At age 3, my child said: why is God's face so shiny? I asked him what he meant. How had he seen it? He said: "because no-one is allowed to see his face until we are in heaven. That's why his face is so shiny bright".
No-one, as far as I know, had taught my child that. I was in awe at the words he spoke. It was if he had supernatural knowledge of heavenly things. If you know me, you will know that I have quoted Mrs Miroslav Wolf on this a number of times before:
“Children are not mere ignoramuses in terms of spiritual insight in the Gospel tradition. They know Jesus’ true identity. They praise Him as the Son of David (Matthew 21:14-16). They have this knowledge from God and not from themselves and because they do, they are living manifestos to the source of all true knowledge about Christ as from God”
Gundry-Volf, J. (2000) “To Such As These Belongs the Reign of God: Jesus and Children”: in Theology Today, Jan 2000: 479 – 480
Young children know things about God. I am convinced of this. (And interestingly, story after story detailing knowledge of God from adults with learning difficulties can be found in many publications or anecdotally). And so this leads me to post on the status of children before God.
Six different views are possibly held by readers of this blog. I will outline them briefly, using Ron Buckland's categories (see What I Have Been Reading For Two Years list). Two of them (numbers 1 and 6) are diametrically opposed and three of them are broadly similar and concentrate on areas of faith development and nurture.
Possible Answer 1: all children start life outside the Kingdom of God. This assumes that children of all ages are in exactly the same position before God as adults i.e. in sin and rebellion and if they die before repentance and faith, they are hell-bound
What did Jesus mean when he said: “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these?”
And yet note the reality of rebellion and sin, even in quite small children.
Possible Answer 2: the presence of a Christian parent establishes right standing before God.
This is based on teaching about the covenant; the special agreement between God and his people (Genesis 17, Deut 29, 1 Peter 2:9-10) The children of the people of God also belong to him. If this possible answer was true, would we not see urgent evangelism amongst parents?
Possible Answer 3: the presence of a Christian parent creates privilege, not standing.
This is a softer version of answer 2. To be in a Christian home environment increases the likelihood of future Christian discipleship. It is more likely that he will be nurtured towards faith.
Possible Answer 4: the experience of baptism establishes right standing before God.
Put simply: if a child is baptised, s/he is acceptable to God. If s/he is not baptised, s/he is not. So we must get children to baptism as soon as possible.
Possible Answer 5: the experience of baptism enhances privileges.
This is a softer version of answer 4. It assumes that baptism is undertaken seriously as an expression of faith and hope by the parents. It enhances the possibility of future discipleship, like answer 3.
Possible Answer 6: All children belong to God.
This answer can lead people into difficulties. Until a child can have a personal experience of sin, and therefore of guilt, s/he is covered by Christ’s saving work. But how do we know when a child stops being a child i.e. when do they move from the “saved” position to the “unsaved” position?
If none of these "ding" with you, stay tuned for part 2 next week when I will outline a seventh possible answer, and the one which governs my vision, my mission, my role to educate parents and fellow kids team workers, makes sense, encourages me and motivates me to be both evangelistic and nurturing towards children. I will set this view in the context of Westerhoff's stages of faith development. Come back soon!