You don’t need to believe in infant baptism to risk falling into the presumption that if you do x, z, and z, your children will be saved. Baptists and my fellow home-schoolers can do this too at times. That’s why I usually call this “presumptuous parenting” rather than “hyper-covenantal parenting.” It’s a problem that impacts more than infant-baptizing churches.
Last week, I briefly touched on the serious eternal consequences of such false confidence. Today I’d like to highlight some of the more immediate spiritual damage that can sometimes be caused – both to the parents and their children.
Damage to the Parents
1. Proud parents: If I believe my parenting is the key to my children’s salvation, then I’ll boast and take the credit for it rather than give all the glory to God. And I’ll be very critical of the parenting and educating skills of Christians with rebellious children.
2. Sovereign parents: Presumptuous parenting tends to be very formulaic and mechanistic: 10 steps to this, 7 steps to that, etc. Though such parents may often speak of the sovereignty of God, in reality God is not sovereign in the salvation of their children – their skills and methods are. Instead of humbly and importunately begging a Sovereign God to exercise His powerful mercy to save their children, they present God with their parenting and educating, and sovereignly demand that He now do their bidding.
3. Frustrated parents: If I regard and treat my children as Christians when they are not, I am going to be in a state of constant frustration and disappointment when they misbehave. “Why are you doing that? Why are you not doing that? You’re a Christian, come on, act like one!” Yet, without regeneration, they don’t have a hope of meeting my standards, never mind God’s. They need our compassion not our frustration.
4. Despairing parents: What happens if, despite my best efforts, my children end up leaving the church or at least failing to profess faith and live a godly life in their late teens or early twenties? According to some, they have apostatized and left the faith. What despair! What a sense of failure after all my efforts! It’s all my fault.
5. Harsh parents: If I assume my child is a Christian and he is not acting like it, I’m going to use increasingly severe punishments to bring him into line. Because it all depends on me, doesn’t it?
Damage to Children
1. Proud children: If unconverted children are frequently told that they are special, that they are already Christians or “The people of God” (without any qualification of that term), they will inevitably see themselves as better than the unbaptized (or un-home-schooled) heathen. Instead of their privileges humbling them and making them see that to whomsoever much is given, much shall be required, they tend to rest on their “laurels” in complacent pride. As the Pharisees once said: “We be Abraham’s children.” Presumptuous parents produce presumptuous children.
2. Unevangelized children: Such children are taught lots of Christian doctrine and mega-details of Christian conduct, but rarely hear the Gospel from their parents. They are not told they are dead in sins and need to be born again. They are not told that they are shapen in sin and conceived in iniquity (Ps. 51) and that they need a new heart. They don’t have Christ set in front of them daily or from the pulpit as a suitable, sufficient, and willing Savior.
3. Vulnerable children: Such children can do outwardly well for a while…until they are confronted with temptation in the absence of the multiple external restraints. They go to college, or work away from home, or start a business, or enter a relationship, but have no inner spiritual resources to resist temptation and often begin to compromise in areas of personal morality and financial integrity. And even if they resist sin, without grace, they become self-righteous and self-confident Pharisees, which in some ways is even worse.
4. Joyless children: They do what they ought to do but without the inward fuel of joy and delight in God. Prayer and Bible reading and church are mere duties. They do it because they have to do it and have always done it and are expected to do it. Not because they need to, want to, or love to. They have enthusiasm for sport, entertainment, business, friends, hobbies, etc., but none for worship, Christian service, and spirituality.
5. Mislabeled children: Often when the children of presumptuous parents go astray, they are labeled as apostates who have departed from the faith. However, if they never had faith they can never leave the faith.
If such were baptized as infants, we might call them covenant-breakers, but they are not apostate. To call such children hopeless apostates, especially of the Hebrews 6 variety, is to put them outside the pale of prayer and evangelism.
But as they never professed saving faith in Christ, they are not treading the blood of Christ underfoot and treating it as an unworthy thing. No, they are simply rebellious sinners whose hearts have been revealed. They must be prayed for and witnessed to in hope of them repenting and believing the Gospel for the first time.
I’m not arguing for pessimistic parenting here. I’m arguing for optimistic parenting that is founded upon God’s Gospel promises (e.g. Jn. 3:16; 6:37; Rom. 10:9; Isa. 55:6; Acts 16:31).
I assume my children are born unregenerate, but I use all the means of grace God has made available through the church, education, and family religion, and optimistically preach the Gospel to them at every opportunity, reminding them again and again of both their privileges and responsibility.
My hope is not in my flawed covenant-keeping, my faulty educating, or my fail-filled child-training. My hope is in my merciful Savior sovereignly blessing His Gospel promises to the salvation of my children.
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