Friday, July 20, 2007

Children, salvation, and confusion...

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to deal with in regards to our children is the issue of salvation. We’ve really been struggling with this lately with our oldest son. He’s tooled quite a bit like I am – extremely analytical, yet somewhat driven by emotions.
Like me, our son tends to like clearly defined, “black and white” lines. The “grey areas” in life really bug him….I can sympathize with that. At one point in my life I embraced the KJV-only position, largely because it was so comfortable for me. I used to love the legalistic side of Fundamentalism simply because it removed all the grey areas for me. I didn’t need to engage in deep studies surrounding the Bible version debate, CCM, dress standards, worship styles, Calvinism, and other controversial issues because those things were spelled out for me in black and white. To a certain extent, I was comfortable in my ignorance; I was thrilled to have somebody tell me what I could and couldn’t do; and I was excited to have a sharp, clear line in front of me on every single issue in life. I didn’t have to think; I just needed to remember not to cross the line. Our oldest son will have some struggles as a result of this character trait which he has inherited from his father. But he’s also inherited very strong emotions from his father – that’s not bad, but it causes problems. The result of these two characteristics of his makeup is that he has really struggled with this area of salvation. Again, I can sympathize.

I must have made 30 professions of faith from the time I was 5 to the time I was 20. Each time there was an emotional appeal to accept the Lord, I tearfully obliged. Yet, I was so concerned that I hadn’t “done it right”, that I went on doubting and confused. I’ve been baptized in 6 different baptisteries, a lake, and a river, in 3 different states. Truth be told, if you were to ask me now when I was saved, I wouldn’t be able to tell you; although, I know beyond any doubt the Lord has mercifully saved my soul. I’m saying all this to get to a point….I don’t want my son to go through the same 25 years of confusion that I did. I didn’t get this thing nailed down until 4 or 5 years ago, and I don’t want my son to waste all that energy.

We’ve been working with him on this issue since he began seriously enquiring about it at age 3. As I’ve seen him grow into a sharp, caring, compassionate young man, who genuinely seems to seek after the things of God, I find myself thinking that he may have become a Christian at that early age. However, I’m unsure. He’s 9 now and truly struggling with this issue. We continue to pray with him and for him, and he continues to ask very “thoughtful” questions. We’ve committed to take him along slowly – at his pace – until everything comes together for him.

Perhaps the worst thing we can do to these young, inquisitive minds is to become impatient, lead them in “the prayer”, and tell them that they are now saved. About 5 years ago, a pastor in our former church did just that with our son. Our son had made it a habit to go forward at invitations to pray. Most generally, I went with him, but I chose not to that particular time. The pastor knelt down beside him and rose up a few moments later and began walking towards me with a big grin on his face. He said, “Your son just accepted Christ!”
“He did?”
“Yep! Isn’t that right, Trey?”

My son didn’t respond, so I said, “What just happened, son?” He indicated that he had prayed. I asked a couple of basic questions, but my questions were met with a blank stare. I looked at the pastor (who was still smiling). He looked back down at my son and began telling him that he was saved because he had followed him in the sinner’s prayer and….I interrupted him and asked him why he was trying to make my son believe something that he obviously didn’t understand yet. I can't begin to describe to you the frustration and anger I felt at that moment.

Some time later the pastor began to pressure my son about baptism, but I put an end to it rather quickly. I wonder how many times this story has unfolded and kids begin a lifelong struggle of misunderstanding and confusion about salvation? It took us quite a while to get over this with our son, but by God’s grace, we have.

The tactic we’ve landed on is one of patience and careful teaching. My son and I spent some time in my pastor’s office last Wednesday night speaking about this issue. I truly appreciated the way that my pastor carefully, slowly, and lovingly asked my son questions regarding his understanding and what he was thinking. He was careful and loving with Trey and didn’t rush him along, nor did he attempt to give him some false assurance. This is certainly, in my mind, the best way to approach this issue with these precious children.
Of all the factors that can contribute to a person having confusion and poor understanding regarding this issue of salvation, perhaps the most major factor is poor teaching. God help us to safeguard against confusing these young children about this...


Phil said...

Hi Ellis, I found your blog linked from Fundamentally Reformed. This has been on my mind a lot, too. At constant source of concern is "at what age does the inferred 'age of accountability' end?" Since I don't know the answer to that, we've taught our kids about salvation ever since they learned to talk. Their ages are 2, 4, and 7. When they express concern about going to hell, we lead them in a little prayer. My son has become old enough and answered our questions well enough that we felt he was ready for baptism, which happened recently. Sometimes he questions salvation, but I always try to stress pure "faith" rather than just praying a "sinner's prayer" over and over.

A month or so ago at vacation bible school at our church, my 4 yo said she "got saved" when a "man brought her into the fellowship hall" to talk to her about it. Needless to say we haven't yet scheduled the baptism.

Don Johnson said...

Hi Ellis

This is an issue that confronts us a lot in the ministry. I think many have been misinformed concerning the nature of salvation, leading us to trust in a prayer instead of Christ. [sort of a hocus pocus magic formula]

As a pastor, I have been pressured the other way by parents wanting me to baptise their children on the earliest profession of faith. I am afraid we Baptists too often practice delayed infant baptism! There is something in us that is so works/ritual oriented.

I have required that children come to me asking about baptism without their parents present to lend support. The children need to articulate to me their understanding of salvation and the reason for baptism. This has helped to some extent, although I have still wished I had some baptisms I could 'undo'.

With our own children, we often had them asking about salvation, often at night when putting them to bed. Our practice was to ask them to talk to us again in the morning. Usually they forgot about it the next morning, but when they didn't, a much more productive session followed. I believe that several of our children truly were born again by requiring them to trust in Christ with the 'whole man' so to speak, not just the emotions, or to be like mom and Dad, etc, through this approach.

One thing that can help with young people, I think, is to lead them to understand saving faith as simply trust in God's word. For myself, assurance came when I understood Rom 10.13 meant me. God made a promise to 'whosoever' called. Did God intend to keep the promise? Yes. Had I called? Yes. Then what?

Faith is the result. I shall be saved, the passage says. I believe God meant what he said and I need not be troubled by doubt any longer.

I hope that helps some.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ellis Murphree said...

Thanks, Don.

The "bedtime interest" in salvation has been a constant around here for some time. We've handled it the same way you mentioned, and with similar results. Most of the time the kids have forgotten about it the next morning, but the times they haven't has led to wonderful discussions. Thanks for your input here.

Of the many times I made professions of faith in my childhood, it was almost always at VBS or in a camp setting. There are so many places that really focus on the number rather than carefully handling the kid. I'm thankful that our church has such a careful approach to dealing with kids in the yearly VBS setting.

Ellis Murphree said...

BTW Don,

I appreciate the fact that you - as a pastor - are so careful in this regard. Your comment about "delayed infant baptism" is humorous, but somewhat accurate I'm afraid.

Bob Hayton said...

Great post, Ellis. I've been following your blog for a while and you are pointing out important concerns.

I wholeheartedly agree with this post. We were in a church once where a leader in the church, an older man, bragged about how he put a 4 or 5 year old in the spotlight during an invitation. He asked everyone who was saved to raise their hand. With so few kids, it was obvious this little boy was one of the ones who didn't regularly raise his hand. Then the man singled out the boy and challenged him to think about why he wasn't saved and if he shouldn't get saved.

Talk about peer pressure, and wanting to join the "in" club. If that boy went on to "get saved" as a result of this, chances are high it is just a going through the motions to please the leadership.

We were appalled by the shocking abuse of leadership. I understand people genuinely want kids to get saved, but many times the methodology and emphasis on numbers can have damaging effects.

All too often we trust in the prayer, and introspectively wonder if we "did it right" or "really meant it". Since when is salvation based on human effort? Simple faith in the Redeemer saves, and children are prone to be confused by the sinner's prayer and the altar call (both innovations of the last 150 years).

Blessings on you and your family, brother,

Bob Hayton
(aka Fundamentally Reformed)

Ellis Murphree said...

Dead on, Bob. So much of the years of confusion some people experience is a result of bad teaching, faulty understanding, and really lousy methodology.

BTW, I read your blog for the first time the other day when you linked here. I'm slowly reading some of your older articles...I'm sorry I didn't come across your place sooner!

Bob Hayton said...

Thanks, I've been enjoying your thoughts too. It's guys like you, Brian McCrorie, and many on Sharper Iron that give me hope for a true reformation of the IFB movement. I'm not sure how widespread such a reform would be, but its great to see many trying to steer in a good direction.