Typically, areas of specific concern create high anxiety levels in Christian adults. One of those specific areas is our children. The spiritual concern Christian parents have for their children commonly produces a high level of anxiety.

Commonly, a Christian husband and wife want a child. When the wanted child is conceived, their anticipation is enormous. When the wanted child is born, the joy is indescribable. When a few years pass, these parents come to a new depth of awareness. The child they love so much will become a responsible person.

That realization cannot be described. This person I brought into the world is an eternal soul. At some point in this child's life, he or she will be responsible and accountable to God. That awareness begins a long period of sober concern.

When my children entered adolescence, there was nothing I wanted more for them than their salvation. I wanted them to enter Christ, but I also fervently wanted them to have a sustaining relationship with God. In those desires, I made several continuing investments in their spiritual development. Joyce shared those desires and made her own continuing investments in their spiritual development.

As Christians, we all fervently want our children's salvation. The thought of our child not being saved is unthinkable. We don't want a child of ours to ever experience the feeling of being lost. We want our child always to be either safe or saved.

Were it possible for us to believe for our children, or to repent for our children, or to be baptized for our children, we would. But our children must choose to become Christians just as we did.

That creates a major difficulty for us as parents. When should we allow our children to make that decision?

  1. The majority of the children in our society have traumatic, unhealthy experiences in the early years of their childhood.
    1. Some of those traumatic experiences are common knowledge to all of us.
      1. The national divorce rate for first marriages is 50%.
      2. The majority of first marriages that do not divorce are not successful marriages or homes.
      3. Children in single parent homes must wrestle with thoughts, adjustments, and situations that are unique to that situation.
      4. Children in blended homes also must wrestle with thoughts, adjustments, and situations that are unique to that situation.
      5. The physical abuse of children is very real.
      6. The sexual abuse of children is very real.
      7. The fears and stresses created by their peers are very real.
      8. A great variety of forces work to either attack or challenge the security of children.
    2. When a child's sense of security is under attack, what can he or she do? Let me give you three examples of a child's options. These are not their only three options.
      1. The child can react negatively.
        1. He or she can become angry, rebellious, or defiant.
        2. He or she can exhibit destructive behavior.
        3. Or he or she can just withdraw from life and from people.
        4. Typically, the child who spends childhood responding negatively becomes the adult who lives life negatively.
      2. Or, the child can assume the role of a "pleaser."
        1. The pleaser child accepts the mission of making others happy.
        2. Commonly, he or she is committed to being a perfectionist; he or she must make people happy.
        3. The pleaser is typically a peacemaker (he or she tires to get others to end their conflict or tries to skirt conflicts).
        4. Thus, the most common characteristic of the pleaser child is to be the fixer; he or she is always trying to "fix" things.
        5. Typically, the pleaser child becomes the pleaser adult.
      3. Or, the child can seek a new source of security.
        1. For a child in a religious environment, he or she can turn to God for this new security.
        2. For this child, the concerns in seeking security are different from concerns in seeking forgiveness.

  2. What are we to do about children who want to be baptized for reasons that have little or nothing to do with salvation?
    1. There is no simple answer, no simple solution, and no magical course of action that will eliminate this situation promptly and easily.
    2. At the foundation of this situation is an education problem.
      1. Our salvation concept is oversimplified, and our oversimplification contains serious deficiencies.
      2. Our salvation concept: a person is either lost or saved.
      3. We commonly accept as fact that a person is saved in the early years of life.
        1. We would say that before birth a child is saved.
        2. We would say that at birth a child is saved.
        3. We would say the same for years one through five, and maybe six.
      4. At age seven some Christian adults enter what I would call "the doubt zone."
        1. Commonly, the "doubt zone" does not exist when we talk about impersonal categories.
        2. Commonly, the "doubt zone" exists when we talk about a specific person.
        3. For many, the "doubt zone" covers ages seven to eleven.
      5. For many adults, we believe a child is either fast approaching or has entered the lost area from age twelve and beyond.
        1. Most would agree that a person beyond the age of twelve needs salvation.
        2. He or she needs to be baptized.
    3. From my understanding, this concept is too simple; it is inaccurate.
      1. Again, I am sharing my perspective; I am neither inspired nor the authority.
      2. I am asking you to think, study, and advance your understanding.
      3. The terminology we use in our salvation concept creates an incorrect impression.
        1. Only lost people can be saved. (To save is to rescue.)
        2. A person who is not lost does not need to be saved.
      4. I would like to suggest that it is a mistake to "label" a young child as saved.
        1. We need to understand that this child is innocent.
        2. Our children need to understand that they are innocent when they are young.
        3. Because of innocence, he or she is secure and under God's protection.
      5. There is also a period in a child's life when he or she is safe.
        1. In this period, the child is growing out of innocence.
        2. The child's abstract thinking (that we discussed last week) is developing.
        3. As we discussed last week, the will is awakening.
        4. But rebellion against or rejection of God (rebellion that comprehends significance) has not occurred.
        5. In the safe period it is common for the child to experience fear, but not to grasp guilt.
      6. Certainly the time will come when the child knows, understands, and feels guilt.
        1. When that time comes, the child needs to turn to God for salvation.
        2. At the time, a believing, penitent person needs to be baptized.
    4. I want to suggest that we need to educate children and adults in a more accurate salvation concept.
    Time of
      1. There is a period of innocence.
      Time of Innocence
      Birth ? Years
      • No Sin
      • No Separation from God
      • Not Lost
        1. The child is incapable of abstract thought.
        2. His or her will has not developed.
        3. Rebellion against God that understands significance has not occurred.
      1. There is a period of safety. This is a transitional period.
      Time of Safety
      ? Years ? Years
      • Fear Moves to Guilt
      • Awareness Grows
      • Asks Permission
        1. Abstract thinking is developing and an understanding of concepts is growing.
        2. The will is beginning to emerge and express itself.
        3. A fear of God, of death, and of judgment begins.
        4. In this period the child is likely to ask permission to be baptized rather than to declare the need to be baptized: "Can I be baptized?" not, "I must be baptized!"
      1. There is the condition of being lost.
      Time of Guilt
      ? Years      
      • Responsible
      • Sinful
      • Needs Forgiveness
      • Urgency
        1. In this condition there is awareness and understanding of guilt, and often the reason for guilt can be identified.
        2. To this person, the need for forgiveness is an urgent matter.

  3. If a young child wants to talk to me about being baptized, what do I do?
    1. I compliment and encourage the child for his or her concern.
      1. I want the child to know that his or her concern is a good thing.
      2. I want him or her to know that he or she does not have to "pass a test" or please me.
    2. I do not ask the child to tell me what he or she knows about baptism.
      1. Virtually every child expects to be asked to do that and has memorized "the right answers."
      2. If he or she gives the "right answers" and is not baptized, the child can feel rejected.
    3. I ask the child to explain "your inside reasons" for wanting to be baptized.
      1. I listen to understand.
      2. I do not challenge or reject answers.
      3. I gently try to get the child to elaborate on his or her reasons.
    4. If he or she does not mention fear, I ask, "Are you afraid?"
      1. If the answer is, "No," we don't discuss it.
      2. If the answer is, "Yes," I ask him or her to tell me about the fear.
    5. If he or she does not mention guilt (and a young child rarely does), I ask if he or she feels guilt.
      1. If the child says, "No," we don't discuss guilt.
      2. If the child says, "Yes," the concerns of the child will determine the direction of the conversation.
    6. We will end our conversation with a discussion about being safe, about fear being a part of growing, and about the fact he or she will know guilt when he or she has it.
    7. Most of the time this gives an basis that the child understands for suggesting that he or she wait a little longer and think with Mom or Dad more.

I would like to close with a question and an observation. First, the question. Spiritually, is all that you want for your child baptism? I doubt that any of us spiritually want only baptism for our children. When a your child asks you about baptism, spiritually there is far more to consider than just the act of baptism.

The observation. Being a parent while the children live in our home and depend on us for virtually everything is a vastly different experience than being a parent when they leave home. When they leave home, the only power we have in their lives is the power of example. They must see in us that Christianity produces the most desirable life and person possible, and realize that we have that life and are that person because of our relationship with Christ.

When our children leave home, that is the only power we have. While our children are at home, that is the most important power that we have.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 1 November 1998
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