Growing up, my husband and I were raised in credo-baptist churches. We are familiar with the pattern of professing faith in these types of churches. At some point, a child raised in the church will hopefully profess faith and then be baptized, thus becoming a member of the church. As adults when we both joined the PCA as professing and baptized believers, we accepted infant baptism as biblical and appropriate.
When our boys were born, we had them baptized. We gladly answered the questions and promised “to bring (them) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” It was a joy to hear the pastor pray for us and our children and especially to have them pray that our boys would never know a day without the Lord. That has always been our dearest prayer for our children.
As the boys have grown, we began to think through and to wonder when our boys should meet with the elders to profess faith and become communing members. We didn’t have a template for that from our own upbringings. We began to study and to ask questions about how to know when a young person is ready to profess faith. Our boys were covenant children: baptized, raised in the church, catechized. They have always professed faith to some degree. How do we know when they’re ready?
Something that frustrated us the was the expectation by some that all believers must have a conversion experience. It seems schizophrenic to pray at a child’s baptism that they would never know a day without Christ and then expect children raised in the church to have a conversion story. Questions like: What was your life like before you had faith in Christ? How is your life different today? are hard ones to answer for many children who have been raised in the church. Some may very well have a moment they can point to when they came to faith. For others it may have been such a gradual working of the Spirit that they aren’t aware of when exactly they became believers.
Another thing we heard was, “No one is born a believer.” To an extent that’s certainly true. We don’t inherit our faith from our parents like we do our eye color or our nationality. Children raised in the church must take ownership of their faith. To be a communing member of the church, to be a believer, they must profess faith and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
But on the other hand, there are limitations to such a saying. We don’t know when exactly the Spirit begins to work in the hearts of our children. Scripture gives examples of some who the Spirit was active in even before birth (Luke 1:41). God can work in the hearts of unborn children, and for the sake of my stillborn daughter, I am thankful for that truth. If we use “No one is born a believer” to say that every one must have a conversion experience in order to be truly saved, we are placing unbiblical limits on what God can do.
In our churches today, there are two temptations that we face when considering the faith of our covenant children. One is presumption. In some churches and denominations, there is a tendency to assume all baptized children are believers and should be given the rights of full membership. Some of these churches advocate for paedocommunion. They argue that these covenant children shouldn’t be kept from the table.
Other churches have all children of a certain age go through confirmation and join the church at a set time, whether or not the children have made a credible profession of faith. In many churches, parents and leaders don’t take seriously the importance of evangelizing children raised in church. In each of these cases, there is a presumption that children raised in the church are believers without requiring or expecting the children to take ownership for their faith and their relationship with Christ.
The other temptation when dealing with covenant children is skepticism. Churches and parents who tend towards skepticism may doubt the sincerity of their children’s profession of faith. They might believe the children are too young to profess faith. They might say the children are simply parroting what they’ve heard from their parents. They might insist that the children have a conversion experience before becoming communing members.
While it’s true that young children may not be ready to take on the responsibilities of full membership, we should be careful in expressing skepticism over their nascent faith. We should encourage them to profess their faith, not belittle them for their youth. To do otherwise is to doubt the ability of God to work in the lives of even our smallest children. It also teaches our children to doubt their own salvation.
So what should we do instead with our covenant children? How do we avoid both presumption and skepticism? First, we should be thankful that our children are growing up in the church and in Christian families. This is a great blessing. We should also teach and catechize our children so that they know what it means to be a believer in Christ and what it means to be a communing member of the church.
As our children grow, we should help them understand their need for salvation and their need to take ownership of their own faith and of their own relationship with Christ and the church. We should pray for and with them that they would grow in faith and that God would work in their lives. We should ask probing questions of our children about their faith and beliefs and be willing to answer their’s.
Hopefully, we will see evidence of their faith, of their growth, and of the work of the Spirit in their lives. We should look for these evidences in their lives and pray for them. We should show our children the importance of faith and growth in our own lives. This is leading by example. And we should nurture their budding faith, gently guiding and correcting them.
Two of our boys have professed faith, met with the elders, and become communing members of the church. We rejoice to call them our brothers in Christ! When we were working with them to help them prepare for taking this step, we found it was more useful to consider these types of questions instead of the ones mentioned earlier. “What do you believe about Jesus?”, “What do you believe about yourself as a sinner?”, “What did Jesus do for you?”, “Why should God let you into heaven?”, “How is the Spirit working in you to see your see your sin and to change you?”, “Why do you want to be a member of the church?” These questions were helpful in gauging how ready each child was to join the church.
Our youngest son is a believer. We firmly believe that his profession is true. He asks regularly when he’ll be able to join the church. We tell him that we believe him, that we know that he loves Jesus and trusts in Him for his salvation, and that he is growing in faith and in maturity. Without undermining his assurance, we encourage him to wait a little longer so that he is ready to participate fully in the life of the church as a communing member.
I am thankful to be a member of a confessional, Reformed church. I’m thankful our boys were baptized and have been raised in the church. I’m thankful for their professions of faith and for the responsibility we have to teach, exhort, and encourage them. May we trust the Lord for the salvation of our covenant children and look for evidence of His work in them, without skepticism, without presumption. May God bless our families and our churches.
About the Author:
Rachel Miller is News Editor for the Aquila Report. She has a BA in History from Texas A&M University. She is a member of Christ Church PCA in Katy, Texas and the homeschooling mother of three boys.