Parents & Kids of Faith

  • Friday, February 11, 2011


    Question:  Which is the fifth commandment?
    Answer:     The fifth commandment is “Honor your father and your mother,
                      that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your
                      God gives you.”

    Scripture:  Exodus 20:12

    A Comment on the “Question of the Week”
    Some people may wonder what the benefit is of using “catechism” type questions as a means to challenge and help our children grow in the faith. A response to that is given by T.F. Torrance in his book “The School of Faith,” where he states, "It is an important step in any branch of scientific research to learn to ask the right questions… Christianity does not set out to answer man’s questions. If it did it would only give him what he already desires to know and has secretly determined how he will know it. Christianity is above all the question the truth puts to man at every point in his life, so that it teaches him to ask the right, the true questions about himself, and to form on his lips the questions which the truth by its own nature puts to him to ask of the truth itself that it may disclose or reveal itself to him. Now the catechism is designed to do just this, and it is therefore an invaluable method in instructing the young learner, for it not only trains him to ask the right questions, but trains him to allow himself to be questioned by the truth, and so to have questions put into his mouth which he could not think up on his own, and which therefore call into question his own preconceptions."


    Brit’s Prayer
    With 6 sons, this has become my daughter, Brita’s, prayer each day:

    Now I lay me down to sleep,
    I pray my sanity to keep.
    For if some peace I do not find,
    I'm pretty sure I'll lose my mind.

    I pray I find a little quiet
    Far from the daily family riot
    May I lie back--not have to think
    about what they're stuffing down the sink,
    or who they're with, or where they're at
    and what they're doing to the cat.

    I pray for time all to myself
    (did something just fall off a shelf?)
    To cuddle in my nice, soft bed
    (Oh no, another goldfish--dead!)

    Some silent moments for goodness sake
    (Did I just hear a window break?)
    And that I need not cook or clean--
    (well don’t I have the right to dream)

    Yes now I lay me down to sleep,
    I pray my wits about me keep,
    But as I look around I know--
    I must have lost them long ago!


    Bring them up in the Discipline and Instruction of the Lord, Part II
    The purpose of the articles for the next few weeks is to investigate the New Testament and other writings from the first three centuries of Christian faith, asking the question, "How, during this time period, did discipleship occur in the context of Christian families- or did it? What were the expectations for Christian training in the household? And how did the community of faith partner with believing households?" Robert Plummer, Associate Professor of New Testament at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary writes on this topic.

    Beyond the overarching contours of the divine metanarrative, what explicit New Testament instructions do we find addressed to parents? The New Testament authors regularly remind parents of their basic creational obligation to nurture and to love their children (Col 3:21; 1 Tim 2:15; 5:8). This included an apparent assumption that Christian fathers should discipline their children for wrongdoings (Heb 12:9).

    “He Must Manage His Household Well”
    One of the New Testament qualifications for men to be elders or deacons in the church is the capacity to manage a household well (1 Tim 3:4-5, 12; Titus 1:6).

    This does not mean that fathers can somehow force their children to become believers. It does mean that, as long as their children are living in their households, elders and deacons must discipline and love their children so that their families maintain orderly and respectful household environments. This is not merely a suggestion for elders and deacons; it is an essential expectation for their role.

    “In the Discipline and Instruction of the Lord”
    Throughout the New Testament, the inspired authors consistently assumed that believers would be eager and able to spread the good news of Jesus (Matt 28:18-20; Eph 6:15-17; Phil 2:16; Col 4:6; 1 Thess 4:12; 1 Pet 2:9-12). At one point, Paul spoke of the loving concern that he expected a believing spouse to have for the salvation of a non-believing husband or wife (1 Cor 7:12-16). Though it is rarely mentioned in any explicit way, part of the deep love that parents have for children includes a desire for them to know and to respond to the Gospel— a concern that a Christian is always to have for all persons (1 Cor 10:33—11:1). The New Testament passage which speaks most clearly about this spiritual concern of a parent for child is Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

    In looking at this text, one must note that Paul singled out the father as primarily responsible for his children’s moral and spiritual care. This focus on fathers does not exclude mothers; it does, however, highlight the biblical headship of the husband— a theme reiterated throughout Scripture (Eph 5:22-23). A father is uniquely responsible to God for his children.

    Early Christians did possess some practical parental instructions in Proverbs and other Old Testament texts (for examples, see Deut 6:4-9; Prov 13:24; 19:18; 22:15). Particularly in the New Testament, however, the instructions for parents tend to be more general. As a result, these inspired instructions are equally applicable in oral and written cultures— in environments with a wealth of Christian resources as well as those with almost none. In one setting, a father might fulfill Ephesians 6:4 by sharing the stories about Jesus that he himself has learned orally while he and his son work side-by-side in a field. In another setting, a father might warn or encourage his daughter via a timely text message sent to her cell phone. In yet another time or place, a father might employ puppets or songs or a family project to present the truths of the Bible in a creative and winsome manner. The biblical principle of Ephesians 6:4 allows a broad range of possible expressions. What remains the same, regardless of context or culture, is that God has called parents— and particularly fathers— to function as primary faith-trainers in their children’s lives.

    In the narrative of Acts, the reports of household conversions highlight the importance of parents passing on the faith to their children. In three separate instances, a father’s initial interest in the Christian faith resulted in his entire family responding to the Gospel (Acts 10:1-2; 16:31-33; 18:8). The biblical descriptions of what the persons in the household actually did— they heard, received, and believed the proclaimed message— suggest that infants were not included among the baptized members of the household. What is clear in Acts is the foundational role of a father in guiding his family toward Christianity. In one instance where no father is mentioned, the mother takes on this foundational role (Acts 16:1-3, 15). Other texts that identify households by husband or wife— perhaps indicating which person was the initial believer— further highlight the foundational spiritual role of parents (1 Cor 1:11, 16; 16:15-16; 2 Tim 1:5).

    “Do Not Provoke Your Children to Anger”
    Paul was realistic about the challenge of sinful fathers raising sinful children. One natural reaction to the demands of raising a child is frustration or anger, which may in turn provoke a similar response in the child (see also Col 3:21). Apart from the renewing work of God’s Spirit, sinful fathers are likely to leave a legacy of emotionally abused and resentful children. Empowered by God’s Spirit, however, not only can Christian fathers not provoke their children, but they can even “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Paul did not provide step-by-step details for bringing up children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” The text does clearly indicate that Christian fathers should train their children in Gospel-centered spiritual truths (“instruction”), as well as providing discipline that is shaped by the character of Jesus (“of the Lord”).

    “Children, Obey Your Parents”
    The primary explicit instruction given to children in the New Testament is that children must obey their parents (Eph 6:1). In Colossians 3:20-21, Paul even declared, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” (In telling children to obey their parents in “everything,” Paul was, of course, using hyperbole. The apostle was not commanding children to obey instructions that were iniquitous or ridiculous.) Similarly, in Ephesians 6:1-3, Paul wrote: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’” Paul qualified this exhortation with the prepositional phrase, “in the Lord.” What Paul seems to have been saying was that obedience to parents is always informed by the lordship of The Messiah and that bowing one’s will to parents is ultimately an expression of bowing one’s knee to the Lord. Paul left no room for ambiguity. Obeying one’s parents “is right.”

    By quoting Exodus 20:12, Paul reminded his readers that this obedience stands in continuity with expectations for families in the Old Testament. But there is this difference: Empowered by God’s Spirit, New Testament believers can fulfill what was previously impossible. Believing children can honor their parents and experience both eternal and temporal blessings.

    Later in the New Testament, Paul reminded Timothy, a young man who came from a household with a believing mother, to treasure the spiritual legacy that he had received through his mother and grandmother (2 Tim 1:5-6). Paul’s conversation with Timothy reminds Christian parents today what a privilege they have in setting the spiritual course for their children’s lives.

    Partnership between Church and Household in the New Testament
    New Testament instructions to parents and children were first communicated orally to an assembled body of believers. The presence of direct commands to children in the texts (Eph 6:1; Col 3:20-21) suggests that children of various ages and varying commitments were present with their parents. Both parents and children received instructions in the presence of one another and in the presence of the community of faith.

    But how did early Christians cooperate and share in the training of one another’s children? The text of the New Testament does not explicitly provide this information. Believers did, however, regularly meet for fellowship and worship in one another’s homes as well as sacrificially sharing material resources (Acts 2:44-47). Such habits would, at the very least, provide a winsome context for the children in attendance. If pagan guests could visit a Christian gathering and exclaim, “God is really among you,” (1 Cor 14:25), certainly children in regular attendance could be expected to do the same. If the non-believing outsider could look at the followers of Jesus and say, “See how they love one another” (John 13:35), certainly the child of Christian parents could be expected to reach the same judgment.

    While the New Testament clearly assigns parents the primary role of managing and instructing their households, biblical authors also recognized that God gifts specific people within the local community of faith to instruct and to shepherd the congregation (Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3:2). Every man is called to shepherd his family (Eph 5:25-29; 6:4), but not every man is gifted in quite the same way to function in the role of a teacher. In some cases, persons other than elders are gifted to teach within in the community of faith (Col 3:16; Heb 5:12; James 3:1). The recognition of such gifting within the broader community suggests that children might benefit from gathering to receive teaching from God-gifted instructors other than their parents. In some cases, these gatherings might occur in age-organized contexts.

    (Next week: Examples and instructions for families from early Christian writers)


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