Child Abuse

by Bill May


Tiny, fragile, four-year-old Melissa is trembling in her little bed. She is listening to her Mother and Daddy have a loud, angry quarrel in the other room. It has already continued for over an hour, and she is about to come unglued. Then her father, exploding with anger, begins to yell at the top of his voice. Panic-stricken Melissa climbs out of her little bed, tiptoes across the carpet to the door and pleads with her Father, "Daddy, please be nice to Mommy. You're scaring me."

But, enraged, her father storms into her room and bellows, "Get back into that bed and shut up."

Shocked and disoriented, Melissa replies: "No. I don't like you when you're mean. Go away." At this, something snaps inside that young father. He rips off his belt, wraps it around his fist and starts toward Melissa. And in a few moments she has become a child abuse statistic.

Doubtless you realize that child abuse has become a major epidemic in the United States. Here are the startling statistics:

  1. An estimated 2.8 million annual cases of child abuse and neglect were reported in the United States in 1993. 1
  2. The number of children "seriously injured" from mistreatment totals more than half a million each year. 2
  3. Five thousand American children die from abuse every year. 3
  4. One-fifth of all American families are involved in child abuse. Ninety-five percent of the nation's prison inmates were abused as children. And, sadly and pathetically, 90 percent of those who were abused will become abusers themselves.4

Nothing shocks or angers us more than to think of an innocent, defenseless little child being attacked, harmed, or injured by some brutal adult. None of us would ever do anything like that-or would we?

Babes in the Faith
Notice this attention-grabbing statement from a perceptive Christian author and speaker. It touches the subject of spiritual babes in the faith. "Preaching is a small part of the work to be done for the salvation of souls. God's Spirit convicts sinners of the truth and places them in the arms of the church. The ministers may do their part, but they can never perform the work that the church should do. God requires the church to care for those who are young in faith and experience."5

Do you see what this is saying? It's saying that the Holy Spirit, working through a minister or evangelist or lay person, is the physician who delivers the new baby Christian and places it in the arms of the church-your arms, my arms. It means that we are to care for that new baby. We are its spiritual parents.

Now for the big question: Is it possible that we have been guilty of abusing one of these spiritual babies?

I have had the privilege of conducting about 100 evangelistic crusades and have visited thousands of baby Christians who died spiritually and left the church. In these visits I've discovered some very interesting and thought-provoking things:

First, they almost never leave us over a doctrinal point.

Second, they almost always leave us because they were mistreated or perceive that they were mistreated. Whether we like it or not, that is the way most of those who leave the church feel.

In a certain city there was a huge orphanage that was losing most of its tiny infants by death. Alarmed, the orphanage called in specialists to discover the cause.

The specialists arrived and began carefully analyzing the serious problem. The six-wing building was new and modern-state of the art. It didn't take the experts long to notice a curious trend. In one of those wings, the orphanage was losing virtually no babies. On the other five, however, it was losing most of them.

The more the specialists studied the problem, the more perplexed they became. Children on all six wings were fed the same food, they had the same nursing care, the same physicians ministered to them, their beds were identical, and the rooms were furnished the same. Finally, after much study and analysis, they gave up and said, "We do not know why you lose virtually no babies in that one wing while in the others you lose virtually all. We cannot supply an answer.

Then, just before they left, one of the specialists called attention to an elderly woman who was coming down the hall toward them and asked, "Is she a member of your staff?"

"No," they replied, "she is Old Anna, a volunteer."

"But I've seen her often on this wing where the infants are not dying," the expert insisted. "What does she do?"

The staff replied: "She goes up and down the hall, enters every room, and checks every little baby. When she finds a tiny youngster who is not feeling well, she picks it up, holds it in her arms, and walks up and down the hall kissing that youngster, hugging it and speaking to it with kind, tender, loving words."

Here was the success secret of this one wing: tender, loving care. It can repeatedly save a critically ill baby, and it can also sustain a new baby Christian who is weak and struggling.

Now, let me ask you a question. Do you love new spiritual babies, or do you feel down deep in your heart that they are troublesome, a nuisance or, perhaps, a threat?

My wife and I have had the privilege of visiting hundreds of congregations. As we get acquainted with people at the fellowship meal, it isn't hard to tell if the church is one that doesn't really care for spiritual babies.

Telltale signs include these types of statements: "I'm not in favor of evangelistic crusades. I don't believe in them. A big influx of people are baptized, but they are not converted. They don't understand the Bible. They're noisy. They're irreverent. They don't dress properly. They make terrible demands on our time. They make some of the biggest messes you ever saw in your life. The staggering cost of such evangelism is keeping us in the red. And those new members who join do lots of yelling and complaining and disrupt our orderly schedule."

Babies Disrupt Our Schedules
Yes, babies do disrupt orderly schedules. I remember when my son and his wife had their first little boy, Timmy. I was in the Washington, D.C., area on business, so I went over to spend an evening with them. Before when I had come to visit, Mike and Stephanie and I would sit down together and have a wonderful time visiting. But this time was different because Timmy had joined the family. Stephanie came home from work but did not join Mike and me in the living room. She was busy taking care of Timmy. After about two hours she finally came in, sat down, and said, "Whew!!" I smiled and remarked, "Timmy really altered the schedule for you, didn't he?"

Stephanie immediately replied, "Oh, Dad, if you only knew." Then she gave a big, long list of all the additional things she now had to do since Timmy joined the family. She paused briefly and then added, "But I love every minute of it."

Yes, love makes the difference. Love makes the difference with spiritual babies, too. The Word of God is clear: We can "know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." 1 John 3:14. And new spiritual babies are part of the brethren. Jesus says, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." John 13:35. This love must include the spiritual newborns in the church. Oh, my friends, let us thank God for the disruption caused by bringing new spiritual babies into the church. The church would bog down without such sacred additions.

Babies Are Messy
There's no denying it. Babies are, indeed, messy. Some time ago I was eating at the home of friends while their baby, in a high chair, was attempting to eat from his own little dish. You could hardly say that he was eating because he was getting food of all textures and colors everywhere except in his mouth. In his hair, his ears, his nose, his eyes, plus all over his chair and me and the tablecloth. I didn't look at the ceiling, but possibly he had food there, too. To top it all off, his nose was running. The sight was absolutely revolting.

You'll never believe what happened next. The mother, who was spending most of her time looking fondly at her little son, suddenly exclaimed, "You're such a pretty baby!"

I was shocked. "Such a pretty baby? Who's kidding whom?" But then I looked at the mother's face and saw a mother's glorious love beaming from it.

Ah, Yes. Love sees past the mess. And I praise God that when Jesus looked down at Bill May and gave me an invitation to come to Him, He saw past the mess! What a wonderful Lord to serve!

It's true that spiritual babies make a few messes sometimes, too. They might even go so far as to use profanity at the church picnic. One might even stand up at a church business meeting and say: "I have quit tithing. It's just too much money for me." And did you hear about the spiritual baby who slugged a deacon because he refused to permit him to enter the church auditorium during prayer?

It is even conceivable that one might be seen smoking or drinking or using drugs-a big mess, indeed. But we need to become experts in sympathy and understanding. If a baby makes a mess and you frown or talk roughly to him, what does he do? He starts crying at once. Please remember that the same holds true with spiritual babies. They cannot tolerate rough, unaccepting, demeaning treatment. Such an approach virtually always wipes them out.

Babies Make a Lot of Noise
Babies also yell and cry a lot. I don't worry about a little baby yelling in the congregation at church because I can preach louder than a baby can yell. I can remember one baby who almost disproved that, but believe me, I am glad little children are in church. They are our hope for the future.

Spiritual babies also tend to make a lot of noise and say things that don't mean much. Often they are easily offended. And sometimes we impatiently ask, "What's the matter with them?" The answer is, "Nothing! They are babies, and babies need time to grow up."

When Bob, our oldest son, was a little tiny baby, I was determined that the first word he said was going to be "Daddy." I took very unfair advantage of my wife, Doris. I must have said "Daddy" to him 10,000 times, more or less. And one day amidst all of the gobbledy gook he spouted, Bob said something that sounded like "dada." A recording might have proved differently, but I yelled, "Doris, he said it! He said 'Daddy'."

When a little baby is trying to learn how to speak, we don't say, "Stupid baby! Can't you do better than that? Shut up if all you can do is make those meaningless, goofy noises." No, instead, we say, "Wonderful! You've about got it. Say it again." If we would try to encourage and understand new members in the same manner, it would certainly endear them to us. Tragically, far too many of us fall into the category of those Paul rebuked who "tried to misundertand." 1 Corinthians 1:31, Living Bible.

I've noticed that babies are not particularly orderly or attentive. In fact, they are not even courteous. Have you ever noticed that? Picture an anointing service at your house-a very solemn moment because somebody is critically ill. Everybody is kneeling down; all are quiet and reverent. But the baby doesn't appreciate that at all. He may start yelling at the top of his voice. Typical of a baby. Or you may have invited the mayor of the city for lunch. The flatware, the crystal, the china-everything is just so. You are so excited and eager to make a good impression. But the baby doesn't care. He may vomit all over everything. If you have children, you know exactly what I am talking about.

Likewise, spiritual babies who are trying to understand the church and absorb Christian culture are sometimes a little hard to figure out. We need to remember that they are not grown yet. They need our understanding, our love, and our consideration.

Babies Have Special Needs
It's also true that babies demand constant attention. They must receive it or they soon have trouble emotionally and physically. Spiritual babies are the same way, and remember that you and I are their spiritual parents. We must spend time with them in a loving, caring, supporting kind of way. Unless we do, the neglect can be so devastating to them that they may not survive.

Babies don't have much endurance, either. When my children were small we enjoyed walking together. At times my mind would be on God's work or some bill the church owed, and suddenly I would realize we had walked too far. So we'd turn around and start back home but my youngest son, Mike, was already too tired and would say, "Carry me, Daddy." I would try to encourage him to walk, but soon I'd give in and carry him. A little further on and the second one would say, "Carry me, Daddy." Do you know that I sometimes ended up with one sitting on my shoulders and one under each arm? Small children usually do not have much endurance.

New spiritual babies are that way, too. And we sometimes say, "I am getting tired of carrying them. Let them walk on their own two feet." But we must remind ourselves that they are spiritual babies. And spiritual babies need to be carried for a while. Often their very survival depends upon it.

Babies also like a bland diet. If you give them food they don't like, they have a marvelous way of getting rid of it. They will expel it at once with that tiny tongue of theirs. This true of spiritual babies, also. They love the kind of spiritual food that led them to Christ. If we try to dish up spiritual food that is too advanced or too controversial, they are not going to be able to handle it. About the worst thing we can dish up is criticism. They've got to spit that out at once for survival.

Babies Are Expensive
Last but not least, babies are expensive. They cost an arm and a leg. But you don't hear parents saying, "Babies aren't worth it. Forget it." They say, "My baby is worth everything to me, and I don't care what it takes-if I have to get a second job and work all night, if I have to borrow from all my relatives and sell my furniture-I am going to take care of this baby. He is going to have the best care possible."

Some say that evangelism, or soul-winning, has priced itself off the market. That we can't afford it anymore. I would like to say to you, my fellow Christians, that I believe love will find a way to afford it.

It boils down to priorities. What should have top billing? It's true that the cost of evangelism is going up. So is the cost of food. You have noticed that, haven't you? But you haven't said, "Let's stop eating," because eating is a priority. It's a must. The cost of housing has gone up, too. Yet, I don't know of even one member who has bought a tent and said, "I just can't afford housing anymore." We give housing priority. And when we decide that soul-winning-the bringing of these new babes into the church-is essential, then we'll afford it. I believe that with all of my heart. I don't think there is a money shortage. Rather, there's a shortage of conviction that puts first things first.

Perhaps it's a new thought to some that we are baby specialists. But it's true. God holds all of us accountable for the spiritual babies in the church. And unfortunately, the infant mortality rate is great-far too great.

Our Job As Parents
Now, I must admit that taking care of new babies is indeed a challenge. One newborn alters the entire schedule in a home. Two babies is a greater challenge. Three, a circus. And sometimes in a church you may have, in a great evangelistic series, 50 or 100 or even 150 babies delivered to the church. Talk about overwhelming!

And so people sometimes close their eyes and say: "I hope when I open my eyes I will discover it was only a bad dream. We don't know what to do with all these babies." Then, when they realize that it's really true, they tend to go into a spin and begin to say things like, "These babies were not delivered properly. The doctor made a mistake. They were stillborn."

Some will say, "I don't believe in big baptisms." But the Lord clearly does. On one occasion 3,000 were baptized at one time (Acts 2:41). Another time it was 5,000 (Acts 4:4). Large baptisms are biblical. Others will say, "I believe in quality and not quantity." The Bible teaches both. Notice Jesus' words in John 15:8: "Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit." And verse 16 adds, "And that your fruit should remain." Win many. Bring many babies into the church, and keep them alive and well and strong. That's God's word to us from John chapter 15.

It's interesting to notice that some congregations keep virtually all of their new members strong and faithful. Other congregations lose nearly all of them. When I served as an evangelist, I would go to a city and conduct an evangelistic crusade in a church of 200 members and baptize 30-40 people. Next I would go across the same city to another congregation of 200 and baptize another 30-40. Strangely, two years later the first congregation had lost all of its new members. But the second one had kept them all. What made the difference? The evangelist and the messages were the same. The key is that one congregation loved, supported, and cared for new babies. The other was guilty of child abuse.

The biggest lack is fellowship. You see, a person can teach the doctrines of this church. It's easy; they are foolproof. But you cannot teach the culture of the church, the church family customs. They have to rub off, to be experienced. There is no other way. New members have to be with you, doing things with you and watching what you do. Unless that happens, the lifestyle and culture is simply not absorbed. They never receive it. If new members fail to form strong friendships and really become part of the church family, they fall away.

We need to invite spiritual children into our homes and into our hearts and groups. It would be wise for groups of special friends to say (before worship service), "Maybe we don't have to greet each other today; let's greet everybody else." Or better yet, "Let's agree to watch and see who might be lonely, downcast, alone and pull them into our group." Such planned friendship is desperately needed. During my visits with fomer members, I cannot tell you how many have sat with tears running down their cheeks and said, "I wanted into their friendship circles so badly, but I was shut out. They never accepted me." My friends, it's not hard to open up our friendship circles. It is, in fact, rather easy. You just have to do it.

Worst Form of Child Abuse
Neglect is extremely bad, but to poison spiritual babies is perhaps the worst form of child abuse. We do that by criticizing the pastor, our fellow members, the world church leadership, or the conference brethren. New members can't handle that. They've come into a great church that is God-given and God ordained, and they are so excited that they couldn't keep quiet if they had to. Their initial feelings are that "Heaven could not be better than this."

But then they talk with me in the church foyer and hear me complain, criticize, undermine, and berate fellow members of the faith. Often the poison is so venomous that they sicken and die. What a horrendous tragedy. Yet we sometimes have the audacity to criticize them for not being properly grounded! We must stop all criticism and fault-finding now. It is deadly poison.

My friends, if we can develop a warm, loving, forgiving relationship with our new spiritual babes, we will keep them all! The horrific tragedy is that tens of thousands of these spiritual babies die every year from abuse and neglect.

We all know the problem exists. We all know it's serious. We know we must do something about it, but very little is being done. Listen to the Lord's comment on this. It comes from Matthew 18:6, which says, "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." What Jesus is saying is that in the sight of heaven, spiritual child abuse is a very serious matter!

I believe God is asking each one of us personally to do something about it. I hope that no one will lay this article aside without deciding on the spot, beginning right now, to become part of the solution. Start welcoming these new baby Christians into your heart, into your home, into your fellowship, and into your social gatherings. Make friends with them. Get close to them. Go places with them. Do things with them. Be blind to their faults and, by the grace of God, love them all the way to the kingdom of heaven.

____________

  1. World, Sept. 28, 1996.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Dr. Charles E. Campbell, Associate Director of For Kids Sake and author of numerous books in the field, including Educational Handbook for the Prevention and Detection of Child Abuse, FK Press, 753 W. Lambert Road, Brea, CA 92621.
  4. Ibid.
  5. White, Ellen G., Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald article entitled "Christian Work," October 10, 1882

 

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