Yesterday was Father’s Day in Australia. Now to those of you who aren’t fathers, or don’t have children, or don’t get on with your father, or get sick of churches banging on about families to the exclusion of people who are single… don’t tune out! Because this week – yes, in honour of Father’s Day – we’re looking at Christian parenting from the perspective of everyone in a community of believers. Not just parents.
It takes a church
There’s a proverb that says: it takes a village to raise a child. But it takes an arsonist to raze a village. I think the second bit wasn’t original. But the first part is often cited as a truth that contemporary, Western society has overlooked in our increasingly disconnected, isolated family units. Hilary Clinton famously used it as the title for a book, looking at the ways in which society helps parents raise children. Many Christian conservatives in the US took issue with the book, firing back that it doesn’t take a village to raise a child, it takes a family to raise a child.
While I think they were right in saying that we can’t rely on government and institutional intervention to make up for poor parenting or the disintegration of the family unit, I think they missed a key point about society and child-raising. The church is a kind of village. (Yes, it’s also a kind of family. A very big one. Let’s not get hung up on labels.) And most of the time, it takes parents working in partnership with their church community to raise children who honour God.
In fact, throughout the Old Testament we see how God had built into the fabric of Israel’s community life opportunities for the teaching and instruction of the next generation – quite apart from the role of parents. We find one example in Deuteronomy 31. God commands an assembly every 7 years where the law is read in its entirety to the people. The reason?Deut 31:12b-13a So they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land.
This doesn’t mean the parents didn’t teach their children. Earlier in Deuteronomy, God had said to parents:Deut 6:6-7 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
So why the big public readings? One commentator suggests this:The function of the ceremony would be educational… The younger generation… would learn for the first time the full meaning of the covenant. Although they would know about it beforehand, its significance would dawn on them fully only as they left their homes and villages, and heard the public reading of the law in the presence of all Israel. (Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, 371.)
That is, only in the context of the wider community would they truly come to understand the significance of God’s law: that it’s the very basis for being the people of God. Some things are better communicated in a corporate setting. Which is one reason parents and church need to partner together in raising the next generation of believers.
So what is our role in helping the parents in our churches raise their children? Today’s text gives us some insight. It’s from a psalm – in fact, it’s the introduction to a very long psalm recounting the story of God’s mercy on his persistently rebellious people. And the introduction tells God’s people to tell that story to their children. Read it now:1 My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
3 things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.
5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children,
6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.
7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.
8 They would not be like their ancestors— a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.
John Piper helpfully breaks this part of the psalm down into six key ideas:
(1) God, the central reality in our lives, (2) has given us a fixed deposit of his truth (3) which we are to teach (4) so that our children might know that truth (5) and therefore put their trust in God (6) enabling them to live lives of loyal obedience.
These six points will form the structure of how we mediate on this Psalm during the week, beginning with the first:
God is the central reality in our lives
John Piper writes:All Christian parenting and Christian education begins with God. There is One ultimate, unchanging Reality, namely, God. All else in parenting and education comes from him. All else is for him. He is the first and the last and the centre of parenting and education. He is the main thing in how you rear children and teach children and discipline children. It all begins with God and it all is built on God and it all is shaped by God. If there is one memory that our children should have of our families and our church it is this: they should remember God. God was first. God was central. There was a passion for the supremacy of God in all things.
We can’t even begin to educate the next generation about God if he’s not first in our own lives. Before we can teach it, we need to live it. We need to be families and churches full of godly examples for our children to follow: examples of people for whom God is not just a thing to do on Sundays, the provider of a get-out-of-hell-free card, and a genie to run to when you need something. We need to model for our children what it means to be so consumed with God that you’d joyfully give up anything for his glory. God must be the central reality in our lives.
To think about
Parents: is this how your children would grow up to describe your family?
Everyone: Is it how the children in your church will grow up to describe it?