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. Therefore, an examination of scripture is necessary to 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”[i].
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.”[ii] 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.”[iii] 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.”[iv] 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 demonstrate childlike faith, consider himself the least of all, and become 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.”[v]
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 we have a positive attitude toward children? Do we have a positive attitude toward child evangelism? One way to test our attitude in this area is to examine how we respond when we hear of a child coming to faith in Christ. Do we respond to such news with enthusiasm and joy, or do we just shrug our 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 we truly care about something or someone then we 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.”[vi] 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 of Matthew 18. 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 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.”[vii] 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 offend or cause a child to stumble by not believing them. How many times have we 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 bringing the sheep home, he realizes one of them are 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. 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.”[viii] 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.”[ix] 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 us and welcomed us into His Kingdom. How greatly should our 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.
In addition to the historical accounts of Jesus in relation to child evangelism found in the Gospels, we also see many other passages both in the Old Testament and in the Epistles that provide a Biblical defense for child evangelism. It is good that we examine these additional passages that we may understand the full counsel of God’s Word in our defense for child evangelism.
The first passage to consider is Deuteronomy 4:1-10. The context of this passage is the preparation of the children of Israel to enter the promised land. It is in that context that Moses is giving a farewell speech as he prepares to hand over the reins of leadership to Joshua. “After rehearsing the history of the nation (Deut. 1–3), Moses reminded the people of the character of the God of Israel and how they should respond to Him.”[x] In verse one the people are encouraged to ‘hearken’ or ‘listen’ to things that they are taught. Here we find the Hebrew word ‘Shama’ which means to hear or understand things that are heard.[xi] This carries the idea of obedience. The children of Israel were to listen and obey the things they were taught. The word ‘teach’ is also seen in verse one which is the Hebrew word ‘Yada’. This word essentially means ‘to teach’. Verse two gives the instruction not to add to the word that is taught and do not take it lightly or diminish it. The people were to obey all that God gave to them and not add to or take anything away from it. They were to obey exactly as they were taught. In verses 3-6 Moses spoke concerning the results of obedience versus disobedience. It is concluded that obedience would result in God’s blessing and in other peoples coming to know the Lord. However, disobedience would result in discipline and God’s judgement. As we come to verses 9-10, we find attention placed upon the children. Emphasis is given on passing down what they learned to their children. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “Deuteronomy lays great stress not on the priests or other religious leaders, but on the parents as the ones responsible for their children’s spiritual education.”[xii] We gather from this passage that children are to be taught the Word of God from an early age. It is to be a regular part of their lives. Christian education begins in the home, and it is to be supported by the church. The scripture’s emphasis on educating children in the things of God substantiates a theology of child evangelism and conversion.
Another Old Testament passage to consider is Deuteronomy 6:1-9. This is a classic passage in the defense of child evangelism. The children of Israel are reminded to obey the commands that they were given. The word ‘teach’ in verse one is ‘lamad’ which means to teach so that you learn it and do it. It also means to exercise or to put into practice.[xiii] The emphasis given is on obedience. We are not to simply hear the word taught, but we are to put it into practice, we are to obey what we have been taught. There are several reasons seen in this passage as to why the children of Israel were to obey what they were taught. These are the same reasons for our obedience as well. Obedience is necessary in order that future generations may learn to fear God. If we are not living in obedience to the Word, then how can future generations know God? Long life is also promised to those who obey. There is a blessing given to those who live in obedience. The children of Israel were also told that there would be an increase in their number if they obey. Abundant multiplying blessings await those who live in obedience. In verses 4-5 we have what is known as the great ‘Shema’. This is the foundation of the Jewish faith. The ‘Shema’ is a declaration that there is only one true God, and He is to be loved with all heart, soul, and might. “The fundamental nature of the relationship between Yahweh and Israel consists of the recognition that God is one and that His people, if they are to enjoy the benefits of His promises to the patriarchs, must give Him undivided allegiance and unswerving obedience.”[xiv] In verse six the command is given to teach the ‘Shema’ and the commandments of the Lord to the children. The term for children in this context is the Hebrew word ‘ben’. It literally means your children and your children’s children.[xv] Israel was instructed to teach the commandments of the Lord to every generation. Verses 7-9 describes how the Word was to be taught. They were to teach the children diligently. This is the Hebrew word ‘Shanan’. It gives the idea of ‘sharpening.’[xvi] Children are sharpened or strengthened and equipped for life as they are taught. Every opportunity should be given to teach the children the Word of God. As a parent lives life with their children, constant consideration of opportunities to teach the children should be given. Parents should look for ways to teach children the Word of God as they go about their daily life. If the children of Israel were instructed to constantly teach their children the commands of the Lord and to demonstrate a life of obedience, would this not give credibility to the necessity of child evangelism?
Deuteronomy 11:18-21 is another passage to consider in a defense of child evangelism. Emphasis is given here to seek God with all your heart. Encouragement is given to ‘lay-up’ the Word in our hearts. The Word of God should be in the heart and mind of every true believer continuously. God’s Word should always be in front of us. In verse 20, the phrase: “write them on your doorpost” is the Hebrew word, ‘owth’. This means to make a mark or a remembrance.[xvii] God’s Word should be in constant view. When families live in such a way with the Word of God constantly in view promoting obedience, there is a blessing in store. Verse 21 gives a blessing to both parents and their children as they live in obedience to the Word of God. The encouragement to keep God’s Word in the forefront of our minds and hearts and to teach the Word to our children is additional evidence affirming the importance of a proper theology of child evangelism and conversion.
Another important Old Testament passage in our defense for child evangelism is found in Deuteronomy 31:9-13. Every seven years the people of Israel were to gather in one place and listen to the law of God read. Included in those who were to be present were the children. The entire community was involved in hearing God’s Word read publicly. As we saw in the acceptance of children by Jesus by including them in the gathering of adults, so did the entire community of Israel. The acceptance and inclusion of children gives even more substantial evidence to the importance of child evangelism.
Psalm 78:1-8 provides additional insight in our defense of child evangelism. This Psalm was written as a reminder of Israel’s history and to warn future generations of past failures. Warren Wiersbe says, “The leaders of Israel abandoned the faith of their fathers and established a religion of their own making, while the people of Judah sought to be faithful to the Lord. In this Psalm, Asaph warned the people of Judah not to imitate their faithless ancestors or their idolatrous neighbors and disobey the Lord. He admonished them to know the Scriptures and teach them to their children.”[xviii] In the first few verses of this Psalm there is a call to listen. The Hebrew Word ‘Naba’ is used as a reference to gushing water.[xix] The attitude described here is one of excitement and enthusiasm in proclaiming the Word of the Lord. The main takeaway we receive from this Psalm is that parents cannot be neutral when it comes to teaching their children the things of God. The things of God must not be hidden from the children so that they will grow up believing and praising the Lord. There are some today that will shy away from teaching children God’s Word for fear that they cannot understand it. Yet, the consequence of children not knowing God’s Word is far too dire to keep the Word from them. Child evangelism is essential in protecting future generations from the mistakes and failures of past generations.
Now that we have seen a substantial defense of child evangelism in the Gospels and in the Old Testament, let us now turn our attention to the Epistles. We begin by examining Ephesians 1:1-3 and 6:1-4. The book of Ephesians was written by the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Paul addresses the saints at Ephesus. It is important to note that Paul is not referring to saints as a sinless person, but rather, as a saved person. Fast forward to Ephesians 6:1-4. Here we find Paul addressing children and encouraging them to obey their parents. The word for children in this context is ‘teknon’.[xx] It means ‘small son or daughter’. The children are encouraged to obey their parents. They are to ‘hupakouo’[xxi] which means to submit to and obey. The children are to do this ‘in the Lord.’ It is the Christian duty of a child to obey their parents. Doing so is the right (‘diakaion’) or righteous thing to do.[xxii] Keeping with the context of the whole we can conclude that the early church practiced child evangelism. How do we come to this conclusion? Paul included children as saints or saved ones. He then directly addressed children and instructed them to obey their parents ‘in the Lord.’ The children Paul was writing to in chapter six were young children that were saved. They were counted in the number of the saints in the church at Ephesus. This proves that the early church actively evangelized children. If the early church evangelized children and included them in their membership, should we not also evangelize children?
A similar conclusion can be made from the book of Colossians. In Colossians 1:1-2, Paul declares he is writing to the saints and faithful brethren. In Colossians 3:20 children are once again given a direct command. They are commanded to please the Lord by obeying their parents. “There is something especially pleasing in the behaviour of a lovingly obedient child, that wins “favour” both “with God and man” (Luke 2:52).”[xxiii] If children are given instruction by Paul in his letter to the Colossians that is addressed to the saints, are the children Paul is instructing not also the saints mentioned at the beginning of his letter? Certainly, one must conclude that child evangelism was an essential practice in the life of the early church.
We could continue page after page with exposition of Biblical passages that gives a concrete defense of child evangelism. However, for the sake of not being too exhaustive allow me to give one more crucial passage in our defense of child evangelism. In Titus 1:5-9 we find the qualifications for a man to serve in the office of pastor/elder/bishop in the church. Within that context we find that the children of such men are to be faithful and not unruly. This is a reference to a believer versus a nonbeliever. The believer is one who is faithful, and the unbeliever is the one who is unruly. The children of a pastor/elder/bishop that have reached an age of understanding or accountability must be believers. “If the children remained pagan (unbelievers), the father’s ability to lead others would be thrown into question.”[xxiv] The children of such a man must fulfill the ethical requirements of a Christian life. Since such a requirement given for a man to serve in the high office of the church is placed on his children being believers, we have here a demonstration that children can indeed come to faith in Christ and therefore child evangelism is paramount.
There is a consistent thread through the pages of scripture that solidifies the credibility and necessity of child evangelism. It would be very difficult for one to argue against child evangelism using the Bible as their source. Over and over, we are faced with the conclusion in scripture that children do have the capacity to make a decision to trust in Christ as Savior and to live the Christian life. With such a conclusion, how will we respond? Will we engage in child evangelism?
Even with all the Biblical evidence supporting child evangelism, there are those who hold to views that counter the importance of child evangelism. To fully understand the necessity for child evangelism and provide a defense of child evangelism, it is important that we consider each of the contrary views in comparison to a philosophy of child evangelism.
The first contrary view to child evangelism is the traditional philosophy. The traditional philosophy states: “The Christian life of the child is formed by his environment. Conversion is a phenomenon of adolescence and until he has the use of reason (around twelve years of age), the child is not lost, since he is safer under the covenant by belonging to a Christian family.”[xxv] This philosophy originated with a misinterpretation of scriptures. In Exodus 12:12-13 it mentions how the blood was to be placed on the doorpost and by doing so the entire household would be protected. Some will use this passage to claim that the children of believing parents are safe under the covenant. Another place this philosophy originates is with infant baptism. The doctrine of original sin was used to justify infant baptism around the year A.D. 400. Those who practice infant baptism believe that it bestows on the children the grace of God. Scriptures, such as Acts 2:38-39, are used to defend this view. When Peter said to be baptized for the remission of sin and this promise is for you and your children, it is taken by those who promote infant baptism that baptism saves you and if infants are baptized then they are saved because the promise is also for the children. 1 Corinthians 7:14-16 is also used by some to support infant baptism. The context of 1 Corinthians 7 is marriage. Verse 14 mentions the children becoming holy because of the faith of a believing parent. This is taken by some to mean that children in the household of a saved parent are also saved. However, this is taken out of context since this passage alludes to the fact of a believing spouse having an influence on an unbelieving spouse that may lead to their coming to faith in Christ.
There are many problems with this traditional philosophy to be sure. One problem is the idea that the children cannot be lost. However, this is not consistent with scripture. The Bible is very clear that all have sinned and all fall short of God’s glory. One cannot be saved by covenant. We are justified by faith. According to Ephesians 2:8-9, we are saved by grace through faith. One cannot be justified simply by being a part of a believing family. Those who say that a child is safe under the covenant by belonging to a Christian family has no scriptural basis to make such a claim. It is not consistent with scripture. The traditional philosophy may suggest that children need to be taught Christian values and how to live the Christian life even though they are not believers. 1 Corinthians 2:14 explains that one cannot understand the things of God unless they have the Spirit of God in them. You cannot have the Spirit of God in you unless you have believed on the Lord Jesus. Yes, we need to teach children the Bible. However, it does no good to insist they live a Christian life when they have never come to faith in Christ. Child evangelism must come before discipleship. The child must come to faith in Christ before he or she can grow in Christ. The traditional philosophy may also suggest that children need to wait to adolescence in order to make a decision of faith. However, in the Gospels, Jesus speaks of believing children and even reprimands anyone who would keep a child from believing.
The traditional philosophy is filled with many flaws. Sadly, it is held by many churches and mainline denominations. It is vital that we educate people in what the scriptures say concerning child evangelism so that as many children as possible would come to faith in Christ.
Another philosophy is the educational philosophy. This philosophy states: “The child should receive biblical knowledge from a very young age and develop Christian habits and attitudes. One day he will make a personal decision for Christ and be saved.”[xxvi] Those who hold to this philosophy will place a greater emphasis on a good Christian education program in the church without any evangelistic emphasis amongst children. Old Testament passages such as is found in Deuteronomy are used to support this idea. In Deuteronomy chapter six, the children of Israel were commanded to teach the law to their children and to talk of it everywhere they went. It is true that we should regularly and continuously teach children the Word of God. However, such teaching cannot exclude a call to salvation.
The problem with the educational philosophy is that children without Christ are spiritually dead. They cannot understand and comprehend spiritual truths without first coming to faith in Christ. The educational philosophy will produce a head knowledge without a heart knowledge. A head knowledge never transforms a life. The Word of God must be in the heart in order for one’s life to be transformed.
Another problem with the educational philosophy is the idea that children will just come to Christ on their own. This begs the question: how many people come to faith in Christ without someone sharing the Gospel with them and leading them into a definite decision to accept Christ?
A final problem with the educational philosophy is the emphasis placed on good programming without intentionally and consistently sharing the Gospel and giving children opportunity to accept Christ as Savior. Many churches have great children’s programs with very little evangelism. The goal in many churches is to give children a lot of information without any invitation to accept Christ. Such programs produce people who think they are saved but are really not saved, and may produce serious problems in the church as the church is filled with people who grew up in the church but are not truly saved.
The educational philosophy is a tremendous hinderance to child evangelism. Church leaders need to come to an understanding of God’s Word that emphasizes the importance of leading children to a definite salvation decision.
Another negative idea that challenges child evangelism is the psychological philosophy. The psychological philosophy states: “The child is incapable of understanding symbolism and abstract concepts and is unable to reason; therefore, he cannot make a decision for Christ.”[xxvii] This philosophy originated with Jean Piaget (1896-1980). “Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist and genetic epistemologist. You may have heard of Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, for which he is famous. This theory looks at how children develop intellectually throughout the course of childhood.”[xxviii] “Piaget’s theory had a tremendous influence on the emergence of developmental psychology as a distinctive subfield within psychology and contributed greatly to the field of education.”[xxix] Though some may misapply Piaget’s theories to child evangelism, we can learn from his complex theory of how one develops in order to consider the proper methods of educating children. Piaget taught that children go through various stages such as: sensorimotor period (birth to 2), preoperational period (2 to 7), concreate operations period (7 to 11), and formal operations period (12+). These periods of child development are good for us to understand as we minister to children. However, some will contend that child evangelism is not appropriate due to the idea that children do not have the psychological capacity to accept Christ as Savior.
There are several problems with this view. One problem is the idea that children cannot make a decision for Christ until they reach a certain point in their intellectual development. However, the Bible does not list ‘understanding’ as a requirement for salvation. A proper study of scripture reveals that salvation comes by ‘believing’ not by ‘understanding.’ Jesus even told His disciples that they must believe with a child-life faith. Do adults fully understand salvation? Does anyone fully understand the Gospel? God’s ways are higher than our ways, therefore, we accept God’s grace through faith. It’s not true faith if you understand it all. It is not about understanding fully, it is about believing and trusting with a child-like faith. Certainly, children can believe though they do not understand fully. After all, who does fully understand?
Another problem with the psychological view is the idea that younger children cannot understand certain concepts involved in salvation such as grace, trusting Jesus, and believing. However, for anyone who spends any time with children, it is clear that they understand more than we may realize. Children certainly can understand grace. They know when they do something wrong, and their parents give them grace. They also understand what it means to trust and depend on someone. Children develop the concept of trust from infancy. They know what to means to believe in something. Spending time with children and observing them will reveal they do have the capacity to understand such concepts.
The biggest problem with the psychological philosophy is ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit. John 16:13 mentions how the Holy Spirit guides us in the truth. If we believe in a God that can do the impossible and in the Holy Spirit that reveals things to our hearts, then we must believe in a God that can reveal His truth to children through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can indeed work in the heart of children just as He does with adults. The Holy Spirit probably makes greater progress with children than with adults because of their trusting nature.
The psychological philosophy is one that should never be adopted by sincere Christians. We must hold to what God’s Word says concerning children and we should never be guilty of preventing a child from coming to Christ for salvation.
Now that we have considered the various opposing philosophies to child evangelism, it is imperative that we conclude with an understanding of a right philosophy of child evangelism. The child evangelism philosophy developed by Child Evangelism Fellowship states: “The Gospel should be presented to the child at an early age so that as the Holy Spirit works, he will come to know Jesus as his personal Savior. As a result, the child can begin to develop Christian character, which is the outward expression of a new inward life.”[xxx] There are many arguments that support this view. One such argument is that the Biblical requirement for salvation is child-like faith, not reasoning, as is mentioned in Matthew 18:3. One can also not ignore the power of the Holy Spirit to work in the life of a child. According to John 16:8, the Holy Spirit can intervene regardless of one’s intellectual development.
We also have the testimonies of the changed lives of countless children who have accepted Christ as Savior. Many well-known Christians were saved at an early age. Corrie Ten Boom was saved at the age of 5. James Dobson was saved at the age of 3. Jonathan Edwards was saved at the age of 7. Franklin Graham was saved at the age of 8. The list goes on and on of those who came to faith in Christ at an early age.
William Hendricks said, “Each child is born into a sinful humanity. All individuals eventually confirm themselves as sinners. It is God’s purpose to save all.”[xxxi] It is at the very heart of God that children come to faith in Christ. Billy Graham once said, “I am certain that the Gospel is just as real to the small child as to the educated adult. Christ seems to have a special affection for the children. I sincerely believe that child evangelism is one of the greatest mediums for reaching future generations for Christ that there is today.”[xxxii]
To summarize a defense for child evangelism we must understand several definite truths. First, children are lost and need to be saved. This understanding is consistent with the context of scripture. Also, Jesus commands us to evangelize children. Mark 16:15 tells us to preach the Gospel to every creature. There are no age limits on who we are commanded to preach the Gospel to. Jesus also affirmed in Matthew 18:6 that children can believe in Him. Another fact is that the Biblical requirement for salvation is child-like faith and not reasoning. One must not come to a certain intellectual understanding to be saved, simply believing is all that God requires. The personal testimony of millions of Christians who came to know the Lord at an early age also attest to the validity of child evangelism. The true Biblical theology that salvation is available for all of mankind also supports the need for child evangelism.
The evidence is clear. A proper study of the scriptures along with personal testimonies make it exceptionally difficult to refute that children can indeed come to faith in Christ. Understanding that most Christians come to faith at an early age also makes child evangelism of upmost importance. May the Holy Spirit solidify in our hearts the importance of child evangelism and the huge responsibility we have to make sure every man, woman, and child has the opportunity to receive Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
[i] Doherty, Sam. Children a Biblical Perspective, CEF Specialized Book Ministry, 2011. Lisburn, Ireland. p. 2
[ii] Walvoord & Zuck. Bible Knowledge Commentary, SP Publications, 1983. p. 61
[iii] Progressive Methods of Child Evangelism class notes
[vi] Henry Ironside, Notes on Matthew, p. 223
[vii] William Barclay, Commentary on Matthew, p. 186
[viii] McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible Volume IV. p. 204
[ix] The Child in Christian Thought. p. 38
[x] Wiersbe, W. W. (1999). Be equipped (p. 25). Chariot Victor Pub.
[xi] Logos Bible Software Word Studies
[xii]J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 269). Victor Books.
[xiii] Brown-Driver-Briggs. Hebrew/English Lexicon
[xiv]Merrill, E. H. (1998). The Pentateuch. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary (p. 65). Broadman & Holman Publishers.
[xv] Logos Bible Software Word Studies
[xvi] Brown-Driver-Briggs. Hebrew/English Lexicon
[xvii] Progressive Methods of Child Evangelism Class Notes. p. 22
[xviii]Wiersbe, W. W. (2004). Be worshipful (1st ed., p. 253). Cook Communications Ministries.
[xix] Progressive Methods of Child Evangelism Class Notes. p. 23
[xx] Progressive Methods of Child Evangelism Class Notes. p. 19
[xxiii]Spence-Jones, H. D. M., ed. (1909). Colossians (p. 156). Funk & Wagnalls Company.
[xxiv] Progressive Methods of Child Evangelism Class Notes. p. 20
[xxv] Progressive Methods of Child Evangelism Class Notes p. 25
[xxvii] Progressive Methods of Child Evangelism Class Notes p. 27
[xxviii] Cherry, Kendra. http://www.verywellmind.com Jean Piaget Biography. 2022.
[xxx] Progressive Methods of Child Evangelism Class Notes p. 26
[xxxi] Ingel, Clifford. The age of accountability: children and conversion. Broadman Press. 1970.
[xxxii] Progressive Methods of Child Evangelism Class Notes