Who Is Causing Little Ones To Stumble?

According to numerous polls, many children of believers in Europe and North America are leaving the church once they reach young adulthood. Older Christians do not need polls to tell them this. It is evident in the pews. When we think about the reasons why, we often start by pointing outward—to the influences of the world on our children. It’s Hollywood’s fault. It’s the schools’ fault. It’s his fault. It’s her fault. Many external things certainly are contributing factors, but how often do we stop pointing at others and look at ourselves to ask whether we have said and done things that have caused these little ones to stumble? Is any of it our fault? Read More»

Keith Mathison | “Causing Little Ones to Stumble” | August 10, 2020


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  1. Well, until the ‘little ones’ hearts are made flesh by the Holy Spirit, what else should we expect?

    We should pray for our children, of course, but just because they are ‘our’ children does not mean they have an automatic ‘in’. Perhaps our Lord will have them walk through a season of wickedness before their hearts are broken to turn to Him. Perhaps they are not of the elect of God. Can you accept that? Do you love them more than your God?

    Perhaps we ought to rest in Jesus for our kids, no matter what. Of course monitor what they watch, what they do. What we watch, what we do. But NO amount of ‘holy behaviour’ on our part(or theirs) is going to save them.

    The best thing to do is trust God. Right in front of your children. Through tough times and good. With their lives and with their salvation. The best thing to do is NOT love them more than God.

    • Indeed, no amount of holy behavior is going to save them. But no one around here is saying that it would. That’s a straw man.

      What is true is that if children are trained in the way they should go, we can have a well reasoned hope of their faithfulness. Furthermore, according to Paul’s letter to Titus, their faithfulness is a reflection of the leadership of their father. This isn’t Federal Vision, this is just scripture.

  2. What a hurtful article. I’m assuming that the author’s children turned out well and didn’t leave the church?

  3. The Phelps article is truly kind and comforting to those of us who are deeply hurting from estrangement of adult children (for years) and who have also left the church. I’m pretty sure I read it and sent it to others since I’ve followed this blog for a while. Thank you for the link and for the kind reply.

    Mathieson’s article has no Scripture and comes across as guilt-producing because he leaves no room for grace for parents who did their best to raise their children “in the nature and admonition of the Lord” and the children left the church anyway.

    “Perhaps one reason so many children of believers are no longer following Christ is that they are simply following in our footsteps.” Mathieson

    This is hurtful language coming from a brother in the faith, albeit most probably unintentional. That’s why I might assume that he hasn’t faced this kind of pain.
    James 1:2-3


    • Robin,

      There are two words in Scripture, law and gospel. We need both. There are careless parents out there, who do neglect the spiritual nurture of their children. They need to be admonished. We all do but that doesn’t mean that those who were faithful and who have yet to see their children embrace the promises of the covenant of grace are being condemned. Perhaps he could have spoke a kind word to the grieving. That might have helped but there is a place for words of rebuke.

  4. As Mathison doesn’t allow comments, I won’t read his thoughts, he is not interested in anything but a vacuum of his own madness. I can’t stand blogs which don’t allow conversation, he is entirely narcissistic.

    • Chris,

      The HB comment box (combox), at different times, has been both off and on. There have been some years where I just didn’t want to deal with comments. Sometimes it can take a lot of time. They have to be moderated. Some have to be deleted. The HB is set to turn off comments on posts automatically after a certain period of time. People want to debate with me about something I wrote 10 years ago. It might look easy to keep al this going but it isn’t. I don’t blame him for turning off comments. He’s got a full-time job and a family and he’s offering material for free to the public. That doesn’t obligate him to deal with comments.

    • At the bottom of every page on his site there is a dialog box inviting you to send him a message. Seems pretty reasonable. It’s a bit ironic that you think *he* is narcissistic because he is not publishing *your* opinions for free.

  5. I regularly pray for the prodigal children of our church. I have been at our church for a long time, and I’ve taught most of them in Sunday school. (Maybe the Christian Ed committee should bar me from further teaching!)

    But I will say that the majority of the prodigal children in our church come from families where the parents have divorced, usually with some acrimony. I’d say that if you really hate your children, get a divorce. Social science supports this statement, and my own observation of the children who have walked away from the church also does.

    • I’ve seen both, Tom. Prodigals from good, intact families, and prodigals from wrecked families.

      Social science has nothing on God and his sovereignty. If those prodigals are of the elect of God, God will bring them into his fold. Not even divorce cannot change God’s electing grace!

      I often ponder the very messy families from Scripture. What a blessedly realistic book.

  6. “Social science has nothing on God and his sovereignty”


    Thank you for those balanced comments, Mary. There is enough of “what did we do wrong?” concern that we parents of prodigals heap on ourselves without reading that there are those in the Church who may be judging whether we did or didn’t parent correctly according to someone’s formulaic method.

    • Robin,

      This is what happens in law-preaching. The sensitive feel condemned when the preacher is aiming at those who are indifferent. What should the preacher do about or say to the indifferent, who neglect their children?

  7. Mary,
    What you say is true, but I think it sidesteps Tom’s point (and also the point of Mathison’s article). We as Christian parents are expected to be means of gospel presentation and discipleship to our children. This is not the same as claiming that we, by our own faith and works, can *cause* our children to be converted.

    The article calls us (I certainly include myself) to, as Paul would say, “examine ourselves,” and that not lightly. Are we being faithful means of evangelism and discipleship? Probably not nearly so faithful as we might wishfully think.

    I certainly love God’s sovereignty in election, but I will not be much comforted if I someday discover that, because of my own rebellion, I was an ordained means of frustrating my children’s faith.

  8. David,

    None of us don’t, on occasion, frustrate our children’s faith. Or our friend’s faith, or our parent’s faith, or our spouse’s faith. None of us are perfect. We can’t ‘parent’ our children into salvation.

    And you WILL be comforted when you someday discover that your failures as parent are covered by the grace of God. For we all fail our children in diverse ways. Just as our parents failed us.

    We live holy lives (as much as we are able in this flesh) to please God, yes? We don’t do so in order to save our children. Yet in pleasing HIM, we are often good examples to our loved ones. How wonderful is that? It’s not me…it’s HIM.

    We can’t save our children. We can, however, live a life of joy and love because of God’s goodness to us in redemption. That’s the mightiest example there is. Reflecting that glory is all we need do. The rest is up to God and his calling whom he chooses.

    I understand this is a very fine line when it comes down to it. But I see in SO very many American religious homes a sense that only if my children turn to God is my walk with Jesus real, righteous and true. That’s a lie from the devil himself. It makes children/family an idol.

  9. A preacher should call to the carpet those who are neglecting their children in his congregation. If they claim Christ, anyway. Perhaps they are false converts who love the world (including family idols) rather than the Lord. That’s terribly tragic, of course, from our POV. But the Lord works and weaves as he will. Not one of his sheep will be lost, numerous polls notwithstanding. 😉

  10. Thank you Dr. Clark for sharing this old blog post. I see from the comments that there was some misunderstanding of what I said. That is my fault for not being clearer. Just a few points in an attempt to clarify:

    1. I do not believe that faithful parents and faithful parenting automatically result in regenerate children. Regeneration is a gift of God’s grace. There are faithful parents throughout Scripture with apostate children. The only perfect Father is our Father in heaven. Adam is called his son in the genealogy of Luke, and even this son rebelled. Both faithful parents and unfaithful parents have had apostate children. The Phelps article linked above is very helpful: https://heidelblog.net/2022/01/grace-for-parents-of-prodigals/

    2. The intended audience of my blog post was professing evangelicals whose actions betray their profession. I wrote it after numerous discussions with my son who had asked me many times why so many people who say they are Christians seem to be passionate about everything in the world other than Jesus. I could see the discouragement it was causing.

    3. I don’t have a comments section on my blog because I don’t have enough time to moderate comments. I had them when I began the blog, but the comments were continually being hijacked by internet trolls, so I removed them. I don’t believe every writer has to have a forum for reader feedback. If that is narcissistic, then every book that was written in history until a few decades ago was rooted in narcissism. Different contexts allow different options. In my classes, students comment all the time. In sermons, preachers do not usually offer a time for public feedback from the pews. Blogs allow the a choice. Dr. Clark has a comments section. I don’t. It’s up to each author. If readers of my blog want to criticize what I wrote, there is a link at the bottom of my blog that sends an email directly to me. If they want their criticism to be public, they are free to create their own blog or YouTube channel or whatever they wish.

    I hope this clears up some of the misunderstandings.

  11. It is very nice that Dr. Mathison would take the time to clarify the article here. Perhaps he will encourage parents with an updated article in more detail. It certainly does seem to be an increasing trend these days.

    For those who have made comments regarding their observations on what may have been the “cause” of these prodigals leaving the church, I suggest we heed the words from Tony Phelps’ article:


    Thank you for your blog, Dr. Clark.

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