Should Parents View Their Children as Unbelievers? A Response to Todd Friel

Should Parents View Their Children as Unbelievers? A Response to Todd Friel June 16, 2015

Numerous people pointed me to some recent tweets from Todd Friel in the last few days and asked for a response. I think doing so is worth the time because it clearly outlines some of the practical implications of Credobaptist theology over against a Paedobaptist one.

Friel wrote:

Friel Tweets

Todd Friel is known for his work on the program Wretched Radio, and works in the area of discernment. He has been a constant critic of mega-church ideologies, the prosperity gospel, and other problematic movements in the contemporary church. For all of this, I commend him. But on this issue, his views have disastrous implications for how one raises a child in the Christian faith.

Let’s look at each tweet individually, beginning with the first. Friel asks: “How do you know if your child is saved? You don’t.” This is a consistent outgrowth of Credobaptism, wherein the parent must wait for the child to make a profession of faith prior to receiving Holy Baptism. Because Friel is roughly in the same theological camp as John MacArthur and Paul Washer, there is also a heavy dose of fruit-checking here. Sure, your child might profess to be a Christian, but can you really know? What if there profession of faith is false? What if they’re not really converted? There’s ultimately no way to know until they get to a certain age.

My question is: does Scripture talk this way? Does Scripture speaks to parents as if there children aren’t Christians? Might be Christians? Or are Christians?

Jesus praises parents for bringing their children (including infants) to himself (Mark 10:13-16), and he blesses them. He refers to them as those who take part in the Kingdom of Heaven. Peter tells the listeners at Pentecost that the promises of forgiveness and regeneration are for their children (Acts 2:38). Baptism and salvation are promised to believers and their households (Acts 16:33-34). Paul writes that the children of a believer are holy (1 Cor. 7:14).

One of the most significant points in this regard is mentioned by G.H. Gerberding in The Way of Salvation in the Lutheran Church, when he writes: “Parents are nowhere told that they should try and convert their children, as if they had not already received grace. But everywhere they are exhorted to keep them in that relation to their Lord, into which his own ordinance has brought them” (41). If Friel is right, and we should make the assumption that our children are not believers, surely the evangelism of our children would be important enough to mention somewhere in either Testament!

The second tweet Friel wrote mentions that we should look for the fruit produced by our children in order to have evidence of their salvation. There are two primary problems here. First, Friel mentions that this is fruit that they have never produced before. The clear assumption here is that a child must be converted at some point later in childhood where a life can be examined in light of how it was previously lived. Can an infant not believe? What about John the Baptist leaping in the womb? What about the Psalmist who confesses that he trusted in God while breastfeeding (Ps. 22:9-10)?

The second problem is simply that examining the “fruit” of an infant or toddler is quite difficult to do! I have two boys. One is four months old, and the other is two. I treat them like Christians, because they have received God’s promises in Holy Baptism. We worship together each evening, we pray together, and I speak to them like brothers in Christ. Children have different temperaments. Some are just naturally well-behaved, and others are rowdy, or have anger issues. Especially at a really young age, this is largely just due to the differences in personality among children. If I see a toddler who is disobedient, and one who is well-behaved, should my assumption automatically be that the well-behaved child is saved and the other isn’t? Such a test has obvious problems. My two year old asks to pray. He asks to sing hymns. He likes to go to church. And I trust that profession of faith, as small as it might be. I don’t have to check up on his progress to make sure he’s been showing enough fruit. I mean… he’s a two year old. I don’t ultimately trust in “fruit” but in God’s promises.

The final two tweets written by Friel read: “Should I encourage my young child who professes faith? Absolutely. Should I affirm my young child who professes faith? Absolutely not.” The problem with this should be clear at this point. I’m reminded of a time in which I saw a woman with her five year old daughter who was in a conversation about her Christian faith. This little girl said to her mom: “I love Jesus,” and the mother replied: “No you don’t. You’re not old enough.” Now, this is an extreme example, but this is what such a theology leads to. When our child professes faith, we should rejoice! We should acknowledge them as our brother or sister in the faith, and trust in God’s promises to them. If we don’t affirm our child in that faith, are we not hindering our children from going to Jesus?

I fear that Friel is not being Biblical on this point, but is importing individualistic revivalist ideologies onto the Biblical texts, which nowhere command us to check the fruit of, or try to convert, our children.

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