Baby Christian

Baby Christian: A believer who is satisfied to stay in the shallows of Gospel truth rather than plunging into the depths of doctrine. Derived from Hebrews 5, in which the author admonishes the slow-to-learn for needing milk when they should be eating solid food. Synonym: “Sunday Christian.”

It is spring, and he is three, so naturally, it’s all about the worms.

I have his grandpa (Papi) to thank for this, as he’s the one who introduced Dane to the world beneath the world. Lift a rock, and you’ll find all manner of creepy crawly things. You can pull them out with your bare hands and let them wiggle around in your palm.

He crouches by the pond, almost disappearing into the landscape of it: his hair the color of cattails, his sweatshirt gray like the water.

He digs into the earth until his fingernails are caked-under with mud. When he finds one, it’s all wonder and excitement, his voice careening across the yard. “Mom! I found a worm!”

*

It always carried a bit of an undertone when we said it. Baby Christian. She was the one who was not doing enough, not committed enough, not moving forward quickly enough. She flit along the surface of her faith, and we pitied her for it.

Even Amy Grant, the musical sweetheart of the evangelical world in the ‘80s and ‘90s, wrote a song about the phenomenon. It was called “Fat Baby,” and in the catchy, poppy chorus, she belted: 

He’s just a fat little baby.
He wants his bottle
And he don’t mean maybe.
He’s sampled solid food
Once or twice
But he says doctrine
Leaves him cold as ice.

It was not the best. Admittedly, I used to sing it in the shower.

*

It is spring, and he is one, so naturally, he’s tasting everything.

A leaf from the lilac tree. A stick. A piece of dog food. A paint fleck peeled from our aging deck. A nickel. I am fishing things out of his mouth regularly, making him angry, because he is not done exploring it, for crying out loud.

He is cruising along the furniture, bending to pick something up and pop it into his mouth. His world is expanding before him and he wants to touch it all, taste it all, understand it all.

*

If we’re honest about it, we’ll admit that knowledge is a faulty measure of faith.

The evangelical line-graph of life looks like a straight line, angling ever upward, life getting easier as your spiritual knowledge increases.

But if we were to draw it out honestly, faith would look more like the jagged up-and-down on the screen of a heart-rate monitor. Up. Down. Easy. Hard. Faithful. Faithless.

Which makes sense, as in the end, faith is mostly about the heart.

*

My babies are growing. I see them pushing toward it every day. They’ll learn in their bones what it looks like to be gentle, to not hit, to not hurt, and they need to learn that. They need to grow.

But right now, they know wonder. They hold pieces of the world in their hands and are filled with amazement.

When Dane comes in from his play, dirt-streaked and sweaty, he might throw a moderate tantrum, but then he will say, “Maybe we can hold the worms tomorrow,” and he has no reason not to hope. To believe that tomorrow will be every bit as wonderful as today.

Jesus told his followers to “become like the little children,” (Mt. 18:1-4), and I think about Liam, who is learning to walk. While I am clinging precariously to the same old edges of my own small life, he is taking wobbly steps from here to there. Five steps. Then seven, and I can think of no better picture of faith.

In my own darkness, I struggle to call out. But for them, these boys, there is no reason not to. No reason not to cry for your mother at night, no reason to doubt that she will come.

We grow and we learn, but in the end, all the deepest parts of faith are already there. In the end, it’s as simple and complicated as faith, hope, wonder, love.

In the end, it’s like holding that worm, putting him down, waiting for tomorrow.

16 thoughts on “Baby Christian

  1. When I heard pastors and youth leaders warn us to not remain babes, but to seek solid food, it always meant getting more bible and theological knowledge. For a long time I, in effect, thought that when I get to the pearly gates, St. Peter was going to hand be a multiple-choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank test on bible knowledge and on doctrine. And I was rather proud and pleased that I would do so well and get a nice mansion on paved streets rather than a tar-paper shack on a dirt road in heaven.

    Then I thought about other christians I knew who had little bible or theological knowledge, some like Philip and Joey whose Downs Syndrome kept them from deep bible and theological knowledge. I thought about christians in parts of the world that don’t have resources or opportunities to pursue serious bible and theological knowledge. I thought of all the good and great people of the bible who had less bible and theological knowledge than me.

    So I began to wonder if the contrast between milk and meat wasn’t referring to the intellectual complexity of one’s bible knowledge and doctrine. I began to wonder if it meant to contrast those who have relied on Christ for having restored them to a proper God-relation and those who in addition to that have pursued being more like Christ. And then I began to feel less comfortable. I expected to get an A on my imagined St. Peter’s objective test. Being more like Christ? I have a lot of work to do.

  2. Oh, Addie! The definition of “baby christian” that you laid out in the beginning line set my heart on fire! Before reading on I had to text a friend of mine who is beginning to see how much fear her church holds her under. I too went to this same church for four years. I am thankful for much learned in those four walls, but must admit the prosperity, fear, sheparding movement teachings that took place. The word “Baby Christian” was placed on me as tho it was my name given at birth. There were many others named the same and still are. Thankfully God lead us up out of that ministry sitting us gently in a sanctuary that taught Grace. We were learning this for the first time. You have helped me to see that in fact I was not some baby that was unworthy to serve God. Just because I did not follow their self imposed doctrines did not mean that I wasn’t growing. My pursuit to dig deep and ask questions actually showed the contrary. Forgive me for my ranting…I honestly could stand up and give a shout of joy!

    1. Jennifer, I’m so glad that this was so meaningful for you and simultaneously, so sad about the way people used this phrase to write you off. So many wounds we inflict on one another on this journey. We get it so often wrong.

      You are worthy, valuable, able to be used simply because you are his. There is no amount of knowledge or wisdom or “spiritual maturity,” that could make you more beautiful, more beloved, more capable of great things.

  3. Addie, you have such a valuable voice! I love the way you are breaking down these Christian terms that are harmful to our souls.

    How did we extrapolate “baby” as a descriptive word that someone is lacking in faith, when Jesus holds up faith like a child? Your evaluation is right on.

    Kids are filled with wonder and joy, something many of us as adults are lacking. (Hope you don’t mind if I link to a post I did about that. Contagious Joy http://everydayawe.com/2012/02/07/contagious-joy).

    I do think we should help people grow in their faith. To understand that a life of faith is about much more than going to church. But it has to be done in a way that inspires, not demeans. And somehow, can we inspire people to grow in knowledge without losing the wonder? Can we inspire people to grow in service without losing the Sabbath? I hope so.

    1. It’s a beautiful post, Stephanie. So glad you linked it here. Yes, inspiring growth without implying that people are not good enough as they are. It’s a tricky line, and it seems so easy to miss the mark.

    2. That is a beautiful post, Stephanie. Thanks for linking to it. My mom used to tell a story of how, as a 4-year-old, I emerged from an exploration of the wooded ravine behind our house proclaiming joyfully that I had found God’s garden. I had a close, intimate relationship with my Creator long before I ever cracked open a Bible. Somewhere along the way to adulthood, I lost that awe-struck heart and even the faith of an unknowing child. I am slowly regaining it. I pray we teach our children the beauty of unknowing, the beauty of “I don’t know.” I also wrote about child-like wonder and joy — just a few days ago. I am encouraged that we are all coming at the beauty of awe from different directions.

      Click through my name for more.

    1. Thanks Shari. And yes, I had that song in my head all day after I wrote it. *cringe*

  4. “And he don’t mean maybe…” Ouch! I want to cover my eyes so that I never read another line like that again. Ha!

    I love how you juxtaposed the tension of childlike faith and Christian maturity. There’s some irony that those who have childlike faith will stand in wonder of God’s goodness and then crave the deeper things of God. There’s a lot here to…. drink on? Chew on?

    1. She had some great songs. This was not one of them. 😉

      Yes, wonder in itself is a worthy response to the goodness of God. It’s a portal through which he teaches us his heart.

  5. Love. this. “But right now, they know wonder. They hold pieces of the world in their hands and are filled with amazement.” Every Thursday I sit with people who are on this faith journey, most are early early in the process and yes, they know wonder. They know how amazing this is. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Marilyn. I agree. I think the more you get caught up in the arguments and the complexities and the volumes of “doctrine,” the easier it is to lose that. To think you “get” God is a sort of sad, empty place to be.

  6. Addie! How do you do this? How do you pull out such timely truths in these reflections of yours? I love how you pull back the veil from these worn expressions and then breathe new life into them. Thank you, dear friend!

  7. The most common complaint among so-called mature, evangelical church-goers? “I’m not getting fed.” Last time I checked, it’s babies that need to be fed. Grown ups feed themselves. Ironic. So they walk. Away from conflict, unresolved, passive-aggresive, all incredibly immature behaviors, while pridefully seeing themselves as the mature. They view spiritual growth as a function of attending and learning. They run when asked to have their heart examined. When challenged to a life of transparency.
    And while I’m complaining, anyone notice that most times people mistake the “milk vs. solid food” passages for “gospel vs. history/doctrine” preaching. Big mistake. If one believes one ever out-grows the gospel, that one, in a most immature way, doesn’t yet understand the gospel.

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