Just Make a Decision, Will You?

This post is part of the to whom do they belong: children in the covenant series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Charles Finney was a Presbyterian minister during the time of the Second Great Awakening.  He has been called the “Father of Modern Revivalism.”  He was (and is) well-known for his so-called “new measures.”  These new measures were methods of gaining a desired response from those to whom he preached.  In many ways, for Finney, theology took a back seat to what he deemed to be important; the decision of an individual.  His methods, or measures, were used to bring an individual to a certain decision and that decision, then, was what mattered in the determination of the eternal state of one’s soul.  Of course, to say that theology didn’t matter is probably a bit unfair.  To be accurate, it was poor theology that led to much of his philosophy of evangelism.  Iain Murray says in Revival and Revivalism (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994; pg. 245) that for Finney, “It was Adam’s will, not his supposed nature, that controlled his actions and, Finney declared, what was true of Adam remained true for all men; a decision of the will, not a change of nature, was all that was needed for anyone to be converted.”   So we can see then, that for Finney, all that was needed for life and salvation was not a changed heart or a conversion wrought by God in the heart of a sinner, but a decision of the will by the individual.  Therefore, a preacher’s role, or an evangelist’s role, is not simply to tell the truth of the gospel but to elicit a decision of the will.  This belief drove these new measures.

You may wonder why this introduction and snippet concerning Charles Finney is included in this series on Covenant Children.  I believe that the effects of Charles Finney’s (and other’s) ministry has so infected the American church that we hardly even know all the areas polluted by it.  Our understanding of and expectations concerning Covenant Children is one of those areas. 

I remember as a young Christian lamenting the fact that I didn’t have a powerful testimony.  If only I had rebelled!  If only I had done drugs and treated my parents as if I hated them, and then made a radical decision to come to Christ – what a testimony that would be!  I would then have something to share.  It is almost as if this is our desire.  And dare I say, it’s almost as if this is what we expect of our covenant children. 

I heard an illustrative story one day but, for the life of me, I cannot recall where or from whom I heard it.  I have racked every recess of my miniscule mind (so it didn’t take very long) to try to think of it so if you know from where this comes, please leave a note! 

In a small mountain town, a man was overhead telling a story in a bar (restaurant for those of you who might find that offensive) of the wonder, might, and providence of God.  This man was new to this small mountain village and had only driven the dangerous downhill trek from top to bottom a few times.  But one of those few times was in the midst of a snowstorm.   He came around a corner and his truck slid on the ice and he careened off the side of the mountain.  Down and down his truck tumbled, end over end, side over side.  He finally came to rest in a crevice from where, somehow, his lights were seen shining up into the darkness by a passerby.  That onlooker called the authorities and the man was rescued from a long and bitter night.  As this man finished his story, he said, “Certainly God is sovereign!  Look at the providence of God and His protection of me.  I am bumped and bruised and certainly there are consequences to my wreck, but I was out of control, my truck was falling, and yet, I was stopped before finally dropping off the cliff.  And more than that – what if that driver hadn’t had seen me, what would have come of me?!  Oh, the providence of God!” 

The one who overhead the story could barely keep from interrupting and he finally spoke, “Oh, that is indeed the providence of God!  We serve a wonderful, good, and gracious God do we not?  May I share with you another story of the wonderful and precious providence of God?  That road that you drove down and from where you slid . . . I have grown up here on this mountain, I have driven up and down that road countless times, in all types of weather, and not once have I slid off the road.  In all those times, God has protected me.  He has watched over me.  He has been with me.  He has brought me safely down and through that treacherous road.  Not once did He let me slip; not once did He let me run off the road!  Oh, the providence and sovereignty of God!” 

The same underlying theology that drove me as a younger Christian to desire a “better” testimony is often that which drives us as parents.  We somehow think that it is a greater testimony to have rebelled and been reclaimed than it is to have been raised in such a way that one can’t remember a day that he/she didn’t claim Christ as Lord and Savior.  We are in danger of confusing our children by expecting them to rebel so that at some point, they then might “make a decision for Christ.”  We are dangerously close to that which Finney would have argued; as parents, if you do it right, if you argue right, if you can get your kids to make a decision, then you’ve done your parental duty.  If we doubt that Finney would have said such a thing, let us take him at his word as he said, “pious parents can render the salvation of their children certain.”  But Finney, and we, must confess, that as is the case in every case, salvation rests in the sovereign will and mercy of God.  Some thirty-two years after his confident claim, Finney would stop during a sermon he was preaching on the training of children and say, “Brethren, why am I trying to instruct you on the subject of training your children in the fear of God when I do not know that a single one of my children gives evidence of having been converted?”  We grieve, even as he, I’m sure, grieved, over such a thing! 

We all desire our children to walk in the way of the Lord.  While John was speaking about his spiritual children, certainly this holds true for our own children, “I have no greater joy than to know my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).  This is the Christian parent’s desire and hope – and it is our calling.  The prophet Malachi says, “And what was the one God seeking?  Godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15).   We are called to raise godly offspring.  We are called to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).  This isn’t a series on child-rearing and I do not pretend to have the answers in this regard.  My hope, as does everyone’s, rests in the sovereign mercy of God.  The concern here is how we view our children within the life of the church and how that impacts that way in which we minister to them.  

There are those who come into the kingdom by way of dramatic testimony.  The Apostle Paul’s striking experience on the Damascus Road is a biblical example.  However, there are also those who come into the kingdom by way of a covenant home.  This should be our prayer.  Our prayer should be that our children’s testimonies are that of Timothy, “and how from infancy you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). 

This hope in no way denies the need for conversion.  The Scripture is clear that unless one is converted they will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3, John 3:3).  But does conversion always look like what we’ve been taught it looks like?  Should a dramatic Paul-like conversion be what we expect from covenant children or one closer to the experience of young Timothy?  This will be the subject of the next several posts:  the nature of conversion and the means by which that conversion comes about in regards to covenant children.

This post is part of the to whom do they belong: children in the covenant series (click to view the other posts in this series).