue? And how ready for this teaching is the church? I do think it is unwise for you to get far out ahead of the elders by effectively implementing policies that they’re not ready to support. That will prove divisive to the elders and potentially to the church. So hold on. And thinking through a topic like this one can take months for an elder board, maybe longer.
Here’s what I would do. Explain to the parents that their child’s faith, discipleship, and profession of faith is so valuable and precious that you don’t want to act hastily. Be forthright about your own reservations, but explain you would be grateful for the opportunity to hit the pause button while the elders discuss the larger principles at stake, work toward a consensus, and then teach the congregation. Explain that you understand why the delay will frustrate them—it’s a live matter for them right now. But in the larger scheme of things, the Holy Spirit is powerful, their child will be okay and presumably not sinfully culpable for any mistakes you make, and you want to give the elders an opportunity to study the principle before acting one way or another.
They might refuse to accept that. They might find another elder who will agree to baptize the child. You might even volunteer that option (not sure). And I wouldn’t stop him or them from doing so. But finally, you have to do what you think is best for the child’s discipleship over the long run, even if that means you incur their anger right now.
That’s the best I got, Matt. I pray it’s wise.
I have a desire to serve as a pastor. I have been afforded opportunities to teach in my church, to preach at other churches in the area, and even participate in a internship for aspiring pastors at my church. I meet the biblical qualifications including an inward desire and an outward confirmation from some of our elders and mature men in my church.
But here’s the problem: my wife doesn’t support me in becoming an elder. She is fearful for herself of being thrust into the spotlight, so to speak, and having any attention put on her. This has become a point of contention between us and I know I must sacrifice for her and love and pray for her. I’ve tried to reassure of some of her fears, but she doesn’t believe this will be the case. Admittedly I am frustrated and angry over what I perceive to be a calling from God and her unwillingness to support me. What advice can you give me to help love her and deal with her in a godly way?
God is not calling you to be a pastor. If you don’t have your wife’s support, you are not called.
Or rather, he’s calling you to pastor your wife and only your wife. So, live with her in an understanding way. Cherish her as a weaker vessel and fellow heir. Wash her with the water of the word. Love her like you love your own body. Do not despise her. Do not nurse self-pity. Do not tell yourself that you are mature, and that she is immature, and that she is hindering you. God has purposes to work out in your life, too. Good ones! Do not tell yourself that she stands in between you and God’s big plans for you. She is God’s big plan for you. And what a remarkable plan she is, more than you deserve and better than anything you could have planned for yourself. God is good. God loves you. And he means to love you right now through the lessons and joys of pastoring her, and being loved by her. What a privilege you have!
Meanwhile, brother, share the gospel. Encourage younger people in the faith. Disciple. Pray for the church regularly. Take any teaching opportunities that she’s happy for you to take. You can pastor without being a pastor. The lack of a title is no threat to your identity. Your identity is secure in Christ. Your lack of a paycheck for being a pastor is no threat to the church. The church’s victory is certain.
One day, brother, Jesus will visibly walk into her life. You want her to recognize him because she’s spent years watching you. Your job is to get her ready for him. And he’s the one who put on the form of a servant and humbled himself to death on a cross in order to love you and her both. Will you love her like that?