My good friend and co-minister Eric Ashley, recently posted on his blog an account of his two year old daughter praying to God. Not simply praying for food and a good night (normal concerns for kids in prayer), but affirming that she loved God with all her heart, soul, mind and strength. I think that is awesome! Many kids are trained to do exactly that; that is express love God, and trust in God through prayer.
Here is my question though. On what Biblical grounds can a parent teach and train their two year old child to affirm love for God, affirm trust in God, and affirm worship of God when He does answer their prayers? Does the two year old understand the gospel and the full implications of it? Can they by chapter and verse defend why they just prayed to the God of the universe and believed He would hear them and respond?
I know of many Godly parents who teach their kids to pray to Jesus. They take them to Sunday School, children’s church, worship services and teach them psalms, hymns and Spiritual (kids) songs. They give them buttons and badges and decorated vests and certificates of “graduation” from birth to teen years and yet never officially consider them members of the church. No, to be that, one must give a credible confession of faith before they can become a “member” and be entitled to all the rights and privileges of the church. In effect they say, “All that you have done to this point is meaningless unless you articulate faith now as a mature young person.” “You can’t be one of us, unless you confess the faith like this . . . . . ”
If that is truly the case, then why teach them to pray to God, trust in God, and worship God before that point? Does this not equate to empty and meaningless ritualism seeing as the child is not cognitively and discernibly aware of what they are affirming and saying and “believing”? Of course it does, both logically and Biblically, which is why I am so thankful that I labor in a Theological tradition that has an answer for this hypocrisy. Well meaning mind you, but hypocrisy nonetheless.
I was given the honor of baptizing Alora Grace and Adalynne Faith Ashley several weeks ago. In that sacrament, we included both of them, now, as an infant and a toddler, into the visible covenant community of God’s people, known locally as Redeemer Church. We affirmed that as children of believers, they are to be considered members of Christ’s visible Church on earth and entitled to all the rights and privileges of Church membership (save communion) based on the fact that they have been set apart unto holy purposes because of the faith of their parents (I Cor 7:14).
Thus when Eric and Amy teach their children the Shema (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . . .”) or any other passage of Scripture for that matter, they are being perfectly consistent in their practice of parenting with what they believe and espouse to be Biblically true. They are instructing their daughters to pray to their God who can be known, and who knows them and recognizes them as part of His covenant community of people. A God who has and continues to bless their lives with common and covenantal grace as a means of drawing them to Himself.
The opposite practice, which I called hypocrisy earlier, is training your children to do all the above, while affirming both in word and ecclesiastical practice, that God does not know them in any real individual sense, does not recognize them as part of His people (though you dress up each Sunday and Wednesday and sing praise to Him and listen and memorize His Word), and really will do neither until they give “credible profession”. Oh the pressure!
Do then covenant children need as a part of life’s journey to repent of their sin (original and actual) and confess faith in Christ as their Savior and Lord (redeeming grace) in a coherent and defensible way? Absolutely. But when God by His grace brings them to this point in their lives, their knowing that they were brought along by a God whom they have truly known covenantally, to the point of now knowing Him redemptively, makes their confession and subsequent life of faith, in my opinion, all the more sweet. It’s the testimony of “I’m not sure of the exact moment I was converted, but I never knew a day where I didn’t know God.” It’s a Biblically consistent testimony. And a testimony (one among many types) that I think, is pretty cool.