By Bill Lee
The Next Generation
According to John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church, evangelizing children can be a daunting task.
But the truth is, it should not be any more difficult a task than it is for any other age group. In fact, we should expect it to be easier. Jesus Christ even suggested children are the model for how everyone should hear the gospel message.
“Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Luke 18:17).
Children are what I call binary thinkers. Things are either right or wrong, good or bad, liked or disliked. They can grasp simple propositions and the gospel as explained by Jesus Christ is easy to understand. However, when conditions other than faith are added to the message it is no longer the gospel and it is no longer easy to understand. That is illustrated by a publication available from Grace Community Church.
How Not to Explain the Gospel to Children
Drawing heavily from John MacArthur’s sermons and books, Grace Community Church has published a paper (“Evangelizing Children”1) advising parents on how to handle the “daunting task” of explaining the gospel to their kids.
After reading the document “Evangelizing Children” it becomes clear why the task is seen as difficult.
The document starts with warning parents of the dangers associated with reaching children with the gospel. Parents risk leading their children into thinking they are saved when they are not or possibly discouraging them when they have a “genuine desire to follow Christ.”
The main concern of the paper seems to be that parents not over-simplify the gospel by leaving out key aspects of the message, specifically, the following details:
Like adults, children must be able to understand the gospel clearly before they can be saved. This involves grasping concepts such as good and evil, sin and punishment, repentance and faith, God’s holiness and wrath against sin, the deity of Christ and His atonement for sin, and the resurrection and Lordship of Christ.
These are important points of doctrine, and a clear understanding of each is certainly desirable. But since many of those doctrines are still debated by evangelical Christians, I have serious doubts that most adult Christians share a common understanding of any single one of them.
One Simple Requirement
Throughout the Gospel of John, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostles maintain one simple requirement to be fulfilled in order to be saved: believe in Jesus Christ for everlasting life (John 3:16; 4:39-42; 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-26). It is by faith in Jesus Christ that we are saved, apart from works (John 6:28-29; Eph 2:8-9). “Evangelizing Children” gets off track because the authors do not understand the meaning of faith.
The article treats faith as if it is a process that includes behavioral changes as well as belief. There are references to “full-fledged saving faith” and “mature faith.” The phrasing implies there is a faith that does not save (i.e., the less than mature faith). However, the nature of mature faith is never explained.
Can Faith Be Trusted?
The publication subtly suggests that faith (what you believe) cannot be trusted.
For example, parents are encouraged to not “deride a profession of faith as false, for it may be the seed from which a mature faith will later emerge.” However, rather than trust what a child says he believes to be genuine, parents are instructed to watch for behavioral evidence that their child has “genuinely repented of his sin and believed in Christ.”
In other words, what the child believes is less important than how he behaves.
While not providing a definition for a “mature faith,” the paper does provide a list of those behaviors for which a parent should watch:
true believers follow Christ (John 10:27), confess their sins (1 John 1:9), love their brothers (1 John 3:14), obey God’s commandments (1 John 2:3; John 15:14), do the will of God (Matt. 12:50), abide in God’s word (John 8:31), keep God’s Word (John 17:6), and do good works (Eph. 2:10).
“Follow.” “Confess.” “Obey.” “Do.” It seems pretty clear that Grace Community Church’s paper is teaching salvation comes from a combination of faith and works with the emphasis on works.
To my knowledge the Bible never speaks of a faith or belief in Jesus Christ that does not save. Jesus’ illustration of faith as small as a mustard seed (Matt 13:13) dismisses any suggestion of a progressive or mature faith. The Scriptures do state very plainly that works (good and proper behavior) have nothing to do with the gift of everlasting life.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph 2:8-9).
God presents the sinner with a very simple proposition: believe what I say. Faith is nothing more than that. It means the same thing in both the original language and in English.
Remember faith and belief are synonyms. They are the noun forms of the verb to believe. That means we could substitute the word belief for faith in Eph 2:8 without changing the meaning. Then it would read as “for by grace you have been saved through belief.”
The power of faith/belief is found in its content, not the strength by which a belief is held. It is the object of our faith that matters to God.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
There are some things in the Grace Community Church publication on evangelizing children with which I do agree. The paper does warn that soliciting “some kind of active response” to the gospel message is not a good idea. Things like “a show of hand in a group setting,” or repeating “the sinner’s prayer” are things I agree should be avoided. The object of a child’s faith should be Jesus Christ, not the memory of something he did years ago.
The Apostle Paul explains the gospel message in 1 Cor 15:3-4. It really is easy to understand. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. The resurrection proved Jesus Christ is God incarnate and has the power to give life to anyone He chooses. And He said He would give it to anyone who believed in Him (John 3:16). Those facts are easy to understand and parents should not be discouraged from sharing the gospel message with their kids!
Bill Lee is pastor of Trego Community Church in Trego, WI.
1. See http://www.gty.org/resources/distinctives/DD05/evangelizingchildren