"Presumption is as iniquity and idolatry" 1 Samuel 15:23
Many adult Christians have never known a time when they didn't believe; they have grown up in the church from their earliest years. My wife is one of those; however, what she said recently serves as a warning to Christian parents against presuming the spiritual state of their young children.
She cannot identify a time when she didn't believe, yet she speaks of being converted as a teenager. Is this doublespeak? I don't think so. She grew up in a Christian family and learned all about the fundamentals of the Christian faith (think Apostles' Creed) and rejected none of it; she believed this was true. However, there came a time years later when she embraced Jesus Christ as crucified for her sins, as taking her penalty upon himself and freely offering his righteousness to her. She points to this as her moment of conversion.
I write about this tonight for two reasons. First, my two older children have begun church membership class at the tender ages of 10 and 8. They have a fairly good intellectual understanding of the Christian faith (thanks to diligence in memorizing much of theWSC), and they believe it to be true. But as a parent great discernment is now asked of me. If they complete the class do I allow them to go forward in joining the church? This would imply that I consider them to be regenerated. The seriousness of this decision causes many Christian parents to postpone their children's membership until the end of high school. This makes sense to me, but how should I respond to my children's wonderful desire to join the church now?
A second cause for this post is that there are many today that were raised in the church, like my wife, that continue in it into adulthood, yet cannot recall what I described above as a conversion. This is foreign to me and I am puzzled by it. I don't doubt that many of these people are Christians--that somehow God converted them very early, even before their earliest memories. But I am curious to know whether they would say that they have always had more than an intellectual belief in the Christian faith, that they have always had the marks of saving faith in their life (a hatred of their own sin, a dependence upon Christ to save them).
This issue is wrapped up in a person's view of covenant theology, but even as an advocate of that, I see reason to be on guard against presumption. Because the stakes are so high (we're talking about your children's eternity afterall), it seems to me that Christian parents should view their children as "children of promise" without going so far as to consider them saved and ready to become full members of the church. Membership may best be saved until they reach a point in their maturity when their profession of faith reveals more than an intellectual belief.