It is a ruthlessly annoying expression. In fact, it is downright disturbing. It conjures up horrifying images of sopping wet little babies being tossed into the air, and landing on hard, unforgiving surfaces. If such an accident ever occurred (heaven forbid!), it would make even the most seasoned 911 dispatcher struggle to get through the call. If such an accident ever really happened, we would all hold our breath and wonder if there were any fatalities. We would never be able to get it out of our mind, and for good reason. It would be absolutely horrific. The very thought, or mention, of something like this happening ought to make us shudder. We would never trivialize it. Perish the thought! And we certainly would never use it as a common expression. Worse yet is the fact that, when the expression is uttered, get this………..it is always done nonchalantly. No one seems to second guess whether or not it is even appropriate to say it. So what gives?
Evangelicals, The Guilty Party?
I would love to be able to say that this phrase has little to no reputation among Christians. I’d love to tell you that it is completely secular, and is mostly used by the liberal media. I would love to say all of that. But, of course, I would be wrong. “Don’t Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater” just so happens to be one of the most popular phrases among evangelicals. At least, it sure seems that way. You can hardly listen to a theological debate, or read the comments on a controversial Facebook post, without seeing someone refer to this expression. It has gained steam, particularly in reformed circles, over the last several years. To be honest, I am uncertain about whether I have ever said it myself. If I did, and you were the recipient, please allow me to take the rest of my life to repay you for the pain and suffering I have caused. Just let me know which day of the week you’d like to have your car waxed, and your house cleaned. It is the least I could do for being so carelessly insensitive. And if you have little babies, one day I will find a way to pay for their college education.
According to this article from WiseGeek, “Throwing the baby out with the bath water” is an expression that implies that an entire idea, concept, practice or project doesn’t need to be rejected or discontinued if part of it is good. The baby, in this sense, represents the good part that can be preserved. The bath water, on the other hand, usually is dirty after the baby is washed and needs to be discarded, just like the parts of the concept that are bad or useless.”
The origin of the expression is highly debated, so I am not going to spill any ink on figuring out where it originated. But most believe it traces back to a German origin in the 1500’s. According to Wikipedia, Martin Luther was apparently a fan of the expression. (‘Baptismal Regeneration’ jokers need not apply.) But I digress.
It really doesn’t matter to me how it began, when it began, or who is ultimately responsible for its origin. I’m not interested in the origin of the expression; I’m interested in its demise.
How It All Happens
So how exactly does this unhelpful phrase enter into a conversation with evangelicals? Well, it goes something like this……. An individual believes that someone went too far when they corrected a false teaching. In other words, when they corrected one piece of bad theology, they got rid of some good theology as well! In their zealousness, they may have meant well, but meaning well and doing well are two very different things.
Let me give an example here. Let us suppose than an ‘evangelical’ said that God never, ever blesses people with wealth, and that it is a gross sin to be rich. That we need to question our salvation if we make good money. Ouch. Not good. In fact, it sounds like this person was so afraid of being associated with the “health and wealth” gospel, that he went completely in the opposite direction. It happens. We need to be aware of it when it does. The prosperity preachers teach that having riches always indicates that God’s blessing is on you. But this next individual, in his desire to correct, states that the possession of riches indicates that God’s curse is always on you. Both are false. Both are destructive. I would even venture to say that the over correction itself is heresy.
Mr. Idiom User to the Rescue
Someone needs to do something about this doctrinal error. Right? I mean, we don’t want to people to think they’re going to hell just because they have a good job and are wealthy, right? “Somebody, anybody, please say something! Let’s balance this thing out and bring some clarity!” And then……..you know it’s coming. The warning signs start to sound. It is as obvious as the sound of a foghorn blasting, warning ships of coming dangers. He starts to say things like, “Well, Benny Hinn is wrong to believe that he himself has the power to heal, but it is wrong to say that God never heals anyone today.” He stresses the word ‘never’ for a reason. He is leading into it, just waiting to get it out……….just waiting for the right moment.
And I, well, I am ready to cringe. Because in just a short moment some well-meaning Christian is going to blurt it out. He is going to say the words that make me (and others I’m sure) want to have someone dig their nails down a chalkboard, just so we don’t have to hear that infamous expression. And here he comes, Mr. I’m Going to Bring Balance to Everyone’s Theology. He is all too happy to step right on up to the discussion platform, and lend his two cents worth. And then, without much thought or hesitation, he says it. He’s probably said it before, and he’s most likely heard it from others many times as well. He says, “Hey, I know that prosperity theology is false, and that Kenneth Copeland is a heretic, but let’s not…..” AAARRGGHHH!!!! “NO, NO, NO, Please…. NO, NO, Anything but THAT!! I BEG YOU!!” is what I am thinking to myself, although I say absolutely nothing. And he continues uninterrupted…….. “throw. the. baby. out. with. the. bathwater.” (gulp, headbang, deep breath) Honestly, there should be a law against it. Brothers and sisters, how did we ever…………? I can’t even……..
We Have Plenty of Other Choices
“Don’t Throw Away the Champagne with the Cork.” It’s a very common and old expression. But it has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? I can’t imagine anyone having nightmares because of this one! I mean, even if the champagne did accidentally get tossed, well……….ya know……….it’s champagne! It’s not the end of the world. You can buy another bottle. No one is annoyed or traumatized. And best of all, there are no mental images of babies flying through the air waiting to crash onto a hardwood floor. There are others you can choose as well. “Don’t let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch.” “Don’t give up on a great team because of a few bad players.” There’s no shortage. You have plenty to pick from. They’re a lot less violent too.
I often hear Christians get upset at people when they refer to a baby as “it”, instead of he or she. And I agree with them. We should make it a point to stress that a baby is a person with an assigned gender. But here’s the thing. When we use that horrible idiom, we are likening the baby to a good piece of theology, right? Well, isn’t referring to a baby as a piece of theology the same thing as calling them an “it”? Draw it out to its logical conclusion, and that is where you end up.
A baby is a person created in the image of God; a person to be loved and cared for. A person to be well spoken of, even idiomatically. He or she is not some good piece of theology that could be dangerously tossed out with some filthy bathwater. I know it is just an expression, and no one means anything harmful by it. I am not saying it is a sin to use it. But there is value in the words that we choose, and the manner in which we use them. The expression conjures up all sorts of bad things. It is not good for the imagination. We should speak better of these precious little ones.
So, of course, save the baby. But please throw that repulsive idiom out with the bathwater! In fact, as long as the idiom gets tossed, you can even save the bathwater if you want. Given the choice between the two, I’d rather bathe in that filthy gunk than have to hear that expression one more time! Yes, I know that is gross, but I am trying to make a point. (-:
And if y’all actually listen to me and boycott this expression, and it finally sees its own demise, I plan on having a celebration. And you’re all invited!
Someone will have to bring the champagne though. Somehow my last bottle got tossed with the cork.
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