Christian Parenting Is Evangelistic


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A while back, an Australian friend who is a Baptist posted the following on his social media page to invite others to offer responses.

I often see Presbyterians claim that consistent Baptists should not treat their children as part of the church and therefore should not involve them in Christian ceremonies and should not teach them to pray and sing God’s praises until they repent, believe, and are baptized.

I’ve never seen a Baptist engage with this argument. I’m interested to hear your thoughts and to be pointed to what Baptists have replied to this.

So, now is the time to offer my response to the query. I do not speak for all other Baptists. I claim to speak for no one other than myself while I seek to persuade others to embrace what I express. What I convey are my ponderings that reflect my own (1) leadership in the parenting of our two sons, (2) ministering as a pastor and teacher, and (3) writing biblical and theological materials throughout an academic and ministerial career.

Understandably some, perhaps many who endeavor to answer my friend’s question, might easily default to becoming entangled in focusing on how differently Presbyterians and Baptists understand and practice Christian baptism. In my judgment, these differences are ultimately negligible given the Bible’s directives for Christian parenting which my Presbyterian friends endeavor to practice. Hence, my addressing of the question will not linger on the issue of baptism. Instead, my focus will be on Scripture’s admonitions for rearing godly children following some brief comments concerning paedobaptism and believers’ baptism where my greater concern is with Baptists who tend to render baptism rather insignificant.

In Childrearing, Whether Presbyterian or Baptist Is Irrelevant

Concerning baptism, briefly stated, Presbyterians warrantably observe that Baptists tend to delay beyond childhood the baptism of their children. As a Baptist, I have long objected to how Baptists tend to postpone the administration of our Lord’s sacrament for all Christian converts, including their children, by erecting various unreasonable impediments neither expressly nor implicitly warranted by the New Testament. Baptists counter that Presbyterians unwarrantedly administer the sacrament upon infants in response to the Christian faith of the parents rather than the faith of the one who is baptized. Anyone who may be interested to learn how significant baptism is in my understanding of our Christian faith may access these resources: (1) Christian Baptism Displaces Circumcision; (2) Christian Baptism Gives Access to the Lord’s Table; and (3) What is Baptism?

Now, it may be true that some Presbyterians—ministers and parents—presume the election of their children and on that basis baptize their infants. As Greg Welty contends against paedobaptism, in “A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism,” he argues:

Unless we are willing to presume election for our covenant children (a presumption without Scriptural warrant, and fraught with practical dangers for the child’s Christian nurture), then we must baptize only those who actually give evidence of being elect, of receiving the promise (i. e. a credible profession of faith). This is precisely what happened after Peter’s sermon, for it was only “those who accepted his message” who were baptized (Acts 2:41)!

Two responses are worth noting. First, for Baptists, a quest for certainty of election is misguided. Christians are obliged to follow the teaching and practice of Christ’s apostles. For them, an unbaptized Christian was an incongruity, an unthinkable category. The apostles administered baptism as promptly as possible after individuals confessed faith in Christ Jesus (e.g., Acts 2:37–41). Thus, delaying baptism, even for confessing children, until candidates exhibit “evidence of election” finds no endorsement from the New Testament. Fear of baptizing individuals who may lapse did not prevent the apostles and their evangelist associates from administering the Christian rite (cf. Acts 8:13, Simon Magus). Second, for Presbyterians, presumption holds no proper role for Christ’s people. Though some Presbyterians may baptize infants on the presumption of God’s election (which may induce laxity when rearing children), it is improper for Baptists to impute such presumption to all as Welty seems to do. Fair readers acknowledge that the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 28, Of Baptism) does not ground the baptism of infants in a presumed election but in the Confession’s theological construct of God’s historical covenants under the rubric, “Covenant of Grace.” Because Presbyterians conceive of a supra-historical “Covenant of Grace” as consisting of the post-Eden covenants, they find a tight correlation between circumcision and Christian baptism. Thus, as males born into the Israelites’ families received circumcision as infants, Presbyterians call for male and female infants born to believing parents to receive baptism based on the belief that it unites them as members of the “Covenant of Grace.”

If one disagrees with this “Covenant of Grace” theological construct, as I do, one’s disagreement must be biblically warranted and generously equitable. As a Baptist, I conceive of God’s covenant relationship with his people in Christ not in terms of a supra-historical “Covenant of Grace” but in terms of the historically climactic “New Covenant” promised by Israel’s prophets (e.g., Jer. 31:31–34; Heb. 8:8–13). Despite this difference, Presbyterians, whom I have come to know well, rear their children much in the same way as my wife and I reared our children.

Christian Parenting Is Evangelistic

Our mission as Christian parents, whether Presbyterians or Baptists, is to proclaim the gospel to our children in hope that the Lord will bring them into a saving covenantal relationship with him as we guide, instruct, lead by example, and discipline them, all saturated with prayer. Christian parents are to encompass their children with the gospel. What does this look like? Here, I offer a portrayal of what my wife and I did as Baptists to rear our sons in the fear of the Lord.

Long before the birth of our first son, we prepared for how we would discipline our children. We committed ourselves to the mission of God’s call upon us, that if he blessed our union with children, we would rear them to fear and obey the Lord. We understood that our holy calling began before the birth of our first child. Ours was to be a home where the gospel of our Lord must be spoken, heard, and obeyed in every aspect and consistently so. We understood that our covenanted union was to portray God’s traits—his love, his displeasure, his mercy, his requirement of confession, his forgiveness—as we cherished, warned, disciplined, hugged and kissed with compassion, and remitted confessed sins. Our principal mission was to rear children to become obedient to the gospel of our Lord, to become covenant children in Christ Jesus. Our prayer-saturated mission was that they might become godly adults who would duplicate all they experienced and witnessed in our home with their own families, disciplining their children in the way of the gospel to become members of God’s covenant.

Thus, we studied the commands and directives of the Scriptures. We prayed. We discussed. We discussed how our parents reared us. We observed how others reared their children, poorly or well. We read books written by wise guides, old and recent. We read the first edition of Bruce Ray’s Withhold Not Correction and recommended it to others. We were committed to standing together, reinforcing one another, never subverting one another in how we disciplined our children, and never allowing our children to play us against one another. We fully agreed that we would commend our children for their obedience and that we would punish our children for sinful attitudes and behavior. This included spankings when warranted, which, as they matured were rare. The last one was probably when each of our sons was about five years old. Truly, they were obedient boys whose teenage years were never sullied with rebellion.

So, the discipline of our first son began when he was born. When I use the word “discipline,” I do not principally have punishment in mind. Discipline entails training, shaping, correcting, and molding behavior and character. Our aim was nothing less than the Lord’s conforming our children into the image of Christ Jesus. Briefly stated, our mission was evangelistic, to see our children birthed unto eternal life.

It became evident when our first son’s crying crossed over from innocent dependence to disobedient anger. Though we had already determined that we would spank our children’s derrieres, we had also committed not to use our hands lest we wrongly teach our children to dread our hands. We reserved our hands for hugs and caresses to follow the infliction of a measure of disciplinary pain whether a scolding or a spanking. So, it was time for me to craft a wooden paddle that would become the proper symbol of punishment.

At the time, because I was in an unpaid ministerial internship, I worked as a cabinetmaker. From some scrap lumber, I formed a paddle after hours. I used a borrowed woodburning set to inscribe on the paddle two verses from the Book of Proverbs, one on each side.

One side of the paddle featured a verse directed to my wife or me, whoever administered the punishment:

“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (Prov. 13:34).

The other side of the paddle reminded our children why we administered spankings that inflicted a measure of pain to their posteriors:

“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death” (Prov. 23:13–14).

Of course, governing all is this: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4–5).

Every use of the paddle on our two sons was both: (1) a lesson concerning God and his holy character, and (2) an evangelistic ministration of the gospel’s call. So, when the paddle needed to be used, first, for a brief theological lesson, we rehearsed the message of Proverbs 13:34—“If I fail to punish you for your disobedience, I am showing you that I hate you. But I do not hate you. I love you. Therefore, I punish you when you disobey Mother or me. To disobey your parents is to disobey the Lord God.” Then, to administer the call of the gospel, we flipped the paddle to the other side to recite Proverbs 23:13–14—“It pained me when my father punished me for disobeying him, and it brings me no pleasure to inflict punishment on you for your disobedience. But this is what God has commanded us as parents to do. This paddle will hurt your backside, but it will not kill you. Rather, it is for your good. Why do I punish you with this paddle? I inflict minor pain upon you now for your disobedience so that the Lord God will not inflict eternal anguish upon you in the Last Day. Unpunished disobedience now will result in eternal death.”

Our parental punishment sessions followed four procedural steps: (1) a call for confession of sin with the expectation of repentance; (2) administration of forgiveness; (3) the proper, measured use of the paddle; and (4) an embrace with kisses and the wiping away of tears, not uncommonly ours.


We are eternally grateful to the Lord that he blessed the rearing of our two sons in the way of the gospel. They both manifestly became covenant children, not pressured by parents to recite a prescribed prayer as in so many Baptist homes. Instead, they became covenant children by growing up in a home where parents daily portrayed, presented, and lived the good news as it is in Jesus. Thus, together, on their own accord, before they became teenagers, they asked, “When can we receive the bread and cup from the Lord’s Table?” My answer was simply, “Once you receive baptism.” Together, they pursued the covenant symbol, baptism. They wrote their testimonies of God’s grace without parental help. Very near the top of all my proud moments as a father was watching them be baptized by Pastor Greg Waybright. They were baptized at the same time as three or four adults. Fatherly pride does not exaggerate the truth of the matter when I say that their testimonies clearly stood out in every regard, especially concerning their recounting of the gospel of our Lord’s grace and their trust in Jesus Christ.

Some years before our first son was born it became clear to my wife and me that God ministers his grace to us through means. Whether one is a Presbyterian or a Baptist, there is no proper role for presuming the election of children God gives to Christian parents. Rearing children in the gospel must follow the same order as all proper evangelistic preaching. True as it is that apart from God’s electing us, we would never trust him to receive his gift of salvation, knowledge and assurance of his choosing us to receive eternal life becomes ours only through believing in God’s good news as it is in Jesus. Thus, from birth and ever after, children born into Christian homes need daily to hear the gospel and the gospel’s call. Only by adhering to this mission can Christian parents receive assurance concerning this truth: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).[1]

1. Lamentably, some Christian parents who have heeded God’s instructions concerning the rearing of children grieve in anguish over children who eventually depart from the way of the Lord, many never returning even though they received covenant baptism. Our hearts rightly grieve with those parents.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Dr. Caneday’s personal website. It is reposted here with permission.



  • Ardel Caneday

    Ardel Caneday continues as an adjunct faculty member at University of Northwestern after recently retiring from his role as Professor of New Testament & Greek. Ardel completed the MDiv and ThM at Grace Theological Seminary and the PhD in New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is a founding teaching elder of Christ Bible Church (Roseville, MN). He co-edited with Matthew Barrett Four Views on the Historical Adam, co-authored with Thomas R. Schreiner The Race Set Before Us, and has published many articles in Christian magazines, journals, books, and online.

Ardel Caneday

Ardel Caneday

Ardel Caneday continues as an adjunct faculty member at University of Northwestern after recently retiring from his role as Professor of New Testament & Greek. Ardel completed the MDiv and ThM at Grace Theological Seminary and the PhD in New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is a founding teaching elder of Christ Bible Church (Roseville, MN). He co-edited with Matthew Barrett Four Views on the Historical Adam, co-authored with Thomas R. Schreiner The Race Set Before Us, and has published many articles in Christian magazines, journals, books, and online.