Nurturing our pre-school children (1)

Childcare: volumes have been written on this subject. Many of them are produced by secular (unbelieving) sociologists and child psychologists. Many others are generated by “Christians” who write with a religious flare but ignore the truth of Scripture while imbibing the unbelieving mindset of this world. Magazines are displayed on the table in doctors’ offices and immediately sent to the home free of charge as soon as a publisher finds out from the hospital that a mother has had her baby. Books, magazines, blogs, and videos on parenting are available everywhere. They are downloaded, read, or listened to with the enthusiasm of an open mind ready to be filled with advice.

This is understandable in the wicked world, since parents have no spiritual mooring in the Bible. It is even understandable, perhaps, in the nominal Christian church, where no solid instruction is given in the Scripture and what it teaches about children and child-rearing. Such parents conscientiously search out the best way to raise their children according to modern parenting methods. But when fathers and mothers in the church where God has established His covenant in the line of generations seek out the advice of this world in order to nurture their children, there is reason for alarm. This is true for two reasons. First, young parents ought to learn proper child-care from the godly example of their grandparents and parents before them. How did my grandparents and my parents raise me? Though I may do things a bit differently than they, nevertheless I find in my own godly nurturing in the home profound, biblical principles that I too will follow as I raise my children. If the new generation cannot look to the generation before for such an example, then life in the home is slipping in the church. That is a reason for alarm.

In the second place, in that faithful church where God has established His covenant, new parents must seek out the Word of God and the preaching of that Word. The Bible is our objective guide for all truth— including the careful nurture of our children. When God gives to them their first child, young parents ought diligently to search the Scripture to find wisdom in the care of that child. If they are having a hard time with this, they can be guided by their pastor or some wise member of the church. These will also help them find theologically sound books to read on the subject.

Proper nurturing of our children begins immediately after they are born. The years prior to attending school are the most formative years of their lives. The knowledge and impressions children absorb in these few years influence the course of their future lives. Parents should not so quickly in their uncertainty (or busyness) send their children away during these years, thinking that an educator can do a better job than they in nurturing their children. During these years, little children need the love, care, and attention of their parents—mothers and fathers.

Who are our children?
The proper nurture of our pre-school children begins with an understanding of who they are. Where God establishes His church in this world He enters into covenant with His people. God’s covenant is His relationship of love, favor, and fellowship into which He enters with His elect people in Christ. He is their God and they are His people for Christ’s sake. It is evident from Scripture (for example, Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39) that this covenant includes believers and their believing children. The establishment of God’s fellowship with believers includes the promise to parents that God will save in the line of their generations. Our children, then, are children of the promise! That is who they are. When a believing mother and father gaze into the face of their newborn infant in the delivery room, they are always amazed at how fearfully and wonderfully we are made. But there is more. They are filled with hope—hope and comfort in the promise God has given them as members of His covenant: “I will save unto Myself a people chosen in Christ from your children and children’s children unto a thousand generations!” Believing parents have no reason to doubt the promise of God to them.

On the other hand, they may not assume that God regenerates every child born into the sphere of the church and covenant. In his great dissertation on election and reprobation Paul writes in Romans 9:6-8, “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Parents in the church may not assume that just because our children are born to believing parents and into a faithful church this in some way miraculously saves our children. With the birth of their infant child, believing parents cling to the promise of the covenant in hope, yet they do not deceive themselves into assuming every child born into the church is regenerated.

Neither do parents of the covenant believe that every child born into the sphere of the church is a recipient of God’s covenant and its promises. A child can be raised in the sphere of the church and covenant. He may hear the gospel call. He may be taught the truths of salvation in Christ. He may even receive all the advantages of belonging to a family and church that shares in God’s covenant blessings. But he has no part in God’s love, favor, or fellowship. He is not one of God’s elect people, neither is he saved in the blood of Christ. That, too, can be true of children born into the church. These are the hard realities of God’s sovereign decree of election and reprobation.

These realities do not deter the godly mother and father of the church from clinging to God’s promise, however. God is faithful. But this reality does work in such parents an understanding of the importance of raising their children to the utmost of their power in the fear of God’s name. They realize that God uses means. They as parents may be weak and sinful means, but God will use the faithful, persistent nurturing of their children in the home to shape and mold the next generation of His covenant. This is why they present their children for baptism. At that time they vow that they will instruct their child(ren) in the truths of the Old and New Testaments and in the doctrines taught in their church. That vow immediately follows them into the infant years of their child. They do not promise to do this later in life as the child grows older. They immediately set themselves to the task of nurturing their child in the fear of God’s name.

The answer to the question, Who are our children? is, in the first place, they are children of the promise of God’s covenant.

In the second place, the answer to this question is, they are sinners. The moment they are born they are sinners. Not only are they partakers of the guilt of Adam and Eve, but they have inherited their sin—a sin that has been passed down from one generation to the next throughout the ages. Parents—yes, believing parents too—have passed on to their children their sin and unbelief. The Canons of Dordt are explicit in this, “Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parent, not by imitation, as the Pelagians of old asserted, but by the propagation of a vicious nature” (III/IV, Art. 2). It may be difficult at times to accept what lies in our infants’ sinful flesh when looking into their soft, adoring eyes. “Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to all evil, dead in sin and in bondage thereto, and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, not to dispose themselves to reformation” (Canons III/IV, Art. 3). For that reason, parents look for signs in their little children of the redeeming work of God’s grace in their hearts. Solomon teaches us in Proverbs 20:11, “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.”

This knowledge of our little children is vital to the methods used in nurturing them, as opposed to those of the unbelieving world. Unbelief views man as inherently good. If he does evil, it is only because he has been influenced by an evil society. For this reason, it is said, children are born innocent. A baby is free of sin. One writer explains,

When I looked into the eyes of my son, I saw trustfulness, curiosity and joyfulness. I saw no deviousness, meanness or selfishness. In that instant it became clear to me that if he ever acted in a devious, mean, or selfish way, his behavior would have been created by circumstances, not by him…. Children are born innocent. They want to be loved, to learn, and to contribute….”1

Not only does this idea form the basis for pedagogy in the unbelieving world, but much of the church world has embraced this idea as well. It is part and parcel of the Pelagian and Arminian errors. Those who promote the free will of man speak of an age of innocence. An infant, toddler, and little child up to a certain age is free of sin. They are too young to accept Jesus as their personal Savior. If they die during this young age, therefore, they automatically are accepted by God into heaven because they are yet innocent, free from sin and its corruption.

This age of innocence ends, it is said, when the child is old enough to recognize who God is and that disobedience is not just against parents but against God. The Roman Catholic Church set that age at around seven years old. According to that church, that is the age of reason. Others will insist that the age is not so fixed, but that such knowledge develops between the ages of 6 and 10 years old. Until that time a child is not fully aware of sin and disobedience. In all cases, a child is free from sin during infancy and the toddler years. Or, if not free from sin, at least free from the accountability of sin.

Against this conception stands the testimony of Scripture concerning our children, even the tiniest of our children. “In sin did my mother conceive me,” David writes (Ps. 51:5). Job testifies, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one” (Job 14:4). The truth of regeneration is based upon this fact. We need to be reborn or born again because according to our first birth by our parents we are born dead in sins and trespasses (Eph. 2:1). For that reason, sin is found in the heart of an infant the moment he or she is conceived and born. Even an elect child needs to be born again if he is to see or enter into the kingdom of heaven. Neither ought we to be deceived when we look into the eyes of our newborn baby. Behind those fragile, helpless, dependent eyes lies a sinful flesh. This is true even of an infant in whom God has worked by His regenerating grace in the womb of his mother. Even that infant, as holy as he may seem, has but a small beginning of the new obedience. The sin of rebellion that characterized our first parents and plagues each of us does not take long to reveal itself in the life of an infant.

Such a Reformed view of our children will have a profound impact on how we nurture them in those first few years of their lives. In other words, the proper understanding of who our children are sets the underlying theological principle out of which flows the practical application of dealing with our children in a proper biblical way. It reveals to parents what children need and how to meet those needs in order that they might grow up in the fear and nurture of God. We hope to continue this subject in our next article.

 

1 Jan Hunt, Children Are Born Innocent (Internet).