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Are Babies and Children Saved?

Spiritual Formation of Children

Text: Mk.10:13-16; Lk. 18:15-17; Matt. 19:13-15

Dr.Alex Tang

 

Summary

Children are born into the kingdom of God but as they grow into the age of accountability, they will be required to choose to follow Jesus or not. It is the responsibility of parents, other caretakers and the Church to nurture their spiritual formation to make the right decision.

Introduction

Ron Buckland, former National Director of Scripture Union in Australia wrote in his book, Children and Gospel, that he once conducted a survey, approaching a variety if Christian men and women from different denominations, both clergy and layman. He outlined the following scenario:

“Imagine there are two families, living on either side of you. Each has a two-year-old child. One set of parents are atheists; the other set are committed Christians. Now imagine that in tragic circumstances both children were killed on the same day and you are to visit each home. What would you say to their child’s destiny and on what grounds would you say it?”

All but one person he interviewed said they would want to say to both sets of parents that their children are with God. One person wants to tell the atheist parents that their child is in hell and it was their fault!                                 

Are babies and children saved?  If they die now, are they going to hell or to heaven? What we believe influence the way we do children ministry. It will also affect the way we bring up our children.

Let us consider the various possible scenarios:

  1. All children start life outside the kingdom of God.
  2. The presence of a Christian parent establishes right standing before God.
  3. The experience of baptism establishes right standing before God.
  4. All children belong to God.
  5. All children start  life in the kingdom of God until they reach the age of accountability.

 

1. All children start life outside the kingdom of God.

This assumes that babies and children are in the same category as adults, even though they are too young to be able to exercise repentance and faith. To ‘make a decision for Christ’ means repentance and faith. What does a baby know of repentance? What does a baby have to repent for?  Roman 3:23 states ‘that all have sin and fall short of the glory of God.’ Does this means babies and children too?

This comes back to this discussion of the original sin. Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, sin has entered the world. And with sin comes death. Now there are two theological way of looking at this original sin:

(i)                  It is inherent in our nature. It is inherited. This is like a genetic disease where it passes from one generation. In this thinking, we have no choice at all. We are condemned to hell at the moment of conception or whenever the time human life begins.

(ii)                It is a change in the makeup of our nature that makes us want to sin, to turn away from God. Until we make a choice, we have not sinned. For this way, there is a choice on whether one want to sin or not.

In this first option, babies have already sinned at birth. Hence there is an urgency to ‘convert’ children as soon as possible. Our entire parenting efforts and children ministry has an urgency to help children make a decision for Christ. Unfortunately, we manipulate children to ‘make decisions for Christ’. Many children do things to please the adults. So many children have made ‘decisions’ for Christ repeatedly until they became confused.

 

2. The presence of a Christian parent establishes right standing before God.

The basis for this thinking is based on biblical teaching about covenant. The presence of at least one Christian parent covers the child from the consequences of the original sin until he or she comes of age. Covenants like God with Moses (Ge.17), with the people of Israel (Deu.29) and the Christian church (1 Peter 2:9-10) makes participants people of God. Children born into this covenant automatically enjoys the benefits of it. Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:14

14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

 

3. The experience of baptism establishes right standing before God.

The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches believe that the sacrament of baptism has the ability to wash away all sins and to claim the forgiveness of the Cross. Hence there is an emphasis on infant baptism. There is also an interesting tradition. During infant baptism, aside from parents, certain older members of the congregation are appointed as sponsors or god parents to help the parents in the spiritual growth of the baby. In the reformed tradition, infant baptism is done more on a basis of the covenant as stated above.

 

4. All children belong to God.

This is a nice option. Jesus taught about this when he spoke about children and the kingdom of God. Let us look at what the synoptic gospels teach. (The synoptic gospels are Mark, Matthew and Luke).

What Jesus said about children (synoptic gospels)

Mk.10:13-16

  MK 10:13 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." 16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

Lk. 18:15-17. Gk. Babies instead of child.

   LK 18:15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

Matt. 19:13-15 cf  18:1-5

  MT 19:13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. MT 19:14 Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Matt.18:1-5

MT 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" MT 18:2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  MT 18:5 "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.

Jesus said the kingdom of God belongs to the children. Children are already there where adults may end up if they become like children or by an act of ill become childlike. All three follow Jesus meeting with the children with their version of the rich, young man (Mk.10:17-27; Lk.18:18-27; Matt. 19:16-26). He cannot give up all and be helpless. Utter helplessness is the basis of Jesus speaking about the kingdom of God belonging to children.

 This is nice and good. All children are already in the kingdom of God. But what happens when they grew up and did not become Christians? Did they drop out of the kingdom of God? This is the problem with this option that all children are already in the kingdom of God.

 

5. All children start life in the kingdom of God until they reach the age of accountability.

In this option, children start off in the kingdom but as they grow, their sinful nature (original sin) began to manifest itself. They began to realise that they can choose. There are two biblical texts that mention a period before and a period after which a child can choose.

Deu. 1:39

39 And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad--they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.

Isaiah 7:13-16

ISA 7:13 Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 16 But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

We call this age the age of accountability. Is this a sudden moment or a slow gradual wakening? It may be both or either. Some children sudden come to a point when they realise their sinfulness and their need for forgiveness. Such children have reached a conversion experience. Others, especially those who grew up in Christian families may gradually grow into this age of accountability and became Christians without them knowing it. Hence some period has a specific time for their ‘conversion’ while others do not.

It is my personal conviction that ‘All children start life in the kingdom of God until they reach the age of accountability’. It makes senses to me in view of what Jesus teaches about children and the kingdom of God and other verses about the ability to make decisions.

W.H.Griffith Thomas, an Anglican theologian argued, ‘all children are included in the great atoning sacrifice, and belong to Jesus Christ until they deliberately refuse him’.

This also means that it is our responsibilities: father, mother, brothers, sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunties that we help in the spiritual formation of the child so that he or she grows into the age of accountability with the ability to make the right choice for Christ. This is where parenting plays a large role. The church complement parenting with the community, mentoring and teachings as these children matures.

 

The Spiritual Formation of Children

(1) GENIUS parenting.

GENIUS parenting is based on Luke 2:52 in which 14 words covers the whole concept of parenting. GENIUS is an acronym for

                        Growth

                        Emotional Quotient (EQ)

                        Nutrition

                        Intelligence Quotient (IQ)

                        Utmost to Potential (Potential Quotient)

                        Spiritual Quotient.

It is the duty of all parents to ensure our children grows in all these 6 areas.

(2) Basis of GENIUS parenting.

The basis of GENIUS parenting is a balance between behavior and being. Generally, there are two approaches to parenting which starts from the 18th century. One approach is ‘to break the will of the child’. The child is to be forced, seduced into conformation to acceptable social practices. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism is an advocate for this. This approach emphasis the child’s capacity for evil. The emphasis is on behavior. For most of the late 19th century and all of the 20th century, our parenting has been greatly influenced by the behavioural sciences. Techniques of behavioural modification were introduced into parenting.

 The other approach is to emphasis the child’s capacity for good. The advocate for this is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He believed that children are basically good until they were influenced by adult. This ‘romantic’ approach gives more freedom for children believing that in some ways, children are wiser than adults. The emphasis is more on the being.

I think both approach are correct but I believe that they must be balanced. There should be behavioural modification but there should also be inner growth and maturity as a person.

(2) Components of GENIUS parenting.

To achieve this balance, there should be 2 components in GENIUS parenting:

    (a)    Relationship to maturity.

    (b)    Empowerment to maturity.

Relationship is important in parenting. Relationship is to each individual child in the 6 areas of development. It is much easier to work with the child when there is a good healthy relationship. But relationship is not enough. There must be empowerment. The child must be allowed to try things out and to fail if necessary.

(3) Objectives of Spiritual Quotient in GENIUS parenting.

(a)    Children who are Christians are able to call God ‘Abba/Father’ through the work of the Holy Spirit who dwells in them (Rom.8:15)

(b)   Children who are Christians will have assurance of their salvation through the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit (Rom.8:16)

(c)    The desires of children to call Jesus ‘Lord’ is the outcome of the work of the Holy Spirit in them (1 Corinthians 12:3)

(d)   Children who are Christians are candidates for the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22)

(e)    Children who are Christians are candidates for the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4-11)

 

Closing Remarks

Children are born into the kingdom of God but as they grow into the age of accountability, they will be required to choose to follow Jesus or not. It is the responsibility of parents, other caretakers and the Church to nurture their spiritual formation to make the right decision.

 

                                                                                                            Soli Deo Gloria

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