Who Was Added to
The Church in Acts?
A Series by Dennis Gunderson – Conclusion of 8 Parts
A careful study of the book of Acts concerning who was "added" to the church (Acts 2:47) reveals a striking absence: the terms used make no reference to small children being added to the churches! This does not necessarily mean no children were converted; but it is an important silence, and should not be taken as entirely without significance. There is simply no record in the New Testament of professions of faith or baptisms of children. There are no instances in Acts where a child is called a "disciple" or a "believer."
Even in cases where large numbers came into the church, only the Greek terms for adult men and adult women are used. See Acts 5:14; 8:3,12; 9:2; 22:4. In all five places where the book of Acts tells us of multitudes converted, the only terms used are the words for men (aner, "adult males") and women (gune, "adult females"). Not a word is found about children being counted among those converted. Nor are any Greek terms for children found when it speaks of the membership of the church or who was baptized. Even the passages that mention household baptism (Acts 16:15; 16:31-34), while they could include children, still they do not explicitly say that there were children included. This silence is surprising.
If you suggest that this is because the New Testament does not mention children much at all, that they are in the background and were unimportant to that culture (so that even had they been saved it probably would have gone unmentioned), the premise of your theory is incorrect. Children are widely mentioned in the New Testament: there are twenty-two references to small children found in the historical books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts), but none speaks of them as being disciples.
What does this suggest? It would be a mistake to believe this means we should never be willing to regard any child as a disciple. That would be an imbalanced position to conclude upon. But we must also take this historical point seriously. The book of Acts is an account of what the church did in a time when the Spirit of God was mightily at work. Like other historical books of Scripture, it does not hesitate to tell us where the church went right and where it went wrong. So when we do not find scriptural commentary to the contrary, we have good reason to believe that what Acts says the churches were doing is a good model of what to aim for in our own church life.
Taking notice of this should, at the least, affect our expectations about childhood conversions. Can we safely call what is taking place in our churches the work of the Spirit of God if our experience is drastically different from that of the early church when we know that God was working in a direct and mighty way? Should not our experience bear at least some similarity to what happened in the church as the Bible has faithfully recorded?
I suggest that today’s common practice of baptizing children does not match the biblical testimony of the work of the Holy Spirit in those times. For those were days of revival, times when God was doing a great work, saving vast numbers of all sorts of people, sometimes thousands in a day! If even in this great revival time there is no specific mention of children becoming disciples, should we not then be somewhat skeptical about so called mass conversions of children in our day? This by no means requires that we reject out of hand every childhood profession; but it is a significant note of silence which certainly urges us to the exercise of caution.
THE END OF THE SERIES