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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus and children’

This is a presentation I gave to a ministers’ meeting in Franklin Mennonite Conference in 2007. See also Scriptural teaching on ministry to children

Seven reasons why we should not baptize children

1. Children are already a part of the kingdom of God. In Mark 10:14 Jesus said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

In the last part of this verse Jesus says of children, “for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” This teaches us that we do not need to worry about the destiny of children. They are a part of the kingdom of God; the realm of God’s blessing and salvation.

If we ask, “What is the age of these children who came to Jesus and who are a part of the kingdom?” I think there is an answer. The first clue is from Luke’s version of this story. He specifically notes that “they were bringing even infants to him” – Luke 18:15. The second clue is the word that Jesus uses for “children” = “paidion.” Based on its use in the New Testament this word refers to children between the ages of birth (Luke 1:59 – 8-days-old) and puberty (Mark 5:39-42 – 12 years old). So the reference here is roughly to any child 12 and below, or below the age of puberty.

Although children certainly are born with “the flesh,” our natural desires that lead us to do what we want and not what God wants, they are not considered to be “sinners” like adults who do what is wrong. So this calls into question the fundamental assumption of the child evangelism approach: that children are just like adults who sin and need conversion and baptism (that is, the adult pattern should be applied to children.) Jesus teaches that children are already a part of God’s kingdom

2. Children, by definition, are unable to make the kind of adult choice that baptism requires. A “child” in Scripture means one who is not mature. Along these lines it is used figuratively to refer to adults who are not mature in some way (e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:1).

Literal children are not mature in many ways, but the focus here is on their inability to fully discern and choose between right and wrong for themselves.

  • Deuteronomy 1:39 talks about “ . . . your little ones . . . and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil . . ..”
  • Isaiah 7:15 speaks of maturity in these terms: “when (the child) knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.”
  • Hebrews 5:13-14 defines maturity in this way, “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Now there is such a thing as childhood faith, as we all know. This is when children express genuine and precious faith in God. This faith is loved by God and should be honored by the church. As Jesus said, God accepts and loves the praise of children – Matthew 21:15-16. But my point here is that we dare not make the mistake of confusing childhood faith with adult faith.

Childhood faith is dependent on what parents or others teach them and influence them to do. This is appropriate to their situation. Adult faith is a choice based on a person’s own discernment of what is right and wrong. Even though an adult’s faith will continue to grow and mature, the ability to discern for oneself and choose is what makes adult faith fundamentally different than the faith of a child.

Baptism calls people to adult decisions, to hear and choose for oneself faith and repentance in response to the gospel and to accept the hard teaching of Jesus – loving enemies, submitting to church discipline, sacrificing our lives for the kingdom. (That this is true can be seen in that Jesus connects baptism with discipleship, or “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” in Matthew 28:19-20)

So baptism calls people to adult decisions. But by definition children are not able to make these very kinds of choices, even if they have childhood faith.

3. The symbolic meaning of baptism does not apply to children. The symbolic meaning of baptism involves, among other things, leaving the world and sin behind in order to enter into the kingdom of God (like when Israel left Egypt and went through the Red Sea and became the people of God).

But children are not counted as sinners by God since they are not fully able to discern and choose for themselves. And children are not a part of the world who then enter the kingdom, they are already a part of the kingdom of God

So baptism is not an appropriate symbolic statement about where children are in their status before God.

Baptism is meant to be the marker of adult faith in Jesus, for those who have chosen sin for themselves, who are not a part of the kingdom of God, and it then becomes a symbol of transition from sin to forgiveness and from the world into the kingdom of God

4. A practical concern: Childhood baptism is often connected to a fear of losing our children if we let them wait. We fear that if we aren’t proactive we might lose our children to the world. We have to act before our influence over them wanes. As pastors we get caught in this fear and pressure. So we accept childhood faith for adult faith and baptize. We accept the smallest markers of childhood faith as sufficient for baptism. And the age of baptism gets younger and younger

But this is little different than infant baptism, in that we are trying to make the choice for them. We can’t make the choice for them, God doesn’t work that way. God wants each one to choose for themselves.

Each of our children will choose for themselves one day whether they will commit themselves to Jesus as adults. And they will make this choice regardless of whether we acted to give them childhood baptism.

Our task as parents and pastors is to prepare them for the day when they will make the choice for themselves, not to make the choice for them. And we should not act out of fear, but rather faith in God, entrusting our children into God’s hands.

5. A practical concern: Childhood baptism deprives people of the full meaning and experience of adult baptism. At least some have publicly lamented that they feel like they have never had a real baptism because they were baptized before they really knew what it meant or before they had an adult faith in and commitment to Jesus.

6. A practical concern: Childhood baptism creates confusion in church order. This happens when those with childhood faith grow up and choose for themselves in adolescence not to follow Jesus. We now have a person baptized based on childhood faith, who as an adult repudiates this childhood faith. (While it is true that adults can have a change of heart after baptism, at least here they made the decisions with full ability to discern and choose; with adult faith and unbelief.)

Do we exercise discipline in this situation? This would seem to be in order since baptism is connected with accountability and submitting to discipline. But is it really fair or right to hold them to this, since they were only children and didn’t fully understand what they were getting into?

What if this person later comes to an adult faith in Jesus. Should the person be re-baptized? If we say yes, then we acknowledge that their childhood faith was not an adequate basis for baptism; that it wasn’t a real baptism. If we say no, then the person is, in effect, left without a real, meaningful baptism.

7. Final thought: Childhood baptism dilutes the meaning of baptism and the Christian life. If we can baptize those who are not even able to understand, much less accept Jesus’ discipleship demands, it conveys a clear message: discipleship is not a necessary part of the Christian life. This is all the more true as the age gets younger and we baptize children who have just the smallest sign of faith.

 And this logic works its way into our criteria for adult baptisms also. All you need is a glimmer of faith to be baptized.

Conclusion: Baptism should be reserved for those who are able to have adult-faith; for those who are (roughly) 13 or older; for those with childhood faith, baptism should be looked forward to as the symbol of transition from childhood faith to adult faith.

The scriptural pattern of ministry to children

There are two Scriptural admonitions that are given to guide our ministry to children.

1. We are to train our children. Given that children are not mature morally and have an inborn tendency not to do what is right,  the task of parents and the people of God is to train, shape and form them in the way of the Lord. As Paul says in Ephesians 6:4, Christian parents are to raise their children in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

The church also has a role in this training of children given its commission by Jesus to “make disciples” of all peoples (Matthew 28:19). We do this through equipping parents and, more specifically, by offering programming to all children that teaches them the way of the Lord.

The goal of our training is that when our children are past the age of childhood acceptance before God they will be ready to begin to discern and choose to enter the kingdom of God for themselves. For those with childhood faith this may well be a smooth and seamless transition.

2. The blessing of children. Jesus is very clear that we are to “receive” children in his name. Jesus said in Mark 9:37 – “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” Jesus is also very clear that we are to “let the children come” to him – Mark 10:14. We are not to be like the disciples who tried to hold back the children from Jesus – who made Jesus angry.

But if baptism is not the way to do this as a church, what is? The Gospels answer this question by telling the story of Jesus blessing the children.  “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.. . . And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them” – Mark 10:13-16.

 To “let the children come” to Jesus is defined in this story in verse 16, it means to pray for them and bless them. What it means to receive children in Mark 9:37 is explained here in Mark 10:16.

When Jesus ministered to children he did not baptize them or even give them the Lord’s supper, he took them, prayed for them and blessed them. He took the time to receive them and care for them and to minister God’s blessing into their lives.

This is also what we should do:

  • At birth, when our children are born and then presented to God, we should pray for God to bless them.
  • At the Lord’s supper, whenever we receive it we should provide a place in the service to recognize them and pray for God’s blessing to be in their lives.
  • Whenever a parent or child seeks it, we should take the time to minister to their need and pray for God to bless them.

 

 

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Jesus deeply loved and cared about children. He was concerned that they be honored, taken care of and ministered to (Mark 9:35-37).

Mark 10:13-16 recounts the story of when people brought them to Jesus, ranging in age from infants to preadolescent children. It says,
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”

Children are safe in God’s hands. Indeed, as Jesus said, the kingdom of God belongs to them. And because this is so, they too, not just adults, should be able to have the attention of Jesus. They too should be able to receive of what God is doing through Jesus.

How to provide this for children today is modeled for us by Jesus. When the children came to Jesus, he laid his hands on them and he blessed them. He prayed for God to watch over them and to care for them. This is how he ministered to them.

And so, as our adult followers of Jesus come forward to receive the bread and cup of the Lord’s supper, we invite all children to come forward to the front platform to be prayed for, in the name of Jesus, in order to receive a blessing from God.

William Higgins

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Series: Be at peace with one another!

We are back into our series on Jesus’ teaching in the gospel of Mark. And today we begin in on a passage found in Mark 9:33-50, which will take us a few weeks to work our way through.

We’re gonna look specifically at vs. 33-37 this morning, focused on arguments about who’s the greatest in the church community. But before we jump in, let’s back up and look at –

The bigger picture

Mark 9:33-50 is a part of a yet larger section of teaching that comes between Jesus’ second and third prediction of his death. This is teaching for his disciples about living life after his death and resurrection – after Jesus is gone. It’s preparation for this. The first part of this has to do with the household of the church: Mark 9:33-50 – which is our focus. The second has to do with earthly households: Mark 10:1-31 (marriage – vs. 1-12; children – vs. 13-16; wealth – vs. 17-31).

Now let’s look a bit more at what Jesus says about –

The household of the church – Mark 9:33-50

You have a handout that outlines the passage. This is where we’ll be going in the next few weeks. The common theme is relationships in Jesus’ community of disciples. And the point of this whole passage is found at the very end, in  v. 50 – “Be at peace with one another.”

As you can see in your handout, he covers three relationship problems: arguing over who is the greatest, rejecting those who are not from your group and looking down on those who seem unimportant. Then he stresses in the clearest possible way the danger that awaits those who cause division and strife in his community in, what I am calling the three amputation sayings and the three salt sayings.

So this is what we are looking at and we begin with the first kind of conflict, the disciples arguing about –

Who’s the greatest?

v. 33 – “And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’” Capernaum was Jesus’ home base. It was a fishing village on the  sea of Galilee.

Jesus checks in on his disciples to see what they were discussing. Maybe it was an especially intense conversation and he wants to see what’s going on.

v. 34 – “But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.” They were silent because they knew better than to openly argue about such a thing.

Jesus has been teaching them about the coming of the kingdom of God and they expected to have an exalted place in that kingdom, based on their service to Jesus now.

And that expectation was right. As Jesus indicates in Matthew 19:28 – “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

But who would have the highest place? Whose throne would be the best? Whose would be next to Jesus and whose would be furthest away?

v. 35 – “And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’” Jesus sits down because this is what teachers did in that day. He has something to share with them about the true path to greatness – which is very different than what people in the world think.

The way to be great is to be “last of all and servant of all.” This is an important teaching that is repeated in different ways by Jesus:

  • Mark 10:43-44 – “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”
  • Luke 22:26 – “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.”
  • Matthew 23:11 – “The greatest among you shall be your servant.”

If in the world you become great by putting yourself forward to be recognized, clawing your way to the top while pushing others down, being arrogant and self-focused – in the kingdom you become great by lowering yourself and being the last of all.

If being great in the world means being served by others – in the kingdom being great means serving others.

Jesus is saying to his disciples – it’s OK to seek to be great, but you’re going about it in exactly the wrong way.

  • Don’t focus on raising yourself up and being recognized and served.
  • Focus on lowering yourself and serving others’ needs.

For this is what greatness means in the kingdom of God. And these God himself will raise up to be honored.

And then Jesus gives an illustration. v. 36 – “And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms . . .” Apparently the child is from the house where they are.

Remember that in biblical times children were not held in the same high regard as they are today in the West. They were often seen as no more than slaves, until they grew up. They had no power or social status. They were not put on a pedestal. They were on the bottom – lowly and last.

And so what does Jesus do? “Taking him in his arms” can also be translated as “embracing him.” Jesus hugs the child. A simple act of love; the giving of attention and affection. Jesus is saying, “This is what I’m talking about.”

Then he gives the lesson. vs. 36-37 – “. . . he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’”

 To receive someone means to welcome them. To welcome them in the name of Jesus is to do this on behalf of Jesus; as his representative; as his servant.

Jesus is saying that greatness comes from accepting the lowest social status in order to serve others – in this case a child. You put yourself below the lowly one, so that you can love and minister to their needs. Instead of the lowly ones focusing on you and lifting you up, you focus on them and lift them up by serving them.

And what you will find is that you will not be serving no-bodies, you know, people who can’t help you out in return (Luke 1413-14), you will be serving Jesus and indeed the Father.

Let me ask the question, then –

How do we seek out worldly greatness?

How do we try to be better than others in our church community? It’s usually not open. Like the disciples we know that we shouldn’t openly pursue this. But we do have subtle ways of seeking to put ourselves above others.

Here’s an example: a pastor who’s focus is on success, defined as having a bigger and bigger church and being recognized by others; a kind of celebrity. In other words this pastor has a worldly definition of success. Now, it isn’t wrong to grow or to be recognized. But the point of ministry is to place yourself below others to serve them, not above them to be recognized. To lift them up, not to be lifted up.

A church member who wants a certain role. And so pushes to get it, manipulates, pressures and politicks for it. This is really just self-promotion – seeking the honor of the role, not seeking to serve others.

Rivalries between church members. You know, over who is more gifted, or more faithful? Rivalries for the admiration of other members, or agreement on key issues that the church is discussing – creating factions.

A church member who wants to be recognized. You have worked hard and no one seems to notice. And so you are angry and a little bitter. And so you start laying out hints to get others to notice you. Again it is not wrong to be recognized. And maybe others are failing to appreciate you. But it’s wrong to seek to be recognized or to set your heart on gaining that. That is the way of the world.

When we take up the agenda of worldly greatness we strain, damage and destroy our relationships with each other. And the church is weakened and distracted from doing what God calls us to do. Any group that is focused on such things is not going to be able to be focused on loving God and loving each other and serving God in the world. So you can see the importance of us having good relationships with each other.

Jesus’ word to us

Stop seeking worldly greatness among yourselves, and “be at peace with one another” – v. 50.

Only seek kingdom greatness, which will eliminate the conflict over who has the most status and who should be recognized.

And then let God exalt you at the right time. Don’t even worry about this. Keep on lowering yourself to serve and leave the agenda of recognition in God’s hands. It may not come until the final day, but wait for it. It will be worth it.

William Higgins

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