Thursday, August 27, 2009

Can children be filled with the Holy Spirit?

I have written this as part of a research paper. It may end up in a book, so please do not quote me without acknowledging the source
However, I got fairly panned for my views in my theology degree. Ah well. I was a bit upset about it I'm over it now!

Can children be filled with the Holy Spirit?

We need to first ask if children can have a personal faith and love for God.

John Westerhoff’s Theory of Faith Development is relevant to this question. He uses the analogy of a tree to describe the growth of faith in developing human persons. He says “a tree with one ring is as much a tree as a tree with four rings” , in other words experienced faith, the first stage of faith development, is as valuable for a person to possess as owned faith, the final stage. So a very young child can profess love for God the Father and Jesus the Son AND the Holy Spirit their helper – but adults need to teach even very young children about the Holy Spirit. How can you love someone whose name you do not know?

All those who nurture, teach and train children need to make clear that faith is a journey and the goal should be to move towards owned faith; which is the point at which one would lay their life down for their faith. I believe the Holy Spirit, in his role as empowerer and helper, assists with this journey, as I hope to prove later.

Is there any historical evidence of children being filled with the Holy Spirit or exercising spiritual gifts?
Ronald Kydd has examined spiritual gifts in the first three centuries of the church. He draws a clear conclusion that spiritual gifts were very important in this period. He says:
“We have drawn (material) from virtually every kind of person in the church. We have heard from bishops and heretics, philosophers and poets, storytellers and theologians. Generally speaking….the church prior to AD 200 was charismatic .”

Around AD 177, Bishop Irenaeus provides a list of spiritual gifts seen in the church very similar to those found in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 . Irenaeus is just one of a number of Christians from the past who observed gifts in action firsthand and recorded their occurrence for interested parties to read today. Although children are not specifically mentioned in the ancient primary sources under investigation in Kydd’s book, this does not mean that children were excluded from being filled with the Spirit or from exercising the gifts brought by the Spirit. Non-mention does not necessarily mean exclusion. One can assume that children were part of communal worship. They were learning about faith in action from their parents and the extended community around them. Catherine Stonehouse points out that many events recorded in the Bible included children as well as adults.

Childcare programmes are an altogether modern invention. It can be presumed that children were present when spiritual gifts were being exercised and even practicing them in a very natural way, as part of the body of believers. Just because we do not specifically read a chapter and verse reference to a child prophesying or exercising the gift of faith, does not mean it did not happen.

There appears to be a dying out of charismatic practices in written records of early church history after AD 260. Ronald Kydd notes that after this point in time the church was “highly organised, well educated, wealthy and socially powerful ” which sounds remarkably similar to the present day.

Harry Sprange describes many situations from past centuries where children were present during great moves, or effusions, of God’s Holy Spirit in the nation. Sometimes children were present in the gatherings alongside adults; sometimes in there were separate meetings for children. Particularly striking are accounts from the time of George Whitefield’s visits to Scotland, from 1741 to 1743, where children under twelve years old hear the preaching to repent and show great manifestations of sorrow and subsequent signs of being overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is difficult from snippets of primary sources contained within a secondary source to accurately grasp the extent of how the Scottish revivals affected children. The quote below from a Church of Scotland minister, James Robe, in 1734, is a striking example:

“ I had a room full of little ones yesternight making a pleasant noise and outcry for Christ; and two of the youngest; one of them but ten years of age, fainting and so distressed they could scarcely go home. I cannot write to you of the wonder I saw; one of eleven years of age crying out that she was sick of sin, and crying out with hands uplifted to heaven…….. “

The Cane Ridge camp meeting in Kentucky is an example from another continent and at a later date. In 1800, upwards of twelve to twenty-five thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds stayed for days and weeks to receive “the mighty power of God….with heavenly fire spreading in all directions…” At one meeting there was between twelve to twenty five thousand people present. Evidence from sources like this has to lead to the conclusion that children were not excluded from the opportunity to deepen their faith and experience the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Whole families came and stayed to partake in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at that time.

J Westerhoff, Will Our Children Have Faith? (Revised Ed) Toronto: Morehouse Publishing 2000, 90
R Kydd, Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church Peabody: Hendrickson 1991, 87
C Stonehouse, Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey, Grand Rapids: Baker Books 1998, 32

H Sprange, Children in Revival, Fearn:Christian Focus Publications 2002, 37
K Hardman, Issues in American Christianity, Grand Rapids: Baker Books 1993, 120


  1. and which bits did your college markers not appreciate?

  2. I'd say disagreeing with FF Bruce allows for a drop in CAS mark.....

    :::sigh::: you probably know enough about my theology to surmise the rest!


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