The fastest growing department at Bethlehem Baptist Church is the nursery—and there is no end in sight. My wife knows of ten expectant mothers at BBC. There are some really tough questions we parents of young children face. How early should we try to help our child make a decisive commitment to Jesus as Savior and Lord? How can we do it so it has meaning and so he remembers it? What about baptism and communion?
Everything we do from the time a child is born should be aimed at leading him to faith. Our warmth, our hugs, our laughter, our setting boundaries, our stern looks, our severe discipline, our mercy—all should be communicating who God is and that he is trustworthy. We should hope that our children will never be disbelieving but will rather grow up trusting in the Christ of our family.
That has happened so far in one of our sons. What I did when I felt Karsten grasped the gospel fully enough (just before his 7th birthday) was to take him to my study one night and have a prayer with him in which he expressed his faith in Jesus. We took the Bible which he had been given that Christmas, and he wrote in it these words: “September 18th, 1978, I prayed with dad and told Jesus that I am trusting him for the forgiveness of my sins. And that I want to be a Christian.” We did not try to say that this was the beginning of his Christian life. We don’t know just when it began. But this was a decisive commitment made with Dad so as to plant a definite milestone that he can look back to.
Benjamin’s experience was different. There was a time, a year or so ago, when I asked Benjamin if he wanted to pray and ask Jesus into his heart. He said no. That really set me to praying. This was a different battle than with son number one. Recently I sensed a greater understanding and greater earnestness and openness. So I tried again. He was more than willing. This is what he wrote in his new Bible: “On October 30, 1982, at 8:25p.m. I prayed with Daddy and asked Jesus to come into my heart and be my Savior. I know I am a sinner, but God loves me and sent Jesus to die for me. I want him to be my Lord. I believe he is now in my heart.” This happened two months after his seventh birthday.
Children are different. I don’t know how it will go with Abraham (or Halleluja). I don’t consider my job done with Karsten and Benjamin, either. My advice is to pray earnestly and daily for the faith of your children. And when they grasp the gospel, ask if they want to have a prayer with you either to make a start by receiving Christ or to make it clear and decisive that they have already received him and are now trusting in him. Write it down in their Bible and refer to it as a significant event.
My conviction is that once a child has made a decisive profession of faith the parents should make sure he understands the Lord’s supper and then help him participate. With regard to baptism my own mind is not made up yet. On the one hand, it seems Biblical that baptism should immediately follow the profession of faith. On the other hand, it is so hard for a child of seven to express in baptism its true significance. Our present practice is to allow 4-6 graders (give or take a year!) to go through a pastor’s class to prepare for baptism and church membership. I will be praying and thinking more on this.
But above all, let us pray and labor as parents to bring our children to faith and to saturate them in the Word.
As a father,