I've started a series of articles on Christian parenting in the Hopewell Weekly. As such, I'm pursuing a number of parenting books, including Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Tedd Tripp and Give them Grace, by Elyse Fitzpatrick.
Both books talk about the danger of moralism, that is, training your children with law and not with grace. Our duty as parents is not just to make them good and control behavior, but to help them understand the gospel in the midst of their behavior problems.
I appreciate the lessons in these books. They are extremely valuable. But want to add one more-- one from which only Presbyterians can benefit. Presbyterians have an advantage when it comes to presenting grace to their children. It lies in the fact that our children are sealed with the sign of grace at the very outset of their lives. In other words, our children have been baptized as infants.
Baptism is a testimony of God's grace. It confirms the fact that God is pleased to wash away our sins and welcome us into His fold. It reminds us that salvation is of the Lord and that we are completely powerless and undeserving. This is beautifully testified to in an infant baptism. Grace flows down upon the head of a weak, wretched sinner in his/her diapers.
Here is the key for parenting: this sign and seal continues to be a useful tool as they grow up. Baptism isn't supposed to be something that is forgotten or disposed of with the changing of their baptismal diaper. Children need to be reminded of it continually through their life. It's reality and meaning should be impressed upon them repeatedly as they grow up. Or, as the Westminster Confession says, their baptism should be "improved" over the whole course of their lives.
Here's what I mean: Let's say Johnny is duking it out with his little brother. You come in and peel Johnny off and rescue the younger sibling from being pummelled. Now, of course, Johnny needs disciplined. He needs to be told that his anger is sinful and his actions are wrong. He needs exhorted to love his brother and treat him with respect. But Johnny also needs the gospel.
Johnny needs to be reminded that the Lord is gracious and willing to forgive. He needs to understand that through Christ reformation is possible.
This is where his baptism is useful. Why should Johnny be kind to his brother? "You've been baptized," a parent can say. "Johnny, remember that you've been baptized. The Lord has promised salvation. The Lord washes away sin." "The Lord has put his mark upon you. The Lord has graciously taken you as His own and set you apart unto Him."
Lectures are good. Conversations needed. But verbal communication often fails and your earnest exhortations can fall on deaf ears. This is where the sacraments are so keenly applicable. The eye (or the mind's eye, as the case may be) can see. The image of water, the sign of God's covenant, the visible memorial of Christ' precious blood, can still have the power to humble and induce true service.
In sum, I wish to exhort those of us not to be baptistic in our parenting. We have the advantage of a powerful means of grace. We present children for baptism that they may know grace from the very first moments of their lives. We as parents should then let it echo on down through their days. As long as they are in our household, we should hold forth the promises of their baptism.
A tool for Christian nurture is at our disposal. Let us use it profusely, and let grace of it ring forth loud and clear.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.