In a covenant home our children are taught to focus on the loving action of our sovereign God, to be aware of His initiative. The basics of Bible knowledge are imparted, memory verses are learned and prayer is made, just as in any believing family. The distinction is in the all important conversion perspective.
The very existence of our children and their place in a covenant home is due to the gracious primary action of God. Taught that they are under divine title and promise, they are called upon for obedience to God’s law and submission to His claim from their earliest days. They are not, by contrast, drilled in a fictitious personal sovereignty, possession of a will that is supposed to have the ability to "decide for Jesus." In fact, the reality about the human will taught in the Bible is that it doggedly refuses to choose God. The will is completely subject to the bent of our sinful natures.
Little children are easily manipulated into saying what parents want them to say. At the same time, we must be sure that they do not acquire the unwanted concept of free will and personal autonomy. This prideful distortion of Humanistic reasoning exalts man and his presumed adequacy. It leaves God to only a responsive role.
The better way is always to emphasize what God has done, the excellency of His character and how the Holy Spirit moves in our lives.
Some churches have developed a split personality when it comes to conversion. Especially in the last fifty or seventy-five years, the tendency to use Arminian or even Pentecostal tactics in the Sunday School are rampant. Some have even opted for a "children’s church" in a desperate attempt to hold on to the kids. This presents a sad state of spiritual affairs. It segregates the child in the covenant worship experience, much like "day-care" for church. It cuts them off from vital influences and exposes them to that which is frivolous manipulation or entertainment.
Little children are very attentive to what goes on in corporate worship. They are especially conscious of parental attitudes and demeanor. A flippant or casual manner will be picked up quickly, as will a reverent and serious one. God has made them to be so connected to their parents that adults can’t hide their true feelings.
Children should be prepared to enter the house of the Lord. Their toilet should be attended to before hand. Practice may be a necessity for some who are not used to good discipline. We enter freely on the basis of privilege that is based on the bloody sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are not able to come into God’s holy presence on our own merit. Church is not like the movies or a band concert.
If we were to enter the house of a great person or the chamber of a supreme court justice we would be expected to order ourselves correctly. Thus, the bathroom should not be an option. It is not part of serious worship. Cry rooms and emergencies are necessary, of course, for times beyond good parental control.
Conversion and preaching
Reformation theology centers on the edification of God’s elect. Its primary purpose should not be to evangelize unbelievers. As Christ is presented from all the varied perspectives of the Scripture, men will be saved. Foundations will be laid down and spiritual structure will be built up.
Conversion itself will usually be accomplished by God’s Spirit over an extended period of time. It will almost always involve several stages of learning, experience and confrontation. The transformation of the heart and life may be more or less evident at each growth stage of a child’s life. Not many Pauline conversions are recorded in the Bible. Most are unexciting, but made plain through difficulty and trial. Ideally, conversion will happen in response to preaching and teaching of the Word. Actually, there may often be pressure points of discipline or testing necessary to get it right.
In each stage God’s sovereignty must be kept in view. Parents should not resort to the popular Baal gods of modern evangelicalism. Mimicking the world and its cultural failures brings no glory to God.
Most important, children should be convinced of the initiative of God, not drilled in the fiction of their own sovereignty. God has made the decision for them. The evidence is their covenantal birth, their heritage in the Faith and place in God’s house. For them to reject and leave would identify them as covenant breakers, like Esau. Remaining in the place of grace they are expected to grow and flourish.
Thus, decisional conversion says "I have chosen Jesus and decided to ask Him into my heart." Covenantal conversion says "God has loved me from before the foundation of the world, He gave me life and a place at His table. Now I want to serve Him with all my heart."
Rev. Dale K. Dykema