source: Jared Cherup
Sometimes I’m grateful that when I was very young, we were Methodists.
I joke sometimes that I’ve been baptized both ways – as an infant and by choice, as a feverishly religious 10-year-old.
But why, you ask, would I be grateful for that? Well, I didn’t have the chance or the pressure to “ask Jesus into my heart” as a very small child. We moved to Virginia when I was 8, where we visited every single Methodist church in a 20-mile radius. My parents didn’t like any of them, and that is how we ended up Southern Baptist, attending a church a few miles down the windy road.
I fully believe in “adult” baptism – that is, baptism that is a symbol of a choice made in a person’s heart to accept Jesus’s crucifixion, resurrection, and saving grace. We have our children dedicated as infants to show our commitment to raising them to know Jesus, but not sprinkled as some denominations do.
So let me tell you a story.
I was a camp counselor the summer after my freshman year of college, along with three other precious and equally insane girls my age. We led worship at weeklong mission camps, where the students participated in home renovation projects for those in need. In between weeks of camp, we also worked at a traditional cabin-in-the-woods kid camp, re-cooperated at a sketchy, ancient church in downtown Richmond, or were allowed a few days at home.
But the endcap to our summer was assisting at the Youth Evangelism Conference, a statewide event for middle and high-school students. It consisted of a few nights of revival-type services – only with rockin’ Christian music instead of the Gaithers – and a day at an amusement park with a big-name concert at the end. (I think that year it was Audio Adrenaline.)
I’d been to the conference as a youth but never experienced quite the flavor of preacher as they had those few nights. “Repeat after me,” he would instruct. “Friends … don’t let friends … go to hell.” That’s all fine and dandy, but he also insinuated that no one in the room was actually saved because they were probably so young when they asked Jesus into their hearts they didn’t mean it. The counseling rooms flooded with students, and I was left to talk to kids who had all the sudden been forced to doubt their salvation. It sucked.
I didn’t know what to tell those kids then, and I’m not sure I would know what to say today. I’m glad I was an older kid at 10 when I was baptized after a very clear calling from my Heavenly Father. No, I didn’t know all the minutiae of the Bible – who does? – but I had a firm idea of Jesus and His sacrifice.
Fast forward 12 years and yes, I still think that pastor was way too aggressive. He scared me and had me doubting my own salvation at the time. I had to shake my head of the hoopla and examine my heart. But I do get a little bit what he was conveying.
It made sense for me when I read Katie Orr’s post today at Inspired to Action. She writes,
Our kids want to please us, so desperately. If we talk about becoming a Christian enough, most children will ultimately come out and say that they want to be one. I’ve witnessed many parents put a ton of stock in the fact that they prayed with their child once, but this is the only “evidence” they have of their salvation.
Salvation is and isn’t a one-time deal. Once the “deal is done,” the Holy Spirit is sealed inside you. But there’s also the continual growing. As parents we are responsible for the spiritual education of our kids – not the schools, not the church. And teaching your kids about God doesn’t stop when they accept Christ. That’s the beginning!
Maybe all these youth who flooded the conference rooms of the amphitheater in Richmond, Virginia, circa 2001, had parents who were doing nightly Bible studies with them, praying for them ceaselessly, showed interest in their spiritual well-doing. But I think maybe, like in a lot of things, it’s easy for parents to get lazy when the going looks good. (Hello, preaching to the choir.)
I don’t want my kids doubting their salvation at 12, 16, 30. I want to provide them with a background so they know how desperately Jesus loves them and pursues them, but I can’t make their decisions for them. I pray fervently that they will know the height and depth of God’s love, but I can’t make them believe it. And I pray that I won’t pressure them into anything they aren’t ready for – even baptism.