Q. I love my church, but I’ve lost confidence in the leadership ability of the council (not of the pastor). In council meetings members don’t speak, have their own agendas when they do, and don’t adhere to procedure or protocol. Other than pray, what can I do?
A. Since you know what’s happening in council meetings, you’re probably a council member. Since you feel differently about your pastor, a conversation with him or her would be beneficial. Even without that, at your next censura morum (now called “mutual censure”; see Q&A, June 2005, p. 37) you could simply say, “I think we can give better leadership to our congregation. Here’s how I think we can do that.” A pastor once said, “If you’re feeling something, don’t be afraid to express it. Probably 50 percent of the group is feeling the same.”
If you’re not a council member, the reports you’re receiving may not be accurate. Give your informant the above suggestion. If the lack of council leadership is evident even to non-council members, share your concern with your pastor and encourage him or her to address it.
Sometimes this difficulty can be solved by training. Some councils hold a retreat to discuss their leadership in the year ahead. At the beginning of each council year, I distribute a two-page sheet titled “Guidelines for Council Members.” Such training helps council members know what the procedures, protocol, and expectations are.
Q. For years I’ve struggled with infant baptism and how the Heidelberg Catechism in Q&A 74 leaps from circumcision to the baptism of infants. In every biblical instance of baptism, the person baptized accepts Christ. It’s always “believe and be baptized.” In Romans 4 Paul says Abraham was circumcised as a sign of his faith. Shouldn’t we baptize only adults?
A In response to the message of “believe and be baptized,” we see the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius, Lydia, the Philippian jailer (Acts 8, 10, 16) and adults today who respond affirmatively to that message.
To say that only adults were baptized, however, is hardly in accord with what Scripture says. The same apostle who proclaims, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (Acts 16:31), baptizes the “members of Lydia’s household,” the Philippian jailer and “all his family,” and the “household of Stephanas” (Acts 16:15, 33; 1 Cor. 1:16). It’s difficult to assert that there were no young children in those households.
But infant baptism has been practiced by almost the entire church from the beginning not because of a particular text or two but because of the Bible’s description of God’s dealing with believers. In Genesis 17 God commands Abraham, the father of believers, to circumcise his children when they are 8 days old as a sign that God is their God too. At Mt. Sinai God brings the covenant with Abraham to provisional fulfillment with the nation of Israel, the children of Abraham. The New Testament refers to this as the “old covenant” (2 Cor. 3:14) or the “first covenant” (Heb. 8:7).
The new covenant that Jesus establishes fulfills the purpose and promises of the covenant made with Abraham. As the sign of the covenant with Abraham is cut in the flesh of Abraham’s children in their infancy, so the sign of the new covenant, baptism, is applied in infancy to the children of believers who through faith in Christ have become children of Abraham.
Picture a person responding in faith to Peter’s call at Pentecost to believe and then asking, “In the old covenant, the sign that our children were incorporated into God’s family was circumcision. What is the sign in this new covenant?” Would the answer have been, “There is none, but we encourage you to dedicate yourself to the training of your children so someday they’ll be able to express the same faith that you do”?
God’s relationship to believers is much richer than that. It’s a relationship that flows from God’s grace and does not depend on our efforts, no matter how crucial those efforts are.
The biggest difficulty in any discussion of baptism occurs when Christians give the impression that baptism saves. That’s not true for infants or for adults.
About the Author
George Vander Weit is a retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.