Ask Steve: Suicide

May 31, 2015 11:30 pm

Suicide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, how are Christians to look on the act of suicide? Can truly regenerate believers commit suicide? How would you deal with a member of your church with suicidal thoughts? How do you counsel a family which has lost a member due to suicide?

Answer: Suicide is self-murder and is one of the most grievous of occurrences. It happens in a person’s life for various reasons, but regardless of those reasons, it is by no means a justifiable act. From the very beginning, God looks upon the taking of human life (murder) as sin (Gen 4:8-14), and reaffirms the gravity of this deed in the Sixth Commandment (Ex 20:13). It is not only wrong to murder others, but to murder oneself, which is essentially an act of self-hatred and an attack on the image of God in man. Christians should never encourage or tolerate any form of suicide, even if it can lead to the lessening of the person’s trials in life. Christians are to value life and preserve it to the best of their ability. The taking of one’s own life is not only a serious sin against the Lord, but a poor testimony to the Holy Spirit’s work in the church and in the life of a sinner.

A popular question that often arises concerning suicide is whether or not Christians can commit suicide? If so, what becomes of their eternal destiny? Is it an unpardonable sin that undoes the justification and grace granted onto the believer at the time of his conversion?

I must begin by commenting that suicide is amongst many sins that characterize the condemned unbeliever, but one that can be forgiven by God. A person who has repented and trusts in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are justified and have their sins washed away, whether it be suicide, adultery, blasphemy, abortion, cursing, idolatry, or sorcery. The Holy Spirit not only justifies the person and no longer holds the sins against them, but also regenerates the believer. Spiritual rebirth is responsible for the believer seeking after God and being able, and willing, to follow in on God’s commandments. The Holy Spirit’s ministry is not only about saving the believer from the penalty of sin (justification), but also from the power of sin (sanctification). He grants Christian’s a new heart with new desires (2 Cor 5:17) so that he will turn away from the life of sin and pursue righteousness. That is why believers will abound in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23), and not usually be given over to the destructive behavior that characterizes the unregenerate man.

Even though most Christians will end up never committing suicide or even entertaining the idea, there are some cases in which believers fall into this tragic sin, much like they commit blatant adultery or abortion. In other words, it is possible for real believers to commit suicide. It happens for various reasons, some which are not related to escaping the pains or tragedies of life. Whatever the motives, suicide is a tragic by-product of the flesh – one that seriously grieves the Holy Spirit.

The Roman Catholic tradition holds that suicide is a mortal sin that leads to forfeiture of one’s salvation. Some Protestants even believe something similar. However, there is no clear cut Scriptural reference that validates this view. It is true that suicide does often times lead a person to eternal damnation, but it is not solely because of the suicide issue. People are damned because of their unbelief (Rom 1:18-20; Heb 3:19), which manifests in their life of unrepentant sins against the Lord. And suicide is one of the observable symptoms of a spiritually dead, sinful person. It is just another expression of one’s pride and rebellion against the Lord, and another sin that the person will be held accountable to on the Day of Judgment (Rev 20:11-15).

Christians must be open to the possibility that believers who commit suicide – for whatever reason – end up with the Lord upon death. Once again, it is not a sin to be encouraged, and must strongly be exhorted against. Yet it is one of many sins that the Lord Jesus died for on the cross so believers will not have to be held judicially accountable for it. To say that suicide is an unpardonable sin or one that causes the reversal of one’s justification is to say that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not complete or satisfactory before the Father. If a person is truly regenerate and has been graced with the gift of salvation, he will experience salvation and glorification, even if he has fallen into the tragic sin of suicide.

People in church sometimes become troubled to the point of contemplating suicide, both teenagers and seniors. How do we handle such people? Once again, suicide is a sin that must be dissuaded at all costs. Christians must seek to protect and save the lives of others, whether they are Christian or not. A Christian in the church who is thinking about suicide must be handled with care and patience. But he must also be confronted with the truth of God’s word. The best approach in dealing with the matter is to obviously counsel the depressed Christian, first attempting to hear his story and his complete thought process on the matter. After the believer has expressed his pains and emotions, the Christian counselor should seek to find out whether this person is truly saved, since suicide is an action undertaken predominantly by unregenerate people. If the person is not a believer, then the counselor should teach and encourage the counselee with the gospel in the hopes that he will come to repentance and faith. Do not underestimate the power of this step, because a person’s experience of the gospel can really be the difference between life and death, motivation and depression in a person (Jn 10:10; Gal 2:20; 1 Jn 3:9). The Holy Spirit regenerates the sinner and uses the word of God in the gospel to bring healing to the grieved person, which is why compassionate, but candid evangelism is crucial.

If the person is a true believer, then the counselor should likewise seek to understand the person’s story. After he has heard everything, the counselor should be quick to identity the main source of sin that is causing the troubled believer to be acting this way, which is self-pity, anxiety, or hopelessness that usually finds its source in selfishness and pride. The counselor should comfort the believer, but also seek to bring about spiritual healing by teaching him how the word of God addresses his particular troubles and teaches him to respond to it. Of course, all this must be anchored in the glorious gospel message that brings faith, hope, and love to all Christians. Towards the end of the discussion, the counselor should seek to get a commitment from the believer to take the practical steps to restoration. This includes immediate removal of all obstacles that would drive the believer back into suicidal tendencies.

Regrettably, these steps do not guarantee that a professing Christian will seek healing, and Christians will at times end up taking their own life. Then comes the inevitable stage of comforting grieved family members who are looking for answers. When counseling a family of such a tragedy, you should not try to spend all of your time giving a lecture on God’s sovereign purposes for this event or theorizing about whether the suicide victim is in heaven or in hell. The counselor should first and foremost seek to comfort the family and to pray with them. How one conducts such counseling will vary depending on the family’s questions, concerns, or emotional state. But the general idea is to listen to the family, comfort them, and exhort them with Scripture as it relates to the goodness of God, the grief of God over sin and fallen nature, and to tie that in with the hope of the gospel. In fact, this counseling session could be an ideal time to evangelize the family if they are unbelievers.

Ask Steve: Perfectionism

May 25, 2015 11:27 pm

Freedom

 

Currently Reading:

The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness

by John MacArthur

Category: Christian Living

1998, 2009 repr, Crossway

 

 

 

Question: Steve, what is perfectionism and why is it unbiblical?

Answer: Perfectionism is the teaching that Christians can attain to sinless perfection in this life through self-effort and/or the aid of the Holy Spirit. In other words, perfectionism claims that Christians can reach the point in which they no longer sin, that they have successfully mastered the flesh in every single way. However desirable and good pefectionism might sound, it is an unbiblical teaching that has dangerous consequences. It is appropriate to look into Scripture to see if perfectionism is true, and if it is not, why we must have a right view concerning a believer’s moral abilities pre-glorification.

Perfectionism is an idea that is popular amongst certain groups of Weslyans and Charismatics. They believe that believers can, and should, reach a second stage of sanctification in which they can be filled with the Spirit in a manner that frees them from all sinful inclinations. Those who advocate this false teaching are either in delusion, or have lowered the standard of God’s Law so that they can fulfill them with relative ease.

Perfectionism begins with an informed understanding of God’s Law and humanity’s moral condition. Advocates of perfectionism claim that spiritual perfection is possible because the Bible commands us to be perfect and holy (Matt 5:48; 1 Pet 1:16). However, we must look at this verse in context. It is part of the Sermon on the Mount – a message in which Jesus expounds on the true meaning and depth of God’s moral law. Jesus was not teaching that people need to be perfectly holy in order to be saved or even that perfection was possible in this life. Rather, the Sermon on the Mount was meant to demonstrate the impeccably high order of God’s Law in order to reveal the absolute moral deficiency of every human being on earth, whether they are Jew or Gentile. These perfect kingdom ethics demonstrate that every man is depraved and needs to be justified, if not sanctified, by God’s grace. It is only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ that any man can be made righteous and saved.

Because the Sermon on the Mount demonstrates the righteousness of God, it is a standard that Christians are called to emulate – not for salvation, but for sanctification to God’s glory. We are called to live holy and righteously because such a commitment of lifestyle gives glory to God, is a brilliant testimony to others, and is in conjunction with our new identity as children of heaven. 1 Peter 1:13-16 teaches us the importance of Christian holiness when it says, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Romans 12:1-2 also teaches the importance of living out a renewed mind when it states, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Christians are not called to be complacent about their moral lives, but to strive for excellence, knowing that they are in a race for the top prize when God brings all Christians to account for their life’s work (1 Cor 9:24; 2 Tim 4:7).

This begs the question: Does the Spirit of God grace us in such a manner that we can live out a perfect life? Although the Bible exhorts us to strive for perfection, it also tells us in multiple passages that perfection will not be possible in this life. Some Christians will do much better than others, but that does not mean that he can reach sinlessness in this life. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” In fact, the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12 anticipates that repentance will be a habitual part of the Christian life: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” If Christians can reach perfection, then there is no need to ask for such a divine provision, which goes against what this passage teaches.

Paul appropriately expresses the lifelong struggle between spirit and flesh using his own life example. Romans 7:18-20 states, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, even struggled with sin throughout his life and recognized himself as the worst of sinners (1 Tim 1:15). If even an apostle recognized this, then it is undoubtedly a reality amongst all believers, regardless of time, race, or culture.

Regeneration of a believer by the Holy Spirit allows the believer to respond to the gospel in saving faith and to grow in Christlikeness, but it does not do completely away with the flesh before the time of glorification. The old nature has been crucified and buried, and the new nature of a man allows the believer to live a God-glorifying life. But the important thing to realize is that the believer is still in the flesh. He wears the sinful, fallen garments of his flesh, which at times hinders the Christian’s goal of moral perfection. However, when the Christian is glorified at the rapture of the church, the old body is shed away, and the new body will thereafter work in perfect conformity to the desires of the regenerated spirit (1 Cor 15:50-58). That is what all Christians long for, and are working towards in this life despite their imperfections.

Why is the doctrine of perfectionism dangerous? First, it causes Christians to believe that they can obey God’s Law perfectly in this life. Like I said, this is a noble pursuit, but one that can cause believers to puff up in pride and no longer depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength. Second, perfectionism lowers the standard of God’s Law so its advocates can live under a false standard and rely on that as their means of boast before the Lord and before others. Third, it takes away from the anticipation and meaning of glorification. Glorification is that time when Christians receive the same resurrected, glorified body that Jesus had at His resurrection. It is a body unsoiled by sin and its effects, which include physical weakness, ailments, and death. It is a body in which Christians can live out moral perfection on the same level as that of God. To tell Christians that they can achieve perfection in this life is to downplay the need for a glorified body, which underestimates the effect of sin on the human body. In summation, perfectionism is an attack on God’s grace and an undue elevation of man’s ability. This is why the gospel is necessary in a believer’s life, and God uses the gospel in stages to first deliver the sinner from the penalty of sin (salvation), then from the power of sin (sanctification), and finally from the presence of sin (glorification).

Ask Steve: Officiating a Wedding

May 18, 2015 2:46 am

Wedding 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, what are your requirements for performing a marriage ceremony?

Answer: A marriage ceremony is a special time in which a man and a woman enter into a divine covenant that brings joy to both persons, yet marriage is governed by a set of God-ordained principles that should not be taken lightly. That is why every minister, including myself, should have a standard when it comes to performing marriage ceremonies. This standard should not be based on personal opinion, popular opinion, or rational opinion. Rather, it should be grounded in the word of God, which guides us in how we are to make our decisions, especially as it regards human covenants. That is why I have a few set requirements when it comes to performing a marriage ceremony.

The first requirement is that the marriage involves the proper participants. The Lord defines marriage from the beginning of creation in Genesis 2:24 as a lifelong covenant union between one man and one woman. Jesus even reaffirms this truth in Matthew 19:4 when he talks about the essence and sanctity of marriage. That means that such a human covenant cannot be between people of the same sex (homosexualism), people of the same family (incest), people who desire to take on multiple partners (polygamy), people who are legally underage (pedophilia), and people with that of other kinds (bestiality). Marriage is very particular because it is the way God has designed it from the start, and it is a symbolic representation of the future marriage and bond between Jesus Christ and His church when He returns (Eph 5:32; Rev 19:6-9). To do away with and redefine marriage is not only to attack the heart of the gospel, but to rebel against the role and function that each gender is to live up to, regardless of what they feel or desire. These roles and responsibilities are also seen in the parent/child, husband/wife, employer/employee, and government/subject relationships. The design of leading and submitting in relationships are inherent in all creation because they represent God’s nature within the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and people generally know this fact in their conscience, but suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18-20). Christian pastors, elders, and ministers cannot officiate or endorse marriages that are not between a man and a woman. They cannot pronounce blessings on gay marriage, incestial marriage, polygamous marriages, or any other sins that distort the definition of marriage. To do so would incur the wrath of God (Rom 1:27; 1 Cor 6:9; Heb 13:4; Jude 1:7) and distort the gospel picture, linking Christ with an idol (1 Cor 3:17).

Wedding 2The second requirement is that marriages are to be equally yoked. This means that marriages must be either be between two believers or two unbelievers. The Bible never endorses marriages between a Christian and a non-Christian (2 Cor 6:14). It is a sin to enter into such marriages because it goes against God’s design for a believer’s marriage. There can be no true compatibility between a man and a woman if one of the covenant partner’s spiritual condition is not right with God. If God tells us not to befriend unbelievers so intimately (Jas 4:4), then that principle certainly applies to an unbeliever in marriage – the most intimate of relationships. Moreover, an unequally yoked marriage is a false representation of the gospel. Instead of picturing Christ and the church, such marriages link Christ with an idol (v. 15). No marriages should ever be endorsed and officiated by pastors who are serious about the gospel and Christian living.

The third requirement is that the marriage ceremony be between those who are completely free to marry. I am not talking about people who are single and have never betrothed in their lives. I am speaking about Christians who have had previous marriages, but are no longer married and want to remarry. The Bible sets some specific guidelines on when Christians can remarry. God hates divorce (Mal 2:12), but permits it under limited circumstances. These circumstances are: 1). The marriage partner commits unrepentant adultery (Matt 5:32; 19:9) 2. The marriage partner is an unbeliever who deserts the believing spouse (1 Cor 7:15), 3. The marriage partner dies, leaving the Christian as a widow (Rom 7:2-3). Only under these terms can a Christian remarry a believer. If these conditions are not met, then a pastor must not marry a couple, or else his blessing on that union is sin before God. Pastors cannot marry a couple in which one or both of the partners unjustly divorced their spouse due to “irreconcilable differences.” To do so would be disgraceful to the institution of marriage. It would link a Christian to another spouse, and thereby causing both of them to commit adultery (Matt 5:32), since God has not endorsed the dissolution of the first marriage.

The fourth requirement is that the marriage ceremony be entered into with proper knowledge from both parties. This means that the couple should undergo some form of biblical counseling in which the potential husband and wife understand the significance of marriage. Marriage cannot be entered into simply because the man and the woman “love each other” or want to start practicing sexual intimacy according to biblical standards. Both the man and the woman must be going in the same direction spiritually. They must understand how marriage relates to the gospel – that it is a glorious picture of the gospel truth in which husband symbolizes Christ (the groom) and the wife symbolizes the church (the bride). Such knowledge should be the impetus for which they live out their calling to one another in order to glorify God, to be a fitting testimony to observers, and to simply make the marriage work.

Wedding 3The man and the woman must understand the significance of how Christ relates to the church in order that each person can relate to each other in the same spirit. This goes against the spirit of selfishness, self-entitlement, and pride that causes many of the petty arguments, serious fights, and marital unfaithfulness that tragically lead to divorce. Both the man and the woman need to understand how to love one another sacrificially, how to serve one another, how to properly use Christian liberty in order not to offend one another, and how to practice humility toward one another. Such commitment results in a lasting covenant relationship, which is why I would require that an engaged couple learn these important truths before I officiate their wedding ceremony. If the interested party was an unbelieving couple, then I or a Christian counselor would do the best possible to evangelize them so they can be saved. Only when a Christian is reborn and fill with the Holy Spirit can he/she be receptive and willing to grow in holiness, which includes practices in marriage.

With that said, marriage is a special institution that should not be entered into lightly. It is an institution created by God to reflect His eternal love relationship with the church. Because marriage derives its source from God’s nature, it is a truth that is seen all over the world, and experienced by even unbelievers as part of God’s common grace. Like all things created, marriage exemplifies the character of God and is rooted in timeless, unchangeable truth. This is why a marriage ceremony must be conducted based on God’s revealed word, and point as many people as possible to the gospel so they can learn the significance of the marriage institution.

Ask Steve: Alcohol

May 12, 2015 10:38 pm

Alcohol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, is it acceptable for a pastor to drink alcohol?

Answer: Drinking alcohol is a matter of liberty for Christians. It is not a sin to consume alcohol anymore than it is to consume food. However, there is a danger to drinking alcohol, because it can easily affect Christians if they are not careful to practice self-control. It is drunkenness, which the Bible clearly identifies as sin (Eph 5:18). Drunkenness is sin not only because you allow your body to be given over to abuse and cognitive impairment, but because you become mastered and enslaved by its damaging effects (1 Cor 6:12; 2 Pet 2:19). In other words, you are addicted to it, and it becomes your idol. That is why alcohol has an undeniable social stigma that causes Christians to be cautious about drinking it, both in front of other Christians or in private. How and when Christians decide to drink alcohol of any kind (ex. beer, wine) should be a matter of great discernment and caution so that it will not cause you or anyone else to be tempted or stumble into sin. That is the art of Christian liberty, whether it deals with drunkenness, gluttony, or addictions to smoking and drugs (1 Cor 8:9-13).

Now the question is: Should pastors drink alcohol? This is a question that stirs up different opinions and concerns. The answer to this question is simple: There is nothing in Scripture that forbids a pastor from consuming alcohol, but he must not be mastered by or entertain a particular thirst for it. Pastors and elders must be careful in drinking alcohol, more so than laypeople. Pastors are required to constantly be temperate in their work, but also be able to provide a type of example that will garner him a reputation of being respectable and above reproach. This principle is outlined in 1 Timothy 3:2-3, which describes the qualifications of an elder: “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.” Deacons, who serve in the church, are also held to similar standards: “Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”

Pastors must not be addicted to alcohol, or be in the habit of drinking it habitually as a pastime. Such actions expose overseers as being given over, controlled, or dependent on alcohol, which goes against his call to be sober and prudent in all matters. Even if the pastor drinks but does not get drunk, he still must moderate his usage of alcohol so as not to further expose himself to addictive danger, or be a poor testimony to the congregation. Pastors are called to model the godly lifestyle, and one cannot model holiness if he is being given over to drunkenness, or at least imitating a habit that is characteristic of pagan unbelievers.

Alcohol 2Once again, this is not to say that pastors are forbidden to drink alcohol under any circumstances. There are occasions in both the Old and New Testament in which believers consume wine, but in a spirit of festivity and celebration onto the Lord. Ecclesiastes 9:7 says, “Drink you wine with a merry heart.” Amos 9:14 also describes God’s blessing on the grape harvest of believers, in which men celebrate God’s goodness by their consumption of wine. Jesus was even depicted in the NT as drinking wine at the wedding of Cana (Jn 2:1-11) and will drink wine with the church in a celebratory sense when He returns and sets up His kingdom on earth (Matt 26:29).

The model of Jesus is an informative one, but as I said, pastors must always be cautious of drinking wine as it regards his conscience, his personal life, and the cultural context of his ministry. Even if the pastor has excellent self-control over addictions and has a clear conscience in drinking wine, he must do so wisely according to the occasions. There are certain countries in which it is more permissible and normative to consume wine because it has a therapeutic affect. It also sanitizes water that is contaminated. In fact, Paul instructs Timothy to drink wine as a medicine (instead of the polluted water) when he says in 1 Timothy 5:23, “No longer drink any water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” Therefore, wine would not only be for enjoyment, but for health.

However, there will be other times when pastors must be willing to abstain from alcohol, even for the duration of his life if necessary. In certain cultural contexts like the West, alcohol (especially hard alcohol and beer) is often times associated with sinful worldly practices like partying, orgies, and drunkenness. In societies like these, pastors who partake in alcohol could be viewed as one who is in the world. In this case, pastors must be cautious and abstain from alcohol (at least publicly) so that he can avoid the appearance of evil (1 Thess 5:22) and be a biblical testimony to both believers and unbelievers. He must not “conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of his mind,” as Romans 12:1-2 teaches. This means that pastors/elders should have a desire to abstain from alcohol if it can evidently bolster his testimony of being consecrated from the world onto the holiness that God has called him to. The principle behind these practices is laid out in many OT passages such as Leviticus 10:9, Deuteronomy 29:6, and Judges 13:4. Pastors are called to not to imitate the world, but to reflect Christlikeness, which means that he will not partake in or be wrongly associated with the ways of pagans. He must be salt and light and an evangelistic witness (Matt 5:13-16).

Alcohol 3There are also times that pastors must be willing to refrain from alcohol if it will cause Christians to stumble into sin. Earlier in the response, I said that drinking alcohol is a matter of Christian liberty. However, Christian liberty can be misused and abused if it is not done to the glory of God, but done for selfish purposes. For example, if there is a member of the church who has struggled with alcoholism in the past and still finds it to be a temptation, it would be unwise for a pastor to drink alcohol of any sorts in front of him, or even to drink it occasionally out of enjoyment. A pastor who abstains totally from alcohol to help a weaker brethren to be edified and built up in the faith is to demonstrate the type of self-sacrificial love that Scripture talks about, especially as it regards the use of Christian liberty (1 Cor 8:9-13; 13:1-2). Pastors must examine their conscience to see if choices like these are necessary, especially if they know that it will bring glory to God and will make his ministry more effective. This issue not only relates to a pastor’s use of alcohol in front of a sensitive church, but also his involvement with certain types of food, movies, music, and recreation.

It is not a sin for pastor’s to consume alcohol, but the best course of action is for the pastor to refrain from a habitual or recreational consumption of alcohol for the good of his spiritual health and his testimony in front of others. In fact, some of the most effective pastors in the world are those who choose not to drink alcohol. It is the safest option, and one that will not bring any negative impression by or temptations upon other Christians. If pastors choose to drink alcohol at times – at birthday meals where others are drinking it as well, for providing an opinion on a product, for medicinal purposes – they must exercise great discernment in every situation. That is what it means to be an effective overseer.

A Great Cover

May 5, 2015 12:08 am

“You Never Let Go” by Matt Redman is a popular contemporary worship song. Here is a nice rendition from actress AJ Michalka, who starred in quite an inspirational movie called Grace Unplugged. Let’s always be praying for celebrities, especially the Christian ones working in Hollywood:

YouTube Preview Image

Ask Steve: Children’s Ministry

May 4, 2015 2:20 am

Transforming

 

Currently Reading:

Transforming Prayer: How Everything Changes When You Seek God’s Face

By Daniel Henderson

Category: Prayer / Christian Living

2011, Bethany House

 

 

Question: Steve, how will you view the place of children in the church? What is the church’s responsibility to children and children’s ministry? How will you respond to children (and their parents) who desire to be baptized and become members of the church?

Answer: Children of all ages should always be a subject of the church’s care. They should not be neglected or treated as merely a side-project in which the church is there to babysit them or entertain them with stories. Like all people, we must see children as part of our Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) efforts in which we are actively seeking to evangelize and disciple them. Since these children are the future generation who will lead, govern, and influence culture, we must see to it that they come to salvation in Christ and be instilled with a Christian worldview so they can honor the Lord with their lives in the future and be a light in society. This shows how important children are in our ministry work.

In fact, the New Testament depicts Jesus as having a particular fondness for children. Matthew 19:14 says, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Jesus understood the importance of caring for and fostering the faith of the youth. Children are humble, dependent, teachable, and tender in their conscience, which is why the church must devote a good amount of time teaching them the fundamentals of the faith. Ecclesiastes 12:1 tells us to remember our Creator in the days of our youth, because as time goes by, people’s heart becomes hardened and they get desensitized to the sinful lifestyle. Deuteronomy 6:7 captures the important principle of parents passing down godly instruction to their children (as Israelites did in the days of Moses), when it says, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” This means that parents should make every effort to speak about and glorify God in conversation in front of the children, and teach them Scripture with the hopes that they will be godly people in the future.

CM 1The church has a major responsibility for both ministering to the children and teaching parents how to guide their children in the Christian faith. Like I have said, the church’s education or youth department does not exist to give children a pastime, a playground, or a social circle. These things are good, but they should be part of the larger agenda of seeking to instill the gospel within children so they can be saved and transformed by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.    The children’s ministry must be faithful to preach the gospel to children. It must be able to evangelize the children, whether through the pulpit or through personal discipleship, in which children learn the truth of God as Creator, man as a lawbreaker, the eternal punishment of hell, the incarnation of Christ, His atonement, the resurrection, and repentance and faith. The ministry must also be committed to teaching children the whole counsel of God, or the contents of the entire Bible. It must do so in a manner that is understandable and relatable, since children do not have an attention span or comprehension level that is the same as adults. To teach the Word of God in a way that connects with children, but at the same time is confident, full, and truthful, is to practice what Paul did when he became “all things to all people so that by all means [he] might save some” (1 Cor 9:22).

The children’s ministry should help children not only see the truth of God, the gospel, and Christian living, but be able to understand and defend it. That is why apologetics is an ideal, if not significant, part of children’s discipleship, which must be presented through pulpit preaching, Bible camps, Bible studies, or personal teacher/student discipleships in class. As children slowly progress toward adolescence, they encounter struggles of finding specific questions to their faith, especially since they are bombarded with anti-biblical messages from the media, school, and friends. This is how many teenagers end up leaving the church and the faith once they graduate from high school. Although the Bible teaches that internalization of the gospel by faith is the means by which children remain in the faith, God still places importance in the church’s ability to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you.” That is why gospel ministry should always have a healthy dose of being able to shed light on the validity of Scripture through scientific, philosophical, prophetic, and archaeological discussions. It gives children more reason to come to faith, and others a tremendous encouragement to grow in their faith and defend it in public.

CM 3As much as the church is involved in the spiritual growth of children, parents must likewise be committed to this task. It is not enough for parents to simply drop kids off at church on Sundays and go on with the rest of secular life on weekdays. Parents must be committed as Christians, evangelists, and disciplemakers to disciple their children in the faith, starting from the time children are able to speak and learn. That is the whole principle of Deuteronomy 6:9. That is why the church should have regular meetings with parents to inform them of their children’s progress in the faith and what they can do to help in the church’s efforts. Parents must be taught the importance of having regular Bible devotions with the children, teaching them as much in the Bible as they can. They must also train their children in all righteousness, which includes instruction, reproof, rebuke, etc (Prov 22:6, 15, 2 Tim 3:16-17). Parents must also be taught the importance of living out a Christian worldview as a testimony to their children, in which all of their speech and action glorifies God in truth and grace. Parents must model such things as holy living, prayer, Scripture reading, evangelism, proper exercise of Christian liberty, godly discipline, and attitudes of thanksgiving, faith, love, and other practices that give credence to the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit. It is through the teaching and testimony of parents that many children come to saving faith, because they see their parents good works and glorify the Father in heaven (Matt 5:16).

CM 2If children make a profession of faith and desire to be baptized and serve in the church, the children’s ministry should follow several key steps. The church should make sure the child is baptized before taking communion and serving in any major department of the church, since baptism is the first major step of a Christian’s obedience to the Lord. The church should be eager and joyful to baptize the child/teenager. However, they should take precaution by ascertaining to the best of their ability the child/teenager’s salvation. This is done by asking the teenager his salvation testimony and observing fruits of saving faith for a short period of time. After the child is publicly baptized, he is fully entitled to become a member of the church and receive the benefits that it entails (ex. serving in church, deacon’s funds, accountability). The child/teenager should take a member’s class or at least be instructed by a brethren in Christ so he/she can understand the purpose of church membership and what commitments are involved. This model is very similar to the process with adult Christians who want to become church members.

Ministry to children is challenging at times, but significant and rewarding. They, like all unbelievers, need the gospel and need to be taught the truth of Scripture with power, love, and conviction. That is why the church should give a significant amount of their time, resource, and help to specifically evangelizing and discipling children in the faith, and teaching parents how to do likewise with specific strategies.