How does the Baptist tradition view believers’ children? Historically, Baptists have axiomatically rejected infant church membership and infant baptism, yet this level of consensus does not exist regarding a positive understanding of believers’ children. Baptist literature is teeming with thorough considerations of believers’ children in terms of who they are not (they are not the proper recipients of baptism or church membership by birth), but the same thorough consideration has not been given to believers’ children in terms of who they are.
This lack of consideration concerning the positive understanding of believers’ children has been recognized and expressed by Baptist theologians for more than five decades. In 1970, Clifford Ingle wrote: “What Southern Baptists need is a positive theological understanding of the child.” Thomas Halbrooks, a decade later, observed that “Baptists have been delinquent in giving adequate attention to the relationship of the child to the church.” While Baptists have emphasized regenerate church membership and rejected infant baptism, Halbrooks notes that “Baptists did not consider the place of children in the church to be a fitting topic for extended theological debate.” As a result, Halbrooks points out that Baptists have been unclear in answering questions such as: What is the eternal fate of infants who die? Is there a proper age for baptism and church membership? Is there an advantage to being born into a Christian home? Mark Dever echoes these sentiments in his 2012 publication, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible, indicating that “one of the areas in most need of reexamination in today’s churches is the relation of the children of church members to the church.”
Such a reexamination is necessary since the church’s practice pertaining to children flows directly out of its beliefs about children. Practical concerns related to what the child and the church can and should do flow directly out of the fundamental nature of who the child is in relation to the church. G. S. Harrison summarized this issue well as he connected the practical to the fundamental:
Are we to regard them as Christians (in the full sense of that term, and surely there is no other) until they specifically deny it by word and/or by life? Or conversely, are we to look upon them as non-Christians until by word and life they specifically deny it? Is their state (not counting the beneficial home influences that will bear upon them) no better than that of the most godless heathen? Dependent upon your answer will be your whole approach to the children’s work of the church. How do the responsibilities, duties and potentialities of the children of believers differ from those of the children of unbelievers?
Additionally, the number of young adults leaving the church warrants a reexamination of the church’s relationship to believers’ children. According to Lifeway Research, sixty-six percent of young adults who attended church regularly as teenagers stopped attending between the ages of eighteen to twenty-two. This statistic is consistent with previous studies that highlight a similar trend. According to the Family Life Council findings in 2002, eighty-eight percent of children raised in evangelical homes leave church at the age of eighteen, never to return. Another study conducted by Lifeway in 2007 shows that seventy percent of young adults between the ages of twenty-three to thirty stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between ages eighteen to twenty-two. Moreover, a survey performed by the Pew Research Center in 2012 demonstrated that eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds make up the least religious age group.
While these statistics point to the need for a reexamination of the church’s relationship to believers’ children, this article would be remiss to claim that no research has been done in this area. Scholarly work related to practical considerations such as baptismal and conversion age does exist, but there is little to no work regarding the fundamental nature of the child. The aim of this paper, however, is not to address these fundamental questions but rather to draw awareness to the need for Baptists to address such questions pertaining to the relationship between believers’ children and the church. This objective will be achieved by surveying the historical changes that occurred in Baptist children’s’ instruction. During the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, catechetical instruction of children was prevalent among Baptists, but this once-common practice was almost completely abandoned when the twentieth century experienced a shift from catechetical instruction to the evangelistic emphasis of Sunday school. This transformation was not necessarily caused because Baptists failed to address the fundamental nature of believers’ children, but it ought to give us pause and lead historians and theologians to ask whether this transformation was the result of theological development, the outcome of pragmatism, or the outworking of Baptists spending too little time considering and articulating the fundamental nature of believers’ children. Regardless, the need remains for Baptists to consider the relationship between believers’ children and the church. In order to bring awareness to this need within Baptist theology, this paper will survey Benjamin Keach’s influence upon catechetical instruction until the nineteenth century and will then present the shifts that occurred in the twentieth century, both in the method used to instruct children within Baptist churches as well as in the party primarily responsible for children’s training and instruction.
Children’s Instruction in Baptist Churches
Benjamin Keach: Instructor of Children
Early in their history, Baptists utilized catechetical instruction to train children in the knowledge of God. As Tom Nettles observes: “Baptist catechisms have existed virtually since the appearance of modern-day Baptists in the seventeenth century.” And this question-and-answer approach to impart sound biblical doctrine was the joint responsibility of both the church and the parents during the first two-and-a-half centuries of its use in Baptist churches.
One example of catechetical instruction is seen in the ministry of Benjamin Keach, a Baptist pastor who published several children’s primers, the most popular being Instructions for Children: or, the Child’s and Youth’s delight. Teaching an easy way to Spell and Read true English. Containing the Father’s Godly Advice, directing parents in a Right and Spiritual manner to educate their children. This children’s primer appealed to so great a market that it went through thirty editions by 1763, nearly 70 years after it was first published. The primer included practical skills; however, Keach’s ultimate purpose was to provide children with a theological education. Sound biblical doctrine lies at the core of this primer as Keach provides instruction in the ways of God while calling upon children to come to Christ without delay. Aiming to educate children about God, man, Christ, salvation, the church, and other foundational doctrines, Keach wrote three different catechisms, each one intended for a distinct age group, and these catechisms comprise the bulk of his children’s primer.
Furthermore, Keach wrote these catechisms to equip parents with the tools necessary to instruct their children in a “right and spiritual manner.” The title of Keach’s primer alone demonstrates his belief that parents play an important role in the education of their children. Additionally, the fact that he, as a pastor, published a catechism to aid parents in teaching their children also reveals that Keach believed pastors, alongside parents, maintain a connection and a responsibility to the children of church members.
Jonathan Arnold concludes that Keach published his catechism as a means of placing the sole responsibility of children on the parents; however, Keach’s production of a catechism to equip parents to teach their children does not imply that he absolves all responsibility for the unbelieving children in his church. In one of his writings, Keach describes children who grow up in the church as having not only parents, but also ministers, to instruct them, pray for them, and be a godly example for them, which implies a relationship between the children of believers and the church. Rather than placing the sole responsibility on the parents, it is best to say that Keach placed the primary responsibility for the child’s training and instruction on the parents, with the church (namely the pastor) playing a supporting role.
The Baptist Catechism: Commonly Called Keach’s Catechism
Following in the footsteps of Benjamin Keach, Baptists continued using catechetical instruction to teach children sound biblical doctrine. One such catechism that gained popularity among Baptists was The Baptist Catechism: Commonly Called Keach’s Catechism, about which Tom Nettles notes: “Perhaps more than all others combined, this catechism defined what it was to be a Baptist throughout the eighteenth century, for some years into the nineteenth.”
Though its name may imply differently, Keach’s level of involvement in writing The Baptist Catechism is widely disputed. Timothy George suggests that William Collins assisted Keach in the drafting of The Baptist Catechism, while Tom Nettles deems that William Collins was equally involved with Keach in the composition of the catechism. Thomas Crosby, Keach’s son-in-law, does not attribute the catechism to Keach at all, but D. B. Riker and Barry Vaughn, on the contrary, attribute this catechism almost entirely to the hand of Keach. Jonathan Arnold says Keach’s authorship of the catechism is in “serious doubt,” a position which is consistent with Austin Walker. In Walker’s biographical work of Keach, he references Joseph Ivimey, who asserts that William Collins, rather than Keach, was asked by the 1693 assembly to draw up a catechism. While Ivimey asserts that Collins was tasked with authoring the catechism, it is Keach’s name that would be associated with the work in 1764, when his portrait served as its frontispiece. Almost a century later, in 1851, the catechism was still in print and known as: The Baptist Catechism, Commonly Called Keach’s Catechism. As seen above, Keach’s authorship of The Baptist Catechism is shrouded by mystery; however, his influence upon children’s instruction is not. The mere fact that his name was attached to a catechism which circulated 150 years after his death represents the impact he made upon children’s doctrinal instruction.
One prominent figure who used The Baptist Catechism to instruct children in the eighteenth century was Richard Furman, the long-time pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina.Like Keach, Furman believed children should be taught through catechetical instruction; therefore, he gathered the children quarterly to ask them questions from The Baptist Catechism so he might instruct them in biblical doctrine. While Furman himself catechized the children on these occasions, he expected them to arrive prepared for the sessions. This is evidence that he relied upon parents to catechize their children at home.
Furman is noteworthy not only for his catechetical practice but also for his encouragement to the Charleston Association in 1792, when, in a circular letter, he addressed the responsibility of both the church and parents in the doctrinal instruction of children. He assumes “private and public catechizing, in which care is not only taken to teach them a form of sound words, but to lead them into the sense spirit of the Christian doctrine.” Whereas Furman is similar to Keach in his affirmation of the church’s responsibilty to pray for and instruct children in sound biblical doctrine, as the letter continues it is clear that Furman progresses a step further than Keach in defining the church’s responsibility to the children of church members, describing them as being “placed under [the] guardianship of the church: [they] have a particular claim to their prayers, attention and care; and [they are] especially entitled to those ordinances which are designed to be the means of conversion.” Furman’s use of the term “guardianship of the church” likely denotes the church’s responsibility to protect and nurture the children, which reaches beyond Keach’s documented position on the matter. Furthermore, since Furman excludes children from baptism and the Lord’s Supper, it is reasonable to assume that “the ordinances which are designed to be the means of conversion” refers to the hearing of the preached Word and the study of doctrinal instruction from which children must not be withdrawn, a position Keach maintained as well.
While Furman patterns after Keach in many ways regarding the children of believers, especially in his encouragement toward parents to teach sound Christian doctrine through catechetical instruction, he furthers the Baptist understanding of children by placing the children of church members under the church’s care and by taking a direct role in their doctrinal education through his quarterly catechetical gatherings. These additional elements denote a slight shift in the pastor’s responsibilty concerning the instruction of children in the eighteenth century, particulalry in Baptist churches across America, as the pastor became more involved in the lives’ of believers’ children. Keach preached sermons with the expectation that children would be in attendance; Furman did the same, yet he also held childrens’ meetings during which he addressed them directly.
Keach’s catechism would maintain its prominence in the early nineteenth century; however, as the century moved on, the catechism experienced alterations. Charles Spurgeon was “persuaded that the use of a good catechism in all our families will be a great safeguard against the increasing errors of the times,” so he compiled a catechism for his congregation in 1855 by combining the Westminster Shorter Catechism and The Baptist Catechism. Like Keach, Spurgeon believed that both the church and parents had an obligation to instruct their children in the great doctrines of the faith, which he expounded upon in one of his sermons:
In matters of doctrine, you will find orthodox congregations frequently change to heterodoxy in the course of thirty or forty years, and that is because too often there has been no catechizing of the children in the essential doctrines of the gospel. For my part, I am more and more persuaded that the study of a good Scriptural catechism is of infinite value to our children.
Continuing in the tradition of Keach and Furman, Spurgeon maintained the church’s and the parents’ joint responsibility in teaching children sound doctrine through catechetical instruction, and he even regarded the absence of children’s catechetical instruction as a great contributor to the loss of orthodoxy in a congregation. Spurgeon, like those who went before him, understood the importance of teaching children sound doctrine; however, as the nineteenth century progressed, practices once common in the instruction of children were abandoned as new developments surfaced.
The Abandonment of The Baptist Catechism
By the end of the nineteenth century, The Baptist Catechism lost its popularity, and its use greatly diminished. Because of the catechism’s difficulty, James P. Boyce wrote a new catechism to replace it. In the preface to A Brief Catechism, Boyce writes:
The author of this brief Doctrinal Catechism knows of no work of the kind in circulation among Baptists. Keach’s Catechism, generally called the ‘Baptist Catechism,’ is scarcely used at all. No reason can be assigned for this, except that it is too difficult for children. In this present work an attempt has been made to simplify, as far as possible, without sacrificing important truth.
Not only did Boyce seek to replace Keach’s catechism, but he also notes the decline in Baptist catechetical instruction, stating that he “knows of no work of the kind in circulation among Baptists.” William Cathcart also recognized this trend at the end of the nineteenth century, writing: “This neglected custom of the past should be revived in every Baptist family in the world, and all our Lord’s Day schools should place the same little work in their regular system of religious training.” Unlike Boyce, however, Cathcart recommended The Baptist Catechism:
Keach’s Catechism, with all the soundness of its distinguished author, two hundred years old, and others of later date, can be had for a trifle from the Baptist Publication Society. We ourselves, derived incalculable benefits from a thorough drilling in the Westminster Catechism in childhood, and we commend to all our brethren a Baptist Catechism and Confession for children and adults.
While Cathcart recommended The Baptist Catechism, by the end of the nineteenth century its use was almost completely abandoned.
New Objectives and Shifting Responsibilities
Although the American Baptist Publication Society and the Sunday School Board selected John A. Broadus to author A Catechism of Bible Teaching, which was published in 1892, catechetical instruction would eventually be replaced by new methods, as the Sunday School initiative gained prominence in Baptist churches. Started by Robert Raikes “around 1780 to instruct poor children in reading as well as societal virtues,” Sunday School played an extensive role in replacing catechetical instruction.
While method and format for children’s instruction changed, so did the emphasis of the instruction (which moved from doctrine to moralism to evangelism) as well as the party responsible for training these young minds. These new objectives and shifting responsibilities which accompanied the new methods of childrens’ instruction will be surveyed below.
Though Baptists like Richard Furman brought children into the church for the sole purpose of religious instruction, the church deviated to moralism as the primary emphasis of children’s instruction during the nineteenth century, evidenced by publications from the Sunday School Board. The Sunday School Primer (1864) included a moral lesson entitled “The Two Dogs”:
Two dogs, Tray and Snap, went out one day to walk. Tray was a good dog, and would not hurt the least thing in the world; but Snap was cross, and would snarl and bite at all the dogs that came in his way. At last they came to a great town, and all the dogs came out to see them. Tray hurt none of them, and was kind to all; but Snap would growl at all, and at length he bit one that came near him. Then the men and boys came out with clubs and stones, and they beat Snap, and the dogs sprang on him and tore him in pieces. As Tray was along, they dealt with him in the same way, and so he met with his death at the same time. They thought Tray was bad, because he was with a bad dog. We should learn from this that good boys and girls may come to much harm if they go with those who are bad.
As seen in this lesson, moralism was emphasized over doctrine, a shift foreign to men like Benjamin Keach. In his writings, Keach emphasized godly living which is “a holy conformity to [true and right doctrine], and he stressed “hating and loathing sin and cleaving to God.” He did not confuse exhortation to godly living with moralism for he believed “you must first have Union with [Jesus Christ], before you can bring forth Fruit to God; you must act from Life, and not for Life.” It is unlikely that the author of “The Two Dogs” denied conversion and replaced it with works-based righteousness, but the mere existence of this morality tale is evidence of the shifting tides regarding the emphasis of children’s instruction in the Baptist tradition.
Further evidence of this shift from emphasizing doctrine to emphasizing moralism in children’s instruction is found in the preface of Basil Manly, Jr.’s Little Lessons for Little People (1864), in which he writes, “While you learn these Little Lessons, ask God to make you good children, for Jesus’s sake and then when you grow up, you will be good men and good women, and when you die, you will go to Heaven.” That same year, during a Sunday morning service, Charles Spurgeon voiced his concern regarding the moralistic emphasis invading Sunday schools:
I think that in some Sunday-school addresses there is not always the gospel so clearly and decidedly proclaimed as it should be. It is not very easy, I know, to preach Christ to little children, but there is nothing else worth preaching. To stand up and say, “Be good boys and girls, and you will get to heaven,” is preaching the old covenant of works, and it is no more right to preach salvation by works to little children than to those who are of mature age.
While Spurgeon recognized the dangers moralism brought to Sunday schools, others were not so concerned. Edward T. Hiscox, for instance, writing at the end of the nineteenth century, observed the main purpose of Sunday school as “forming characters to virtue and moulding their hearts to good morals.”
Before looking at the next shift in children’s instruction, it is worth noting that this move toward moralism as the primary emphasis of children’s instruction indicates the need to re-examine the Baptist understanding of the child in relation to the church. It is not as though Baptist pastors prior to the nineteenth century were unconcerned with morality, but morality was not their utmost priority. For example, Benjamin Keach was concerned with the godly character of the children in his church, admonishing them to stay away from wicked juveniles and to “strive against the evils of your heart;” however, the primary emphasis of his instruction was not moralism but Christian doctrine.
Based upon limited evidence, it appears that those who followed in Keach’s footsteps did not maintain a solid foundation encompassing the reasons children should live godly lives. Had a proper foundation been maintained by Baptists, they may have avoided the shift to moralism altogether, or at least withstood the over-emphasis of practical morality, which made its way into Baptist Sunday school children’s literature during the nineteenth century. The basis for which unconverted children should live godly lives is certainly a question that yearns for an answer among Baptists, and the neglect to articulate the Baptist understanding of believers’ children may help explain the nineteenth-century transition from a doctrinal emphasis to a moralistic emphasis in children’s instruction.
Baptist Sunday school literature experienced another shift in emphasis during the twentieth century when, in 1922, the Sunday School Board presented evangelism as the main objective of Sunday school, and Arthur Flake established policies and practices that furthered evangelism as Sunday school’s primary aim. In Building a Standard Sunday School, he wrote: “The supreme business of Christianity is to win the lost to Christ. This is what churches are for… surely then the Sunday school must relate itself to the winning of the lost to Christ as an ultimate objective.”
Not only was evangelism emphasized in Sunday school, but “special services were offered for children during revival services. These special services were highly evangelistic and often pressured children to make a profession of faith.” This emphasis upon evangelism carried ramifications that Baptist churches would be forced to address, such as a proper age for conversion. In 1966 and 1967 the Southern Baptist Convention reported a spike in the number of baptisms of children younger than six years old. “Many Southern Baptists in the last two decades [of the twentieth century] increasingly resisted such early professions of faith;” as a result, “the Sunday school guidelines were revised to delay active evangelism until at least age twelve.”
Moreover, the transitions in children’s instruction, first from a doctrinal emphasis to a moralistic emphasis, and then from a moralistic emphasis to an evangelistic emphasis, further suggest that Baptists have not adequately addressed the relationship of children and the church, which, correspondingly, has left many pertinent questions unanswered. For instance, Scripture teaches parents to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it,” but why does Scripture give such instructions? Is it because training our children will be the means by which God saves them? Or is it because this will serve as the foundation upon which our children build once they come to faith? Or is there another reason altogether?
Questions such as these lead us to look once again to Benjamin Keach. While he believed that God can and does save children at a young age, and while he implored children to seek God in their youth, evangelism was not his main emphasis. Keach viewed children as disciples to be evangelized. He impressed upon children at an early age to come to Christ and to walk in the ways of God.
Furthermore, although Keach and other Baptists of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries evangelized children, baptism was typically an adult occurrence. The twentieth-century shift from adult baptisms to child baptisms indicates once more that Baptists did not develop a robust understanding of believers’ children. Some important questions about baptism that must be asked: Is there a proper age for baptism? Should the church baptize a child upon profession of faith in Christ, or should the church wait to observe whether the child bears the fruits of repentance? If baptismal delay is necessary, what is the church’s responsibility to an unbaptized child who professes Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? While adult baptisms served as the historical practice among Baptists, the twentieth-century transition to an emphasis in evangelism in children’s instruction, followed by the practice of baptizing children six years old and younger, exposes the need to re-examine the Baptist understanding of believers’ children in relation to the church.
Who Is Responsible?
In addition to the shifts from doctrine to moralism to evangelism as the primary emphasis in children’s instruction, the Baptist understanding of the church’s obligation to children shifted as well. Demonstrated by pastors such as Keach, Furman, and Spurgeon, the responsibility of children’s instruction had previously been shared to some degree by both the pastor and the parents, but by the end of the nineteenth century children’s instruction was assumed by the Sunday school. James P. Boyce, like Keach, Furman, and Spurgeon, maintained that it was the pastor’s and the family’s duty to instruct children, yet he also notes the important role Sunday school served in this endeavor:
The desire has been felt to promote catechetical instruction in the family and the Sunday-school. It is believed that there are many who appreciate its value as a means of teaching the truth of God. . . . At the same time, Pastors of churches, Superintendents and Teachers of Sunday-schools, and pious parents, are urged to consider how far a partial recourse at least to catechetical instruction may tend to restore the vigorous piety of bygone days.
While Boyce maintains the importance of catechetical instruction, his statement demonstrates the role of Sunday school in children’s instruction. Susan Gantt observes that “the Sunday School would become a primary component in the education of children in Southern Baptist churches.” Anne Boylan, who traces the social history of American Sunday schools, writes: “Whereas in 1820 Protestants had thought about children’s religious experiences primarily in terms of family and church, by 1880 it was impossible to conceive of them without reference to the Sunday school.” With the rise of Sunday school, responsibility for children’s instruction shifted from the parent to the Sunday school, and from the pastor to the layperson, who would eventually come under the purview of a professional Children’s Minister.
Again, turning to Keach is beneficial when considering the church’s responsibility to the child. Keach took a personal interest in children and believed that those who grow up in the church enjoy parents as well as ministers who instruct them, pray for them, are a godly example for them, and ensure that the gospel is preached to them. Still, he and those after him did not clearly articulate the pastor’s or the church’s responsibility to children. If the Baptist church’s responsibility to the children of church members had been clearly understood and delineated, the shift away from parental responsibility in children’s education may have been avoided with very little resistance. Ultimately, however, this shift did occur and serves as evidence that Baptists must re-examine the relationship between children and the church.
The transitions that occurred in children’s instruction among Baptists were not simply results of changes in practice but instead represent all-out foundational shifts. Because these shifts represent a completely different understanding of the child, it is reasonable to consider why they transpired. If the child is a disciple, such an idea would be reflected in the children’s instruction, but if the child is to be evangelized the children’s instruction would reflect that idea as well. At the very least, this paper is calling for Baptists to consider the issue at hand and ask why these changes occurred so readily within Baptist children’s instruction. Perhaps this transition was the result of doctrinal development which gradually took place, but there is little evidence to substantiate this possibility. On the contrary, these changes appear to be more pragmatic in nature, as Baptist churches reacted to the cultural climate of the day, simply doing what worked rather than doing that which is laid out in the authoritative word of God.
Since believers’ children are “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2:3), they must be evangelized; the gospel must be set before them (Rom 10:14–17). Parents—fathers in particular—are commanded to train their children in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4; see also Prov 22:6), so children must be taught the truths of Scripture (Matt 28:19–20 implies both evangelism and teaching the whole counsel of God). Although children are born outside the covenant community and their obedience will not justify them before the Lord God, they are still expected to be obedient (Eph 6:1–3, Ecc 11:9, Prov 13:24, Prov 19:18).
The changes that occurred in the objectives and obligations of children’s instruction within Baptist churches expose the need to further develop the Baptist understanding of believers’ children in relation to the church. This is not to say that the failure to develop a robust theology of believers’ children would have prevented the shift, but instead suggests that these monumental transformations prove the lack of a robust theology of believers’ children. While such a deficiency is not the cause of these changes, at the very least, it is reasonable to assert that an underdeveloped Baptist understanding of believers’ children made these changes possible.
While the method of instruction may have changed, since catechetical instruction is just one means of teaching doctrine to children, the overarching philosophy which shifted from doctrine to morality to evangelism points to a gap in the Baptist understanding of children. This is further evidenced in the shift away from parental responsibility and toward the responsibility of the Sunday school. A robust understanding of the child, according to biblical principles, would have assured that Sunday school was developed as no more than a supplement to the obligations placed upon parents and pastors rather than as a replacement of their duties. Surely, seismic shifts such as these would have been met with intense scrutiny and examination instead of widespread acceptance.
Ultimately, this brief survey of children’s instruction demonstrates the need for a robust Baptist understanding of children. Baptists must determine who children are, in addition to who they are not, and should conclude whether children are regarded as nonbelievers until they prove otherwise or as believers until they prove otherwise. Baptists need to establish whether children are truly outside the covenant community or if they are in the “shadow” of the covenant community. Finally, Baptists need to determine the obligations of the church to the children of church membersas well as the benefits experienced by those who are born into Christian homes.
These will certainly be difficult questions for Baptists to address due to differing views on covenant theology and original sin. Additionally, because Baptists practice local church autonomy, it is difficult to affirm a consensus view on any one doctrine, so unity regarding the doctrine of the child will undoubtedly be laborious, if not impossible, to achieve. Without question, unforeseen challenges will occur, making these questions difficult to address, but there is no time like the present to develop a robust understanding of believers’ children, especially since Baptists in the twenty-first century are experiencing yet another shift in children’s instruction.
Sunday schools have been on the decline in Baptist churches since the 1960s and are rapidly being replaced by other instructional methods. With the reemergence of a plurality of elders within Baptist churches, the full-time children’s minister could be affected. Some Baptist churches have even revived the use of catechetical instruction. Tom Ascol and the Founders Ministries published three Baptist catechisms for children’s instruction, while John Piper adapted The Baptist Catechism by adding his own commentary. Because Baptists are currently experiencing another shift in children’s instruction, the need is as great as ever to re-examine the relationship between children and the church and to answer foundational questions regarding children’s instruction.
 Corey Johnson, PhD, is a pastor at Providence Baptist Church in Pasadena, Texas.
 For a survey of scholarly works on seventeenth-century English Particular Baptists related to the children of believers’ see Corey W. Johnson, “Instructor of Children: An Analysis of Benjamin Keach’s Doctrinal Understanding of Believers’ Children” (PhD diss., Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2021), 25–29.
 An important question that needs to be examined is whether believers’ children are to be considered as disciples (who are raised and encouraged in the ways of God), or as little heathens (who are nothing more than evangelistic prospects)? Pedobaptists such as David Engelsma assert that rejecting covenant children is to consider them outside the church because “they are nothing but heathens, little heathens to be sure, but heathens nevertheless, like all other ungodly people, whom the church at the most should evangelize” (David Engelsma, The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers: Sovereign Grace in the Covenant [Grandville, MI: Reformed Free, 2005], 10).
 Clifford Ingle, Children and Conversion (Nashville, TN: Broaman, 1970), 15.
 Thomas G. Halbrooks, “Children and the Church: A Baptist Historical Perspective,” Review & Expositor 80, no. 2 (1983): 179. In response to Halbrooks, it is unfair to assume that Baptists intentionally left questions unanswered regarding the children of church members. The Baptist tradition has not existed in a context that lent itself to a thoroughly developed theology of children. Early Baptists were consumed with the question of identity, namely the identity of the church; since Baptists rejected the practice of infant baptism it was necessary to define who belonged to the church. Therefore, early Baptists spent considerable time articulating and defending regenerate church membership and believer’s baptism. In fact, these beliefs still receive considerable attention today. In addition to establishing and defending Baptist identity, Baptists have also been involved in a great number of controversies throughout the years that have taken much time and attention away from the discussion of the theology of children. Some controversies in which Baptists have been involved include soteriology, missions-sending organizations, the use of confessions, slavery, Baptist church succession, biblical inerrancy, and the role of women in the church.
 Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2012), 153.
 G. S. Harrison, “The Covenant, Baptism and Children,” Tyndale House Bulletin 9 (October 1961), 14.
 “Church Dropouts: Reasons Young Adults Stay or Go between Ages 18-22,” accessed Nov 18, 2019. http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/ Young-Adult-Church-Dropout-Report-2017.pdf.
 Jon Walker, “Family Life Council Says It’s Time to Bring Family Back to Life,” accessed November 18, 2019. http://www.sbcannualmeeting.net/sbc02/ newsroom/newspage. asp?ID=261.
 Scott McConnell, “Lifeway Research Finds Reasons 18- to 22-year-olds Drop Out of Church,” Lifeway.com, accessed November 18, 2019. http://www.lifeway.com/Article/LifeWay-Research-finds-reasons-18-to-22-year-olds-drop-out-of-church.
 “‘Nones’ on the Rise,” accessed November 18, 2019. http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/. This paragraph has been adapted from Johnson, “Instructor of Children,” 4–5.
 The following is a brief survey of the significant scholarly works related to childhood conversion and baptismal age. Lewis Craig Ratliff considered the question of conversion and baptismal age in Southern Baptist churches, and he argued for a conversion age of no younger than fourteen (Lewis Craig Ratliff, “Discipleship, Church Membership, and the Place of Children among Southern Baptists an Investigation of the Place of Children in a Baptist Church in View of Christ’s Teachings on Discipleship and the Baptist Doctrine of the Church” [PhD diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1963]). Along similar lines Melvin Douglass Clark focused on evangelism of children in Southern Baptist churches and he argued against the baptism of young children (Melvin Douglas Clark, “The Evangelism of Children: A Study in Southern Baptist Practice” [PhD diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1969]). Gary Thomas Deane’s work compliments both Ratliff and Clark as he observed the childhood conversion experience. His focus was on the child’s conception of conversion, baptism, and membership, and his findings demonstrate a better understanding of these three elements among older children (Gary Thomas Deane, “An Investigation of the Child’s Conception of Christian Conversion, Baptism, and Church Membership Compared with Jean Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Cevelopment” [EdD diss., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1982]). After Deane, John Warren Withers considered the social forces affecting baptismal age in Southern Baptist churches, and he attributed the decline in baptismal age to social factors (John Warren Withers, “Social Forces Affecting the Age at Which Children Are Baptized in Southern Baptist Churches” [PhD diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1997]). Following in the same vein is Thomas Sanders who examined the phenomenon of childhood conversion (Thomas J. Sanders, “The Kingdom of God Belongs to Such as These: Exploring the Conversion Experiences of Baptist Children” [PhD diss., Dallas Baptist University, 2009]); and B.J. Cranford who observed current practices in Baptist churches related to the age of accountability, conversion, and the faith development of children in the church [B. J. Cranford, “A Study of Baptist Pastors’ and Childhood Ministry Leaders’ Practices Relating to the Age of Accountability” (EdD diss., Dallas Baptist University, 2016}). Continuing the theme of childhood conversion and baptismal age, Gordon Miller and Robert Matz rejected the psychological theories which impacted the aforementioned works but they continued to examine childhood conversion and baptismal age (Robert Joseph Matz, “Should Southern Baptists Baptize Their Children? A Biblical, Historical, Theological Defense of the Consistency of the Baptism of Young Children with Credobaptistic Practices” [PhD diss., Liberty University, 2015]; Gordon Goldsbury Miller, “A Baptist Theology of the Child” [ThD diss., University of South Africa, 1992]). Although not a dissertation like the aforementioned works, the compilation of essays on children and conversion, edited by Clifford Ingle focuses primarily upon the topics of baptismal age and childhood conversion. Ingle, Children and Conversion.
 Children and Conversion edited by Clifford Ingle is the closest I have found to addressing the fundamental nature believers’ children, but this work is mostly concerned with practical considerations pertaining to baptismal age and childhood conversion.
 Susan Gantt attributes the shift away from catechetical instruction to the result of other methods, revivalism, and pragmatism (Susan Denise Gantt, “Catechetical Instruction as an Educational Process for the Teaching of Doctrine to Children in Southern Baptist Churches” [The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2004], 18).
 Tom J. Nettles, Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: The Study of Catechisms in Baptist Life, Calvary Press Baptist Heritage Series (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 1998), 22. “Both Particular Baptists and General Baptists in England used catechisms to instruct children and adults” (Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms, Library of Baptist Classics [Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996], 16). Research done by Timothy George demonstrates that Baptists, from their earliest days, “published catechisms and used them as a means of imparting basic Christian instruction to new believers and passing on the faith intact to the rising generations.”
 Keach was not the first Baptist minister to publish a catechism. Henry Jessey printed A Catechism for Babes, or Little Ones in 1652. Jason Duesing argues for Henry Jessey as a Baptist pastor. See Jason G. Duesing, Henry Jessey: Puritan Chaplain, Independent and Baptist Pastor, Millenarian Politician and Prophet (Borderstone Press, 2016).
 Keach was convicted for publishing doctrines, in his 1664 children’s primer, that were contrary to the Church of England. Consequently, copies of this primer were confiscated and burned, but it is believed that Keach re-wrote this primer from memory and published it as The Child’s Instructor, but no extant copies have been found. While The Child’s Instructor is no more, Keach published two additional children’s primers, both of which are accessible today: The Child’s Delight and Instructions for Children.
 Edward C. Starr, ed. A Baptist Bibliography Being a Register of Printed Material by and About Baptists: Including Works Written against the Baptists (Rochester: American Baptist Historical Society, 1952–1976), 13:20.
 The very title of Keach’s catechism specifies that this catechism is written for parents to educate their children: Instructions for Children, or, the Child’s and Youth’s Delight. Teaching an Easy Way to Spell and Read True English. Containing the Father’s Godly Advice, Directing Parents in a Right and Spiritual Manner to Educate Their Children
 Jonathan W. Arnold, “The Reformed Theology of Benjamin Keach (1640–1704).” DPhil diss., University of Oxford, 2010, 72–3.
 Benjamin Keach, Gold Refin’d, or, Baptism in Its Primitive Purity: Proving Baptism in Water an Holy Institution of Jesus Christ, and to Continue in the Church to the End of the World (London: 1689), 121.
 For more interaction with Keach’s understanding of the responsible party for the child’s training and instruction see Johnson, “Instructor of Children,” 170–82.
 Nettles, Teaching Truth, Training Hearts, 47.
 Timothy and Denise George, ed. Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms, Nashville, TN (Broadman & Holman Publishers: 1996), 17.
 Nettles, Teaching Truth, Training Hearts, 49.
 Vaughn, “Public Worship and Practical Theology in the Work of Benjamin Keach (1640–1704),” 256.
 Riker, A Catholic Reformed Theologian, 46. Vaughn argues with Nettles’ position based upon the structure of the catechism in relation to the Second London Confession (Vaughn, “Public Worship and Practical Theology in the Work of Benjamin Keach,” 256).
 Arnold, “The Reformed Theology of Benjamin Keach,” 60.
 Walker, Benjamin Keach, 219.
 Ivimey, A History of the English Baptists, 1:533.
 Charles Williams, The Principles and Practices of the Baptists to Which Is Added a Baptist Directory (London: The Kingsgate Press, 1903), 150.
 The Baptist Catechism: Commonly Called Keach’s Catechism, or, a Brief Instruction in the Principles of the Christian Religion, Agreeable to the Confession of Faith Put Forth by Upwards of an Hundred Congregations in Great Britain, July 3, 1689, and Adopted by the Philadelphia Baptist Association, September 22, 1742. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1851.
 Nettles, Teaching Truth, Training Hearts, 48.
 Jesse L. Boyd, A History of Baptists in America: Prior to 1845 (New York, NY: The American Press, 1957), 100.
 Henry Allen Tupper, Two Centuries of the First Baptist Church of South Carolina, 1683–1883 (Baltimore: R.H. Woodward and Company, 1889), 300. Tupper records: “Dr. Furman would in his majestic, winning manner, walk down the pulpit steps and with book in hand, commence asking questions, beginning with the little ones (very small, indeed, some were, but well taught and drilled at home.) We had to memorize the whole book, for none knew which question would fall to them.”
 Richard Furman, A History of the Charleston Association of Baptist Churches in the State of South Carolina with an Appendix Containing the Principal Circular Letters to the Churches (Charleston, SC: The Press of J. Hoff, 1811): 6–11, quoted in Susan Denise Gantt, “Catechetical Instruction as an Educational Process for the Teaching of Doctrine to Children in Southern Baptist Churches” (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2004), 166.
 Gaantt “Catechetical Instruction,” 198.
 See Johnson, “Instructor of Children,” 170–82.
 In one sermon Keach exhorted parents to bring their children to sit “under the clear preaching of the gospel” (Keach, Gospel Mysteries Unveil’d, [London: L. I. Higham, 1701], 3:394).
 C. H. Spurgeon, A Puritan Catechism, with Proofs (London, 1855), Preface.
 C. H. Spurgeon, “A Promise for Us and for Our Children,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1864), 214–15.
 Halbrooks, “Children and the Church,” 181.
 James P. Boyce, A Brief Catechism (Louisville, KY: Caperton & Cates Publishers, 1878), 4.
 William Cathcart, The Baptist Encyclopaedia. A Dictionary of the Doctrines, Ordinances, Usages, Confessions of Faith, Sufferings, Labors, and Successes, and of the General History of the Baptist Denomination in All Lands: With Numerous Biographical Sketches of Distinguished American and Foreign Baptists, and a Supplement. (Philadelphia, PA: Louis H. Everts, 1883), 294.
 Cathcart, Baptist Encyclopedia, 294.
 Nettles, Teaching Truth, Training Hearts, 183.
 John M. Yeats, “In Praise of Industry: Early Nineteenth-Century Concepts of Work,” Journal of Markets & Morality, no. 1 (2011): 148. Sunday School began as an interdenominational organization. D. C. Armstrong, “‘A Clarion Call’: The Origin of the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board” (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007), 15–16.
 Halbrooks, “Children and the Church,” 181.
 Sunday School Board. The Sunday School Primer (Nashville, TN: Sunday School Board Southern Baptist Convention, 1864), 14, quoted in Gantt, “Catechetical Instruction as an Educational Process for the Teaching of Doctrine to Children in Southern Baptist Churches,” 223.
 Keach, The Marrow of True Justification, 37.
 Leon McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (B&H Publishing Group, 1990).
 C. H. Spurgeon, “A Promise for Us and for Our Children,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 10 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1864), 213.
 Edward T. Hiscox, Principles and Practices for Baptist Churches, 9th ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Classics, 1980), 257–58.
 Keach also taught children to obey their parents, to seek wisdom, and to not be like those who oppose God’s grace, but instead to seek God’s truth (Benjamin Keach, Instructions for Children, or, the Child’s and Youth’s Delight. Teaching an Easy Way to Spell and Read True English. Containing the Father’s Godly Advice, Directing Parents in a Right and Spiritual Manner to Educate Their Children [London: Printed for J. How, 1710], Lessons 2–4, 7, 15).
 See Johnson, “Instructor of Children,” 87–143.
 Why should children, who are unconverted, obey the commands of Scripture? I am not advocating that they should not obey, but on what basis should they obey these commands? On the basis that they might be converted? On the basis that they are storing up less guilt? On the basis that God will bless them in this life? On the basis that their godly living is a means of grace? This list of questions is not exhaustive, but the concern is that Baptists have not adequately handled these queries.
 George Marsden notes that social moral reform was a primary goal in nineteenth-century American Protestantism. George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006).
 Halbrooks, “Children and the Church,” 187, note 18.
 Thomas J. Sanders, “Such as These: Exploring Conversations with Southern Baptist Children About Conversion and Baptism,” Christian Education Journal 9, no. 2 (2013): 265. Sanders also records: “Leadership manuals of this period focused on laying the foundation for conversion with Beginner and Primary (ages 4–8) and active evangelism with Juniors (ages 9–12) (Coker, 1963; Proctor, 1966).”
 Arthur Flake, Building a Standard Sunday School. (Nashville, TN: The Sunday School Board of the Southern Convention), 106, quoted in Anthony L. Chute, Michael A. G. Haykin, and Nathan A. Finn, The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2015), 217.
 B. J. Cranford, “A Study of Baptist Pastors’ and Childhood Ministry Leaders’ Practices Relating to the Age of Accoutability” (Dallas Baptist University, 2016), 23.
 Cranford, “A Study,” 29. Robert Matz points out in his research that “there is little reliable research conveying the ages of baptism within Baptist churches prior to 1966” (Robert Joseph Matz, “Should Southern Baptists Baptize Their Children?, 123–24).
 Halbrooks, “Children and the Church,” 183. W. A. Criswell, who was instrumental in this shift, “believed baptism was not for children younger than nine years of age” (Cranford, “A Study of Baptist Pastors; and Childhood Ministry Leaders’ Practices Relating to the Age of Accountability,” 25).
 Proverbs 22:6.
 In his catechism for children ten years old and younger, he endorses the writings of James Janeway, who writes about a five-year-old boy, a four-year-old girl, a nine-year-old girl, and “other Children whom God called before they were ten years old” (Keach, Instructions for Children, or, the Child’s and Youth’s Delight. Teaching an Easy Way to Spell and Read True English. Containing the Father’s Godly Advice, Directing Parents in a Right and Spiritual Manner to Educate Their Children, 30–33). In an argument against infant baptism Keach concedes that God does regenerate young children who are three or four years old (Benjamin Keach, Light Broke Forth in Wales, Expelling Darkness, or, the Englishman’s Love to the Antient Britains. Being an Answer to a Book, Intituled, Children’s Baptism from Heaven, Published in the Welsh Tongue by Mr. James Owen [London: Dorman Newman, 1692], 151).
 Keach’s primary emphasis was to teach children sound biblical doctrine; however, he and those who followed in his wake do not address foundational questions related to teaching sound doctrine to children. For instance, do parents/pastors teach sound doctrine as a means of preparation, as a means of godly living prior to conversion, or as a means of grace?
 See Johnson, “Instructor of Children,” 87–182.
 Mark Dever observes the baptismal age of several noteworthy Baptist ministers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and notes a delay in the age of baptism, which was typical among early Baptists. Men such as John Gill and Samuel Medley were brought up in Baptist homes and were both baptized after the age of eighteen. Charles Spurgeon baptized both of his sons when they were eighteen, and E. Y. Mullins, the son of a Baptist minister, was baptized at age twenty (Dever, The Church, 153, note 6). Mike Gilbart Smith notes that Baptists have historically waited until young people have some sort of independence, such as a job, before being baptized (Mike Gilbart–Smith, “‘Let the Little Children Come to Me…’ But Should We Baptise Them? Why Believers’ Baptism Should Usually Be Adult Baptism,” Foundations: An International Journal of Evangelical Theology, no. 63 : 100–101).
 This question is being asked by Southern Baptists, but there is no consensus. See Matz, “Should Southern Baptists Baptize Their Children?” Matz’s research points to the issue of cognitive and volitional abilities of children. He poses the following questions: “Can a child understand the gospel message and respond to it? Is there a specific age at which children are first able to comprehend this message? Is it appropriate to share the gospel with children?”
 Armstrong, “A Clarion Call,” 35.
 Boyce, A Brief Catechism, 4.
 Gantt, “Catechetical Instruction as an Educational Process for the Teaching of Doctrine to Children in Southern Baptist Churches,” 191.
 Anne M. Boylan, Sunday School: The Formation of an American Institution, 1790–1880 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988), 160.
 Boylan, Sunday School, 160.
 Gantt, “Catechetical Instruction as an Educational Process for the Teaching of Doctrine to Children in Southern Baptist Churches,” 237. For a brief history of the minister of children up to the end of the twentieth century, see Kathryn Chapman, “The Minister to Children in Southern Baptist Life,” BHH 25, no. 4 (October 1990).
 Keach, Gold Refin’d, 121.
 For instance, Keach does not adequately address or define the church’s responsibility to the children of believers, whether in the context of the church body as a whole or in the context of pastoral responsibility, such as the pastor’s pulpit obligations toward unbelieving children, his duty to examine the spiritual condition of their hearts, or his responsibility to provide them with counsel, direction, correction, or rebuke when necessary. It must be stated that Keach addresses children in a series of sermons; however, he does not delineate or define the pastor’s pulpit responsibility to the children in attendance. His practice, however, alludes to some sort of responsibility for these children but he does not clearly articulate this responsibility.
 Voddie Baucham recognizes the dangers of the shift in religious training responsibilities in his introduction to Family Driven Faith as he writes: “Our children are falling away because we are asking the church to do what God designed the family to accomplish. Discipleship and multigenerational faithfulness begins and ends at home. At best the church is to play a supporting role as it equips the saints for the work of ministry.” While the majority of twenty-first-century Baptists wrestling with the question of the church’s responsibility to children will not go as far as Baucham suggests, his analysis shines light on the gravity of this issue as the church has replaced parents as the primary instructor of children (Voddie Baucham Jr., Family Driven Faith [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007], 9).
 It is worth nothing that the way society viewed children changed due to the increase in child labor during the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries, which led children to spend much of their time working rather than being educated. Jane Humphries, “Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution,” The Economic History Review, no. 2 (2013): 400.
 Several passages in Scripture indicate that parents are primarily responsible for training up their children (Gen 18:19; Deut 4:9–10; 6:1–7; 11:19; Josh 24:15; Eph 6:1–4). However, there are implications that can be drawn from Matthew 28:19–20 to suggest the broader responsibility of the church to make disciples of all nations, which includes the children of believers within the church’s midst.
 At this point in my research, I have found nothing to suggest that fundamental questions related to the child were addressed as these shifts in children’s instruction took place. Rather, these shifts in children’s instruction were results of the cultural factors of the day (e.g. child labor, excess drunkenness, etc.,) and without a foundational Baptist theology of the child, children’s instruction will be tossed to and fro with every new method and philosophy of the day.
Alan Conner, Covenant Children Today (Owensboro, KY: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2007), 12.
 Penny Long Marler and C. Kirk Hadaway, “Back to the Future: Why the Sunday School Is Key to Denominational Identity and Growth,” Review & Expositor 111, no. 1 (2014): 27–29.
 John S. Hammett, “Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership,” Faith and Mission 22, no. 3 (2005): 138. Hammett writes in his book review: “As the number of Baptist churches adopting a plural eldership has grown in recent years, so have the number of books discussing the issues surrounding church polity.” Chute, Haykin, and Finn, 312. “While some Baptist churches have had multiple elders off and on since the seventeenth century, this approach had never been widespread. Even in churches large enough to employ multiple staff members, often the ‘senior pastor’ was the only minister considered to be an elder. That began to change in the 1990s.”
 The role of Children’s Minister in Baptist churches in America is not always filled by one of the pastors/elders in the church. The reemergence of a plurality of pastors/elders in Baptist churches may lead to pastoral oversight of the children’s ministry, rather than a non-pastor “Children’s Minister.”
 Founders Press published three catechisms in the twenty-first century: A Catechism for Boys and Girls and “baptized” versions of both the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism.
 John Piper, “A Baptist Catechism,” DesiringGod, accessed April, 2018. https://cdn.desiringgod.org/pdf/blog/A_Baptist_Catechism-new.pdf.
 It would be unfair to assume that Baptists intentionally left questions unanswered regarding the children of church members. The Baptist tradition has not existed in a context that lent itself to a thoroughly developed theology of children. Early Baptists were consumed with the question of identity, namely the identity of the church; since Baptists rejected the practice of infant baptism they had to define who belonged to the church. Therefore, early Baptists spent considerable time articulating and defending regenerate church membership and believer’s baptism. In fact, these beliefs still receive considerable attention today. In addition to establishing and defending Baptist identity, Baptists have also been involved in a great number of controversies that have taken much time and attention away from the discussion of the theology of children. Some controversies in which Baptists have been involved include soteriology, missions-sending organizations, the use of confessions, slavery, Baptist church successionism, and biblical authority.