A DEFENCE OF CHILD EVANGELISM (1)
“Parents, beware! One of the greatest injustices we can commit against our child is to make him believe he is lost before he is, and saved when he is not.” 1
There are differing opinions about child evangelism; some view it as unethical, manipulative even abusive. Therefore, it is wise for children’s ministry workers (especially those involved in child evangelism) to have a theology of child evangelism … not just any organized system of beliefs but a biblical theology of child evangelism. The latter will help the children’s ministry worker build convictions about his ministry. Moreover, it will determine how he does ministry among children as well as provide him with a ready defense. We will begin this paper by looking at the Bible to determine what it has to say about children and their conversion.
CHILDREN IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
In Deut. 4:1-8, Moses urged the Israelites to obey God’s laws on the basis of promise of life and possession of the land (v.1). He also warned them of the consequences of disobedience – death as in the case of Baal-peor (v.3). God’s laws are able to grant wisdom and even the nations recognized it (v.6). These nations would praise Israel for her wisdom, attributing it to her privilege and blessings of having righteous laws and a God who is near and answers their prayers (vs.7-8). In Deut. 4:9-10, Moses reminded the people not to forget what they had seen … God’s miraculous works at Mt Horeb where the people and their children heard God giving the Ten Commandments (Exo. 19:10-11; 20:1-18).
Moses again reminded the people to obey God’s laws in Deut. 6:1-9 … laying before them the goal of fearing the LORD evidenced by a life of obedience to God and His Word. This goal was not only for the present generation then but also for their children and grandchildren (vs.1-2). The first priority of parents was their own obedience – God’s word was to be on their hearts (vs.5-6) – then they were to teach it to their children (v.7). They were to teach diligently, impressing God’s word upon their children using reminders (vs.7-9). These same principles are applicable to Christian parents today. Deut. 11:18-21 is essentially a repetition of Deut. 6:1-9 on the teaching ministry of parents with one difference - the (promise of) possession of the land is "as long as the heavens remain above the earth" (v.21), that is, forever.
Deut. 31:9-13 was not addressed to parents but to the priests and elders. They were to read God’s laws publicly to all the people when they assembled every seven years for the Feast of Booths so that the people (even the very young children who did not know God’s laws; see v.13) would learn and fear the LORD. Then it was rare for an ordinary Israelite to possess a copy of the Scriptures so parents would teach their children through their experience and memory of God’s works and laws. Therefore, this public reading of the law every seven years was significant for children in that it helped them establish the source and authority of what they had learnt.
In Psa. 78:1-8, the psalmist reminded the Israelites to teach their children about God’s works so that they in turn would pass it on to their children – the goal was that they would put their confidence (i.e., trust) in God and keep His commandments. The negative example of the first generation of Israelites who came out of Egypt was set before them (v.8).
As seen from all the Old Testament passages discussed above, one predominant theme is the transmission of truth (of God’s works and laws) from one generation to the next generation so that the latter might learn to fear and obey God.
1 Phillip Cohen, “Is Child Evangelism a Form of Child Abuse?” http://www.anabaptists.org/writings/child-e.html (accessed September 10, 2011)