A Defense for Child Evangelism – Part 1

One of the greatest joys is seeing a young child come to faith in Christ. Unfortunately, there are those who do not understand that a child has both the mental capability and the spiritual intuition to make a definitive decision to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Some struggle to realize the necessity of inviting children to respond in faith to the message of the Gospel. Perhaps you are one who struggles with the idea of a child coming to faith in Christ and the need for evangelizing children. I encourage you to continue reading as we examine the scriptures and discover the vital importance of child evangelism.

            Before one can come to the table and consider an argument for evangelizing children there are certain presuppositions that must be agreed to. As we examine many scripture passages in regard to child evangelism, it is imperative that there is a clear understanding, affirmation, and agreement to the fact that the Bible is the complete Word of God. A belief in the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Holy Scriptures is the starting point for any true Biblical discussion. As Dr. Sam Doherty says, “If it is not completely true, or if there are errors, mistakes or inconsistencies in it we cannot base our studies on it. If it is God’s Word, completely true and without mistake, then we have a source of truth which can be completely depended upon. We need to be clear that there is no other objective revelation of truth”[1].

            With a fundamental understanding of the Bible as the inspired Word of God we begin by examining two key New Testaments passages relating to children. These passages give the historical account of actual events surrounding the ministry of Jesus. There is no greater defense for any argument than the words of Jesus Himself, and so, we begin there.

            The first passage to consider is Matthew 18:1-14. In any study of scripture, it is naturally vital that we first develop a complete picture of the background and context of the text at hand. The disciples found themselves in an argument as to who is the greatest or who is the highest rank. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “The disciples were still anticipating an earthly kingdom and wondering what positions they would have.”[2] One can only imagine how this argument may have gone. Perhaps Peter suggested that he was the greatest because he kept everyone else in line. Perhaps Judas (who would eventually betray Jesus) argued that he was the greatest because Jesus entrusted him as the treasurer of the group. This argument continued to the point of them all agreeing that they should ask Jesus who is the greatest. When they approached Jesus with this question, they were astonished at His response. Jesus called a little child over to them and sat the child ‘in the midst’ of them. The significance of this action by Jesus is greater than we may realize. In the culture of that day, children were looked at as a lesser human being. They were to keep themselves quiet and not mingle with the adults. Children were considered immature, unwise, and on a lower level than adults. No one would dare elevate a child as equal to an adult. Yet, Jesus sat a child in the ‘midst of them.’ He invited the child to join them in an adult conversation as an equal.

            The Greek word used for ‘child’ is ‘paidion’. This means ‘a little or young child.’ Most likely this was a child under the age of seven. “Jesus teaches a vital truth before answering the question. He lays down the requirement to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”[3] Before one can know their place in the Kingdom, they must first know that they will be in the Kingdom. Jesus said that “except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” The criteria for entering into God’s Kingdom is to be converted and become as a little child. The Greek word for ‘converted’ is ‘strepho’. It refers to a change that cannot be made by oneself. It means to be supernaturally changed. Being converted is a transformation in one’s life that only God can make. Such transformation occurs when a conscience voluntary decision is made to turn to Jesus for salvation. True conversion is the requirement for entering the Kingdom of Heaven. As one is converted, he or she will become as a little child. “Jesus is not saying that children must become like adults to enter Heaven but, adults must become like children.”[4] A change in one’s thinking must occur. You cannot think like an adult that is constantly skeptical and critical. The mind must be changed to the mind of a child which is accepting and trusting.

            Once Jesus gave the disciples the requirements for entering the Kingdom of Heaven, He now answers their question as to who is the greatest. In verse four Jesus said that those who humble themselves ‘as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” To be humble means to ‘bring low.’ Jesus points to the child sitting in the midst of them and says that you must be humble as this little child. Those who are the greatest in Heaven are those who demonstrates childlike faith, considers himself the least of all, and becomes the servant of all. “Greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven is not based on great works or words but on childlike humility of spirit. With humility comes childlike trust.”[5]

            Jesus goes on to say that whoever receives “one such little one in my name receiveth me.” To receive is to welcome or to accept. It is the Greek word ‘dechomai’ and it literally means ‘to accept deliberately and readily.’ There is no greater endorsement for child evangelism than the words of Jesus in this passage. Jesus wants us to receive or welcome children into the Kingdom of God. How can we welcome children into the Kingdom? First of all, we must receive them with a positive attitude. Do you have a positive attitude toward children? Do you have a positive attitude toward child evangelism? One way to test your attitude in this area is to examine how you respond when you hear of a child coming to faith in Christ. Do you respond to such news with enthusiasm and joy, or do you just shrug your shoulders in doubt? Secondly, to welcome children into the Kingdom, we must show them Jesus. We do this by living as Jesus would live. We must demonstrate the love of Christ to children by our actions. It is true that actions speak louder than words especially in our communication with children. They need to see how Jesus has changed our lives and how every part of our life is affected by our relationship with our Savior. Thirdly, we must teach them about Jesus. Consider 2 Timothy 3:14-15. Paul encouraged Timothy to stay true to the things that he was taught ever since he was child. In verse 15 of 2 Timothy 3, Paul mentions that Timothy “hast known the Holy Scriptures” starting at a very early age. The Greek word for child or childhood in 2 Timothy 3:15 is ‘brephos’. This word literally means ‘a newly born or slightly older infant.’ Timothy was taught the Word of God when he was just an infant. Such knowledge stands to reason the importance of church nurseries and Sunday School programs. It also should encourage Christian parents to read the Bible to their infant children and sing hymns and other Christian songs to them. To welcome children into the Kingdom of God we must teach them about Jesus. A child is never too young to start learning about Jesus. A final way we welcome children into the Kingdom is by caring for them. As it is with anything we are challenged with we are faced with the question: do we really care? If you truly care about something or someone then you are going to do the right thing by them. If we truly care for the children then we will do everything we can to love them, protect them, listen to them, teach them God’s Word; including inviting them to accept Christ as Savior. Jesus said that when you receive or welcome a child it is the same as receiving Jesus. Henry Ironside wrote, “To receive a little child in His name is to receive Him, because He identifies Himself with all who trust Him. He is not only the Savior of those who, because of wasted years in sin and debauchery, realize their need of forgiveness and cleansing, but He is also the Savior of the little ones who, in their comparative innocence, are attracted to Him because of His tender interest in them.”[6] Children need the Lord. If we are to be anything like Jesus, we must with open arms receive children and lead them to Christ.

            Jesus moves on to give a stern warning to those who may offend a child in verse 6-10. To offend a child, in this passage, means to put a stumbling block in their way. It refers to the act of discouraging a child from coming to faith in Christ. Many have done this very thing by telling a child they are too young or perhaps they are not ready. The Greek word for ‘little ones’ is the word ‘mikros.’ This is a reference to being small in stature. Keeping with the context of the previous verses, we find that we are not to prevent the young and the small children from coming to Jesus. We also find that Jesus uses the word ‘believe’ in reference to children. He warns us not to prevent or hinder or discourage a little child who ‘believes’ in Him. The word ‘believe’ in this passage is the Greek word ‘pisteuo’ which is the same word used in John 3:16 where Jesus said, “….whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” The amount of Biblical evidence and support for child evangelism is simply staggering. Jesus tells His disciples that anyone who ‘offends’ or hinders a child from coming to Him, then that person should have a millstone tied around his neck and cast into the sea. Wow! What strong words by Jesus! It appears that Jesus took evangelizing children seriously and so should we.

            Offending children is not only referring to preventing children from coming to Christ, but also to cause children to stumble. “The Jews considered that the worst sin one could commit was teaching another to sin.”[7] Jesus said we are not to offend a child or cause them to sin. There are many ways we may cause a child to stumble. One way is by setting a bad example. Remember, children watch everything we do. It does no good to teach them what they should do or to stay away from certain things when we ourselves engage in the very practices we warn them against. We may also not offend or cause a child to stumble by not believing them. How many times have you witnessed a child tell an adult how they got saved and the adult makes light of it? How discouraging that must be for a child! We may also cause a child to stumble by teaching them the wrong things or by not teaching them at all. If we never teach them about Jesus, then we are causing them to stumble as they try to navigate their own way in the world. We know that the world is going to try to teach them its ways, should we not care enough to protect them from the world by teaching them about Jesus? Our bad actions and our bad attitudes can also cause a child to stumble. Remember, they are following our example. It is good that we examine our lives frequently to make sure our attitudes and actions align with the Word of God.

            Jesus continues his discussion with His disciples by focusing on the issue of offences. He zeros in on their own spiritual walk in light of the children that are looking up to them. ‘Offences’ refers to things that may produce sin in our lives. Jesus gives the illustration that if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out, or if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Jesus was not saying we should literally cut off body parts. The issue here are the things we allow in our lives that causes us to sin. Essentially, we are to remove everything that may cause ourselves or others to sin. For us it may be turning off the television or refraining from a certain place or distancing ourselves from a bad influence. Whatever, the case may be, it is a dangerous thing to cause others, especially a child to sin; therefore, we must remove anything from our lives that would cause ourselves or others to stumble.

            Matthew 18:10 is a very powerful verse that gives even more evidence to the need and necessity of child evangelism. Jesus said that we are to “take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones…” To despise is the Greek word ‘kataphroneo’ which means ‘to think little of.’ How often do we look down on children? How often do we ignore them or view them as unimportant? Children are often looked at as a nuisance and we are quick to push them away. Jesus tells us that children are important, and we should pay attention to them. Children should be treated with respect. We should treat them with the same respect that we expect them to show toward us. The Jews had a strong belief in guardian angels, and rightfully so. There is Biblical evidence for guardian angels who watch over believers, and even over regions of the world. Jesus points out that there are angels assigned to children to watch over them. The guardian angels of children have special access to God’s throne as they ‘always behold the face of my Father which is in Heaven.” Children are so important to God that their angels have special access to the throne. If children are so close to the heart of God and it has been made clear in the scriptures that children can indeed accept Christ as Savior and we must not hinder them from doing so; how great is the importance of child evangelism!

            Jesus continues with an illustration in verses 11-13. Jesus said that His purpose in coming to this world is to seek and save the lost. Jesus shares a parable about lost sheep. A parable is essentially an earthly story with a Heavenly meaning. Jesus tells the story of a Shepherd who had one hundred sheep. As he is brought the sheep home, he realizes one of those sheep is missing. He secures the ninety-nine sheep and leaves them to find the one that is lost. Jesus says that when the shepherd finds that one lost sheep, there is much rejoicing when he finds it. This parable is an illustration of tremendous love. It is a love that is concerned for the individual. Do we have a love for the individual child? It is a love that seeks. Are we searching for lost children to lead them to Jesus? It is a love that delights. Do we rejoice when we hear of a child coming to faith in Christ? Jesus loves everyone, including children. He went all the way to the cross to provide a way of salvation for all people and He wants the smallest of children to believe in Him and follow Him.

            Matthew 18:14 is another one of those key verses that points to the need for child evangelism. Jesus once again uses the phrase ‘little ones’ in reference to very small children when He says, “Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in Heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” Just as the shepherd would go after that one lost sheep, God wants all children to know Him. It is not His will that a little child would perish. The fact that Jesus mentions a child perishing is proof that a child can indeed perish. A child who comes to a place of understanding their sinfulness and their need to receive Jesus Christ as Savior and refuses to do so, will indeed perish. All who refuse or reject Christ will spend eternity separated from God, including children who reject Him. However, such a possibility breaks God’s heart. It is not His will for any child, or anyone for that matter, to be separated from Him. He desires that all people would come to repentance and follow Him. Since it is God’s will that children be saved, how greatly is the importance of child evangelism!

            The second of the two key New Testament passages regarding children is Mark 10:13-16. This particular passage is one that clearly shows the love that Jesus has for children. There were many people that were bringing their children to see Jesus. They were bringing the children to Jesus so that He would touch them and bless them. Many of these children were very small, even infants. Verse 16 tells us that He literally took the children into his arms. J. Vernon McGee said, “Our Lord took the children up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them. He never did take anybody else up in His arms like that, friend. He took the little children because they are the ones He will receive.”[8] When the disciples saw the people bringing the children to Jesus, they rebuked them. Perhaps the disciples thought the children were getting in the way or that they were a nuisance. The response of Jesus is classic. The scripture says that Jesus was ‘much displeased.’ This phrase refers to being very angry and indignant. The fact that Jesus got so angry with his disciples for attempting to hinder the children from coming shows the importance of children in the heart of God. In verse 14, Jesus issues a double command. He says to let the children come and to not stop them. He tells his disciples to not forbid the children “for of such is the Kingdom of God.” These are some very strong words by Jesus. “Jesus couldn’t have made a more emphatic statement of children’s reception into the Kingdom of God.”[9] Jesus is not saying that all children are automatically saved (though there is Biblical evidence for an age of accountability). Jesus is reiterating the fact that for one to enter the Kingdom of God, He must receive Him as a little child. All who come to Christ in child-like faith are welcomed into the Kingdom. All who do not come to Him in child-like faith will not enter the Kingdom of God. Another interesting note we see here is how Jesus took action. He took up the children in His arms. Jesus had an overflowing love for children. Since Jesus took action to find the lost sheep. Since Jesus took action to take the children up in His arms. Since Jesus took action to let the children come. Since Jesus took action for you and me and welcomed us into His Kingdom. How greatly should are efforts be to bring others, especially children, into the Kingdom!

            Matthew 18:1-14 and Mark 10:13-16 are two very key New Testament passages among others that point to the necessity of child evangelism. Children need Jesus. We must bring them to Him by loving them as He loves them and accepting them as He accepts them.

[1] Doherty, Sam. Children a Biblical Perspective, CEF Specialized Book Ministry, 2011. Lisburn, Ireland. p. 2

[2] Walvoord & Zuck. Bible Knowledge Commentary, SP Publications, 1983. p. 61

[3] Progressive Methods of Child Evangelism class notes

[4] Progressive Methods of Child Evangelism class notes

[5] Progressive Methods of Child Evangelism class notes

[6] Henry Ironside, Notes on Matthew, p. 223

[7] William Barclay, Commentary on Matthew, p. 186

[8] McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible Volume IV. p. 204

[9] The Child in Christian Thought. p. 38

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