baby christianGrowing up in the Deep South, I heard my fair share of churchy catchphrases. One of them is making a comeback (or it’s been here for years?), and I’m calling horse manure. Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, stop calling people “Baby Christians.”

The first time I heard this phrase I was in high school. One of my closest and most faithful girlfriends was telling me all about this new guy she was dating. He was undeniably handsome, somewhat debonair, and, as she put it, a “Baby Christian.” I asked her immediately what this insider religious lingo meant. “Oh,” she said as if I had asked her who Jesus was, “it just means you haven’t been Christian that long. So you just don’t really get it, yet.”

I was baffled. I still am. Not only is it patronizing, but it seems to undermine Jesus’s profound love of the youngest. Also, it doesn’t take into account all of those folks who just started faithfully following Jesus around. The woman at the well, the disciples, even that kid with two fishes and five loaves of bread were, it turns out, just Baby Christians. They probably didn’t get it yet.

church-of-the-tardis-fbI know what intentions lie behind this phrase, and they’re pretty wholesome. “Baby Christians” are bowled over by the love of Jesus. They cannot believe the goodness of Christian community. And perhaps, they wake up each morning in total denial and total acceptance of the unrelenting merciful Grace they’ve been given. Well, get me a t-shirt and teach me the handshake, because I’m still in that club.

There’s a fantastic episode of Doctor Who called “Gridlock” where our hero finds himself in an alternative universe where everyone is trapped in a car for their entire lives. People are in an endless traffic jam. They have literally set up homes within their vehicles. They blindly tell one another that they will eventually get to their elusive “destination.” But of course, they never do.

In the final scene the Doctor pleads with one of the characters that their situation is entirely hopeless:

“What if there’s no help coming, not ever? What if there’s nothing? Just the motorway. With the cars going round and round and round and round, never stopping. Forever?”

The answer, according to the writers of Doctor Who, is a very well-known church hymn:

This classification of Baby Christians, just beginning their spiritual journeys, also bothers me because I’m not even sure I believe in spiritual journeys. At least not in the way we tend to conceive of them. I think we are all in a big circle where we drive around captured by the same sins and the same pain. Yet just out the window we see and feel the relief Jesus has to offer. We see our final place of peace in those momentary glances. And we take enormous comfort and consolation in knowing that we have an Advocate with the Father.

It is Jesus who makes us whole. And not this pyramid scheme of Christianity that we seem to all be counting on. It is on that old rugged cross that we see the only journey anyone ever actually took. Not us, but Him. We must guard against the temptation to turn our religious lives into one more place where we have to prove ourselves. If for no other reason, then we will lose the wonder, the sheer magnitude of what has happened to us.

In Between Noon and Three, Robert Capon writes:

“Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world. It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its cassations to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening, until the prodigals come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears.”

All of us wake up as uniformed and undeserving weirdos. I don’t care if you’ve been to seminary or if you’ve never cracked open a devotional: Jesus is astonishing and ridiculous every single day. So perhaps we are all Baby Christians in those terms. Because what is the end game here? A new hierarchy for us to ascend? Are we all supposed to become “Adult Christians?” That sounds like an illicit website waiting to happen. Plus, don’t converts always make the best believers? Perhaps it is still the prodigal son who has something to teach us.

mbird baby christian

All of the efforts we make: scripture study, church attendance, prayer, is for naught if its main objective is to make us better and wiser Christians. The whole point of those things is to help us see our sin for what it is, so that we might live in constant astonishment of the forgiveness we have been offered. We take our consolation there.

Call people New Members, or New Comers, or That Lady Who Got Baptized Last Week, but please stop calling them “Baby Christians.” It’s an insult to our faith. And to babies.