We have considered the fact that child nurture, if it is to be healthy, has to occur in a particular kind of soil—and that is the soil of grace, mercy, and kindness. This is not indulgence or relativism, but rather is the only real basis for bringing up children who will love and worship God. You want children who love what you love, including your God.
“And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
The children of the church at Ephesus have just been reminded of their duty to obey their parents (v. 1), and the reason given is that of the fifth commandment (v. 2)—the first command that God gave that had a promise attached to it (v. 3). Paul takes the promise that had originally applied to Israelite children in the land, and he applies it to Gentile children in the earth. He then turns to the duties of the father, and says two things—the first is that fathers need to take care that they don’t provoke their children, and they need to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (v. 4). In brief, they are to bring up their children in the Lord. But what does this mean?
Your Child In Adam
It has been God’s good pleasure to renovate the human race in Christ without making us move out. In other words, the fact that we as believers deal daily with the rubble caused by the collapse of the first Adam does not mean that the work of the last Adam is not in progress. Here is some of the rubble that we have to deal with. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Prov. 22:15). Every believer has to deal with remaining sin. Because of Christ, inner sin is not reigning sin, but it is remaining. “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). Those who believe in infant baptism, or God’s covenant promises for our children, must never allow this to deteriorate into a covenantal presumption. Whenever covenant presumption settles in, one of the first things that happens is a blithe disregard of that rattlesnake Adam called your ego.
The common evangelical paradigm holds that evangelical conversion is chronological only. “In 2005, I used to be that way, and now in 2008 I am this way.” This is certainly true of those who were converted from a life of rebellion, but what does this paradigm do for kids who have grown up in the Church? The word conversion means “to turn.” For those who actually have lived in rebellion, they must turn from that, obviously. But this is not the only turning that we are called to do. Jesus said to take up your cross daily (Luke 9:23), and this certainly includes those who have been in covenant with God their entire lives. Those who have been in covenant their whole lives simply have more days in which they are called to do this.Every Christian—even Christians who have grown up in the Church, especially Christians who have grown up in the Church—must turn from sin daily, must turn away from that remaining Adamic substratum daily. Jesus said to take up your cross daily (Luke 9:23), and this certainly includes those who have been in covenant with God their entire lives. Those who have been in covenant their whole lives simply have more days in which they are called to do this.
Every disciple needs to mortify his members which are still on the earth (Col. 3:5). Little disciples simply need help with this from their parents, that’s all.
Your Child In Christ
In our texts, fathers were told to bring their children up in the Lord. They are not told to bring them to the Lord. The child’s covenant status with God is simply assumed—but as we just noted, this is not the same thing as assuming covenant faithfulness. Given this, the task of Christian parents is to teach your children faith, not doubts.The task of Christian parents is to teach your children faith, not doubts. The question is not whether Christ and sin are inconsistent—of course they are inconsistent. The question rather is which way we reason.
Do we say, “You just sinned. That is inconsistent with life in Christ. I wonder if you are really in Christ.” This is to catechize your child in doubts. Or do we say, “Son, you are in Christ, and this sin is inconsistent with that life. That is why your mother and I are going to help you to deal with the sin.” This is to catechize your child in faith. If Christ and sin are inconsistent in your children’s lives, and they are, then banish the sin instead of banishing Christ. And of course, if you say, “You’re baptized. It’s all good. Don’t worry about it,” you are catechizing them in presumption.
Coming to Worship
When we come to worship, the entire service is geared to be edifying to the entire congregation. Not one person here gets everything out of the service that they could—not even close. So why would we exclude little ones until they can get as much out of it as we do? This helps to create the temptation of them not wanting to join us at all. We tell children that if they grow up to be big and strong, we will then give them some food. When they keel over and die of starvation, we congratulate ourselves on not having wasted any food on them—because they were obviously going to die anyway. This is simply perverse.
No adult at your dinner table turns to a toddler in a high chair and demands to know why he, the toddler, is not eating as much as the adult is. We are nourished according to our capacity. It is the same here. God knows our frame.
When you bring your children before the Lord, you need to settle this in your own mind and heart. You need to carefully teach them that they are welcome to everything here that they can reach. This would include, but not be limited to, the low notes of the psalms, the high notes of the hymns, the central point of the sermon, some incidental point in the sermon, the Apostles’ Creed, the corporate amen, the lifting of the hands, and partaking of the bread and wine. Have you noticed that parents who bring their children for baptism promise to treat them, not only as their natural son or daughter, but also as a brother or sister.
Bringing up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord means that you teach them this: “You are in. Let me instruct you further on what it means to be in. Let me model it for you, and teach you how to be faithfully in.” But, we worry, suppose a child grows up to reject all this. What do we do then? We do the same thing we would do with an adult who is baptized and who then falls away. Life in Christ and life in sin cannot be harmonized.
This worship service is the center of our lives, and consequently it ought to be the center of your child’s life. And by center, we do not mean the “central arduous duty,” but rather the central delight.