“58 came forward to be saved last night at vbs! praise God!” – Facebook post by a Friend
This post has rattled around in my head this week and I just can’t shake it. It is not that I do not want to be excited with and for my friend over these children, I do. However, in light of the study I have done getting ready to preach this last Saturday, I am not sure that these invitation-walk-the-aisle experiences are helping anyone. It is not that I think that children cannot be converted at a VBS or during any portion of childhood (God is God and He does what He pleases). The grave concern I have is that children understand salvation properly and I fear that often at things like VBS we are building on a foundation of emotion and not conviction.
I fear that we in the evangelical world have become so accustomed to the Charles Finney revivalism view of salvation (it goes something like this: walk to the front during the moving music after threats of eternal fire, pray a little prayer and HOCUS POCUS! You are now a “christian”) that even adults do not understand the true nature of the gospel and the choice it presents. In reading Luke 9:23-25 it is clear that the decision to follow Jesus is a serious, deep, life-altering commitment from which there is no turning back. This is a decision to follow Jesus no matter what, for the rest of your life. This is a decision to leave everything and everyone else behind if necessary and follow Jesus. If this is the decision that Jesus is asking for, it is reasonable to believe that a child is capable of understanding this decision, much less make such a choice?
Is a young child able to understand what it means to repent of your sin, daily, constantly? Are they able to properly understand what it truly means to confess Jesus as Lord? (Rom 10:9-10)
I am not saying that children can’t make such a commitment (I started my journey following Jesus at 5) but I am concerned that we often make it sound too much like saying magic words and not enough about Lordship and obedience. We focus the “gospel” on us and our felt needs instead of the truth that God commands all men everywhere to repent and believe. Salvation in its essence has little to do with actually saving me from hell and has everything to do with my acknowledgment of God’s rightful place as eternal and almighty God to whom all allegiance and honor is due. The gospel has as its heart the glory of God through the suffering of Jesus the Christ to present former rebels as adopted sons, not for their own sake or to met a need of God but rather to showcase the greatness of his own character and love.
I know nothing about how the group of believers at the VBS mentioned above presented the gospel. They may have done so with the greatest fidelity to the text of the New Testament. For me it was a reminder of the delicacy and patience needed to faithfully share the truth with these little ones. A call to remember that they need to be trusting in Jesus alone for their salvation, not in magic words or an emotional experience but in the quiet assurance that submitting your life to the King of Kings brings. It was a reminder to approach baptism of children and presenting the gospel to my own children with the utmost care. For how terrible would it be to give such precious ones false hope and assurances based on a simple repeated prayer instead on a sure understanding of Jesus work on the cross and submission to his will through repentance of sin and ongoing obedience.