Cycles of Life

Even in an increasingly secular world, the church is still called upon to validate major events in our life cycle, such as marriages and graduations. But the two life cycle events par excellence are birth and death. No one enters this world except via the former, and no one exits this world except via the latter.

This is no less true in the light of the Christian doctrine of the life everlasting. Christian faith does relativize our earthly life cycle in the light of God’s eternity, but we enter the life everlasting only by way of this life. Christ lived and died and rose again for us in this life. And we respond in faith to his saving work on our behalf in this life.

Most major traditions of historic Christian faith recognize the birth of a child via baptism or christening, symbolizing the child’s inclusion in the Family of Faith. We Baptists and related traditions in the “evangelical” wing of Anglo-American Protestantism and — increasingly — emerging churches around the globe, reserve baptism — as per our reading of scripture (Acts 8: 26–39, 10: 34–48, 16: 25–34) — for those who have confessed for themselves faith in Jesus Christ. But we gladly and joyfully dedicate our children to the Lord before the congregation, and pledge ourselves to support the new parents as they endeavor to raise this child “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

And when the saints of God, our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, are called ahead to the Lord’s more direct presence, whether early or late, we celebrate their lives in the midst of the congregation, giving thanks for them and offering compassionate support to all who grieve them. Often persons who are not explicitly part of the household of God are present at these two universal life cycle events, as we acknowledge before our Creator and Redeemer both the beginning and the end of life. Here the Church speaks to universal human experience; I pray that we speak well.

From March through June of this year First Baptist Church celebrated the lives of four beloved, longtime members of our congregation: Rosie and Bob McAllister, Alexis Bishop and Zelma Stelle. Each of them had gone in and out before the Lord and his people for more than ninety years. We feel diminished by their loss, in spite of our faith. But during this same period of time — more precisely, from May through July — four first-born children arrived to parents connected to our congregation: Christian Otsuki, Michael Baranovich, Eleanor Greer and Adelynd Newberg.

Times are changing all around us; commentators ruminate upon the “decline” of the Church, and — truth be told — these four sets of new parents are far less likely to stay put in one community and one congregation for decades, as did the four senior saints we just named. But Christ himself promised that his Church would endure, and would represent and bear witness to him through all the changes of history, politics and culture (Matthew 16: 18–19). God and his Christ are faithful through the cycles of our lives. May we offer our grateful faithfulness in return.

—Dr. David L. Wheeler