A Baptist Failure.
On April 29-May 1 I had the privilege of attending the Fight Laugh Feast rally here in South Dakota. While I am sure I will write about much that I heard and learned there, the one thing that has kept me up at night is the talk given by President Ben Merkle. Ben Merkle is the president of New Saint Andrews college in Moscow, Idaho. His talk was titled "Thy Kingdom Come," and it has cost me sleep since I heard it.
President Merkle's opening statement was "You may not be Pedo-Baptist or Post-Millennial, but the left is; and that is why they are winning." Perhaps you may be confused by this statement, but it hit me like a train. What proceeded from that talk was perspective shifting to say the least. His main point was that the left believes that the children belong to them. They have a sense of ownership over the children. He did not mean that they actually baptize their children, but they understand the idea of covenant children better than most Christians. He also clarified that he did not believe the left actually believes in the victory of the church here on the earth. They believe in the success of their worldview. They believe that progressivism will expand on continue until the world is filled with their dystopian wet dream.
He said all of this as a commendation for the church to take ownership of their children and have faith in the commission we were given. This is something that the church has lost. The church seems to have lost a sense of ownership over even our own children. We separate from them. we send them to be taught and tutored by a worldview that is at best antithetical to our worldview. We send them to shallow playtime where there is maybe a gospel scented candle in the window and call it "church" for them. Then we hang our heads low and talk about how soon it will be over. Sure we should evangelize but we will lose. Things will progressively get worse and worse.
I view this as an evangelical depression that has overtaken the church in our culture. And this comes to me sitting in that auditorium wondering to myself, "If a covenantal, Pedo-Baptist is up here talking about how they have lost a sense of ownership over their children, what does that mean for me as a Credo-Baptist?" I don't baptize babies. I don't believe that is scriptural. But one thing I think that no one can argue is that those who do baptize babies have a much stronger sense of ownership for their children. This got me wondering, how have we neglected the education of our children in the faith? What am I as a pastor doing to take ownership of the children in my church?
For some reason, in His divine counsel, God has elected to work in a salvific way within the family structure. Good strong Christian parents tend to raise up Christian children. This is not strictly a rule but it is a recognizable pattern. God tends to often save children of the saved. This is a blessing that God has given us parents! He, in His infinite wisdom and grace, works in this pattern. It should follow that we as Christians should recognize this and act upon it. We should catechize the kids, train them, help them grow, and more. We should take ownership of the education of the children in our midst.
The Child Sized Question.
So first of all, do we? As with many things, this is a spectrum within the church. Some do well, some fail. However, I think we can see with some measure of accuracy that within the larger evangelical church, we have the same success rate in this as in trying to get honey from hornets. We expect sweet results but only wind up getting stung. The seeker sensitive movement is hemorrhaging young like it's throat is cut. Perhaps worse than this, we have raised up a generation of Christians (those who actually stay in the church) who couldn't tell you why it is important that Jesus was truly God and truly man. We have an entire generation of Christians who have maybe a first grade education in the faith. They could point to Jesus on the coloring page and mostly stay in the lines, but that is about as far as they get.
It is my belief that the church has as a whole failed the young people who have grown up in it. God help us. As with any film or novel showing the dystopian ruins of a society, someone will inevitably ask two questions. "How did we get here?" and "Where do we go from here?" In regard to the first, we got here by stepping off the foundation of Sola Scriptura and throwing ourselves down writhing on the floor like a Hindu "slain in the Spirit" of mere emotionalism. If it feels good, it's God. Doctrine became a curse word and we would do anything to get people in the door. Go get those tithe checks brother, and don't do anything to upset anyone who write a tithe check. This also extended to the beggar population of children's church. They can't write checks and even if they could, likely they would bounce. But the seeker sensitive movement shaped the philosophy of children's ministry.
"How can we get and hold their attention?" replaced the old model of "Demand their attention with the truth." "How can we make this fun?" replaced the puritanical idea of "How can we train these real kids for a real war with the world?" This is not to say that children should not have fun or enjoy church, but the priorities switched. Previously, the order was truth and genuine care for the eternal wellbeing of the child over fun and entertainment. Now the order is fun and games, getting truth in if possible.
But now comes the primary sledgehammer to the gut that I was faced with. I am a Baptist. Specifically, I am a reformed Baptist. As I sat in that auditorium mentally running through the things I have now just typed out, I came to a startling realization about those who hold the same convictions I do about baptism. I would not describe most Baptists I know as Baptists. I would describe them as "Anti-Pedo-Baptists." What do I mean? I mean so many of the Baptists I know are so "Baptist" that they try to distance themselves from anything that could be considered "Pedo." "Credo or Die" seems to be the motto that they claim. Because of this, child dedications are virtually seen as one step away from tabboo. They are fine as long as you don't mention covenant. Rather than being seen as an essential commitment to the children of our church, we view child dedication as a nice gesture if someone wishes to do so.
But here is the hitch. Baptists have no hang ups theologically over the idea of covenant children. Or at the very least, we shouldn't. We don't deny Isaac's election as Abraham's covenant child. We don't deny the place of the twelve sons of Israel as covenant children. We don't look back at circumcision and say "what a stupid idea!" We see the place of it. We even recognize the fact that God still saves at a high rate, the children of the saved. That is the prayer of all Christian parents. Yet we live in a state of conflict with this idea.
Here Comes the Rebuke.
It appears to me that Baptists as a whole have embraced the "Babysitting with a Jesus story" model of children's care. This makes me sick. We have lost the idea that those three foot high eternal souls are exactly that; ETERNAL SOULS! We treat kids as stupid monkeys who should be entertained while "real church" happens in the big room up above the little rooms downstairs. We view catechizing as arcane and ridiculous. Even worse, we hold conferences and meetings about how to fall further down this rabbit hole of fecal ministry failures. Rather than seeing our failure we double down on the failure. This in essence is spiritual child abuse and should be treated as such.
Perhaps I could use a more fitting example. Let's say you take the most vulnerable human beings you can think of, you give them bribes and bright colors, and loud flashy noises. You do this for two hours a week. In between the beats and colors you tell them a fairy tale of Snow White. You have little cartoon cutouts and songs about how much Snow White loves them. You sing cute songs and play games all about Snow White. Then the kids grow up and you get angry about how they don't believe in Snow White. "How could they! We told them the fairytale every week." Then you hold conferences on how to make the cartoon more funny and how to make the music more engaging. Let's say you figure out a way for the kids to have more fun playing and pretending that Snow White is there than they ever have before. Will they believe in Snow White then? I submit to you that they will not.
Perhaps the unthinkable is true. Perhaps the church should stop treating the Bible like a fairy tale and stop treating the education of our children like a fun babysitting time. Maybe the church should do the unthinkable and actually preach the gospel to those kids like they are real people. Perhaps the church should grow up and realize there is a war on and our children need to be trained to take up the fight. Perhaps the church should take the education of eternal souls seriously and with fear and trembling teach them to hold their swords properly. Perhaps we should stop sending our kids to the enemy to be trained. Perhaps we should take this seriously.
Perhaps Baptists should at the very least baptize their babies in the love and commitment to raise them in the training of the faith. We may not sprinkle water on their heads but if we keep treating our kids the way we are, we will keep seeing the same results we are currently seeing. If that doesn't scare you, maybe you should re-read that sentence.
Our children are immortal souls. I am sick of seeing churches spiritually abuse their children by treating them as Guiney pigs for their least experienced pastors on staff.
A Practical Example.
How do we do this? We start by recognizing the problem. The old adage is true, "Admission is the first step to not destroying another generation of Christians." Next we take any step we can in the right direction. As a pastor, I have started catechizing our entire church. I have specifically motivated the children in our church by offering them candy for each catechism question and verse they memorize. This may be bribery but I am trying to instill some sense of importance and excitement behind serious things of the faith. My prayer is that as they memorize the catechism and the corresponding verses, someday they will forget the Snickers and M&M's and look back and be grateful that Pastor Jonathan taught them the truth.
Secondly, I am offering to the church that I will teach a homeschool Bible class to their kids. It will be an elective class but they can come and learn a tested Bible course in a classroom setting. If the world can teach them lies for eight hours a day, five days a week; I am willing to set aside a few hours a week to teach them the truth.
The moral is to do something. It may not be much, but do something. I am a bi-vocational church planter with extremely limited support. I can do so little. But what I can do, I will do. Why? Because every child in my church will be baptized in the love and commitment of their pastor to attempt to teach them the truth and raise them up as educated Christians who believe the real truth, not a fairytale version of the truth. Then I'll actually baptize them after their profession of faith.