Ian Hamilton on why covenant children rebel

“I’ve been a minister for 36 years and I can only think of one situation where I’ve seen children rebel and it’s not because the parents have failed lamentably in the covenant upbringing of their children.”

“The reason why I put such great stress myself on how parents raise their children is because as I’ve looked at family life, it’s the tragedy of seeing fine Christians fail to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of Christ, allowing Deuteronomy 6:4-9 to permeate and penetrate every area of life”.

He also gives the example of a very fine Christian couple in his congregation who had 3 boys, who were a disaster. “He came to me one day and said I don’t know what’s wrong. Every day I read with them. Every day I pray with them. I bring them to church, morning and evening. And to my eternal shame I didn’t have the courage to say to him what I instinctively wanted to say: You’ve not loved them. There wasn’t the soil, out of which God’s word and prayer grew. There wasn’t an atmosphere of grace in the family. There was not a delighting in God. There were all the Reformed doctrines in a row confessed, but…”

He concludes: “If people could see Reformed families raising their children, with all our weaknesses, in an atmosphere of ‘let these words be upon your hearts’ before you impress them on your children, I think that the way the world and our baptist brothers and sisters would look at us would be dramatically different”.

Taken from the Q&A session following David Gibson’s talk at the Cambridge Theology Conference in 2015: The Five Points of Baptism.

Are we turning baptisms into wet dedications?

“Baby dedications are about the parents making a vow to God about how they will raise the child in the fear and admonition of the Lord, which is the exact opposite of Biblical baptism, which is God’s promise to us and to the children. It’s a tragedy that they completely flip God’s ordained practice and turn it into a man-centred ordinance. Of course, parents make vows, but they are far secondary to God’s promise to be God to us and our children forever”

A one minute segment from Presbycast’s episode ‘Troubling Waters’

Does your view of baptism affect how you bring up your children?

(No, this isn’t a cunning plan to get Walker to FaceTime me!)

A controversial topic and one in which Presbyterians can be apt to set up straw men, but it was interesting to see the contrasting approaches of a Presbyterian and a Baptist over at Reformation 21 recently.

It’s worth reading both articles fully, but here are some extracts in their own words.

The Presbyterian: Mark Jones

“1. When my children sin and ask for forgiveness from God, can I assure them that their sins are forgiven?

2. When I ask my children to obey me in the Lord should I get rid of the indicative-imperative model for Christian ethics? On what grounds do I ask my three-year old son to forgive his twin brother? Because it is the nice thing to do? Or because we should forgive in the same way Christ has forgiven us?

3. Can my children sing “Jesus loves me, this I know” and enjoy all of the benefits spoken of in that song? (“To him belong…He will wash away my sin”)

4. When my children pray during family worship to their heavenly Father, what are the grounds for them praying such a prayer? Do they have any right to call God their “heavenly Father”? Do non-Christians cry “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15)?

5. Should I desire that my children have a “boring” testimony? (Though a testimony to God’s covenant promises can never be boring, of course). Is it not enough for them to simply say each day that they trust in Christ alone for their salvation?

You see, in my household, my children sin. They are very much like their parents, except I am more sophisticated at hiding it (unless I’m blogging or watching the World Cup). But after we sin, we aim to repent – “repentance is a saving grace” – and ask for forgiveness not only from each other, but also from God. And when my children are in the room praying to God for forgiveness, sometimes without my prodding, I assure them that their sins are indeed forgiven. And I exhort them to depend upon and pray for the Holy Spirit for present and future obedience.

This all makes sense to me as a Presbyterian. But, I confess, if my children were not Baptized, and were not part of the church, and did not bear the name Christian, I’m not sure what grounds I would have for worshipping with them, praying with (not just for) them, and rejoicing with them when they ask for forgiveness for the sins they commit. Far from leading to a lazy form of “presumptive regeneration” (where children are not daily exhorted to repent), I believe that we must in fact hold our covenant children to higher standards by urging them to live a life of faith and repentance in Jesus Christ, their Saviour and Lord. Their baptism, whereby God speaks favour to his children (“You are my child. With you I am well pleased”), demands such a life.

The indicative comes before the imperative, even for our children (Eph. 6:1). Otherwise, I do not see how asking them to obey becomes a form of moralism if there is no indicative present (see Eph. 1-5).”

The Baptists: 1. Jeremy Walker

“I am deeply conscious of the particular privileges that they enjoy growing up in a home where Christ Jesus is known and loved and proclaimed, and I urge them to improve those privileges by trusting in and serving the Lord Christ…”

“I don’t know whether or not my children can sing “Jesus loves me, this I know.” I actually think it tends toward the twee, and tend not to teach them such stuff”

“When my children sin and ask for forgiveness from God, I assure them that the Lord delights to hear such prayers from the hearts of truly convinced sinners, and is ready to forgive those who come to him through Christ Jesus. I assure them that age is no bar to salvation, and that the Lord Christ welcomed people of all sorts and ages.”

“I can honestly say that the most often expressed desire of my children in prayer is that the Lord would save them”

The Baptists: 2. John Newton

“For to me it seems to be a better way for people betimes to tell their children what cursed creatures they are, and how they are under the wrath of God by reason of original and actual sin; also to tell them the nature of God’s wrath, and the duration of the misery; which if they conscientiously do, they would sooner teach their children to pray than they do. The way that men learn to pray, it is by conviction for sin; and this is the way to make our sweet babes do so too. But the other way, namely, to be busy in teaching children forms of prayer, before they know any thing else, it is the next way to make them cursed hypocrites, and to puff them up with pride. Teach therefore your children to know their wretched state and condition; tell them of hell-fire and their sins, of damnation, and salvation; the way to escape the one, and to enjoy the other, if you know it yourselves, and this will make tears run down your sweet babes’ eyes, and hearty groans flow from their hearts; and then also you may tell them to whom they should pray, and through whom they should pray: you may tell them also of God’s promises, and his former grace extended to sinners, according to the word.”

It all perhaps raises another question – if that Baptist approach is right, does that mean that godly parenting should look radically different in the New Testament than it did in the Old (eg no longer in terms of the indicative – imperative approach to obedience)?