Salvation of Children

“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.

18 Comments

  1. Diane

    We put over 1,000 man hours, 4 days of knocking doors inviting children to VBS, four 30-45min. lessons Monday through Thursday regarding the return of Christ, Freedom in Christ and Salvation in Christ leading up to the invitation to accept Christ on Thursday. Children 7 years old and under are dealt with by themselves, it is only 8 year olds through high school that are dealt with in the preaching service on Thursday. 60-70 of those in the preaching service were of Jr. High and High school age. As with any age we do not know who is truly saved, but we thank God for the opportunity to bring in about 200 kids and preach the gospel. We trust that God will use this in their lives now and in the future.

    • The Pauper

      Thank you for taking the time to comment Diane. I am glad to see you are approaching this issue with care. As I tried to clarify in the reply below, this post is about the system itself and whether it is biblical or not. I hope you will read my reply and I look forward to any further biblical dialog you might care to have on this important issue. Thanks, again for stopping by!

  2. the facebook friend

    First: “I am not sure that these invitation-walk-the-aisle experiences are helping anyone”. These what we refer to as invitations, not “walk the aisle experiences”, are helping people. I am sure that the children that accepted Christ as their personal Lord and Savior and the countless other kids who came forward to pray about family matters, are thankful for Vacation Bible School and the counseling they recieved from our invitation. I myself came to know Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior and accepted his GIFT of salvation at a VBS, as a child, during one of those “walk the aisle” invitations,for that I am grateful! Sure, some kids will make decisions based on emotiion, but is really up to us to decide whether or not a child has come forward based on conviction or emotion? Of course we counsel kids, and try to ensure that they understand the plan of salvation as outlined in the bible. Even as a teenager when dealing with kids on Mission Trips, I worried about if they really understood, but I have to trust that the Lord will guide me in my words when dealing with them. Have there been times when I can tell a child just doesn’t understand? Of course! But I do not think that for fear of a child(ren) not understanding salvation that we should forsake an open invitation for them to come to Christ!

    I have so much to say, but I feel like it is wasted breath as I know the call and conviction on my life to share the gospel message. Our church has always had an open invitation at VBS, as most Bible preaching churches used to have…..and sadly none of those churches even have a VBS anymore. Our church will continue to have an open invitation until the Lord comes! I am thankful that my God made his salvation plan simple enough for a child to understand! I fear that some people have become so well educated in their “studies” that they may have missed the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ!

    You were correct in one statement however: “I know nothing about how the group of believers at the VBS mentioned above presented the gospel.” You were not there, you don’t know.

    • The Pauper

      My dear friend,
      I am sorry that my post has caused you pain. That was not my intent at all and I hope you can forgive me. The point of this post and several others you will find on my site is to fully evaluate the biblical teaching regarding salvation and most specifically the salvation of children (see here). Your comment simply fit into the ongoing dialogue both within our hovel and between other fathers in my circle as to how to faithfully lead children to true saving faith in Jesus. I tried (obviously in quite terrible fashion) to make clear that the questions I am raising have to do with a system and had little to do with the specifics of your situation. Knowing you personally, in years past, I have no doubts as to your character or sincerity and would not wish to besmirch either.

      That being said (and sincerely meant), the serious issue remains that we live in a country where tens of thousands of people are placing their assurance of salvation and eternal destinies on the line trusting in childhood experiences wherein they heard the stories, made the crafts, memorized the verses and then at the end of the week responded to an altar call invitation where they prayed a prayer someone told them they should pray, at the end of which they were told that they were now a christian. These folks have then led lives which deny that profession by living lives marked by an absence of obedience to the truth of the Word, they show no fruit in their lives and have treated God as a mere security blanket. If this not giving them false hope? (again, I am not accusing anyone in particular of this. I am just asking a question)

      To be completely transparent, I do not believe in giving an “open invitation” or any invitation (for any age audience) for that matter that is along the lines of everyone-stand-up-while-the-music-plays-and-those-wanting-to-meet-Jesus-come-down-front. This type of invitation, while all many of our generation or our parents have ever known, is found no where in scripture nor in the first 1800 years of church history (I am always open to being wrong so please correct me with scripture or historical evidence). The “invitation” as we know it did not take hold until popularized by the evangelist Charles Finney (1792-1875) who openly admitted to using emotion to elicit “conversion”. This is a real problem. When you study Finney, you find a man who did not believe that God was sovereign over salvation but instead needed the help to effect the redemption of souls. This premise is antithetical to the true gospel and means we should approach such a tainted root with great caution. I do believe that men should be called to obey God’s command to repent and believe but that is the only invitation that the bible sanctions. (A great quick study on this issue can be found here).

      Again, let me make clear that I am very open to a biblical dialog about these issues but I do insist that the discussion be rooted in the scriptures and church history, not our own experiences or attachments. This is an issue I have been wrestling through since I was in high school and wrestling with my own doubt concerning my eternal state (the search went into hyper-drive when my daughter was born since now her salvation was on the line). It was then I began looking at the text of scripture to find “what must I do to be saved”. Beginning then and carrying through today, I find NO evidence for this invitational system that involves a “sinner’s prayer”, an aisle, music or a decision card. What I do find is: Believe in Jesus as the only payment for your sin (Rom 10:9-10), Confess him as Lord (Rom 10:9-10) as evidenced by your repentance of sin (Matt 4:7; Matt 11:21-22) and continued obedience to him (Matt 3:8; 1 John 1:6; 2:3-4;).

      One final thought, I also find NO New Testament examples of children being converted. We find evidence of children being present in the meeting of the church but all examples of conversion in the NT is of an adult. I just have to wonder, why?

      A good resource on this issue:

      (you can find it here)

    • Pat

      Facebook friend, I’ve been a missionary for decades, and I agree with you 100%. In fact, before reading your post, I wanted to suggest to The Pauper that he ask in a big venue (Twitter, maybe, or…?) how many received Jesus as children, and the change He made in their lives because of it, whether particularly evident then, or not til later.

      How about it, Pauper?

      Facebook friend, I’m glad you shared about your experience, and that you’re following God’s call and calling. God bless you! Keep it up!

      “And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. (Mark 10:13-15)

      • The Pauper

        Ok first of all Pat, I am not going to be goaded into a shouting match over someone’s experience. I have never suggested that children CANNOT come to Christ. (I started my journey with Jesus at 5). I believe (as I stated in my reply to the Facebook Friend) that invitations are the issue. They are NOT found in scripture nor were they found in the church until the 2nd Great Awakening.
        Thank you for your comments but remember that “narrative is not normative” whether it is in the page of Holy Writ or in your own life.

  3. I was saved at a children’s Bible camp. They preached the gospel twice a day and after each time children were invited to stay after to hear more/if they wanted to accept Christ.

    I can tell you honestly that I did not have the understanding of Christianity that I do today as an adult. However, I can tell you confidently that I DID understand that God loved me, Christ had died for my sins, and that I wanted to have Jesus.

    I came from a very troubled backgroud, so if you had been watching from the outside, for many years (until I was a teen) it probably would’ve looked like my “alter call” was in vain. But I can assure you it wasn’t! God held me in His hand through all those rough years in my abusive home, and in His own time brought people into my life that would disciple me and help me to understand what it meant to follow Jesus.

    I appreciate these children’s ministries with all my heart, whether each and every child that comes forward is truly saved or not is not my concern, but what if there is one?
    What if there are seeds planted so that later in life these children know who they can turn to when they come to the end of themselves?

    For some children, these are the only places that they will hear the gospel or feel that they are loved and cared for in their young years.

    That is a wonderous ministry in and of itself and you can bet that it is glorifying to God!!

  4. Not every adult is going to have the “understanding” that you claim to have regarding salvation, church history and practices, let alone a child. But that doesn’t mean that God can’t use any method He chooses to bring people to himself. If God can redeem this entire fallen world, I’m pretty confident that He can use individuals that desire to serve Him by proclaiming the gospel to young children.

    And even those among us, who will never understand theology with crystal clarity can come to Jesus, worship, and honor Him with their lives.

    I used to wonder the same thing myself, so I’m not reproaching you, rather trying to explain where I’m at now regarding the issue. And it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t tell you that a lot of my “theological reservations” came from misplaced pride and not any real concern that altar calls were harmful to children.

    I’m curious, do you have children yourself? Because it can be quite eye opening, as a parent of youngsters, to really see how much they understand and how early.

  5. Also, (sorry to spam your comments section again) I’m disturbed by your quickly tossing aside people’s testimony claiming you’d rather have the discussion based on Scripture. Well, Scripture doesn’t speak on the topic of VBS or any other children’s ministry, however we should be very careful that in our desire to be cautious we aren’t hindering little ones from coming to Jesus.

    Someone’s testimony is a record of how God worked in their life–emotional or not, how can we discount God’s work in someones life? Paul’s conversion seems like an awfully emotional one to me, and it stands in Scripture as an awesome testimony of how God worked in his life.

    • The Pauper

      Sara,
      Thank you for your thoughts. However, you seem to have missed the point of this whole discussion. The point is not whether children can come to Christ in repentance and faith but what is the biblical method of presenting the gospel to them. I am not speaking to anyone’s personal experience, yours included. Not only is that not profitable but it matters not if millions of people have had the same experience, “Narrative is not normative”. Meaning simply because something happened to someone in the kingdom, it does not mean that it is prescribed by God (else we could justify opening brothels, a la Rahab in Josh 2:1. Or we could justify multiple spouses, a la the patriarchs, David, and Solomon.) This means that just because God hit a straight lick with a crocked stick in my life, it does not mean that we should take that as his blessing on the circumstances, actions or even outcome of the situation. It simply means that I should praise him that he can take my debauched life as a redeemed rebel and use it to glorify himself. The only thing that is normative in the life of a believer is the prescriptive Word of God (2 Tim 3:16-17).

      Your point about the understanding level of even adults actually supports the argument that something is VERY wrong in the church today. It actually strengthens the argument that we should return to the discipleship and evangelism models of ages past to ensure that we are not giving false hope to someone regardless of their age. If we were faithful to proclaim the truth, disciple (even before conversion) those in need of salvation, and then only after someone shows evidence of conversion admit them to membership in the church, we would have far fewer tares among the wheat (Matt 13:24-40).

      For example in your own testimony, do you think it might have been a different story for you if instead of giving an altar-call, leading you in a prayer and then moving you into the regular activities of the childrens/youth ministry they paired you with older biblically mature women (biblically this should include your mother if she is redeemed) who began to show you from the outset that a prayer does not save but rather trust in Jesus as evidenced by repentant humble obedience to his commands is the heart of salvation? Is it possible that given a deep personal discipleship effort to help you understand that a life submitted to Christ is what saves you could have been been saved from some of the prodigal baggage you encountered?

      Just a few thoughts. Thanks again for your time and interaction.

      (btw – I am a father of 2 and do understand how much my kids understand of the truth. [a very perseptive question though] see here and here for further thoughts.)

      • I was never taught that a “prayer saved” as you mentioned. The Bible camp I was sent to was very conservative brethren one, and was very careful in their presentation of the gospel.
        In my siutation, and the situation of many children sent to VBS or Bible camp, I had one week to hear the gospel and 51 weeks in a bad home environment. So there was no option of “pairing me up with older women” or even really discipling me until I was old enough to leave my home and go places myself (teenage years). I did not live a “debauched life”. I was a child. However, my family backgroud was anything but ideal.
        And when I spoke of adults not being capable of the type of understanding you spoke of, I was specifically thinking of those with diabilities who are slow to learn. Yet, thank the Lord, even the least among us is able to understand the simple gospel message, from children to adults. And in fact, Jesus made a point of emphasizing that those that come to the kingdom will come like little children.
        If you are looking for specific methods from Scripture for how to lead others to repentance, my best guess would be that you are pentecostal.
        Guaging by the way you speak, I would be hard pressed to find Scriptural guidance for a number of issues, ranging from VBS, to invitro fertilization, but I believe God gave us both His Word, and the Holy Spirit to discern these matters.
        My point is this; do you really, honestly believe that open invitations to pray to God are harmful for children’s spiritual growth?
        I agree that telling a child they can say a prayer and *presto* they are saved, is completely unbiblical and could be damaging to their further understanding of Christianity, but in my experience very VERY few Bible believing churches practice that method of reaching people.
        We can’t judge the hearts of these children, some will be truly saved, some will be going along, and others will not understand, it’s the same all through life. That doesn’t mean that we call the method unbiblical and stop doing it.
        If that was the case, I would throw up my hands and say evangelism as a whole is a lost cause, because most misunderstand, others reject, and few actually respond.
        You do what you can to reach people. It seems that VBS and children’s ministries work. Thank God cynical people can’t shut them down for the safety of everyone.

  6. BA

    Emotions are running high here, and that’s understandable given such a sensitive topic. I have a 2-year-old and a 3-month-old as well, so I relate personally with the strongest desire to see my children believe upon the Lord.

    As difficult as it is, just like with every consideration, we must reason our way through this.

    This how most people view the use of altar calls with children:

    1. Children place their trust in Christ alone during an altar call.
    2. Placing trust in Christ alone is the only way to heaven.
    3. Therefore, altar calls should be applauded.

    But watch what happens when we change #1 to something else that is true.

    1. Children place their trust in Christ alone through pastors who later say they never believed the gospel (has happened countless times).
    2. Placing trust in Christ alone is the only way to heaven.
    3. Therefore, pastors who don’t believe the gospel should be applauded.

    We can quickly see the problem here. Children (and adults alike) can be drawn by the Father through various methods, biblical or unbiblical. That’s because salvation is dependent upon God, not our efforts. He appoints the time, not us.

    The question then becomes, what method for presenting the gospel best represents the teaching of Scripture. This, I believe, is where The Pauper is coming from. And as emotional as we can all get (myself included), it simply cannot be demonstrated that an altar call system is recommended by the Bible. Once we give any other reason for someone to respond to the gospel other than the gospel itself (raise your hand to relieve the guilt, respond to the music b/c your friends are, etc), we are stepping outside what the Bible prescribes. Can God draw children to Himself through an altar call? Yes. Does that make it biblically correct? No.

    • The Pauper

      Well Pat, I have my own answer to this question that comes from the scriptures but that is not the subject of this post so I am not going down that rabbit trail. However, if you have an answer to that question which you can back up with Book, Chapter and Verse from the scriptures I would be interested in reading it.
      Thanks again for your time.

    • BA

      Pat,

      please correct me if I’m wrong (especially if your post isn’t a response to mine).

      I think you’re equating the internet with the altar call system since neither are mentioned in the Scriptures. If that’s the case, I would ask you to consider this with me.

      The internet is only a channel of communication. Like all communication channels, past and present, it has no impact on the message communicated through that channel. Imagine me (since you don’t know what I look like, an image of Brad Pitt will suffice) writing you a letter with 1Corinthians 15:1-5 on it. 20 years later, I get a phone, so now I call you and tell you the same passage. 10 years later, I get a video camera and film myself repeating the passage and then I send it to you through the mail.

      My point is the fact that the Bible doesn’t mention phones, TVs, radios, tapes, CDs, DVDs, post cards, tracts, etc. does not make them inherently unbiblical. They are merely new channels of communication that have developed in post-biblical times. They didn’t exist for the Bible to mention them.

      An altar call on the other hand is not a channel of communication – it is communication itself, packaged in a specific paradigm. Does that paradigm match with the paradigm we are clearly given in the Scriptures? If your answer is yes, I would only ask that you have Scriptural support ready to back up such an assertion.

  7. I would say that being an ordained and salaried pastor is more Biblically questionable than inviting children to pray after hearing a gospel message.

    • The Pauper

      Sara,
      That is a very interesting take on the subject. I am not sure what evidence in the text of scripture leads you to this conclusion. Where in scripture do you find any example of anyone extending such an invitation? (Or praying to receive redemption for that matter? The closest I can come off the top of my head on prayer is the publican in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9-14). And I am not sure that this parable makes your case since it is not talking about salvation but rather humility before God in prayer.) Can you shown me where you find book, chapter and verse indicating an invitation is a biblically warranted? (and again, remember that the issue is not praying but rather the invitation system which I continue to maintain is unbiblical.)

      As for the other two issues you raised (why I am not sure? Maybe because on the “About” page I mention that I am both of these things? I really hope not because that would not seem to be in keeping with a family of God discussion which it would seem is your heart.) both are well supported by scripture: ordination (Acts 6:6; 1 Tim 4:14, 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6; Heb 6:2 not to mention the precedent of the OT and anointing) and monetary support of pastors (1 Cor 9:7-11; 1 Tim 5:17-18; Matt 10:5-15; Luke 10:1-12).

      Thank you again for your thoughts.

  8. The Freedom Crusader

    Just because something has “worked” in the past, or seen results in the past, doesn’t mean that it is biblical.

    Are many people across the u.s. christians today as a result of an “alter call”? YES

    Did a donkey stand in the way of Balaam and speak the words of YHWH when he was in sin? YES

    Does this mean that because a donkey one time in history spoke the words of the Almighty that when I am in search of His will I should go sit in my friends pasture and wait for his guard donkey to speak to me? I am sooo not going to answer that one.

    Just because “alter calls” have had results doesn’t make them biblical.

    Maybe we should all take our feelings out and lay them on a shelf and really look at the real question.

    Not every situation we face as christians is addressed in scripture…DIRECTLY.

    However we can draw conclusions based on the principals found therein. People have long ago been sold on the idea of “programs”..VBS, Evangelism Explosion, etc. Just because they worked in certain situations doesn’t mean they are the best way or biblical. There were many many…..oh wait all of the church was founded and grown before “programs” were ever dreamed up. Good old preaching the gospel brought MILLIONS to the saving knowledge of YHWH for centuries before VBS or any other program came into being.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *