Andy Hynes is a PhD candidate at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Follow him @ABHYNES on Twitter.
This is a question I continue to have concerning the plethora of extremely young children being led by parents or church staff to “ask Jesus into their heart,” or “make a decision to follow Jesus.” To be honest, what young child that is raised in a “Christian” home and church environment wouldn’t say yeah, “I want to do that?” The problem does not lie in the decision making of the child but the overeager, self-reliant parents and pastoral staff.
Infants have historically been baptized for covenant purposes and to remove the guilt of original sin. The thought or desire was guarantee that the infant would come to a genuine full salvific faith later in life. However, the purpose behind baptizing the infant was a “safety” measure for the parents. Logically the infant has no concept of need for Christ. It was such a big deal for the 1st generation American Puritans that they later developed the half-way covenant. The method used to allow concerned grandparents to have their grandchildren baptized as infants, to ensure the covenant promises and blessings.
I see parents today leading young children, who do not have a proper biblical understanding of essential concepts, into a “moment or decision,” that has more ownership by the parent than the child. Something like this happens…
Child: I want to ask Jesus in my heart.
Parent: Great, why do you want to do that?
Child: I want to be a Christian and go to heaven.
Parent: Okay, let’s pray to ask Jesus to come into your heart.
Parent: Repeat after me…
At that moment absolute RELIEF fills the parent, with the “assurance” that their child is now saved! They come down front, talk for a brief moment with a staff member, and then, to a standing ovation, they are presented as having been saved. We run them through the baptismal waters to symbolize death and new birth…something a young child can comprehend?
As I read Scripture, two concepts are associated with salvation, repentance and faith. Without a PROPER understanding of these two ideas, true biblical salvation cannot exist. Jesus ALWAYS encounters adults when discussing and talking about new birth. Paul reasons in the temple and synagogue with adults. (I know, what about the passages where Jesus talks about child-like faith, or reserve Him like one of these. Out of context!)
Biblical repentance means a fundamental change from the inside out. A vital understanding of sin before God, that points one to seek faith in Christ’s atoning work. Do our young children even have a familiarity with these ideals? No child or preteen will have the fullness of understanding that a PhD student in Theology possesses, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t demand strong comprehension from our kids! So what is with so many young children being led to ask Jesus into their heart, instead of teaching them what it means to REPENT and TRUST!
I had to get over MYSELF
There was indescribable relief that came over my heart when I grasped the depths of the above truths. My focus was turned toward pointing my sons to biblical ideas and not traditional concepts. God removed from my hands the burden of convincing my oldest son who is now 6 to “get saved.” I cannot make my sons pursue repentance and faith. What I can do is confuse them, and after all it is not about me. Pointing my sons to Christ comes through spending time teaching them what the Bible actually says, and not what has traditionally been thought. I am no less a “witness” for Christ to my sons than I am the tribal chief in the bush of Africa!
Instead of asking our kids, “Do you want to be saved, or do you want to ask Jesus into your heart,” let’s not ask them anything, but rather teach them all the truths of the scripture, and specifically those relating to repentance and faith.