Last Halloween, I ordered a packet of tracts from ATS to hand out to Trick-or-Treaters, geared toward kids and cleverly illustrated. No Gospel, no mention of repentence, only a vague reference to Christ being the light of the world. An incomplete gospel is worse than no gospel at all. Into the trash they went.
Okay......my kids participate in AWANA, which is a great program and motivates children to dig into the Scriptures. Last year, my 4-year-old son had nearly two dozen Bible verses (and references!) memorized, despite not knowing how to read. He LOVED learning about God (still does), and could explain the premise of the Gospel quite well for his age. One night in the bathtub, he reflected, "Jesus loved us so much He took our punishment, because 'all have sinned'. 'God loved us and sent His son'. And He is sad when we do naughty things - that's sin. We need to be nice and try to do what makes God happy." Well said, for a 4-year-old. I teach him about God, incorporate biblical principles into daily life (as we do with all our kids), bring them to church, and so on. But I will not lead Stefan in a "Sinner's Prayer", as I believe it is nothing more than an incantation at this age. Or at any age, when you leave out heartfelt repentance.
I couldn't help noticing, though, that the "Skipper's" book from his AWANA club tells the kids all about trusting Jesus, but leaves out the need for repentance. No explanation of the new life. Do we expect regeneration from 5-year-olds who have (by and large) been brought up in Christian homes? Why not just lead them in the ways of God, and let the Holy Spirit convict them into a true conversion, when they're old enough to grasp the implication of how serious sin really is? Leading kids into a "ask Jesus into my heart" prayer can actually short-circuit their spiritual growth later on. Just talk to any youth pastor - many teens point to a moment in early childhood when they "prayed a prayer". Their claim to be saved hinges on that one moment, but sometimes show no fruit and are indistinguishable from their non-Christian friends (except maybe by their Christian T-shirts).
Stefan came home with a tract this week, the ATS publication "Speed". I put it aside (he can't yet read it by himself). Here's an excerpt:
Here is the game plan God gave us in the Bible:
1. Sin separates us from God.
2. Only Jesus can take away our sin.
3. You must trust Jesus as your Leader and Savior.
4. God’s free gift to us is new life–eternal life with him.
SAY “YES” TO JESUS RIGHT NOW!
Pray a simple prayer like this: Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for loving me. I am sorry for those things I have done that have separated us. Please forgive me. I want Jesus to be the Leader and Savior of my life. I believe he died on the cross and conquered death so that I could have eternal life with you. I receive this new life you freely give. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Where, exactly, does repentance fit into this? (An apology is not the same as seeking forgiveness - Jay Adams has a great book on that subject). Why is "Lord" softened to "Leader"? Why is the Lordship of Christ completely disregarded? Is this an American/"seeker sensitive" thing? Making the Gospel more palatable by taking out the hard stuff does no one any good. How will the kids grasp the Good News, if we're afraid to tell them the bad news? Does Jesus not warn us that to follow Him means a radical change?
There's something wrong with this. We're willingly breeding a generation of superficial professions - of an historical faith in Christ. Obedience is not optional - it is expected of true believers.