Sunday Catechism: Children of the Covenant

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Q: What is faith in Jesus Christ?

A: Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, by which we receive and rest on Him alone for salvation, as He is offered to us in the gospel.

We don’t do altar calls in the Children’s Service, and some of our parents may wonder why. The covenantal model of spiritual education is possibly unfamiliar to a number of families in our church, and it’s particularly relevant to the next several catechism questions.

I’d like to quote at length from Our Covenant with Kids by Dr. Timothy Sisemore. The entire book is well worth reading, but I’ll focus on his chapter entitled, “How and When Can Children Be Saved?” In a subsection on “How do our children become Christians?” (pp. 62-70), Dr. Sisemore mentions several major practices and doctrinal positions, including baptismal regeneration and confirmation, but I’d like to hone in on “personal decisions for Christ” versus a covenantal stance:

[Personal decisions for Christ] is the most common view of the salvation of children in evangelical circles today. Its most common form runs like this: The child grows to reach an age of accountability and inevitably sins. The child realizes his sinfulness and makes a personal decision to repent of his sins while accepting by faith that Jesus paid for sins on the cross. This is often during the invitation of a church service or is made public if it occurred in private.
There is a certain theology to this, of course. Such views most often stress the individual’s choice about salvation and the need for faith to occur before regeneration. Strangely, many who hold to this insist one cannot lose his or her salvation after such an event, even if he or she choose to desert the faith. In that sense it is a twist on freedom of the will in that one can will to be saved but loses freedom after that. Persons who hold to such a view often disapprove of infant baptism because of the inability of infants to decide for themselves and, as we have mentioned, the poor record of some who were baptized.

While I will not argue that sudden conversions do occur and can be genuine, even in the lives of children, there are important problems with this view. First is the problem of setting an age at which conversion can occur. In church history children were generally not admitted to full membership of the church until they reached ten or more years of age. Conversions are reported at ages as young as four. While certain developmental differences are to be expected, there are questions as to how much of the nature of salvation must a child understand before making such a major decision. Children raised in churches holding to this view know what is expected of them and are encouraged to make a profession of faith. The pressure applied to young children can range from the natural desires to please one’s parents to the terrifying threats of a fiery evangelist. Children who make decisions might easily do so for questionable motives.
…. Little stress may be given in such child evangelism to informing the child of the challenges of the Christian life so that he or she can ‘count the cost’ before making such a decision. Most often there is not a dramatic turning of a sinful life into a godly one, and later behavior may not reflect a change of heart. In my work, I have talked with a number of burdened parents whose children had gone through the right steps but still did not seem to have a heart for God.

Billy Graham Crusaide 2

Scripture suggests that God has voluntarily reached to man through covenants. He offered life to Adam and his posterity upon the condition of perfect obedience, this being the covenant of works. We know this didn’t last long, but notice that Adam didn’t act for himself alone; his offspring was affected. Following Adam’s sin, God compassionately instituted a new covenant, this one of grace. In it, sinners are offered life based on the work of Christ and faith in him, Christ being the ‘second Adam.’ Specific covenants in Bible history work this out in more detail.
If you study the biblical texts telling of God’s covenanting, you will be impressed by the fact that covenants are made with families rather than individuals, and children are included in these; Genesis 17:7 and Acts 2:39 being two of the clearest examples. God routinely deals with families in the Bible. Examples include his dealings with Noah, Lot, Israel on the Passover, the Lw, Korah’s rebellion, and Paul’s prayer for Onesiphorus’ family. Baptisms in the New Testament were frequently household baptisms.

…. While Scripture does not appear to offer parents a guarantee of their salvation, the nature of covenants seems to offer a great deal of hope…. Calvin believed in a ‘common election’ of a people by God, meaning he drew most of his children from a body of people of his choosing. In the Old Testament, he covenanted with Abraham, and Israel became the people from whom almost all believers originated. In the New Testament, there is not a national people, so the covenant promises flow from the members of the church….
The best understanding of the covenant blessing to children of believers is that there is reason for parents to hope for and anticipate the salvation of their children though there is no room for complacency nor taking this hope for granted. Parents may see faith given to their children in infancy mature and blossom, leading to a clear profession and behavior consistent with it. Others may see their children make a more specific decision to follow Christ. The manner is not as important as the impact, with the best evidence of belief being a life marked by love for God and a longing to follow in his ways.

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