As a father and former child myself, I have found myself searching the Scriptures more and more lately in developing a Biblically grounded theology of children. The Church has been doing this for years and there is hardly any consensus on how exactly our children are initiated into the full membership of the Church community. Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, Anglicans, and so on all have varying convictions on these matters. I am not attempting to resolve this doctrinal matter in its entirety, but do want to commend the following quotes from C.H. Spurgeon (from “Spiritual Parenting”) as something that I trust we can all get behind and seek in the life of our children and Church. Enjoy.
Importance of training children in the faith: “Parents sin in the same way when they omit religion from the education of their children. Perhaps the thought is that their children cannot be converted while they are children…Let us expect our children to know the Lord. Let us from the beginning mingle the name of Jesus with their ABC’s. Let them read their first lessons from the Bible…But let us never be guilty, as parents, of forgetting the religious training of our children. If we do, we may be guilty of the blood of their souls.”
The sin of low expectations: “Another result is that the conversion of children is not expected in many of our churches and congregations. I mean, that they do not expect the children to be converted as children. The theory is that if we can impress youthful minds with principles which may, in after years, prove useful to them, we have done a great deal. But to convert children as children, and to regard them as being as much believers as their seniors, is regarded as absurd.”
The sin of cynicism: “Another bad result is that the conversion of children is not believed. Certain suspicious people always file their teeth a bit when they hear of a newly-converted child: they will have a bite at him if they can. They very rightly insist that these children should be carefully examined before they are baptized and admitted into the church. However, they are wrong in insisting that only in exceptional instances are they to be received. We quite agree with them as to the care to be exercised, but it should be the same in all cases, and neither more nor less in the cases of children.”
I highly commend these words from Spurgeon. I want to reaffirm over and over again how important it is for us to train the little ones in the Way, the Truth, and the Life. God has ordained instruction as the primary means whereby our children are brought into a faithful relationship with the Father (Deut. 6:4-9). Studies show that our children’s capacity for learning is amazingly high between infancy and 5 years. Our children’s most tender years are also the most pliable. Their sense of identity and worldview are pretty much solidified by 18-20 years of age. Why is then that many parents have abandoned instructing their kids, instead saying, “I don’t want them to believe just because I believe and taught them. I want them to grow up and then find out for themselves what they believe.” This type of thinking is deadly. We wouldn’t dare keep our children from math, literature, etc because we would rather them grow up and decide whether they want to learn or not. We wouldn’t dare refrain from teaching our children the danger of running into the street and touching a hot stove. How much more then should we be guiding our children into eternal truth for their eternal good?
As for the second quote from Spurgeon, we need to raise our expectations. We must not impose our conversion experience as the only paradigm through which our children may be converted. God may bring about the new birth of regeneration in the womb or may wait until the death bed. The Holy Spirit is sovereign to carry out the Father and Son’s work of salvation. Should we not be praying for our children’s salvation even while in the womb? Why is then that we are so pessimistic about children coming to faith at a young age? Interestingly, Jesus taught that the children were actually a better model of the faith than the “mature” believers. We are actually called to be more like children than they are called to be like us. I’m not denying that we should grow in grace and understanding, but simply want to affirm that the disposition of faith, trust, and joy in our children is actually a model for our anxiety, disbelief, and fear.
The third quote from Spurgeon speaks of our cynicism towards receiving children as believers. It seems that we don’t mind them singing at the Christmas Eve service, closing their hands in prayer around the dinner table, and even reciting memorized Scriptures – but should they dare desire baptism and communion, then we respond as if they had just asked to drive the car. How can we affirm our children in prayer, Scripture reading, and even participating in worship with song, and then tell them that baptism and communion are not for them yet? We tell them that Jesus loves them and that they are God’s children and then withhold baptism and communion, which actually communicates to our children that they are excluded from the Covenant community of the Church. Spurgeon says that receiving young children shouldn’t be the exception, but rather the norm.
I know there are exceptions to my oversimplified rhetoric, but I do pray and long for the children in SGF, that they would enter the waters of baptism and partake of the Lord’s Supper earlier than later because I fear there will be no later if we are not teaching them, have low expectations, and are cynical towards the possibility that young children may very well have a faith that exceeds ours in character. Let us not hinder the children among us but joyfully rejoice in their faith and nurture them into maturity as fellows members in the Body of Christ, for He gladly receives the children who come to Him. Let us model the loving acceptance Christ shows children.
© 2010, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.