But What About Grandma?
Sooner or later, every faithful Christian who makes any serious effort to convert men to Christ has to deal with “Grandma.” Not your Grandma, but his—the truly noble and consecrated Grandma of the man you are trying to convert.
She was a wonderfully devout Christian (as her grandson remembers her). She read her Bible every day; its worn covers and tear-stained pages bear eloquent testimony that the blessed Book was no mere ornament in her home. With all the earnestness of her heart she prayed that God would guide her life, and help her to be the wife, mother, and faithful servant of Christ which she wanted to be. Her life was one long record of unselfish service to others. With a meek and quiet spirit she reared her children to fear the Lord, to walk humbly before God, and to provide things honest in the sight of all men. Her gentle voice could be heard singing God’s praises not only when she went to church on Sunday and to prayer-meeting (which she never missed), but all through the day, as she worked in the kitchen, or in the garden, or as she sat through the long hours of the night beside a sick child or in the home of an ailing neighbor. She cared little for the things of this world, but obviously was seeking to “lay up treasures in heaven”: she looked for that city whose builder and maker is God.
Grandma lived a long and busy life. Her faith in God, her devotion to Him, her hope of heaven made it easy for her to bear the toils and burdens of this life. She was a rich and happy woman, for the love in her heart was great. Her children and her grandchildren for as long as they live will walk closer to God because of the teaching she gave and the example she set before them. Her life was gentle; her heart was pure. She always looked for the good in others, was quick to praise, slow to criticize, and kind and sympathetic to the one who had fallen.
When death finally closed her eyelids in the final sleep, she died strong in the faith that she was but one short step away from heaven. It seemed that the very angels of God were hovering over her bed; you could almost hear the rustle of their wings as they awaited the final moment when her sweet soul would be released from this earthly prison and could be borne triumphantly into the presence of God. There to be forever with her Lord whom she loved and whom she served so faithfully.
Grandma was a Methodist. Or a Presbyterian. Or a Lutheran. She had been sprinkled as a baby, and that was the only “baptism” she had ever known. And now you are trying to convert one who has all his lifetime held Grandma to be the very epitome of a saint of God.
What do you say? How do you help him meet his problem? You have convinced him, true enough, that the Bible teaches immersion (and immersion only); he also understands that baptism is a command of the Lord, and that it “doth now save” us. But what about Grandma? If she didn’t go to heaven, then nobody on this earth will ever make it! So he believes, and so he declares. He asks you if you think his Grandma went to hell. If you say yes, you have lost him, for he will listen no further to anything you may offer. If you say no, then theoretically you have denied the essentiality of baptism; for you are implying that his grandmother was saved without being baptized. A dilemma, indeed!
God is the Judge
This is a very real problem, one charged with deep emotions. Many of you readers have faced it (and some are facing it, no doubt) in your own lives. But, really, it need not pose any insurmountable obstacle. Three things are to be kept in mind:
First, God is the final judge, not man. What man might say, either to commend or to condemn, is of no value. God is the judge—and he will judge righteously! “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” was Abraham’s question when God threatened the destruction of Sodom. God will truly judge with a righteous judgment. And in that final day of eternal judgment, when the last word has been spoken, there will not be one single soul, not one, condemned into the everlasting torment who ought not to be there. There may have been circumstances and conditions in “Grandma’s” life, known to God alone, which will determine her eternal destiny. Are we saying then that God promises salvation to those who are not baptized? Certainly not. But we are saying that the judgment God will render will be right and just. And furthermore, all of God’s children will recognize that it is right and just—and merciful. So if, in the wisdom and mercy of God, “Grandma” ought not to go to hell, she will not go there. All we on this earth can do is to read and seek to follow God’s law; but He, and only He, has the right to apply that law to specific cases. Let no mere human assume the prerogatives of God in seeking to pronounce final judgment on any mortal! Leave that to the great Judge of all the earth.
Second, there is another factor involved. If “Grandma” had had a full understanding of God’s law concerning baptism, she no doubt would have been immersed many years before she left this earth. If she truly “loved the Lord,” then to the very best of her knowledge and ability she obeyed every single commandment. Christ said, “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments.” Her failure to obey was due to ignorance—the false teachings and prejudiced interpretations which had been drilled into her mind from babyhood. That is a far different situation from the case of the individual who knows and understands and acknowledges that baptism is immersion, and then refuses to be baptized, “because Grandma was never baptized!” He is willfully rejecting God’s word—a course from which “Grandma” would have recoiled with fear and horror.
Third, far from dishonoring the memory of “Grandma” by obedience to the gospel, one truly honors her memory. Being “buried through baptism” into Christ is exactly what all those who love the Lord would desire for their children and grandchildren—if they could speak from the grave. When one is baptized into Christ he is vindicating to the world the kind of mother, and Grandmother he had—devout women who taught him to love the Lord supremely, and to give to the Son of God the very highest allegiance of his life. Even if a fuller and more complete knowledge of God’s word causes him to leave the denomination in which Grandma lived and died. This is what she would want him to do. There may be many reasons and mitigating circumstances in her life which would commend her to God which are not in the lives of her grandchildren. To be true to her memory, to be true to the Lord himself, one must do each day that which he knows the Lord to command.
This whole question can be settled by one short and simple declaration: It is right to obey God; it is wrong not to obey Him. No matter what other factors may be present or absent, this is the thing that counts. This is what “Grandma” would tell all her children and grandchildren, and all those who loved her. She would want her loved ones to place Christ ahead of all denominations; indeed, she would be infinitely happy to know that her children and grandchildren loved the Lord more than they ever loved her or could love her!
“But what about Grandma?” Let every man do exactly what that Grandma (who truly loved the Lord) would urge him to do if she could speak from the grave! (Fanning Yater Tant)
The foregoing article was passed on to me about thirty-five years ago. I believe that it offers some helpful thoughts about this difficult issue. However, there needs to be some qualification and addition.
First, is there really a “grandma” like this? Most of us idealize certain ones in our life, especially when time serves to obliterate the more objectionable portions of a person’s character. The “Grandma” whom we remember may not be the true “Grandma” who lived—but a partially imaginary “Grandma” of our memory which has been colored by our imagination. If we had known her personally and closely, we may have seen that she was not as devout, as sincere, and as wholehearted toward the Lord as we recall her. She may have been more aware of God’s will concerning baptism and many other Biblical teachings than we might want to imagine. Our memory tends to dull with age and sometimes we tend to idealize that which we do remember.
Second, it is difficult to imagine a “Grandma” who was uninformed about many of the teachings of the Bible. If she read her Bible regularly, if she studied its text carefully, if it was her food and drink daily, then would she not have seen the clear teachings of Scripture regarding the need to make a personal response of repentant faith in Christ? Would she not have noticed that baptism was a part of every New Testament conversion and that it had a special place in one’s coming to Jesus for salvation? Furthermore, if “Grandma” would have read the New Testament Scriptures devoutly, would it not have been clear that there is no place for human denominations in God’s plan? We simply suggest that it is hard to imagine a real “Grandma” who was so oblivious to God’s will all the days of her life. If she did know God’s will on many areas and refused to believe and obey them, then perhaps she was not the devout “Grandma” as we remember her.
Third, we must beware of a kind of “works salvation” in this sort of situation. We may recall a loved one’s devotion, her Bible reading, her prayers, her singing, her sacrificial work on behalf of others, and her commitment to her family. All of this is commendable, but we must beware of thinking that we can be saved by our personal devotion. We are not saved “on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness” (Titus 3:5) but are only saved on the basis of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:24-26; 5:6-11), through a submissive, repentant, obedient faith (Eph. 2:8-10; John 3:36). “Grandma” or any other person simply cannot be saved through personal righteousness, good deeds, loving actions, devout intentions, sincerity, commitment, or any other worthy characteristic.
Fourth, it is true that we are not God. We must remember that God, through Christ, is the only Judge of the living and the dead (John 5:22-23, 27; Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:1). God will do what He has revealed He will do and we do not have the right to alter His will. Our responsibility is to communicate the truth of God to others as it is revealed in His Word. That Word will judge us on the last day (John 12:48). You and I are responsible to share that word with our family and friends, with relatives and all others, that they might know what God’s will is and have the opportunity to believe and obey it. We must rejoice in this opportunity and privilege.
Fifth, it is possible for a person to display many worthy characteristics (sacrifice, gentleness, diligence, etc.) while being closed to the hard teachings of Scripture. Some replied to Jesus’ words, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60). Some are depending on their own good deeds and “Christ-like” disposition while closing their eyes and ears to the difficult requirements of the Lord. We know of some who live worthy lives in many ways but who refuse to submit to teachings of Scripture that would upset their life, alienate their family, disturb their religious authorities, or bring confusion into their relationships. God is looking for people who will crucify their flesh, humble their heart, and risk alienation from people if only they can obey the Lord whom they love with all their hearts! Whether it be a “Grandma” or anyone else, let us strive to have a “humble and contrite” spirit that “trembles” at God’s word (Isaiah 66:2).