The young couple stood before our congregation that Sunday morning holding a tiny baby recently adopted into their family. They had come to have the sign of water baptism applied to him, the sign of their faith in God’s promise that their son will be adopted into the family of God.
But in addition to the baptism, another adoption took place that day, during that very service. After asking the couple to publicly acknowledge their son’s need of the cleansing blood of Christ, to claim God’s promises on his behalf, and to dedicate their child unreservedly to God, the pastor turned to those of us in the congregation and asked, “Do you as a congregation undertake the responsibility of assisting these parents in the Christian nurture of this child?” In response, we solemnly but joyfully raised our hands to take on that responsibility. With that, the couple’s tiny child became, in a very real sense, ours.
Now what? Simply put, the same responsibility that resides with the parents now resides with all of us who took that vow — we must raise him in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Yes, the child’s mother and father will see to his immediate physical needs, though we need to be there to help feed him, rock him, or change his diaper if the parents are providentially hindered from doing so. And yes, those parents are the point people for the child’s spiritual upbringing, but those of us who took that vow that day have committed ourselves to unite around that family to help in raising that child, and especially in nurturing him spiritually.
What does that look like? In spiritual terms, it looks very much like parenting one’s own covenant children. We need to be doing the same things those parents committed themselves to do.
The couple vowed that morning to set before their son a godly example. We who were in the congregation that day should do the same. He ought to grow up witnessing a body of believers gathering joyfully each Lord’s Day to worship the one, true God, praying, singing, and receiving the Word preached along with the sacraments. He needs to be exposed to people who use their spiritual gifts in sacrificial service to the body — devoted nursery workers and Sunday school teachers, deacons with hearts for orphans and widows, and committed elders who pray and teach. And he must see us beyond the sanctuary walls, living out our faith as neighbors and community members. In short, he needs to see the Christian faith practiced in as many lives as possible. We understand that we live coram Deo, before the face of God. We also ought to consciously live as though little eyes were watching — as they often are.
That mother and father also vowed to pray with and for their child. Those of us who make up his church family must do the same. His name should be on our hearts and his picture on our refrigerator doors, that we might be reminded of him in the midst of daily life and lift him up to the throne. Moreover, we ought to have a list of every covenant child in the church, that we might pray through it regularly. Of course, we must keep in touch with the parents, that we might know the child’s needs so as to pray for him intelligently. And we ought to seize opportunities, during interactions with him, to pray with him about his needs and others’ needs that he recognizes.
Furthermore, the couple promised that they would teach their son the doctrines of the Christian faith. One major aspect of this responsibility involves teaching the child to read and study the Scriptures. Some of us will have opportunities to assist the parents with this duty in formal ways — in Sunday school, in a home school co-op, or even in Christian or public school settings. But we need to use every chance, formal and informal, during ordinary interactions with the growing child to make eternal applications — just as we do with our own children. As Moses wrote, this kind of instruction needs to happen “‘when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise’” (Deut. 6:7b). Why should we limit this calling to our own children?
Finally, the young man and woman who stood before our church that day vowed that they would “strive, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring (him) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” A committed father and mother will use every chance to teach and encourage a child in the faith, and we “adoptive parents” must do the same. This must be a major priority for us, for we are called to “strive” at it. Every opportunity God presents must be seized. Nurture and admonition must be employed. In short, the child needs to be saturated in the Gospel.
All this calls for a level of involvement with one another in the local church that most of us rarely experience or even desire. Our interaction with most other families in our churches is superficial at best. We must intentionally resist this. Introduce yourself to other parents and to their children. That you might get to know them better, invite them into your home, having prepared it beforehand to welcome adults and little ones alike. Befriend the families of your children’s friends from Sunday school. Look for ways to minister to the youngsters of your church. Interact with them and learn their needs. Press the Gospel into their lives. See yourself as their foster parent, sharing the same responsibility as their true mothers and fathers.
In truth, this kind of familial care should mark every relationship in the local church. We are called, after all, to “encourage [an older man] as you would a father” and to “treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, [and] younger women like sisters” (1 Tim. 5:1–2). We would certainly look after an aged parent or a beloved brother or sister, and the Scriptures call us to do no less for those who are also part of our churches. The Bible means what it says when it repeatedly uses family imagery in reference to the body of believers.
Admittedly, beginning to love the children and others in our churches in a biblical way will require us to step out of our comfort zones forever. But it’s not optional. We have adopted, and have been adopted by, one another. It’s important that we act like it.