The Great Commission and Having Babies
“Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.” (Malachi 2:15, ESV; emphasis added)
“For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:39, ESV; emphasis added)
In Scripture there are two ways that God grows His church: (1) Through conversion growth, as the gospel is proclaimed to those outside the covenant community of the church and as the Holy Spirit through the gospel calls those former outsiders to faith in Christ, and thus into the fellowship of Christ’s church; and (2) Through covenantal growth, as the children of professing believers are baptized, catechized in the faith by their parents and their church, and as they in due time come to publicly profess their faith in Christ and become full communicant* members of the church, thereby personally and publicly embracing the Christian Faith in which they were raised.
The church of Jesus Christ in America and in Europe is largely failing to do either. As a result, the church in America and Europe will likely be facing a demographic crisis in the next generation or two — a crisis in which many churches and denominations will likely be closing their doors permanently, unless God in His sovereignty does something amazing to renew and revitalize His church.
“But what about all of those mega-churches with huge memberships which dot the American landscape?” The honest truth be told, many (not all!) such trendy, contemporary churches are in reality religious recreation centers which thrive by chasing white middle-class money and by stealing sheep from (and thus sucking the life out of) more traditional churches which lack the immense financial resources and the celebrity personalities of the megachurches. (As the pastor of a smaller church I state this, not out of bitterness or envy — though I admit I must guard against these; but simply as an observation of the objective facts as I understand them.)
In other words, it would seem that much of the “growth” found in the mega-churches produced by the church-growth movement is transfer growth, not conversion growth. In the short-term these churches appear to be thriving, but in the long-term one suspects that many of these mega-churches will go the way of the Crystal Cathedral, a once-thriving megachurch built by TV preacher personality Robert Shuller, which ended up folding not too long after Shuller’s death.
The point of all of this is that, realistically-speaking, the presence of large “mega-churches” in America is not really evidence that the church is doing a great job in its evangelistic calling of preaching the gospel to outsiders, and thus of building the church through conversion growth. Instead, it would seem that in many cases such mega-churches draw from the remaining pool of professing Christians in society by attracting them through the latest programs designed for every demographic niche and through promises of an even-greater mystical experience of God.
“What, then, should we do about this, pastor?”
Certainly the church needs to redouble its efforts and emphasis on missions and evangelism, by seeking to take the pure biblical gospel to the unreached, the misled, and the spiritually-underfed. Certainly we should continue to strive to reach those who are presently strangers to the historic, biblical Christian Faith that we profess. So let us continue to support the missionary and evangelistic efforts of Christ’s church through our prayers and financial gifts, and let us seek to do our part in confessing Christ before others that they might come to know Him as their Savior. Certainly let us continue to seek the building of Christ’s church through conversion growth.
But since one of the other major ways that God builds His church is through covenantal growth, here’s a thought: Let fertile Christian married couples of child-bearing age consider having more babies! Lots of babies! (The Muslims are doing it, so much so that I have heard some predictions that the continent of Europe will have a majority Muslim population within a generation, surpassing the nonreligious and the Christians in Europe who are generally reproducing at a much lower rate.)
In our present context there are many cultural and ideological obstacles to conversion growth in the church. There appears to be ever-increasing hostility in our culture to the claims of Christ and the biblical gospel, and thus toward any form of historic, non-revisionist Christianity. Historic Christianity has fallen on hard times, and the biblical gospel often falls upon hardened, unreceptive hearts. This does not mean that we give up seeking the conversion of the lost. God will continue to preserve a faithful church in this present age, and He will continue to call His elect out of this present darkness, in part through conversion growth as the gospel is faithfully proclaimed to those outside the faith. But it does mean that we can expect additional difficulties and obstacles when it comes to proclaiming the gospel to an increasingly-hostile culture.
However, God in His Word has also promised us that He will continue to administer His everlasting covenant of grace in the line of successive generations (Genesis 17:17; Acts 2:39). In fact, if you study the Scriptures as a whole you will find that covenantal growth is the ordinary, normative and primary means that God employs in redemptive history to build His visible church; whereas conversion growth is a secondary, supplemental means of such church growth.
Truth be told, one of the main reasons why churches in America and Europe are dwindling in membership and in danger of dying within a generation or two is because Christian married couples are not having and raising enough Christian children to replace believers lost to the church through death.
If you are a Christian married couple who is looking to do your part to fulfill the great commission, here’s one suggestion: Seek to have lots of children. Get those children baptized into the faith. Catechize and raise them in the faith and fellowship of Christ’s church, bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Disciple them, teaching them to observe everything that Christ has commanded.
If you are a Christian young person of marriagable age, here’s some counsel: Don’t unduly delay marriage, as many of your peers are doing. Sure, it’s certainly a wise and good idea to wait to get married until you either have completed college or (if you choose not to go to college) until you have a full-time job that can realistically support a family. Marrying before you are sufficiently mature and stable for such a serious life-commitment can have devastating effects. But, on the other hand, too many today are choosing to delay marriage even into their 30s and beyond (and thus beyond prime child-bearing years), and often this choice is frankly the result of putting career before family. From a biblical perspective this is both foolish and dangerous, as unduly delaying marriage can expose you to greater temptation to sexual immorality, and also as God’s Word clearly puts marriage and family-life before career.
God loves marriage, God loves families, and God loves babies! Family life is not only one of God’s greatest earthly blessings; it is also one of the primary vocations/callings to which God calls His people! So unless God has given you the gift of singleness, or unless there are providential circumstances in your life that make marriage and child-bearing an unlikely option for you, if you are of marriagable age may I suggest that you would do well to consider pro-actively seeking a faithful, believing spouse and starting a family with a view toward having and raising lots of covenant children for Christ and His church.** In doing so you will contribute significantly toward the long-term fulfillment of Christ’s great commission to make disciples of all the nations (Mathew 28:18-20), and you will help to build up Christ’s visible church for generations yet to come!
Over at “Worldview Everlasting” confessional Lutheran pastor Rev. Jonathan Fisk offers an interesting (and somewhat confrontational!) perspective on this matter in his video entitled “Hating Children on Principle”: http://www.worldvieweverlasting.com/2016/06/24/fix-hating-children-principle/
*A “communicant” member of the church is a member who is permitted to take holy communion or “the Lord’s Supper.” In the OPC we distinguish between “noncommunicant” members, who are baptized covenant children who have not yet publicly professed their faith, and “communicant” members, who are members who have publicly professed their faith and are thus admitted to holy communion.
**Let the reader understand that none of these comments are intended to denigrate the value and importance of singles in the life of Christ’s church. Jesus Himself was single, as was the Apostle Paul. Many of the church’s greatest missionaries pursued a vocation of singleness. The believer who chooses to live in singleness and chastity in order to better serve Christ’s kingdom chooses an honorable state of life. Singles are equally valuable members of the family of God, the church, and they should be treated as such. But since the burden of this blog article is focused on the subject of the relationship between the great commission and having babies I am obviously emphasizing the importance of marriage and family life.