Discipling the Little Ones

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I am an avid baby baptizer. I can give you arguments for that on another day and in other places. What I want to reflect on here is the pattern in Scripture that we see of raising children of believers in the fear of the Lord.

Not everyone who is baptized is eternally saved. Baptism does not = election. Both Baptist Churches and Reformed Churches recognize this truth. The quantity of warnings to the covenant community throughout the New Testament is ample evidence of this truth. But notice who these warnings are directed too. More often than not, they are directed to adults, and maybe by default to children. When we consider children in the covenant community, our post-Enlightenment minds need a paradigm shift away from seeing children through the lens of saved/unsaved categories, to the categories that the New Testament establishes.

  1. Children receive the blessing of Christ. Christ blesses the little children. Christ rebukes His disciples for trying to send them away. Christ does not place a question mark over their little heads, but takes them into His arms and gives them His blessing. His rebuke here and in other places is quite shocking: “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away.” (Matt. 19:13-15)
  2. Children receive the exhortations of Christ. In his letter to the Church in Ephesus, children are exhorted in the same way as their parents in that they are called to obey them “in the Lord” (Eph. 6:1). Notice that this clause “in the Lord” is used abundantly in exhortations to adults as well.
  3. Children receive the faith of Christ. The flame of faith is not simply individualistic, but is a generational matter. Paul commends Timothy for the generational pattern of faith in his family: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” (II Tim. 1:5) Consider also Paul’s words to Timothy in II, 3:5: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

I have a few observations to take from these points.

  1. The Dutch Reformed tradition of “sowing your wild oats,” like the Amish tradition of “rumspringa,” or however your tradition likes to justify youthful rebellion among the children of believers, is totally and entirely unBiblical. Yes, children rebel and leave the faith (and Jesus forgives those sins as well). But, children leaving the faith should be an oddity, not the norm.
  2. Baptism doesn’t ensure faith. Jesus Christ alone can do that. But that doesn’t mean it is a meaningless and empty symbol. Whether adult or child, this baptism gives you an irrevocable identity that ends either in blessings or curses.
  3. When parents train their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), that includes teaching them to pray, read the Scriptures, say sorry, forgive, and all the practices of the Christian life. The new birth is a mystery according to John 3. We cannot control it, all we can do is be faithful in what Christ has commanded in exhorting and shepherding. But we should also be careful in how we judge the state of this new birth in our children as we should when considering any Christian. We should show our children the charity that we show to anyone in the Church.
  4. A 2 year old can experience the new birth, and faith in Christ. To deny this is to deny the mystery described in John 3. This does not mean that every baptized infant or adult has experienced this new birth. This does not mean that you should give a 6 year old a pulpit or appoint him to the elder board (or a new Christian for that matter). There also has to be an understanding of growing responsibilities within the Christian community.

Just a few reflections. Feel free to respond, debate, discuss.


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