Those of us who have pastored for a while can attest to the anguish of parents who have raised their children in church only to have them denounce their faith as adults. These are kids who had gone to Sunday School, earned every award possible in AWANA, were leaders in Youth Group and who now have no real relationship to the church. As a matter of fact, in some tragic cases they have become antagonistic toward Christ and the church.
In one church I pastored, I had a handful of women who regularly placed prayer requests in the offering plate that were almost identical: “please pray for my son (or daughter) who is away from the Lord.” We would pray in the office but after a while I inquired regarding these adults and found out that in each case, the person was “away from the Lord” for years. In one case, after hearing the path one child had taken, I gently suggested that it seemed that their child really needed to be saved. I was informed, “Oh no, she was saved in church. She went forward.” In this case many years had passed and they had no interest at all in Christ. Others have told me that their child was saved because “they said the sinner’s prayer.” The sad part in all these types of cases is that none of these things saves a person. Raising a hand in a service does not save you; walking an aisle does not save you; saying the sinner’s prayer does not save you. The Bible does not say, “Walk the aisle and you shall be saved.” The only thing that saves the sinner is faith alone in Christ alone. This is done in secret; it is between the believing sinner and God. It is the culmination of a work begun by the Spirit of God. And when saving faith is placed in Christ, the person becomes a new creature in Christ.
I mentioned in an earlier post that people attach such things as hand raising, going forward, and saying a prayer because they want to “see” what role they have played in the saving of souls. I’ve observed that those who believe in salvation being wrought through such man-made means are those who have a high view of man’s ability to both coerce others to believe (in this case children) and to seek God on their own. I once knew a man who said, “I don’t want God to be the one who does the saving because I don’t know if he’ll save my children. This way, if I lead them to Christ by saying the sinner’s prayer with them then I’ll know they are saved.” Stunning, but sadly, true.
The one big practical problem with such a theological worldview as this is that such people have no real response when the child walks away from the local church or worse denounces Christ and the church. If the parent has “led them to Christ,” it is hard to acknowledge that the child is not saved. It is more practical and logical to say, “They are just backslidden.” And yet if parents (and the church) treat such a person as only backslidden, they will never give them what they really need: the gospel.
It is not unspiritual to acknowledge that one’s child is not saved when they renounce Christ and his bride the church (2 John 9a). It is then that we can live out the gospel before them and shift our trust from our ability to save them to God’s saving grace in bringing them to salvation.