Present wisdom often directs parents to show a love (as they see it) that leaves children to their own opinions and determinations (though some would insist that it be in a Christian environment). But the Bible teaches us to ‘indoctrinate’ our children with a pre-determined world view and life style.
Now it must be admitted that it is a dangerous undertaking for someone who still has a houseful of teenagers to write about the raising of children. At the same time, it is particularly those that are busy with and preparing to raise children that should study God’s Word for guidance.
It is from this perspective that we endeavour to understand how it is that the Lord wants us to raise our children. It is from this perspective that we need to understand how we can reverse the trend for declining respect for authority, also in and among Reformed families.
We can notice a strong influence of synthesis in the lives of Christian families. Children (and their parents), by nature, do not like to be different from their peers. They do not like to stand apart and be referred to as odd or different. They would rather not dress differently than their friends. They do not want to refrain from habits and practices that others have received explicit or implied permission for. They prefer not to speak to older people or those in authority respectfully or with two words. In short, they try to live according to the dictates of Scripture as little as they can get away with, instead of as much as they can.
But the more we, as parents, teachers and government (the justice system) allow this to go on, the more we will discover that new generations will not walk in the pathways Scripture directs them to. Each generation will only find more reasons to stray further away from the parameters of Scripture.
The Bible gives a different direction to the raising of new generations. Already early in God’s special revelation to His people He gives clear instruction about the right method of raising children. In Deuteronomy 6 we hear clear language about what it means to love the Lord. At the same time the Holy Spirit specifies that there is only one Lord. There aren’t all kinds of choices as to who we want serve.
At the very same time that the people of God are taught about the way in which they are to serve their Lord they are instructed to teach this same message to their children. And this is not done inadvertently. Rather, a strong emphasis is put on this mandate. We read, “…and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between you eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deut.6:7-9)
Further along in the same chapter God’s people are again urged to explain not only the laws and statutes of God to their children, but also the reason for obeying. The Lord already made it very clear at the beginning of His Word to us that we must serve Him out of thankfulness for what He has done for us.
In the Old Testament the pinnacle of the grace of salvation from sin was foreshadowed by the freeing of Israel from Egypt and their inheritance of the land of Canaan. But they were warned not to go after other gods (v.14) and that obedience to God’s commandments and statutes would be for their good always (v.24) and it would be considered righteousness for them (v.25).
As the Old Testament unfolds further we discover time after time that there is no room for serving God in any other way than what He Himself has taught. The people of Israel may not serve Him according to what they think is best. Nor may they serve any other gods.
Well, we, who live in the New Testament, do not have more reasons to stray than our brothers and sisters before us. Quite the reverse! We have even less reason for compromise or self-willed worship. The pinnacle of salvation history has taken place. The Christ of which the Old Testament always spoke has come. We have more to tell our children and even stronger reasons to pass on to them so that they might live in obedience to His Word. As much as the people of Israel had to be different than the people around them, so much more must we be different from those who reject the work of our Saviour.
That means that we have no reason to accept a variety of ways to serve our God. We have even less reason than the Old Testament people of God did to expand our world view and life styles in our families. Whether it is family, school or church, we may only accept what God has revealed to us in His Word. We may not be open to compromise or to a variety of interpretations. We may not be open to self-willed worship and service. But rather, we must insist on the obedience, service and worship in the one and only way revealed in Scripture.
Then we may not allow our children to dress in a manner that shows indifference to who and what they are. We may not allow our children to do, say or think wrong things, even if others around them (even within the same community of church, school or family) are saying, thinking or doing them. Then we must teach our children to respect others, especially those in special offices (government, justice, church, school, home).
When we learn to again approach our task in raising children in this way, we won’t consider it a sort of love to let them make their own choices. Then we won’t consider it some sort of love to allow them to discover truth on their own or with their friends. But we will rather explain to them that there are rights and wrongs. That these are taught in God’s holy Word and that they are not open to interpretation or ambivalence for those who belong to Him. Then we will teach our children that God’s love is in that He has already chosen them. That He has already taken them out of the realm of Satan and damnation. Then we will help them see that the road of love is the same as the road of obedience, even if it includes corporal punishment. We must keep them on that road until they desire to walk along it themselves, until they have come to an understanding of what God has revealed to them about His salvation for us, until they want to walk that road out of thankfulness.
That means that we will have to explain to them about their total depravity. [We still believe that don’t we, that our children are born and conceived in sin?] Then we can joyously tell them of the salvation already obtained for them; and how they can show true thankfulness for it. To be sure, sooner than later, they will come to realize that this will bring them into an antithesis with the world (and maybe the community) in which they live. But they will receive the strength to live in it joyfully.
Read it again … and again in Deut. 6. It’s encouraging!
Previously published in Reformed Polemics, Vol. 3, No. 15, March 29, 1997.