Raising Christian children
She was a lovely Christian lady, and gave her time unstintingly to teach children in Sunday school. She seated all the children who professed faith in Christ on one side of her table. All those who had not yet professed Christ were seated on the other side.
She conducted two lessons simultaneously. Those who were not yet Christians were told of their sin and need of the Saviour. They were encouraged to repent and place their trust in Jesus. Those who had already put their trust in the Saviour were taught the rest of the Scriptures.
Whenever a child made a profession of faith, they were moved from one side of the table to the other. They were a new creature in Christ, and could be taught what the rest of the Bible said.
It was an extraordinary way to teach children. And all the more extraordinary because the children were only three years old!
Her method came out of a particular understanding of God and how to raise children. It involved a formula for behaviour that brooked no variation, and she resigned rather than teach in any other way.
Different Sunday school teaching philosophies create controversy, but that is nothing compared with the arguments that accompany different parenting philosophies. Nothing divides a church or group of Christians quite as quickly as arguments about how to raise their children. The ideologies, the sage advice, the schooling models and the parental guilt – all these combine to create a toxic atmosphere for fellowship.
It is therefore with some diffidence that I write on child raising – even for people living 10,000 miles from my home. I certainly do not want to add confusion to an already unhappy debate. But I wonder whether standing back and looking at the bigger picture may help us get a better perspective on what we are doing.
What is child raising about in the purposes of God?
In The God delusion, Richard Dawkins argued that there is no such thing as a ‘Christian child’. While Christians have been united in attacking his book, it is noticeable that they disagree with each other about this particular claim. This is because some Christians share Dawkins’ individualistic model of humanity.
Now, in one sense, it is right to emphasise the importance of individuals professing their own faith. But God also deals with nations and with families. (Nervous readers may relax – I am not about to divide the Evangelical community on the issue of infant baptism. This article will not even be raising that issue).
The source of parenthood
In creation, God made us male and female, and instructed us to ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’. Our parenting is part of being made in the image of God, as male and female, with responsibility for the creation.
God did not create two humans in his own image, but one humanity. This one humanity has sexual polarity within it, which is further developed and explained in the account of the creation of Eve. Eve was not only created out of the man, but she was united with the man to be one flesh. She is the one suitable helper for him, because she was drawn out of the man – ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’. And out of that unity comes the children by which humanity can be fruitful and multiply and subdue the world.
The creation of the animals could never supply a suitable helper for the man, for with them man had no unity or ability to multiply, fill and subdue the earth. Presumably the creation of a second man would not have worked either. He could have become the gardener’s assistant, but could do nothing to help fill the earth. Nor would there be one humanity in the image of God – just two humans unable to unite.
It is interesting that before there were any parents we read: ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh’. Built into the creation of the woman is the assumption or expectation of parenthood, and the priority of marriage over filial relationships.
God’s purposes for the family
Genesis also teaches us that parenting is involved not only in creation but also in salvation, for it is through human parenting that the Saviour would come. The first indication of this is found in the judgement on the serpent, when God promised that the woman’s offspring ‘shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel’. Little wonder that Eve rejoiced at the birth of her firstborn Cain, exclaiming: ‘I have begotten a man with the help of the Lord’. She thought he was the Saviour but, of course, her joy and expectation were misplaced. Nevertheless, Cain’s failure gave rise to the first of the Bible’s genealogies. From the family the Saviour will come; he will be Eve’s son.
The disinterest of some in genealogies may come from the warning of passages like Titus 3:9 and the experience of meeting obsessive personalities who delight in genealogical pedantry. But more often such disinterest is derived from our modern Western individualism. We do not understand corporate thinking. Our concern is with the individual and personal rather than with the whole or the social.
When, in God’s good time, the Saviour finally came we read he was ‘born of a woman’. We may see this as the fulfilment of prophecy. We may see this as the wonder of the incarnation. But we often fail to see this as a necessary part of the redemption of humanity. He had to become more than like us, or even one of us – he had to become part of us.
We were made sinners in Adam for we are Adam. Just as Levi was ‘in the loins’ of Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:8-10), so we were in Adam when he rebelled against God. And ‘as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Corinthians 15:22).
Without an appreciation of family, we will not properly understand our creation or our salvation.
Phillip Jensen is Dean of Sydney, Australia