In the RPCNA, when parents bring their children for baptism, they take several vows, one of which regards our responsibility to bring the good news of Jesus to our children:
Do you promise to teach your children of their sinful nature, of the plan of salvation which centers in Jesus Christ, and their own personal need of a relationship with Christ?
As we seek to be faithful to this calling of evangelizing those born into the covenant people of God, reformed Christians are often subject to pressures and trends they might not fully understand. In response to good conversations during a recent Sunday school class, here is an attempt to shine a light on those pressures and on God's better way.
On one side are the many ways Christians have abused the covenant promises of God. Hearing God tell us that His promises are for us and for our children (Acts 2:39), many in the reformed world have fallen into presuming upon the grace of God. Rather than seeing God's promises as a reason to have confidence and joy as we bring our children to Jesus (Mark 10:13-16), it's easy to see those promises as a reason to "let go and let God," to trust the sufficiency of their baptism and covenant status rather than diligently leading them to faith. This hyper-covenantalism goes by several names, but an unbiblical presumption is always at the heart of it.
Yet on the other side is the ever-present undercurrent of American revivalism and its twisted view of saving faith. Such revivalism comes to us from the Second Great Awakening (a dubious name), when many started to believe they could force God's hand and create conversions through the right evangelistic methods. While not many churches continue to publicize such "revivals," the evangelistic method of pushing for a decision, an on-the-spot conversion, is usually somewhere close at hand in most Bible-believing churches. The result of such conversionism is often generations of churched children who once prayed a prayer, wrote the date in their Bible, and believe they are saved. While some of those conversions are certainly real, many prove in time to be fraudulent, the result of temporary fear rather than timeless faith.
Thankfully, with eyes open to both of these errors and relying on His grace, we can follow God's prescribed path: to raise our children in the faith. Rather than pressing young children to pray a particular prayer, we teach them every day how to trust in Jesus and what that looks like (which, incidentally, includes prayers of trust). Rather than pushing for a decision for Jesus, we lead them to trust in Him every day by understanding who He is, what He's done for us, how we repent and how we obey. We hope and pray our children won't remember a day when they didn't trust Jesus and we raise them that way--because discipleship and evangelism are not two different things, but two interrelated parts of gospel ministry (including gospel parenting). We trust the covenant promises of God by making disciples of our children. Of course, if a child shows over time a hardness of heart toward the things of God, we remind them of the warnings of Scripture and call them to repentance, even to conversion. But whether a child is rebelling or believing, their need is the same: to trust in Jesus and walk faithfully with Him. Our job is to bring them as regularly and as closely to that Jesus as we are able.
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