The Southern Baptist preacher stood before the neighborhood children, some as young as five years old, who had come to Vacation Bible School. After a week of stories, crafts, and cookies, they had come to the big moment where he delivered the coup de grace.
“We’ve been telling you about Jesus,” he said. “Jesus loves you so much that he wants to save you from hell and take you to heaven when you die.”
“Let me ask you,” He said, increasing in intensity, “if you were to die in your sleep tonight, Where would you go…?
“I’ll tell you where… You’d go to hell to be with the devil. Do you want to live forever in a place seven times hotter than the sun?”
None of them did.
“Who here would rather be saved from their sins and go to heaven to live forever with Jesus?”
All of them did.
“Then with every eye closed and every head bowed. Say this in your heart with me.
“Dear God, I am a sinner. I’m sorry for all the bad things I’ve done. Dear Jesus, please come into my heart. Forgive my sins. Deliver me from the devil and take me to heaven.”
Then the preacher addressed the children. “Now, with your heads still bowed and eyes still closed, if you said this prayer with me and you are ready to give your heart to Christ tonight, raise your hand.
Since everyone’s eyes were closed, we’ll just have to guess who raised their hands.
When they opened their eyes, the pastor told them that they needed to be baptized as soon as possible. Even if they had been baptized in another church, it was not good enough… they had to be baptized at the Baptist church.
I know of one five year old child who went home deeply afraid that he would die in his sleep and go to hell. When his family found out why he was so scared they called me. I visited with the boy and it took a lot to reassure him that he was in no danger.
I’m sorry to say that this happens all the time. In fact, I could tell of worse things. I’ve had to sooth a lot of children who were scared to death by other pastors.
Today is Ash Wednesday and in other denominations some Christians will have observed a rite emphasizing their sinfulness and mortality. It’s okay by me, I guess, because it’s their choice.
But children don’t have a choice and they should not be forced to carry such a burden in their hearts. We are supposed to keep them safe from terror.