The Nurture and Evangelism of Children (Mennonite Church, 1955)
The Nurture and Evangelism of Children (Mennonite Church, 1955)
A Statement Adopted by Mennonite General Conference, August 26, 1955.
I. Atonement. We believe that the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross was in behalf of the entire race, and that it therefore applied to all human beings, both adults and children, but that after the age of accountability Christ must be received by faith.
II. Status of Children. We believe that all children prior to the age of accountability, being covered by the atonement of Christ, are spiritually safe, and stand in need neither of any ceremony, such as baptism, nor of conversion. Prior to the age of accountability, children are not lost, they are not responsible before God, and they are not able to make the response necessary for being converted in the New Testament sense. The New Testament calls for the Christian nurture and teaching of children.
III. Nature of Church. We understand the New Testament to call for a body of regenerated, forgiven, and committed disciples of Christ, walking in Holy Spirit newness of life and earnestly seeking to serve Christ as Lord.
IV. Admission to the Church. We believe that the only way to enter the full membership of the church is for an accountable person to repent, renounce sin, turn to Christ in faith, accept Him as Savior and Lord, and receive water baptism.
V. Christian Faith. We regard saving faith as involving the commitment of oneself to Christ by surrender of the will, as a confident trust in Christ as one's Savior from sin, as a loving devotion to the Lord which moves one to crave to do His will; all as the grateful response of an accountable person to the redeeming love of God.
VI. Baptism. We believe that the New Testament commands water baptism and represents it as symbolizing cleansing from sin, commitment to Christian discipleship, death to sin and resurrection to newness of life, and the reception of the Holy Spirit. Although baptism is a most meaningful symbol and the rite for admission to the church, and although it is based upon solemn vows yet it is not an end in itself, nor is salvation dependent upon it.
VII. Age of Accountability. We understand that there is a point reached in life at which a person becomes morally responsible to God. This age is not the same for all persons but frequently comes early in adolescence,
VIII. Religious Life Before Accountability. A child may have many significant religious experiences before the age of accountability, such as finding security by trust in Christ, experiencing a sense of forgiveness for his wrong acts, and enjoying private, family, and church worship and prayer. Yet these experiences on the part of the child do not necessarily indicate that the age of accountability has arrived.
IX. Need of Conversion. When the age of accountability arrives, a totally new spiritual situation arises. The individual now has a new sense of restlessness and guilt. He recognizes himself as a sinner. He stands in need of repentance, faith, and the new birth. As the Holy Spirit convicts, he may either yield to Christ or reject Him. Those receiving Christ are born again. Those rejecting Him lose their former saved status and are lost persons spiritually.
X. Christian Growth. The Christian life following conversion and the new birth is a process of growth. There is need for further teaching, for additional commitments, for deeper understanding, for new victories. All of life must progressively come under the Lordship of Christ. This growth is greatly enhanced by preconversion Christian nurture.
XI. The Goals of Christian Education. The primary objective of Christian education is to lead persons into an experience of God and a knowledge of His purposes, and a commitment to them, as revealed in Christ. On the part of children it involves the regeneration of each child when he reaches the age of accountability. We teach and nurture in order to see him established as a happy and effective member of Christ's body, the church. After his uniting with the church Christian education continues to help him to know God and His will better, to make successive commitments to the Lord, and to serve Him more effectively.
XII. Program of Evangelism and Nurture. The responsibility to bring Christ to all of society rests upon the entire membership of Christ's body, the church. The program of nurture and evangelism must begin in the home. It must be Christ-centered, church-related, and Spirit-led.
For Consideration and Promotion
Furthermore, we submit the following items needing further consideration and promotion:
A. In view of the above position parents should:
1. Recognize the importance of full co-operation between home and church in the development of understandings and conviction in children.
2. Maintain in the home the atmosphere of good example and of love and confidence which is the proper soil of spiritual growth.
3. Understand that children are saved under the atonement until they reach the age of accountability, and be on such terms with their children as will make easy every approach on matters of understanding, and guilt which disturb their peace.
4. Understand how to lead their children to the peace of forgiveness through the atonement of Christ whenever they experience guilt for wrong acts.
5. See clearly the difference between these forgiveness experiences and the more mature experience which will come at the age of accountability when the Holy Spirit convicts the individual concerning his sinful nature which stands in need of a Savior.
6. Cooperate with church leaders concerning the proper time for a meaningful baptism,
B. Bishops and pastors should:
1. Think through the implications of our baptism practices in beliefs concerning the church, salvation, and baptism on confession of faith.
2. Reserve baptism for those who have come to the age of accountability, probably about twelve years of age or above.
3. In an effective way give those who are younger a real sense of belonging to the fellowship of the church, throwing the warmth of the church's love and fellowship around them.
4. Avoid stereotyping religious experience, recognizing that the work of the Spirit in one heart is not a rule for others. The needs of persons, rather than a philosophy or a system, must be met.
5. Help their members to make the continuing commitment that most follow conversion in a growing Christian life.
C. Those who are working in Christian education and various types of evangelism should: study their methods, their subject matter, the wording of their invitation, and their dealing with those who respond, that they may avoid any errors of theology, and the forcing of any premature decisions.
D. Further studies are suggested in these areas:
1. The practice of infant dedication.
2. Relating our homes to the life of the church.
3. The preparation of books and Christian education materials, which are needed for a well-rounded-out program of Christian education.
4. An expository study of all references to children in the Bible.
5. Methods of reaching non-Christian families for Christ and the church.
6. The nature of the church.
7. The nature of regeneration and Christian experience.
Context of this Statement
This statement, approved by the delegates to the Mennonite Church's General Conference in 1955, responded to the child evangelism movement that gained influence in the Mennonite Church in the 1950s. The Child Evangelism Fellowship, one of the larger organizations in this movement, was founded by Jesse Irvin Overholtzer, who had Church of the Brethren roots.
In the fall of 1954 the Mennonite Commission for Christian Education together with the General Council of the Mennonite Church's General Conference sponsored a study conference on child evangelism. The Findings Committee of that conference prepared the statement that was later brought to the 1955 conference.
The Mennonite Commission for Christian Education was a standing committee of the Mennonite Church from 1937 until 1971 when the Mennonite Church restructured and a Board of Congregational Ministries assumed some of the tasks formerly charged to this Commission. This Commission superseded a General Sunday School Committee that had been formed in 1915. During the time this statement was prepared, the committee was composed of twelve members -- the only Canadian member was Roy S. Koch of St. Jacobs, Ontario. John R. Mumaw chaired the Commission.
Context written 1999 by Sam Steiner
Twenty-ninth Mennonite General Conference, Hesston College, Hesston, Kansas, August 23-26, 1955. Scottdale, PA : Mennonite Publishing House, 1955: 53-55.
Rohrer, Norman. The Indomitable Mr. O: the Story of J. Irvin Overholtzer, Founder of the Child Evangelism Fellowship. Grand Rapids, MI : Child Evangelism Fellowship Press, 1970.
Yoder, Gideon G. The Nurture and Evangelism of Children. Scottdale, PA : Herald Press, 1959: esp. 66-72.