Saturday, February 11, 2006

Pastor Fridfeldt on Infant Baptism and Faith

Without getting up from his chair, Fridfeldt made reply.

"I am surely betraying no secret when I tell you, my friends, that the conversations we have had hitherto have only brought me closer to the baptism of adults. I have learned to understand those who permit themselves to be re-baptized. This morning I prayed to God in great anguish for direction in this matter. I am convinced that God has answered my prayer."

No one dared breathe. Ahlberg bowed his head in his hand as though he scarcely dared look at the pastor for fear that the tension might be too much for him.

"The answer which I believe I have received from God" continued the pastor [Fridfeldt], "really lies in a question which God forced me to fact this morning through a special providential experience. This question I want to now want to bring to the attention of all of you here."

Everyone, Ahlberg included, looked intently at him.

"Can a little child be saved? And, if so, on what grounds?"

The answer came from many directions. "Yes 'for of such is the kingdom of God.'" "Yes, for Jesus said, 'Suffer the little children to come unto me.'"

"On that, then, we are agreed," said the pastor with a nod. "But on what ground?"

They looked at him questioningly.

"I mean, are children prepared to enter the kingdom of God just as they are, or must they too, be made partakers of the salvation of Christ?"

"They must be saved by Jesus, " said one of the farmers from Sörbygden, "Is it not written, 'That which is born of flesh is flesh, ' and 'Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God?"

"That is, without doubt, what is written," said Fridfeldt, "and without doubt the Scripture means that all mankind from Adam on is under the rule of sin and death. There is none righteous, and all are included under the judgment. But all can be redeemed in Christ. It had not until today occurred to me that this included the children. The sinful corruption about which we were talking a while ago is the natural state also of the children. That was what I was led to see this morning. And I think all of you must have seen the same thing."

"Yes, everyone must surely know that," said a peasant woman from the big woods country. "I have raised nine children. Some were gentler and some more stubborn in disposition, but long before they were able to talk plain, they could show envy, fight, and try grab another's syrup sandwich. That is inborn."

A smile stole through the congregation. Mother Ahlberg opened a window toward the yard. It was very warm.

"Yes, that is inborn," said Fridfeldt. "We carry our corrupt sinful nature with us from the cradle. From life's first day we belong to the race that is under judgment and in need of salvation."

Ahlberg began to detect in what direction the discussion was leading. Thoughtfully, he remarked, "But is it not written that the little children do belong to the kingdom of God?"

"No, the passage states that 'of such' is the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God belongs to the children and the childlike. That is the very opposite. The children needed to come to Jesus to become partakers in the kingdom of God, just as much as publicans and all other sinners. That is why they must not be turned away. Jesus did not say, 'Let them play in peace. They are already blessed.' Instead, he said, 'Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.' Then he laid his hands upon them and blessed them, and received them into his kingdom."

"But he did not baptize them!"

"Neither did he baptize anyone else. He took people directly into his kingdom. But to his church he has given baptism, that through this gateway we might be brought into the kingdom of God. He has given us no other way of entrance. 'Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.'"

"But children cannot believe," said Ahlberg, whose eagerness was increasing. The others listened in complete silence. "'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.' Thus faith is necessary for baptism."

"No, not for baptism, but for salvation. Jesus does not in that passage say what is necessary in order to be baptized, but what is necessary in order to be saved. Faith and baptism are two that belong to salvation. Don't you see, Ahlberg, how dreadful it would be if children could not believe? In that case they could not be saved, either."

Fridfeldt was himself startled by this thought, which just now came to him. Was this just juggling with words? But then he remembered Frans, the dying old man, and his grandchild, and he felt there was a deep and edifying connection.

"If may well be that we have drawn wrong conclusions regarding faith," he continued. "Faith does not dwell in the brain or in our thoughts. Faith is not a work which we accomplish; it is not a gift we give to God. Being made righteous by faith does not imply that faith is some kind of payment that will serve as well as our almsgiving and good works. Is it not written that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are poor in spirit? Faith is, then, a poverty of spirit, a hunger and thirst a poor, empty heart opening toward God so that He can put His grace into it. When God bestows His grace upon us, we are born anew and become partakers of the new life."

The farmers from Sörbygden nodded assent. Those who followed the leadership of Ahlberg had a questioning look. Ahlberg himself looked intently at Fridfeldt. It was evident that this was new to him, but also that he was honestly trying to understand it.

"But must not a man nevertheless open his heart himself?" he asked.

"Of course -- if he has himself closed it. But I am wondering if it is not so with the little children, that their hearts are not really closed to God. Why do little children more easily enter the kingdom of God than we grown-ups? Why do we read that unless we received the kingdom as little children we shall not at all enter it? Why do we as adults have to become like little children in order to enter the kingdom? Is it not because a child's heart is open so that God can fill it with his grace, shed his Spirit upon it, and regenerate it? When we grow older it becomes more difficult, for then resistance begins; we are stubborn and evasive and shut up our heart by intentional sins. Not until the heart is open in conversion have we become as little children -- and then we can enter again into the kingdom."

He became silent, utterly surprised at his flow of words. But he had caught a vision, had glimpsed a solution to his search. In order not to lose it, he began to speak again. . . .

From Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God, pp. 182-85.