Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Finest Defense of Childhood Evangelism In Print

Every Christian ought to have in his library, and read at least once a year, The Kingdom: The Emerging Rule of Christ Among Men, written and published in 1899 by George Dana Boardman. It is the definitive classic on the biblical phrases "the kingdom of God" and "the kingdom of heaven," terms used by Christ and the apostles repeatedly in their ministries. Boardman's father, George Dana Boardman "The Senior," was an associate of Adoniram Judson in Burma. When Senior died, Boardman's mother married the widowed Adoniram Judson, thus George Dana Boardman grew up with the famous missionary as his step-father. Boardman would return to America and graduate from Brown University and go on to pastor First Baptist Church, Philadelphia from 1864 to 1894. On page 62 of The Kingdom, after referencing Jesus' statement "suffer the little ones to come to me, for of such is the Kingdom of God, Boardman explains how the consituents of the Kingdom of God (believers) possess the child-like traits of self-unconsciousness, trustfulness, guilelessness, conscientiousness, teachableness, obedience, and love. Boardman writes that Jesus taught "before any one can enter into His Kingdom, he must come down, or rather go up, into the child-state." Boardman then gives one of the finest philosophical and biblical justifications for childhood evangelism I've ever read. Boardmen writes:

"Since childlikeness is one of the essential terms of the Kingdom of God, it follows that child-like piety is profoundly philosophical. I do not say that the child as such is sinless, or that he has been born anew: much less do I say that a child is specially devout. But I do say that the spirit of childhood is the natural emblem and the representative of the Christian spirit. And just because this is true, little children are of all persons the most likely to become Christians. It is the very characteristics of the child-state--this self-unconsciousness, trustfulness, guilelessness, conscientiousness, teachableness, obedience, faith, hope, love--which give to the little child a peculiar aptitude for the Kingdom of God. He does not have to unlearn long years of self-complacency, distrustfulness, craftiness, stubbornness, waywardness, selfishness before he can enter the child-state; he is in the child-state already and the child-state is prerequisite for the heavenly. To expect, then, the early conversion of children is, I repeat, profoundly philosophical: for it is in the entire harmony with the very genius of Christianity. And the younger the child, the likelier the conversion. The real wonder is not that infants are converted. The real wonder is that adults are. Our King nowhere said to little children, "Except ye be converted, and become as adults, ye cannot be saved." But our King has said to adults, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye can in no wise enter the Kingdom of God." Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, and said:

"I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that though didn't hide these things from wise and discerning men, and reveal them to babes; yea, Father, that so it was well pleasing in thy sight" (Luke 10:21).

The theological seminary is good: a Christian mother's knee is still better."


Wanda (Deb) Martin said...


My daughters were very young when they came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. As a mom, I am grateful beyond words!

Thank you for this post on the importance of childlike faith.

I did not intend to post my comment anonymously. :)

Wade Burleson said...

You are welcome!


Thanks for the comment Wanda!

Bob Cleveland said...

I was all of 8 and all I remember is believing Jesus would take me to heaven when I died.

It also occurs to me that, if we are to come as little children, then the unity Jesus commanded His follower to demonstrate must be based on things a child can understand. I'm guessing that precludes disunity based on open or closed communion, preterism vs partial preterism, etc.

Bryan Riley said...

What also is excellent is how the young step up and out in faith once believing. Youth will often take "risks" by faith that many adults fear to take. Their passion, love, and strengths, submitted to the Father, are beautiful and powerful!

Steven Stark said...

Very good points about the child-like nature of faith - to me, faith is more about the basic feeling of trust one experiences rather than how we blow up that feeling into specific dogmatic assertions about history, religion, etc. That is the excellent child-like quality of faith.

But I think what is most important is to try to raise children up to be free thinkers rather than members of a specific religion.

One of the best answers I ever heard to any question was when a young girl was asked if she believed in God. She responded with great care, "No.....but I am still thinking about it." I love that!

Wade Burleson said...


Jesus said, "Suffer the little children to come to ME ... "


Thanks for the comment!

Off The Cuff said...

Bro. Wade
I respond to this post with a degree of fear and trembling. I know that my comments will be met with sharp criticism, at least by some.
Part of Broadman’s quote said “The younger the Child the likelier the conversion.” How young is too young? It really angers me when I hear Pastors manipulating young children into making professions of faith. This happens usually on the last day of Vacation Bible School. Ask any four year old in Sunday School if they love Jesus and they will say Yes. Does this mean that the child is now ready for baptism?
Yes, Jesus said that we must have a childlike faith but he was clearly talking to adults. I do not believe that gives us license to launch an evangelical attack on young children. The best thing we can do with regard to our small children is to make sure that they have Christian parents who love them and who are nurturing their childlike faith until they truly possess a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
I, coming from a Pentecostal background, can clearly remember how easily the emotions of a young child can be manipulated. Yes, I made a profession of faith at a very young age. However, it was mostly to win the approval of my Mother and Grandmother. My real conversion came as an adult after a hitch in the Marine Corps and a tour of duty in Vietnam. By then I clearly understood what sin was and how badly I needed God’s forgiveness.
My fear is that we are nudging ever so close to, what amounts to, infant baptism.

Anonymous said...

I agree with "Off the Cuff" I have witnessed some very young children baptized and wonder if it's entirely to young. I know my grandchildren are being raised by christian parents, taught the ways of the Lord and live such a way. They are kind and respectful to others, and wouldn't even consider being unkind or hateful to others. Sometimes to each other, but never to another. You ask them anything about God and Jesus and they can answer. I want them to be old enough to ask to be baptized, so that's not a topic of conversation with them. But a couple of the children I'm talking about, are unkind and hateful to other children. I know I expect a child to be kind all the time, but isn't that exactly what we expect then to do. The parents pay no attention to them doing this, but the children they are hateful to are definitely feeling the hurt. They even ask me, "She goes to church with me, why is she so mean to me?" Just my two cents.

Wade Burleson said...

Off the Cuff and Anonymous,

Two great comments! Thanks for taking the time to write.

Spurgeon once said, "A child as young as five can as savingly believe as an adult of fifty-five." I'm not sure we can put an age on the work God performs in a child!

Anonymous said...

At five my granddaughter made the careful, conscious decision to ask Christ to save her. There was repentance for misdeeds and simple trust.

I wondered if the great transaction had taken place.

We saw the immediate and so far permanent arrival of a strong working concience in her--something we hadn't seen before.

At 7 she decided to be baptized.

Only God knows for sure, but she sure seems saved to me!


Steven Stark said...

I think we all desire for our children to arrive at similar conclusions to ours about the world.

However, I would not take a five year old's opinions of religion above their opinions on science, history or politics.

But I would try to (re)learn from any child how to trust, how to be deeply honest and how to experience the world with freshness. :)

Wanda (Deb) Martin said...


My daughters were baptized at the same time in December 1999. They were ages 10 and 7. Now they are going on 23 and 20 and both have remained true to their faith during their growing up years.

My almost 20 year old is sitting across the dining room table from me as I post this comment (she's home from college for Easter) and I couldn't be more proud of the decisions she has made as she walks out her faith.

May your granddaughter be blessed as she matures in her walk with God.

Blessings to you and your family!

Mike Frost said...

Unless you repent you perish.

I think it is very capable for a young child to understand love but am unsure if they can comprehend true repentance. If not, they can't be saved.

Off The Cuff said...


Your statement seems to be in line with Calvinistic doctrine as I understand it.
How can God hold children accountable for something they do not understand?
I personally subscribe to the "Accountability Theory". i.e. A child is not responsible for his sins until he reaches the age of accountabililty. The question for me is, when does a child reach that age? Our society says that a child is not accountable until the age of 18 years. I do not see how a loving God could/would hold a young child accountable for his actions/decisions/sins.

Thankfully, it is not up to you, nor I, to decide how it works. It is totally up to God and I totally trust a loving God to do the right thing.

Off The Cuff said...

After re-reading your post I think I might have misunderstood your intent. I agree that a child cannot be saved until they comprehend true repentance. However, until that time they are not held accountable. Do you agree?

Mike Frost said...

"After re-reading your post I think I might have misunderstood your intent. I agree that a child cannot be saved until they comprehend true repentance. However, until that time they are not held accountable. Do you agree?"

I wrestle with this OTC. I want to take a stand which is gracious towards the child but then try to balance Romans 3:23 (along with a few other verses) with that stand.

Not taking a position but am willing to continue to wrestle with the tough stuff.