Early and consistent teaching in a child’s formative years has an enduring effect on the life of a child as the biblical principle of Proverbs 22:6 attests: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (NIV).
In Scripture, the church is portrayed as a living, spiritual house with Christ as the foundation and cornerstone, and each believer as a stone. We want children to understand that they are living stones in this particular house of God. Each time they come to this place, they should be reminded that they are a part of the Body of Christ. It is our desire that they will put their trust in Christ at an early age and be equipped so that they, like us, will be built into a living temple where Christ reigns. We are the household of God, and children are very much a part of that household.
Take a look at how our standards define the visible church, children’s place in it, and our responsibility for them as members: “The visible church … consists of all those … that profess the true religion; and of their children.… Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints” (WCF 25.2–3).
It takes a covenant community to minister to children. Children need teachers, guides, coaches, encouragers, motivators, mentors, helpers, and friends to grow in their faith, and the more of these people that are present in the life of the church, the more effective we will be at passing our faith on to the next generation.
Remember what the Westminster Confession of Faith has to say: “All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, … have fellowship with him … and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good” (WCF 26.1).
These sections of the Confession teach us that believers have a vital union with Christ and that, as a consequence, they also have communion with each other and in each other’s gifts and graces. This communion entails certain mutual duties and obligations that contribute to the good of all members of the body. Thus, it is appropriate for ministers to exhort the members of the congregation at an infant baptism to “commit yourself before God” to promote the child’s “Christian nurture by godly example, prayer, and encouragement in our most precious faith and in the fellowship of believers” (OPC Directory for Worship).
To incorporate a covenantal approach demands participation from us all. Children need to know all about God and the gospel, and how to apply that knowledge to the difficult things we encounter in this world and in our own flesh. They especially need to see examples of this in their parents, grandparents, fellow church members, and all who profess Christ. They need to know the power of God in word and deed. In covenant theology, the front line of defense begins with covenant families.
What is my covenant responsibility toward the children of the church—not just to my own children, but to all the children of the church?
Covenant keeping requires us to train our children. We should spare no effort to live a life of devotion and obedience as an example before these children, so that everywhere they look in the church there are living pictures of how to live a faithful life before God. We should be purposeful about relating to them and constantly articulating how we and they could apply their faith in everyday situations, and we should remind them of God when they stray. We should live life with them, teaching formally and informally at every opportunity.
Research reinforces one simple but profound truth over and over again: If you want to have a lasting influence on the world, you must invest in people’s lives; and if you want to maximize that investment, you must invest in those people while they are young. The greatest hope for the local church lies in raising godly children.
The author is director of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss.