By: Kenneth kang Hui
If you ask the average Christian to cite the main differences between Baptists and Reformed Christians, the first thing that would come to mind is probably baptism, its mode and its recipients. Specifically, while there may be mild disagreements over the use of immersion or sprinkling as the mode by which the water is applied, of much greater contention is the issue of who exactly should be baptized. Is baptism only for those who have professed personal faith in the work and death of Jesus Christ or is it to be applied to the children of believers as well? Are the children of believers full members of the covenant community or are they technically outsiders who enjoy certain benefits by virtue of being raised in a Christian family but not because they are members of the Visible Church?
For those of us who adhere to the Reformed Confessions, the answers to those questions are clear and should shape our view of children in the church and what it means to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. However, it seems that more often than not, the way children are raised in Reformed Churches is no different than what could be found in typical Baptist or evangelical churches that do not subscribe to paedo-baptism. Children are dropped off, prior to the Sunday worship service, with the child care ministry where they are taught Bible lessons, given arts and crafts activities, or participate in children’s church.
Parents do this with good intentions, believing that their children would find the “grown-up’s” worship service boring. The net effect, however, is that these children of Reformed believers are being implicitly taught that they are not true members of the covenant community since they are not expected to participate in worship with the rest of the church community. Perhaps it should come as no surprise when we find that these same children grow up seeing Sunday worship as something merely optional. Further, as a result of this separation between children and their parents, the children of Reformed believers often grow up without regularly hearing the Scriptures preached and without seeing the sacraments administered. It is no wonder then when many never develop a proper understanding or appreciation for God’s ordinary means of grace.
Parents who are Reformed Christians need to reconsider if raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord does not entail having them participate in the regular Sunday public worship. After all, is that not the occasion where God has ordained that we are to worship Him in community and where he reveals himself to us through the ordinary means of grace? Why would we want to deprive our children of the opportunity to hear God’s Word preached with power and to see the drama of redemption played out in the administration of the sacraments? Instead, we try to replace these God ordained means with teachings and drama provided by the latest hip Bible lesson or the newest episode of the Veggie Tales.
My hope is that those of us who claim to be heirs of the Reformed tradition and who have vowed to raise our children as covenant members would consider more fully the implications of those vows. Perhaps we would then see that all the benefits of being members of the covenant community, including access to Word, sacrament, and prayer, properly belong, not only to us, but to our children.