Church Membership of Children
Numbers 3:15-22
Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families…

What, then, is this infant membership? What conception can we take of it which will justify its Christian dignity? A great many persons who are very sharp at this kind of criticism appear to have never observed that creatures existing under conditions of growth allow no such terms of classification as those do which are dead and have no growth; such, for example, as stones, metals, and earths. They are certain that gold is not iron, and iron is not silver, and they suppose that they can class the growing and transitional creatures, that are separated by no absolute lines, in the same manner. They talk of colts and horses, lambs and sheep, and it possibly not once occurs to them that they can never tell when the colt becomes a horse, or the lamb a sheep; and that about the most definite thing they can say, when pressed with that question, is that the colt is potentially a horse, the lamb a sheep, even from the first, having in itself this definite futurition; and, therefore, that while horses and sheep are not all to be classed as colts and lambs, all colts and lambs may be classed as horses and sheep. And just so children are all men and women; and if there is the law of futurition in them to justify it, may be fitly classed as believing men and women. And all the sharp arguments that go to cover their membership as such in the Church with absurdity, or to turn it into derision, are just such arguments as the inventors could raise with equal point to ridicule the horsehood and sheephood of the young animals just referred to. The propriety of this membership does not lie in what those infants can or cannot believe, or do or do not believe, at some given time, as, for example, on the day of their baptism; but it lies in the covenant of promise, which makes their parents parents in the Lord; their nurture a nurture of the Lord, and so constitutes a force of futurition by which they are to grow up imperceptibly into "faithfuls among faithfuls," in Christ Jesus ..... The conception, then, of this membership is, that it is potentially a real one; that it stands, for the present, in the faith of the parents and the promise which is to them and to their children, and that on this ground they may well enough be accounted believers, just as they are accounted potentially men and women. Then, as they come forward into maturity, it is to be assumed that they will come forward into faith, being grown in the nurture of faith, and will claim for themselves the membership into which they were before inserted. Nor is this a case which has no analogies that it should be held up as a mark of derision. It is generally supposed that our common law has some basis of common sense. And yet this body of law makes every infant child a citizen; requiring, as a point of public order, the whole constabulary and even military force of the state to come to the rescue or the redress of his wrongs, when his person is seized or property invaded by conspiracy. This infant child can sue and be sued; for the Court of Chancery will appoint him a guardian, whose acts shall be the child's acts; and it shall be as if he were answerable for his own education, dress, board, entertainments, and the damages done by his servants, precisely as if he were a man acting in his own cause. Doubtless it may sound very absurdly to call him a citizen. What can he do as a citizen? He cannot vote or bear arms; he does not even know what these things mean, and yet he is a citizen. In one view he votes, bears arms, legislates, even in his cradle; for the potentiality is in him, and the state takes him up in her arms, as it were, to own him as her citizen.

(H. Bushnell, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them.

WEB: "Count the children of Levi by their fathers' houses, by their families. You shall count every male from a month old and upward."

Strange Fire
Top of Page
Top of Page