A mark, a sign, a seal—-it is sometimes hard for us to get our minds around the spiritual reality of such a concept. But this story, I believe, gives us a glimpse of what it means for a child to be marked out, set apart, holy.
I recently finished reading a book to our kids that they got for Christmas called Alone, Yet Not Alone, by Tracy Leininger. It is the true story of two girls, Barbara and Regina Leininger (the author is their descendent) who were kidnapped by Indians during the French and Indian war in 1755, as part of the Penn's Creek Massacre. The girls were together for several months, and then taken to separate Iroquoian villages, where they did not meet up again while in captivity. Before they were separated, Barbara, 11 at the time, sang Regina the family’s favorite hymn, Alone Yet Not All Alone to comfort her. Barbara made her promise that no matter what happened, Regina, nine years old, would not forget the song and what it meant.
The book mainly focuses on the day to day life of Barbara living as a captive to the Indians. After being a captive for three and a half years, the chief’s son chose Barbara to be his wife and they were promised to be married. Barbara and three other captives were able to escape just before her wedding and make it to a British fort after weeks of a rough journey.
Regina never escaped, but when she was 18 years old, the French-Indian war ended and all the captives were returned to the British. Barbara and her mother walked up and down the line of over 200 captives, looking into the face of each one, and could not find Regina. It did not help that the Indians dyed the captives’ hair and skin black with walnut juice and that they were all very scrawny. Furthermore, most of the captives looked frightened and bewildered; many stared at the ground. Still, one would think that one would be able to recognize your own daughter—but they were not. Finally, they asked a captain how they should try to find their daughter. He suggested they show each captive a trinket from childhood, an heirloom, sing a song... That was it. They walked up and down the line singing Alone, Yet Not Alone. A skinny, straggly, girl rushed forward and embraced her mom and sister.
Regina had completely forgotten how to speak any German (their native tongue). But the first thing she asked her sister in Iroquoian was if she could see the book that her Dad used to read from at night. Although she had forgotten how to make sentences in German, she still could recite all the Bible verses she had learned as a child. As a nine-year-old captive, the Indians had given Regina an English baby to take care of, whose parents they had killed. Regina raised Suzanna to believe in God, and when they were alone in the woods together, out of earshot of the Indians, she would sing Alone Yet Not Alone to her. The Leiningers adopted the now nine year old Suzanna to be there own. Mrs. Leininger’s own nine-year-old had been had been ripped away from her and was returned a young women, but here was a nine-year-old orphan in need of a home. The family was never completely reunited as Mr. Leininger and one of his sons had been killed on the day the girls were kidnapped.
We asked our pastor to sprinkle the water of baptism upon our newborn daughter’s head because we believe it is a symbol of a reality that already exists: that this child is marked out by virtue of being born to Christian parents, being read the Word from infancy, being brought under the preaching of the Word weekly, and being surrounded by the body of believers. This is a baptism that is robust enough to live up to even the greatest of challenges. It is strong enough to carry a child through a torturous nine year captivity absolutely separated from everything she holds dear even when there is no reason to hope of ever returning.
The Word sanctifies and sets apart both the children who are baptized and those who are not. Yet, raising them with everything except the symbol is a little bit like eloping. Those couples who choose to forego the imagery of the marriage ceremony aren’t sinning. I believe it’s still a legitimate marriage. But some imagery is lost when there is not a celebration to preview the ultimate wedding feast that will be ours with Christ in heaven. So also, some imagery is lost when we are faithful to raise our children as if they were marked out, as if they were part of the church, as if they separate, and yet not allow them the initiation into the covenant, to be members of Christ's church.
Of course the symbol without the obedience is nothing. Had the Leiningers been baptized as infants and then never taught the Word, their empty baptism would not have marked them out and given them any faith to endure. No, it is the symbol working with the obedience that it symbolizes, that marks out our children.
Some Baptists raise their children in a manner more consistent with their refusal to baptize; others are less consistent. The consistent ones, in keeping with the view of withholding baptism, raise their children that when they become a certain age, they can make a choice whether or not they want to follow the Lord. Until then, they are not a part of the church. The inconsistent ones raise their children almost exactly like the padeobaptists. They raise them as members of his body, knowing that at some point they must believe for themselves, but assuming that it will happen very early in their life, perhaps toddlerhood. After all, isn’t that the mission of the church, to convert the unconverted! And shouldn’t we expect fruit from the toddler nursery! So if you are a Baptist, at least be an inconsistent one.