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Making Children Disciples


"Making Children Disciples"

January 25, 2014


When Jesus said, "Follow Me" (a phrase that occurs 17 times in the Gospels), it was for the purpose of making them disciples. A similar phrase, "Come unto Me" (6 occurrences), has the same purpose, for one comes to Jesus to follow Him. One may come initially in response to the mysterious drawing of His Spirit, may be merely curious, and want simply to observe or inquire with no intent to follow. But as the contact occurs, the drawing and coming will lead to following if there is no resistance. Jesus is that charming! We were designed for that, and He has preserved in each the ability to sense His drawing, and agree with it. The Bible calls that faith.

It is in the coming and the following that the discipling occurs.1  One of the best known uses of "Come..." promises a gift--"I will give you...." And my coming and His giving leads to another dual invitation--"Take ... and learn...." That must be the essence of discipling--the ongoing coming, giving, taking, and learning. The resultant promise is redundant--"I will give you rest" and "you shall find rest." (Matthew 11:28-30).

Perhaps the most engaging picture of rest is that of a child asleep. Just go to images.google.com, enter "sleeping children" and be calmed with what innocent rest looks like. Visit Nathan Greene's art site (www.nathangreene.com), find the Family Collection, and again be charmed by Jesus and children at rest. Could discipling include, and perhaps begin, with rest? Eve began with Adam at rest. And we could say that Adam and Eve's walk with God began with rest that first Sabbath day, their first full day with Him. It does appear that the first man and woman--God's first human children--were discipled by God Himself, flowing from His creative acts.

Children at rest, secure in the care of those who enjoy being with them, and who have their best in heart and mind, is a good place to begin considering the theme of "Making Children Disciples." If we adults as God's children have entered into His rest--His finished work of creation and redemption; if we have exchanged our yokes which are neither easy nor light for His which is both; if we are His disciples, then we can lead the children into the joy of being His disciples also. We must see that we cannot give the children what we have not ourselves received. It is from the abundance of God's heart that He has given all we need to be effective teachers of the children.

Receiving "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8) poured out upon the human race in the gospel, will impart to us the value God places upon us, that we can then place on all humans, especially children. We will see them through the eye of faith--God's faith.

"Christ, the heavenly merchantman seeking goodly pearls, saw in lost humanity the pearl of price. In man, defiled and ruined by sin, He saw the possibilities of redemption. Hearts that have been the battleground of the conflict with Satan, and that have been rescued by the power of love, are more precious to the Redeemer than are those who have never fallen. God looked upon humanity, not as vile and worthless; He looked upon it in Christ, saw it as it might become through redeeming love. He collected all the riches of the universe, and laid them down in order to buy the pearl. And Jesus, having found it, resets it in His own diadem." (Ellen White, Christ's Object Lessons, p. 118).

The divine view of sinful humanity provides us the grace we need in mentoring the little ones. And the incarnation of divinity "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3) gives us much instruction too, on what children need from the Savior. Consider first what the Father chose for His Son during His human childhood. How valuable were those quiet, growing years! They were not quiet through idleness and boredom, but through the simplicity of God's rhythm of life--the joy of selfless service alternating with the rest of togetherness, permeated with the spirit of devotion that was nurtured by the oracles of God (Romans 3:1, 2) and the natural world. (See The Desire of Ages, p. 74.) The picture is compellingly simple, and astoundingly profound.

"The child Jesus did not receive instruction in the synagogue schools. His mother was His first human teacher. From her lips and from the scrolls of the prophets, He learned of heavenly things. The very words which He Himself had spoken to Moses for Israel He was now taught at His mother's knee...."  (Ibid. p. 70).

A. T. Jones in his vital book The Place of the Bible in Education, makes the same point with a graphic story to illustrate.

"The Bible should be the first thing in every line of study, for the reason that is expressed in a saying familiar to all: First impressions are most lasting. For this reason the Bible should be the source of the first instruction that the child receives in the world; and, as everybody is a child in the beginning of every line of study, the Bible should be the first of all things in all studies....

"A notable instance of this is William Ewart Gladstone, the great English statesman, who died in 1898. He died a very old man. As his life was fading out indeed, it was noticed that he was saying over and over again the Lord's prayer in French. That excited some query: as he was an Englishman, why should he be saying the Lord's prayer in French? Inquiries were made, and it was learned that when he was a little child, he was in charge of a French nurse, and that that French nurse was a Christian, and had taught him the Lord's prayer in her native language. And as that happened to be the first thing that was fixed upon his mind, it was the last thing that was dwelt upon by his mind as it faded out in death.

"Now, if that nurse had not been a Christian, and had taught that child, 'Hi, diddle, diddle, the cat's in the fiddle,' it would have worked precisely the same way, and that would have been the last thing that he would have spoken on his death-bed. If she had taught him Esop's fables or fairy tales instead of the Lord's prayer, these would have been the last things that he would have murmured as his mind faded away."  (A. T. Jones, The Place of the Bible in Education, pp. 69, 70)

It must be significant that half of the "Come unto Me" phrases in the Gospels are in reference to allowing the "little children" to do so! Jesus' heart was open to their openness. His simplicity found fellowship in their simplicity. His invitation we considered of "Come ... and learn" described the curriculum--"I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29). In teaching children to be disciples of Jesus, could we also be in school to learn the childlike traits of Jesus Himself from them? (See Ibid. p. 21.)

The lessons from our history are simple and consistent. Repeatedly in her letters to individuals regarding the Minneapolis message, Ellen White called for the simplicity that a child demonstrates. Indeed "a little child shall lead them" (Isaiah 11:6)--not just the lower creatures, but the "adult" humans who need lessons in meekness and lowliness. Recall this confession of hers at Minneapolis:

"I would have humility of mind, and be willing to be instructed as a child. The Lord has been pleased to give me great light, yet I know that He leads other minds, and opens to them the mysteries of His Word, and I want to receive every ray of light that God shall send me, though it should come through the humblest of His servants."  (Ellen White, 1888 Materials, p. 163).

This standard was repeated in case after case struggling with the message, and in need of this discipling. Read in the sources the details of the refrain noted here--

G. I. Butler (sick in Battle Creek)--"as a little child"  (Ibid., p. 97)
Ministers at Minneapolis--"of a little child" (Ibid., p. 141)
R. A. Underwood--"as a little child" (Ibid., pp. 234, 247)
Madison and Howard Miller--"of a little child" (Ibid., pp. 390, 394, 400)
Matthew Larson--"as a little child"  (Ibid., p. 585)
Uriah Smith--"of a little child"  (Ibid., pp. 795, 1044, 1045)
J. H. Morrison--"as a little child"  (Ibid., p. 1085)
I. D. Van Horn--"as a little child"  (Ibid., p. 1139)
John H. Kellogg--"as a little child"  (Ibid., p. 1160)
Frank E. Belden--"as a little child" (Ibid., p. 1190)
A. R. Henry--"as a little child"  (Ibid., p. 1654)

We all need to "come ... and learn." Then we can teach and disciple the little ones.

"The sinner must ever look toward Calvary; and with the simple faith of a little child, he must rest in the merits of Christ, accepting his righteousness and believing in his mercy. Laborers in the cause of truth should present the righteousness of Christ, not as new light, but as precious light that has for a time been lost sight of by the people. We are to accept Christ as our personal Saviour, and he imputes unto us the righteousness of God in Christ. Let us repeat and make prominent the truth that John has portrayed: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."  (Ibid., p. 1225.2, in an article "Christ the Center of the Message")
-Fred Bischoff

1. The noun "disciple" is at times used as a verb also. We see verb forms being used, as we will here employ. "Making Children Disciples" can thus be rendered "Discipling Children."