In our Catechism for Young Children, Q. 159 asks: “Are baptized children Christians?” The answer given is “Yes, but only those who truly repent and believe in Christ are saved.” Could you explain the ‘yes’? Isn’t a Christian someone who is born again? If he is born again, then he will repent and believe in Christ. If he is not, then he will not repent and believe, thus wouldn’t he not be a Christian?
Well, in the first place, it cannot be wrong to say that baptized children are Christians, for they bear the sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace. If we cannot call baptized children ‘Christian’, then we cannot call baptized adults ‘Christian’ either.
In the second place, note that the term ‘Christian’ does not necessarily imply that a person is born again. A true Christian is regenerate, so there is a sense in which an unregenerate person who knows he is unregenerate should not claim to be a Christian. But really the term Christian has a wider usage. Consider that the term was first used to describe the disciples of Christ in Antioch (Acts 11:26), and we have no indication that all the disciples were born again. The fact is no finite man can tell if anyone is a true disciple or a true Christian. Judas Iscariot was one of the ‘disciples’ of the Lord (Jn 12:4), but he betrayed Him. Likewise, many others were called the ‘disciples’ of the Lord, but when they could not take His teaching anymore, they “went back, and walked no more with him” (Jn 6:66).
In the third place, noting that God’s promise of His covenant is unto us and to our children (Acts 2:39), we have reason to believe that God will join the baptism of the Spirit to the baptism of water that our children are subjected. That is, God can regenerate our children at any age He chooses. To tell our children that they are not Christian, unregenerate and wicked like the rest of the world is to deny that God has promised to bless us and our children, for how do we know that God has not regenerated them? Are we to say that a child is unregenerate because he behaved in a certain way? Then we must declare the apostles unregenerate for their childish behaviour of vying for the top honours, not to mention for denying the Lord.
In the fourth place, experience shows us that most covenant children (even children in Baptist families!) profess to know and love the Lord at a very young age. Those who do not hold to covenant theology and infant baptism may deny their testimony until they have reached what is sometimes called the age of accountability.
But we who believe that God’s covenant extends to our families and who baptise our children to ingraft them into the visible body of Christ, must surely want to give them the benefit of the doubt!
In the fifth place, telling a covenant child that he is unregenerate, and of the world or wicked is a sure way of driving the child away from Christ. Think about it for a moment. Your child is 6 years old. He has been brought up to fear the Lord, but you tell him that he is unregenerate. You ask him if he loves the Lord, he says ‘yes.’ But you tell him that he is unregenerate because he has some childish behaviour. Now, the question is: At which point will you start to tell him that he is regenerate? When he has a conversion experience? But what if he like most covenant children growing up in the covenant, does not have such an experience?
What shall we do then? Shall we not address our baptised children as ‘Christian’ in accordance with the fact that they bear the sign and seal of the covenant? We will not presume whether they are elect or regenerate or unregenerate. But shall we not tell them of their covenant responsibilities as Christians to repent of their sin, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation and to walk according to their covenant obligations and privileges including the Word and prayer? We must do so for all adults; shall we not do so for our children? Our children may not yet have full assurance of salvation until they are more mature, but surely we must encourage them in their walk rather than denouncing them and discouraging them with terms that will suggest they are aliens to the covenant.
Pastor Lim Jyh Jang