Teach Your Children Well . . .

August 6, 2012

The charge given to the PCUSA by the General Assembly is to “enter into a season of serious study and discernment concerning its meaning of Christian marriage.” Implicit in this assignment is the exploration of Christian marriage, which gets its definition from Scripture and the history of Scripture’s application within the church. Discernment is necessary when a particular teaching requires a particular doing. Since as Presbyterians we hold fast to the principle that learning is pursued so that we can behave rightly (“truth unto goodness”), the process must aid us in making decisions about what we do regarding marriage. So far, so good. Everything I have contributed to the discussion so far has moved in this direction.

Today I would like to take a step back and regard this task from another vantage point. My reason for doing so is perhaps a fatigue about the many complications brought up when we begin talking about marriage. In my weeks of silence (due to vacation as well as reading and consultation with others), I have come to believe that the various approaches to a curriculum on marriage fall somewhere between overly simplistic and very complicated. In Q & A before the GAPJC, the team arguing for Parnell was told that our understanding of Scripture prohibiting all homosexual practice was “too simple,” that life is more complicated than that. I do not concede the point, but note that on the other hand, justifications for gay marriage are based on overwrought biblical exegesis, arguments from silence, and a perceived superiority of personal experience over God’s Word.

And so, as I have been traveling through the gospel of Matthew this month (in my ‘other life’ as a teaching pastor), Jesus’ comments in the first few verses of chapter 18 jumped out at me. These suggest that a curriculum for adults should be judged on the impact its teaching would have on children’s faith.

Matt. 18:1-7
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!”

I rely heavily on Dale Bruner[1] for insight into these verses. I trust Bruner, a Presbyterian layman and retired Whitworth professor, because he gathers input from early church fathers and contemporary theologians, works well with the Greek, and considers all the angles. He is no simpleton when it comes to biblical exegesis. And yet, when the meaning becomes clear, his commitment to God’s Word is refreshing and challenging. He is a good tutor.

Bruner puts these two paragraphs into a larger section on the nature of Christ-like love. Matt 17:24-27 declares that “Love Limits Its Freedom (Flexibility).” Matt 18:1-5 demonstrates that “Love Redirects Its Ambition (Humility).” And Matt 18:6-9 observes that “Love Doesn’t Want to Hurt Anyone’s Faith (Sensitivity).” In all three segments, Jesus addresses the loving nurture of others’ faith, and the avoidance of making faith difficult for others. In particular, he repeatedly mentions the spiritual welfare of children.

Without going through the entire exegetical chain here, one conclusion I draw from Christ’s teaching is that we must test the purity and propriety of our teaching based on how it will lead children in the faith. Jesus refers to children, and Bruner expands this to mean “little people” or those who are dependent or of low status.

From an educational standpoint, there is a developmental aspect to this, of course. When we teach children about marriage and sexuality at an early age, the terms and scope of our discussion are limited to the concrete (because that is how small children process things—they are not conceptual thinkers yet) and on the need to know. They also need to know what is appropriate behavior and what is not, even before they know the reasons why. (This despite the frequency of the question, “But why, Mommy?”). Have you ever noticed that the person who is more acquainted with the complexities of a subject is in a better position to summarize and “simplify” it so that a child can understand the basics? Children make us check our work; if our rendition doesn’t make sense to them, it may not make sense.

But Jesus seems particularly concerned that nothing would deter or scandalize the faith of children, so it is incumbent upon us adults to point them (and ourselves!) in the right direction. The worldview basic to all teaching, and particularly in the area of sexuality, focuses on the object of our faith: the existence of God, God’s role and sovereignty as Creator; God’s goodness, love, and benevolent nature; and God’s order in creation. This is the basis for Paul’s description of faith’s foundation in Romans 1: showing gratitude to God and giving God the glory. Even adults must cultivate the discipline of remembering  the Creator and not worshiping God’s creation, and hold the attitude and position in Christ as grateful recipient and responder.

Tomorrow, with “children” in mind, I will demonstrate the necessity of teaching what God has said in his Word (“Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” in the Great Commission, Matt 28:19-21), rather than starting with what we wish to be true on the basis of our experience.

 


[1] Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary, vol. 2, The Churchbook Matthew 13-28, rev. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 207-216.

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2 Responses to “Teach Your Children Well . . .”

  1. James M. Skidmore, Jr. Says:

    Jim S.

    Mary I like your approach with the Scripture. I need to read and study theones you have citied more before making any comment. However, as a child I learned from the Children’s Catechism. Who made you? What else did God make? What is the chief end of man?
    If we can help teach the children (and others) the Scriptures
    in this proccess it may please our Lord.

  2. Jodie Says:

    Mary,

    I think keeping the children in mind would be great. They are the ones who suffer the most in divorce. They are the ones who give up on marriage when they see their parents divorce. And they are the ones who see through who loose faith in being a Christian when their parents preach the bible, but throw their marriages and their love for each other out the window with no regard for the devastation it causes them.

    I say Amen to this metric.

    Jodie Gallo
    Los Angeles, CA

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