Sunday, April 26, 2009

Infant Faith

In the notes on the baptismal rite, our hymnal tells us that
When the candidate is unable to speak,
sponsors may be appointed
to speak in his or her stead.

The pastor addresses the questions ("Do you renounce the devil?" ... "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?" ...) to the baptismal candidate. Not to the sponsors. The sponsors are not answering the questions, although they are voicing the answers. It is the child who is answering the questions, through the voice of the sponsors.

This is not something new. This is the catholic position. This is what I've been taught all my life as a Lutheran. When I was taught in Sunday School about my baptism, the teachers told me that what happened in baptism was mine. It wasn't something done in view of a faith I would have someday. It wasn't something that belonged to my parents and thus would be my heritage too. It was my own.

Because of this, I am always astounded when I hear pastors say of children they themselves have baptized in recent months, "We don't know what this baby believes. He hasn't told us; he can't tell us."

This came up again last week in a conversation on a friend's blog. On the one hand, we say that of course infants can have faith. We say that God brings babies to faith, makes them alive in Him, and joins them to Himself, all through His grace and not through any merit of their own. Just as He does for me and for you. But the same pastors will turn around and say that we don't know what the child believes.

We say that the confession of sin and the confession of faith made in Baptism is the child's very own confession. And then we say two or three months later that we haven't heard this child's confession to be able to ascertain what he believes. Well? Which is it? It is the child's confession or is it not?

I think we don't take seriously what's going on in Baptism.


  1. Susan, I've been thinking about your post the last day or so and trying to sort this out for myself. I would like to see communion separated from confirmation, and I would like to see younger first communions. But I have trouble wrapping my mind around communing infants or very young children and I am trying to figure out why. I totally get what you're saying about the faith that it is given in baptism. It is the child's faith and no one else's. So then why do we need to have that faith verbalized or articulated before the child communes?

    I think for me it has to do with the horizontal aspect of the Christian life. As Christians we have a vertical relationship with God, but we also have a horizontal relationship in Christ with one another, and one expression of that horizontal relationship is the Lord's supper. By communing at the same table we are not only communing with our Lord but with each other and in doing so we are confessing that we subscribe to the same articles of faith. So even though I know my Roman Catholic mother has faith and is saved in Christ, I can't commune with her because she does not subscribe to all the articles of faith that I do. Maybe that's why I am not sure about having very young children at the communion rail--they may have baptismal faith, but do they have the same understanding of all the aspects of that faith that I do?

    Now I understand that we are talking about communing infants/children that we baptized LCMS. But it is my understanding that even though they have been baptized into the one true faith they need to receive instruction in all the particulars of that faith and be able to confess that faith to their brothers and sisters in Christ in order to come to the table. And maybe that's as much for the benefit of the brethren as anything--so that those who are at the table can have the confidence of knowing that they are of one mind with their tablemates.

    Is this a fides quae/fides qua thing? (I always get those two mixed up.)

    I am going way out on a shaky limb here, so please be gentle with me. I'm not a theological wonk or a lifelong Lutheran like you. Just thinking out loud as I try to sort out my own thoughts on this issue.

  2. Cheryl, I'm not sure if you were following the other discussion. I know you read that blog, so I suspect you've seen the original posts, if not the extensive follow-up discussion in the comments. That discussion, like my comments here, really are not at all about infant communion. (I put the label "infant communion" on this post because I think it pertains to that subject too.)

    So there's the part of me that wants to respond to your musings on infant communion. But on the other hand, I don't want to get into that. The thing that I am noticing here is the propensity we all have to say what you said: "need to have that faith verbalized or articulated." That means, doncha see?, that we don't believe that the child's confession of faith in baptism is actually his confession of faith. We think it's somebody else's confession of faith made on his behalf. Or we think it's only the confession of the congregation into which he is baptized. But we don't really think that it's HIS.

  3. I have read the post you're referring to, although I can't say I've carefully digested all the comments (I have skimmed some). And I guess my thoughts went to infant communion because it seemed to me that was a significant part of the discussion on that post. It also seems that's when this issue of wanting a child to be able to confess his or her faith comes up--as a preliminary step to communion. But I understand that's not the point of your post and I don't expect you to get into that. Maybe one of these days, when I actually see you in person, we can have that discussion! Maybe sooner rather than later? :-)

    So I guess what I'm trying to figure out is whether--as I think you're saying--the desire to have a child be able to verbalize or articulate his faith necessarily means you don't think the child has faith. I would scratch my head along with you at a pastor who says he doesn't know what a child he has baptized believes. The child has been baptized into the one true faith--that one true faith is now his. That's what he believes. End of story.

    But once the child has verbal ability, I think it's only natural to expect him to be able to articulate the faith into which he has been baptized and to show an understanding of the basic articles of that faith. Does that mean I think he doesn't have faith before he is able to do that? Not at all. He just couldn't talk yet. That's why his sponsors/parents talked for him at baptism. But faith sings, right? It can't be contained. It just bubbles out. So when the child does get to the point of development that he can talk about his need for physical nourishment, or a trip to the bathroom, or a toy or whatever, it seems logical to expect him to start verbalizing his faith as well.

    I still kind of wonder if this isn't a fides quae/fides qua thing. The child is baptized into the fides qua, right? That's what we get in baptism? But as he grows up part of walking in faith is being able to articulate the content of that faith--the fides quae. Or am I getting those mixed up?

    Thanks for making me think, Susan. It's good for me, and these days I tend to avoid this deep stuff.

  4. #1. The reason your thoughts went to infant communion on the other blog's comment-page was because a certain person brought it up as a red herring.

    #2. In your second paragraph there, you said rightly that the child still has faith even though he cannot speak yet to tell you so. But what I am also saying is that the child DID articulate his faith at baptism. We don't take seriously enough that what the sponsors voiced is something that the child himself "said."

    #3. I looked up the Latin phrases. I can never remember them either (and honestly I don't care much about hanging onto those Latin terms). Fides qua is "trustingness" and fides quae is The Faith, the doctrine.
    The child, because he has faith (trustingness, "qua") is baptized into The Faith (quae). As he grows up, he grows in his ability to express all sorts of things. Like you said, a kid learns to express the fact that he's hungry. But later he learns to express what kind of food he's hungry for, and later yet that his hunger can't be satisfied by a Snickers (even though his mouth would like one) but what he really craves is some steamed carrots or lentil soup. There is growth in that. There is growth in ability to fix things, and it starts with putting the toys in the toy box to fix the messy floor, and it progresses to fixing torn paper with tape or glue, and progresses from there to fixing a broken chair or a broken bathroom vent or a broken transmission. Likewise, a child increases in his ability to express the Faith.

    I think the different points of view on the other blog stem from several different things. One is how much a child should be able to express before communing, and whether a child believes it prior to being able to express it.

    And just to give you something else to ponder...
    you mentioned in the first comment that it's important that the fellow-communicants are assured that the child ascribes to the same articles of faith that we do. How far does that go? There are differences I have with all sorts of LCMS people on all sorts of things. Does that mean I ought not commune with them? Under that standard, would the me-of-today even be okay with communing with the me-of-ten-years-ago? Probably not. And is it different for children than it is for adults? There are adult catechumens that have been brought our congregation in the last few years, and I suspect that they don't have the same understanding of doctrine that I have. (Even my son-in-law is still not totally sure about this whole matter of creation vs evolution.)

    This is where I find it very very important that we understand the reasons for closed communion. Sometimes a person will confess his sin, his trust in Christ alone as Savior, and a confidence that the true body and blood of Christ are in the Supper, given and shed for the forgiveness of unworthy sinners. But if he is connected to a pulpit and altar that teaches things contrary to this, he is not communed at our altars. And it's because FAITH LIVES FROM THE WORD PREACHED TO US. If we are connected to a pulpit that teaches in error, what we hear will influence what we believe, and may lead us astray. If we are connected to a pulpit that teaches rightly, what we hear will influence what we believe: it will continue to create a right trust within us.

    Point is, it's not so much what is going on in a person's head with regard to understanding doctrine (although that IS a good thing), but what is more critical is what is being poured into that person's EAR day in and day out. What we hear CREATES what we believe -- for good or for bad. And that's why it doesn't trouble me to commune with people who say off-base things in Bible class, because I know the truth and rightness of the words being preached to them. And likewise, that's why it doesn't trouble Pastor to commune me, despite all the erroneous things I say and believe, because it's about what Jesus gives to me, and about the word being preached to me. Sinners need medicine, even though they're sick. Actually, BECAUSE they're sick. This doesn't mean it's okay for me to start spouting things contrary to God's word and renouncing the faith given to me! But sometimes we put more emphasis on my expression of what I know about doctrine than we put on the doctrine which is delivered to us and which then shapes our trust in Christ alone.

  5. "And just to give you something else to ponder..."

    Thanks, Susan . . . I think. :-) But my thinker is sore. And even if it weren't I'm not sure I can articulate my thoughts on this matter at this time. ;-) I'll probably be coming back to you one of these days with more questions, though. It's so nice to know you're there. I feel kind of like a little kid pulling at Mommy's skirts . . . "Mommy, Mommy, I have a question . . . " :-)