I have a parenting struggle to confess. I am uncomfortable about my young child being asked if he would like to make a decision to trust Christ as his Savior and Lord.
Please, don’t label me a heretic just yet. This is a real issue that I imagine other Christian parents have dealt with and I am hoping to generate some helpful conversation on the subject.
First, let me clarify my position:
- I ABSOLUTELY want my son to be saved “by grace… through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
- That, I believe should be manifest by a profession of faith in Christ (Romans 10:9-13).
- Which is in response to the presentation of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17).
Now here is where my concern lies. As a former pastor, I have spent time counseling people who made a profession of faith as a young child and then, later in life, struggled with assurance of salvation. While I fully acknowledge that struggling with assurance is not unique to people who make professions at an early age, it does seem to be more common than not.
Of course, when a person struggles with assurance of salvation from an early profession of faith, there are two possibilities: 1) the person IS saved or 2) the person IS NOT saved.
Those who are saved may struggle because they have difficulty recalling their state of mind at the point of their conversion. Those who are not saved may share the same struggle, or come to realize that their life is not bearing the fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).
That leads me to my concern: I want to guard my son, as best as I can, from making a false profession of faith.
I admit up front, that I do not have control of my son’s heart and that I cannot prevent him from making a false profession. For that matter, I can’t make him place faith in Christ either.
However, in the same way that I am intentional about how he hears the gospel, I want to be intentional about how he doesn’t hear the gospel. I’m not trying to be a control freak; I’m just trying to be responsible.
My son’s heart is a precious treasure of which I have been given stewardship. For that reason, I want to guard his heart –not from the gospel- but from a non-age-appropriate presentation of the gospel.
However, that begs a lot of questions that I cannot answer with objective facts. Rather, these questions require prayerful wisdom and insight. For instance, at what age will my son be able to adequately understand the gospel and place faith in Christ? Certainly it is different with every child –but how will I know? What a massive responsibility!
This leads to questions regarding children’s ministries, vacation Bible schools, camps, etc. Shouldn’t the leaders communicate to the parents how they will and won’t share the gospel with children under their care? For that matter, shouldn’t parents be asking? How would a ministry set such guidelines in the first place if all children mature at different rates?
I certainly don’t have all the answers. And perhaps I’m an over-protective parent. But when it comes to my son’s standing before God, I would rather err on the side of caution. So, here are a few ideas that have been rolling around in my head on the subject:
1) It’s never too early to share the gospel. The issue lies in how you share it. I try to be very intentional about sharing the good news in the way most appropriate for my son at the given time. I believe that learning the gospel through repetition over time is valuable and helps assure that my child understands concepts fully as the sharing increases in detail.
2) I do not want to give my son false assurance. If my son (at an early age) makes a profession of faith in Christ, I would rather respond by saying, “I’m so thankful that you have taken steps toward Christ” rather than “Congratulations, you are saved now!” If he is saved, he certainly isn’t going to be unsaved by my hesitancy to give him false assurance. On the other hand, if he isn’t saved, yet I claim that he is, I am adding to his confusion and struggle later in life.
3) Because of that, I believe that as a parent, not only does responsibility of evangelizing my son belong to me, but the responsibility of guarding my son from non-age appropriate evangelism belongs to me as well. Non-appropriate evangelism would include things like overly persuasive language, pressuring for a decision, assuming knowledge that the child does not possess, etc.
I know there must be a lot of insights and questions I am missing here. So, assuming you don’t think I’m a heretic, would you share your thoughts?
- What have you learned from your experience as a Christian parent?
- How are you guiding the conversation in order to avoid false professions while inviting dialogue?
- Has your church’s children’s ministry ever discussed this issue with you?
I’m looking for wisdom and help here… so please, share!