Why We Reject Child Evangelism

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What do you believe about child evangelism? How do you answer the person who is thrilled about their son or daughter receiving the Lord at a very young age? What do we believe? It is very important what we believe because it will play out in our life.
A congregation sits hushed as a child barely six years old gives a testimony before his baptism and union with the church. Several times he loses his train of thought, and the pastor must prompt him. At last he finishes and is baptized on his testimony of having been led to Christ during an illness at two years of age. There are many children’s story tapes and books that will conclude with a prayer asking Jesus to come into their hearts. What is our response to these examples? What would you say to the happy parents of a six-year-old that just decided for Jesus?
There are many sincere and well-meaning Christians that accept child evangelism. Several things appeal to us in considering young children as eligible for conversion. We think of the ready response of children because they are naturally trusting. They want to please their parents, and the threat of hell will break down any reluctance on their part.
So, what is wrong with this approach? Let’s look at what the Bible teaches.
Here are six Bible teachings that refute child evangelism.
1. Jesus always welcomed children.
And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein (Luke 18:15-17).
It was a pleasure for Jesus to relate to children. He enjoyed children. The disciples did not think that the infants were important enough for Jesus to give them His time and attention, but Jesus did not let His disciples’ words stand. He said, “No, no, you let them come; I’m interested in children. Forbid them not! Bring them to me!” Jesus always welcomed children.
2. Jesus pronounced a blessing on children.
And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you; Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them (Mark 10:13-16).
Jesus had plenty of opportunity to ask these children if they had lied today, or if they had cheated, or if they had behaved at school today, but He did not. He had plenty of opportunity to tell them to respect their parents or to repent, but He did not. He could have warned them about the snares of selfishness and lust, but He did not. He could have explained His atonement in an effort to increase their understanding, but He did not. Why? Because He knew children were safe.
3. Jesus used children as an example of regeneration.
At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye become converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:1-3).
If these children had needed conversion to be right with God, Jesus certainly would not have used them as an example of regeneration.
4. Jesus says, Of such is the kingdom of heaven.
Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands upon them, and pray: and his disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence (Matt 19:13-15).
Children are not excluded from Christ’s provision of atonement. Jesus Christ recognized children as under His atoning work at Calvary, which He would accomplish irrespective of their response. Children are surely included in the ‘all’ for whom Christ died. (2Co 5:14).
Another supporting example that children are included in the kingdom of heaven is Matthew 21:15,16. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased, and said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?
Jesus was hearing the children’s hosannas in the temple, and He said, “It is perfected praise.” These examples illustrate the divine attitude toward and treatment of children. Our Lord clearly establishes a child’s satisfactory relationship with God as shown in how He related to children. Never once did Jesus refer to little children as being under condemnation or displeasure of a holy God, even though they possess the sin nature.
5. God does not hold an innocent one accountable for his or her behavior.
In the Old Testament under the Levitical economy, a child was free from the responsibility of the sacrificial system until twelve years of age. We also can look at Numbers 14:29, Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me.
In His mercy, love, and grace, God did not hold the children and adolescents accountable for their murmuring in the wilderness. Moreover your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it (Deu 1:39).
God is acknowledging that children are innocent and have no knowledge between good and evil. It takes time for a child to learn to think in abstract terms. His moral and spiritual development needs to wait on his mental development. We believe it is unfair to have a young child begin the Christian life. It takes time for a child to acquire a mature concept of sin.
It is said that a child is first self-conscious. We notice that as a child starts to notice and play with its fingers. They are beginning to become self-conscious. Next, they become God-conscious, then sin-conscious, and lastly, choice-conscious.
6. Old Testament cleansing pointed to Christ’s atonement.
In Leviticus 12, we find details given of the need for a new mother and child to go through purification and cleansing rituals. When there was a newborn, girl or boy, there was necessary cleansing for both of them. The ritual ended with the new mother bringing a lamb or a dove to the door of the tabernacle unto the priest. The priest would offer that lamb or turtle dove to the Lord for atonement for the mother and child. Why was that required? It was because the parent had transmitted the sin nature and brought into the world a child considered to be unclean. The child needed atonement, and since the mother brought forth an unclean creature, she was also considered unclean after each birth therefore needing atonement. This process was repeated tens of thousands of times. The atonement made by the priest resolved the issue of the parent transmitting the sin nature and also the issue of the child possessing the sin nature. Both the mother and the child went home retaining the sin nature but were considered clean through atonement with what the priest did. Jesus fulfilled the type in Leviticus 12 by His atonement. By His provision of Calvary, He reached back and cleansed all those children. By His provision, every child ever born into the world, was made righteous, so now the sacred experience of a mother giving birth to a child need not be considered unclean. Rather, although born with the sinful nature, the little bundle of innocence is as clean and pure as the snow of Heaven. That is the state of our children because of what Christ has done on Calvary. We should not call children “little sinners” because they also enjoy the atonement of Calvary. Praise be to Jesus Christ for His death and His resurrection that provided atonement for the innocent.
I’d also like to mention some other concerns about child evangelism. This is to help prepare ourselves, so when faced with this dilemma, we know what to say, or at least that we know what we believe.
1. It is inconsiderate of the limitations of the child to expect a child to learn their ABC’s, how to read, and so many necessary things that they need to know later in life; and at the same time try to have them understand the involvements of being a Christian,
2. It robs a child of innocence prematurely. Innocence is a precious thing, and we want to guard that in our children. They need to be protected from the pressures of adult responsibility. Childhood is a wonderful time. Children are safe, and they should be allowed to rest in the provision that Jesus has already provided for them.
3. It produces a great potential for future frustrations. An innocent child is pressured into a commitment to Jesus and a supposed conversion experience, or perhaps a child with a tender conscience is not pressured, but because of the influence of books or story tapes volunteers to ask Jesus into his heart. The new birth cannot really be experienced at a childhood level if they do not have sufficient mental development to understand the meaning of sin, inherited sin nature, the cross, and discipleship. Yet, the child is told that they are a Christian. So, when they grow and mature and down the road their carnality begins to exert itself, and he or she begins to feel guilty because of who they are, what shall he or she do? Now the Holy Spirit is calling and bringing conviction, and how should he relate to it? The child evangelism approach adds unnecessary struggles at the beginning of the Christian life. By God’s grace, the child that became a Christian at age five can find his way, but there is a better way, and the Bible does not teach such child evangelism.
4. It short-circuits parental responsibility. An over-emphasis on the child-God relationship minimizes the parent-child relationship. Parents can thus retreat from their God-given responsibility by reminding the child to have good behavior because of his supposed accountability to God. The issue is a parent-child problem, not a God-child problem. Instead of the rod, they say, “Child, you better pray for forgiveness because of the way you are behaving.” The Bible teaches that parents are to be obeyed. Ephesians 6:1 ...children obey your parents.
Many other verses establish the truth that parents are accountable to God for teaching and correcting their children. It is the parent’s responsibility. Sometimes, we may be tempted to bring God into the picture, but that is not what the Bible teaches. Yes, children are accountable to obey us because that is what the Bible teaches, but they don’t have something to make right with God. Child evangelism short-circuits and undermines this responsibility of parents.
5. It is motivated by Calvinism. It has been said that John Calvin wrote that there would be babies in hell less than a span long. A span is the width of an open hand, 5-9 inches. Thus he is saying that God would consign some prematurely born babies to the everlasting fires of hell. This statement would be consistent with his emphasis on limited atonement and unconditional election. It goes along with the teachings of Calvinism to say that if there are non-elect adults, there would also be non-elect infants. John Calvin admitted that his position represented a horrible doctrine indeed. We would say that this doctrine is a great insult to the provisional atonement of Jesus Christ and to the love of God. We can see why the Calvinists are interested in child evangelism; save a little child once, and he is always saved. The Catholics are a bit more lenient than Calvinism; they believe that there is a place of ‘limbo,’ a place that borders hell where unbaptized infants go. They believe in baptizing infants and that the unbaptized go to a place on the borders of hell.
A proper understanding of a child’s relationship with God is very foundational to having proper concepts that result in Biblical child-training.
We rejoice for all the saved babies and children in heaven. All the unborn that were destroyed in our nation’s abortion clinics this week went to heaven, praise God. Several years ago, there were twenty-two abortion clinics in Pennsylvania alone. In some states, there are likely more. I shudder to think of the loss of life this past week because of that, but one thing we know, those children are safe in the hands of Jesus. Perhaps the largest population in heaven will be those that were taken in their innocence.
Through the centuries, many children have died of disease, war and famine, and heathen worship. We praise God for the shelter of the blood atonement that covered them all. That atonement continues yet today. Parents that have lost children can be comforted that those children are safe in the hands of Jesus.
May God grant us wisdom in relating to His heritage. These children are loaned to us for just a short time, and our interest should be in pointing them God-ward. It has been said that a child is not a sinner to be converted, but a pupil to be taught. That is why we preach messages on training our children and guiding them to God. We favor indoctrination over child evangelism.
In conclusion, a quote from Menno Simons on the security of infants. “Although infants have neither faith nor baptism, think not that they are therefore damned. Oh no, they are saved. They have the Lord’s own promise of the kingdom of God, not through any elements, ceremonies, and external rites but solely by grace through Christ Jesus. Therefore, we truly believe that they are in a state of grace pleasing to God, pure, holy, heirs of God, and eternal life. Yet on account of this promise, all sincere Christian believers may assuredly rejoice and comfort themselves in the safety of their children.”