Student: Mr. Gibbs, we got into this long discussion about infant baptism in theology class and heard about all these different beliefs regarding baptism. What do you think? Should we baptize infants?
Gibbs: Should who baptize babies? You?
Student: No. Should anyone baptize babies? What is your personal belief on the matter?
Gibbs: That is not a matter about which I have a personal belief. I simply do what my church tells me to do.
Student: And what does your church tell you to do?
Gibbs: My church baptizes babies.
Student: Then why didn’t you just say so?
Gibbs: Because you asked, “Should we baptize infants?” and it matters an awful lot who is being asked the question. Are babies baptized at your church?
Gibbs: Then you should not baptize babies. You should obey those whom God has placed in authority over you.
Student: That seems so relativistic.
Student: Do you obey your church unwillingly?
Gibbs: People do things begrudgingly, but never unwillingly. “If the will won’t will, nothing can force it,” as Dante teaches.
Student: Do you wish your church didn’t baptize babies?
Gibbs: No, I am happy they do.
Student: Then it is your personal belief that babies should be baptized and you are telling me to do something which you believe wrong.
Gibbs: This might seem terribly nit-picky, but I am not content that you and I mean the same thing when we refer to “personal beliefs.” It is my personal belief that Sofia Coppola is a great filmmaker. It is my personal belief that Christian schools should, from this time forward, be named after saints and not Latin words. However, it is not my personal belief that babies should be baptized. I personally participate in the corporate faith of my church that babies should be baptized, but my belief that babies should be baptized was not arrived at personally.
Student: So it would be wrong for me to baptize a baby?
Gibbs: Under some circumstances, sure. But the same goes for me.
Student: Like what?
Gibbs: If you brought a bucket of water to a shopping mall and walked around baptizing the babies of strangers.
Student: Well, that’s obviously wrong.
Student: No one has the right to do that.
Gibbs: Agreed. Why else?
Student: I’ve never heard of anyone doing that.
Gibbs: Yes, that’s generally a good reason to avoid doing something. Why else?
Student: It’s just weird.
Gibbs: Yes, it would be immoderate and imprudent. What is more, your church would not condone such a thing. And while it does not really matter for this conversation, neither would my church condone you doing such a thing. So we agree that babies should only be baptized under certain circumstances.
Student: But the “circumstances” at your church are different than the “circumstances” at my church, right?
Student: So your church thinks my church is wrong, and you think my church is wrong.
Gibbs: Where do you go to church?
Student: First Church of Thus and Such.
Gibbs: The matter is not that I think your church is wrong, but that I’ve sworn obedience and loyalty to my church, instead. I know very little about your church. You should be loyal and obedient to your church, though.
Student: Even if they teach wrong things?
Gibbs: How much do you actually know about your church?
Student: What do you mean?
Gibbs: How old is your denomination?
Student: I’m not sure.
Gibbs: Does your church have a statement of faith?
Student: I think so.
Gibbs: What does it say?
Student: I haven’t read it.
Gibbs: How is your church different than a Lutheran church or a Methodist church?
Student: I don’t know.
Gibbs: Who are the most important theologians in the last hundred years of your denomination’s history?
Student: Again, I don’t know. All I know is that my church doesn’t baptize babies, but I think they should. It just seems right to baptize babies. They’re babies.
Gibbs: You don’t sound like you’re in much of a position to judge your church.
Student: Why not?
Gibbs: By your own admission, you simply don’t know enough about your church. You don’t know why your church holds to the doctrines it teaches. It is very dangerous to treat all the churches and all the doctrines of the world as products on a shelf which can be picked up or set down as they suit you. That makes people arrogant and shallow.
Student: But you yourself have said that you don’t know why your own church teaches certain doctrines, but you believe in those doctrines nonetheless. It’s not as though someone needs a PhD from Duke Divinity School just to know what’s true about God.
Gibbs: Of course. I don’t know off the top of my head what my church teaches about, say, the book of Enoch, but I accept the teaching, whatever it is— perhaps in the same way I do not know what a mitochondria does, but I will gladly accept whatever a science textbook claims it does. But such a model of belief is entirely different than what you’re proposing.
Student: How so?
Gibbs: I’m obedient to the science textbook’s claims about the mitochondria and I am obedient to what my church teaches about the book of Enoch. You might enjoy the fact that another church baptizes babies, but you’re not being obedient to that church.
Student: So I should be obedient to my church?
Gibbs: At the age of sixteen? Absolutely. Come on, though. I’m a classical educator. What did expect me to say? “Follow your heart”? “Be true to yourself”? At sixteen, being obedient to your church matters far more to God than a rogue search for theological truth, especially given the fact that your search is being conducted with such tawdry tools.
Student: My tools aren’t tawdry. I’m being led by the Holy Spirit.
Gibbs: A bold claim. But if you haven’t bothered to read your own church’s statement of faith, I simply don’t believe theology matters that much to you.
Student: Fine, but this one particular issue matters to me.
Gibbs: Good. Let us see how much it matters to you over the course of the next twelve months. Talk with your pastor about it. Talk with the elders at your church about it.
Student: I really got you wrong. I thought you would be pleased that someone believed something that your church taught.
Gibbs: If that belief is not the result of obedience and loyalty, then it matters very little. I could tell you about a hundred other doctrines my church teaches, and you might be sympathetic to a dozen or so, but it would not matter to me anymore than it would matter to the Chinese government that you enjoyed Tan Dun’s score to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Student: Don’t you want me to be obedient to the Truth?
Gibbs: I’m a classical teacher, not a Romantic poet. When I think of Truth, I think of God— however, I also think of a divine thing which has been slowly, painstakingly revealed by men and nature through the crucible of time. The Truth is not a thing which a rudderless, guideless novice suddenly sets out to find on his own. A classical education is not about giving you the tools to find the Truth by yourself, although a classical education can show you what horror befalls men who try to do so.
Student: Are you saying I should believe everything my church teaches?
Gibbs: Whenever the subject of obedience to anyone or anything comes up, modern people always ask that question. And they always say “everything” the way you just said it now. And then they begin asking hypothetical questions involving outlandish scenarios wherein their church begins teaching there are five persons in the Trinity or that everyone ought to commit suicide.
Student: Aren’t those fair questions? What if?
Gibbs: Are you aware that for thousands of years, sane and productive human beings had long conversations about loyalty and obedience without ever lapsing into bizarre hypothetical scenarios like the ones I just mentioned? Modern Americans, even American Christians, cannot talk about loyalty for more than two seconds without severely hedging their bets and stating their limits. We are far more interested in the bizarre circumstances in which we would not be loyal than in the normal circumstances in which we must be loyal. We think it is reasonable to be always skeptical of our churches simply because we can imagine our churches telling us to do awful things. It’s like a man who dreams his wife stabbed him and then, once awake, he never trusts her with so much as a butter knife ever again. At the end of the day, it is far more likely that you will begin believing in five persons of the Trinity than it is your church will begin teaching there are five persons in the Trinity.
Student: But what about all the cults out there that con people into doing evil things? Wouldn’t it be better if the people in those cults had thought like individuals?
Gibbs: And what about all those individuals out there who con themselves into doing evil things? Wouldn’t it be better if they acted according to the dictates and precepts of some longstanding institution?
Student: So, what would you say to someone who was in a cult? “Be loyal to your cult”?
Gibbs: No. I’d ask, “What were you doing before you joined this cult? Go back to that.” Cults tend to be short-lived, which means they don’t last long enough to become traditional. I tend to put little faith in things which aren’t traditional, as you know. I encourage loyalty to old things.
Student: This all sounds really suspicious. I thought this school taught truth, beauty, and goodness. What you’re saying boils down to obedience and that’s it. Truth, beauty, and goodness take a back seat to doing as you’re told.
Gibbs: That’s somewhat true. Truth, beauty, and goodness are what classicists pursue, but we are not free to define those things as we like, neither are we free to pursue them however we like. Classicism proposes truth, beauty, and goodness as the proper objects of human longing, but our knowledge of these things doesn’t fall from the sky. It has been slowly and patiently revealed over thousands of years.
Student: So why should I go to my pastor with questions about infant baptism? Why don’t I merely resort to classical texts?
Gibbs: Because your approach to classical texts needs to be arbitrated through the authorities whom God has placed over you. I teach virtue. In fourteen years of teaching virtue, I have been able to do far more for students who stood up for their churches than for students who criticized their churches and were too cool for loyalty and obedience.
Gibbs: Because it doesn’t matter if you have the truth today if you have no plan to be faithful to the truth it when more attractive options come along. It’s one thing to switch churches, but another thing to undertake a never-ending ecclesiastical tour.
Student: We’re talking about one doctrine here. One doctrine. One doctrine in my church which I don’t like. Am I not allowed to disagree on one thing?
Gibbs: You will have to take that up with your pastor. What concerns me at the moment is not the volume of doctrines you take exception to, but the way in which you take this exception. It would be one thing for a grown woman in your church— who understands the history of your denomination and has read the Bible and read significant theologians within your denomination— to have reservations about some points in the statement of faith. It is another thing for a teenager who knows very little about her own church to abruptly decide that other churches have more attractive doctrines and that she was free to embrace them as she saw fit.
Student: So, what do I do with the doubts I have about my church?
Gibbs: Do what Mary did. Treasure up these things in your heart and ponder them often. Wait. Study. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. If you’re being led by the Holy Spirit, as you claim, this will all be easy.
Gibbs: Because the Holy Spirit is good at helping us do things we don’t want to do.