The following summary by Mark Numan was presented at an Adults Association meeting 27/6/2013. The original articles were published in the Dutch church magazine De Reformatie in the early 1990s. Whilst the article does not focus much on the ‘forever different’ part of the title, and one could wish that there was a greater emphasis on honouring the Lord, it nevertheless provides some sound practical ways to nurture children in the fear of the Lord.
“Once baptized, forever different” by Dr J A Meijer [i]
When we consider the blessings the Lord has bestowed on us as churches in the federation today, we are often brought to humbly confess “the Lord has blessed us richly”.
Never before has there been a time in which the parents could avail themselves of so many forms of support to live up to their baptismal vows: reformed schools for all of our children, Bible study clubs, and catechism instruction. So why, then, with all these means at the parents disposal, are there so many problems with the youth?
On the weekends the bars and pubs are full, and our youth are there too. The cinemas are frequented, by covenant youth too. Pre-marital sex is the norm, amongst the covenant youth too. Drug and alcohol abuse continues, again – covenant youth not excepted.
Shall we brush this off as a juvenile problem? Is there more to it than this?
Let us look a bit further afield and include the older generation in our focus too. The number of divorces, even in our circles, increases daily, and the social problems many consistories seem to be wrestling with seems to be increasing too.
Let’s look further yet. Some time ago a book appeared in reformed circles, expressing the sentiments ‘it’s getting chilly in the church’. And I’m sure we all have heard the complaint about the lack of joy and zeal in our service for the church. ‘Where is the warmth of your faith?’
Shall we complacently shrug and accept it as inevitable?
Not at all!
I think we should look each other squarely in the eye and ask each other the question, “Could it be our fault, as parents?”
I’m willing to answer the question with a qualified ‘Yes!’ I have qualified my answer because I know there are quite a few families that truly live close to the Lord, and yet have to accept that one of their children is going astray.
We live in an age that poses many challenges for our youth. Unbelief is promoted aggressively and has many crafty forms of assistance in carrying out its purpose. Liberalism in doctrine is rife and dangerous. Modern theology has put on a new face and it appears to offer support to young people who almost choke on their many problems and no longer make any headway with the reformed confessions.
Yes, we as older people, as parents, have also fallen short of what is expected of us. Our young people should be able to expect a great deal more from us than we are in the habit of giving them, and so the present situation is so much more difficult.
‘Just take it easy’ you say. ‘We’re doing all way can. We take our children to church, and we send them to a reformed school, sometimes quite a distance away. We insist that they go to catechism classes and attend the Bible study societies. What else are we be expected to do?’
Certainly, and that’s good! Yet still I ask ‘But what about the parents? Are they doing their fair share?’
Let’s take a good look at ourselves. We have our own schools, but do we take an active interest in those schools? When there’s a parent teacher visit, we show up. After all, our children’s education and future earthly career is at stake. But what of tonight? Where we are dealing with Bible study – the manual for life eternal. Where are the parents? Not just of the children that attend youth club, but all the ‘adult generation’ in the communion of saints?
At a home-visit, when we ask the children what the minister preached about last Sunday, there is dead silence. Finally a little chap puts up his hand and says ‘but I know what was on TV’. The TV is a great educator, but at the baptismal font, parents promised not only to have our children instructed to the utmost of our power, but also to have them instructed. What are we doing actually? Are we sufficiently aware of the fact that we have made vows, before God and His holy congregation?
We must realise what it means to be baptised. Yes, theoretically we all know this. Romans 6 – we have died in Christ, and we believe that we shall also live with Him. But do we truly experience this? “You, however, did not come to know Christ that way” (Eph 4:20). What are we to make of ‘that way’ in our lives?
This is nothing new. One of the oldest ‘sermons’ we have recorded in the Bible for our instruction was sent to the church at Corinth. The Christians there had permitted themselves to be influenced by the world in which they lived. A preacher had this to say, ‘Brothers and sisters, we shall not only confess our faith with our mouths, but also with our deeds. The honour of God is at stake, because we are being watched by the people around us. They are impressed by our big words, and now they expect to see big deeds. However, once they notice that our lives are not in agreement with our doctrine, they will say that our message is nothing but a cunningly devised fable. In this they would blaspheme God. The younger generation is also watching us, the youth of the church who need a solid goal in life, and who are certainly receptive to the gospel. This means that our lives must be consistent and steadfast, and so be an example for our young people.’ Twice this sermon makes the following observations: “you have received the seal of baptism. Therefore treat your baptism with great care. Keep you seal undefiled!”
That’s difficult! That is why we have to support one another. We are to watch and admonish one another. We have to work repentance in one another if it is needed. How wonderful it is, then, when a brother gives us a warning. And how foolish we would be if we were to take offence. After all, is it not a matter of life and death?
What must we do to escape our current difficulties?
We should again busy ourselves with His demands and with the vows we have made at the baptismal font. We must submit ourselves more and more in the service of God as people who have been dead, but now live, because we are chosen, says the apostle, to live holy and blameless in His sight (Eph 1:14).
What does this mean for our everyday life?
It means that our children can tell from our attitude and behaviour that our faith is a source of energy in our lives. Our faith is not something that happens to belong to us just because opa and oma were believers from way back. Nor is it something that causes a rigid, intractable behaviour of some kind, something you would rather not talk about, but simply accept without make a fuss, because everybody in church is in the same boat. Nor is faith a form of life insurance.
No, faith is a source of energy “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34). We must talk about these things and we must live in accordance with them. We cannot do otherwise. We must be involved with the Word of God, because that is our food and drink. If we don’t, we die. And we must pray, give thanks and pour out our troubles before Him, because without Him we can do nothing. Let them catch us at an inopportune time, when they find us reading God’s Word, or on our knees praying. That is much better than that they should have their doubts about our commitment. Faith should have a noticeable impact in the way it directs our lives.
So how does this work out in a practical way?
Consider first the family mealtime. The first meal of the day is breakfast. Whilst not always practically possible, it should be a meal shared as family, where as family we gather around the table to eat, to pray and to read the Bible. There also we as parents will be able to lay before the Lord any anxieties the children may have regarding exams, or difficult subjects. In this way they will learn how a Christian should begin his day. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some children attend school without that morning having opened a Bible yet. Are we as parents palming off the responsibility for the raising of our children to the teachers?
Of still more importance is the evening dinner meal. We should do our utmost to protect this meal, often the only one we can share together, and develop it into the highlight of the day. This will not happen, of course, if we want to finish eating within a quarter of an hour, or if it’s spent around the TV nightly news. Dinner should be a time of congenial relaxation – a time to listen to the adventures of the little ones, the experiences of the day. Is this not the special occasion to give the children the attention they need?
Then naturally follows the reading of the Bible at the table. An opportunity exists to read the Bible together and to show the children by example how it should be done. Often they learn only how it should not be done: ”Where were we again? Let’s see. Ah yes, I think I have it now.” And there we go, onward with another chapter. Whether long or short, easy or hard, a chapter it is. The children look at each other bored, especially if working through the book of Leviticus! If we do our Bible reading in this fashion, we turn the children off for what should be the most important thing in their lives as well. If we use this method, the child will not be readily motivated to start reading the Bible on his own. No, it would be better to calmly read five difficult verses and then to discuss them together. Where this is done, the family Bible reading will be meaningful and an up building experience.
Prayer also deserves our full attention. I am well aware of the fact that not everybody will find it easy to improvise a prayer. Even so, a clumsy but genuine prayer that makes mention of the cares of the day and recognises the problem of the children, a prayer that gives thanks for having passed an exam or for recovery after an illness, such a prayer means more than all those magnificently polished sentences of a standardised prayer that has become meaningless to the children.
So we have spoken of Bible reading and of prayer; let us now turn our attention to singing. What has happened to our singing together? Formerly, in many families, they used to sing after supper, at least on Saturday and Sunday. I fear that the custom of singing after meals has been lost. This must change. It seems unthinkable to me that the Lord is satisfied with nothing more than the organised singing in church on Sundays. And does our joy not seek an opportunity to express itself? If the very people who have received eternal life rather than eternal death cannot sing spontaneously, who else can? Angels are servants and they sing without ceasing; should the children then be silent? “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord”, Paul writes to the Ephesians. And he put this into practice when confined to a dungeon in Philippi. Then perhaps the joy which people so often seem to miss in Church will return. The church cannot be any more joyful than in the very families of which it is constituted.
A well known (Dutch) expression ‘Well begun is half done’ applies here. If we exploit the Christian family meal times they could possibly account for half the upbringing of the children. Of course, we should not be satisfied with the work only half done. The good words at the family table must be followed up by proper action throughout our life. Children are keen observers! How much we can spoil by our careless life style and how little credibility can then be given by our fine words. For example, if Dad instructs the children ‘they must go to catechism’, but then stays home from Men’s club to watch his favourite TV show, or perhaps is simply too tired, his words become powerless, because a Christian life must be a consistent life.
And the discussion would not be complete without spending some time considering discipline. Today there seems to be a trend that young people live carelessly. And parents express concern. Others say, ‘Oh well, we were young too once’. But this is not the helping hand God expects us to give. When sin is no longer called sin, we do not just permit the children more liberty. No, we let them down; we cut them loose. This is not what we promised at the baptismal font. We must confront them with God’s Word, by virtue of the office as parents, as Deuteronomy 6 speaks so beautifully and persuasively on the matter. We must talk with them and impress upon them, not our own ideas, but God’s demands. We will have to punish them too, as the Lord himself says, “because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6). Let the Bible instruct us just how compassionate discipline really is, never mind how much our present society still believes it to be a ridiculous and completely out-dated world view.
The development of Christian family life is time consuming. It demands vigilance, faith, self denial, a sense of responsibility and consistency in our approach. What I am appealing for is a distinct, clearly recognizable life style, not only for our youth, or for ourselves, but also for the world we live in. There is no better way to evangelise than to show evidence of a joyful Christian life. Nor can we do the gospel a greater disservice than by allowing our lives to become exact copies of the lives around us, with the exception of our quaint custom of going to church on Sundays.
Being a child of God is no small matter. Let us take care then, that we keep the seal of our baptism undefiled, because, once baptised means we are forever different! Let us all pursue holiness for “without holiness no one will see God” (Hebrews 12:14). Let us exhort one another to remain faithful because we are travelling companions. Let us as parents fight for our families and make good use of the possibilities which God gives us. Let us make the very best use of the few years we can spend with our children to bring them up properly so that we do not leave them an empty testament but rather the testament of God that is brimming with life.
[i] The complete article was originally published in two instalments in the Dutch church magazine De Reformatie some years ago (1990s). An English translation was summarised and presented at the 2013 Mt Nasura Adults Association Annual Meeting by M Numan.