Training a child

The Pew Research Center recently released a report in which it revealed that “fully 85% of self-identified Catholics ages 18–29” believe “that homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with just 13% who said it should be discouraged.” And while the acceptance of homosexuality is most widespread in this age group, it is not exclusive. The report detailed acceptance in the group aged 30–49 (73%), 50–67 (67%) and 65 and older (57%).

The report of support for same sex marriage is equally revealing across age groups: 75% for ages 18–29; 63% for ages 30–49; 51% for ages 50–64; and 38% for ages 65 and older.

From a cultural perspective, these numbers are hardly surprising. Western society has, in the last decade or so, come to embrace homosexuality and same sex marriage with fervour. But the numbers are disturbing because they express the opinions of self-identified Catholics.

The Catholic Church officially recognises homosexuality as a sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Sacred Scripture … presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity” and that “tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ … Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

Progressive Catholics have become quite excited at some of the language that has proceeded recently from the Eleventh General Assembly, which states that, while “the Church affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same level as marriage between man and woman … there are instances where mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice is a valuable support in the life of these persons.” Further, the report from the General Assembly states that “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” and asks,

Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing them a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising the Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

While careful to note that the report does not represent “decisions taken” by the Church, it hopes that its “proposed reflections, the fruit of synodal discussion which took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal learning,” will “raise questions and indicate outlooks that will later be developed and clarified by reflection.” Ultimately, “the collegial journey of the bishops and the involvement of all God’s people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will guide us in finding the road to truth and mercy for all.”

As excited as the progressives are getting, the Catholic Church has in no way reversed its doctrinal stance on homosexuality. However, discussion has now been tabled as to whether homosexuals should be welcomed into the Church, and the Church’s leadership believes that “the Holy Spirit will guide us in finding the road to truth” in this matter.

Regardless of the Church’s official stance, it is clear that many Catholics on the ground—particularly the younger generation—have openly rejected the Church’s official teaching and have embraced acceptance of and support for sinful behaviour.

My purpose here is not to bash the Catholic Church. I personally don’t expect a change in official Catholic doctrine for a long time to come. What interests me in the immediate setting is the fact that an overwhelming majority of young, self-professed Catholics are happy to embrace teaching that flies in the face of the official doctrine of the Church.

Clearly, for these young people, the official stance of the Church or the word of popes past and present are insufficient to determine their worldview. The clear testimony of Scripture likewise seems to be insufficient for these young Catholics. (Perhaps not surprise us, since even the Church’s leadership hopes to be guided to “the road to truth” by the Holy Spirit, as if God’s Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is insufficient to state the truth.) The question staring us right in the face is, what would be sufficient authority to determine a young Catholic’s worldview on the matter? The Church has clearly failed to impress on its young people its official teaching. What went wrong? What could have been done differently?

The report released by the Pew Research Center should cause evangelicals to sit up and take notice. If the Catholic Church has failed to impress its values and teachings on its young people, surely we evangelicals ought to take care that the same doesn’t happen to us. We cannot merely shake our heads in disappointment at the Catholic Church and pretend that the same will never happen to us, for “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Already, evangelical associations like The Evangelical Network, Accepting Evangelicals and The Gay Christian Network have expressed their support for gay rights.

Evangelicals who still believe the Bible and submit to its teaching in all areas face the challenge of raising children who believe and submit to the same. We are raising children in the first generation in history in which homosexuality is overwhelmingly supported. As even Christian groups capitulate to societal pressure, what will we do to ensure that we and our children remain firm in God’s Word?

There are at least three important observations to make from the Pew Research Center’s report.

First, for the young Catholics surveyed, knowing what the Bible says (assuming they do, in fact, know) was not enough. They were willing to embrace a worldview that stands in contradiction to God’s clearly revealed Word.

Second, the young Catholics surveyed were clearly unimpressed with the official teaching of the Church. (Again, I’m assuming they know the official teaching of the Church.) The weight of Church doctrine did not sway their worldview in a right way.

Third, the teaching of Catholic leaders did not serve to inform their thinking on this issue. I imagine that most Catholic priests are happy to abide by official Catholic teaching, but their stance on these issues did not impress their young Catholic members.

As evangelicals, these observations should make us think clearly about the way in which we raise our children if we will give them a Christ-centred worldview. And they present some interesting lessons for us.

First, we cannot expect the church or the church’s leaders to raise our children for us. The pope, the priests and the official teaching of the Church meant very little to 85% of young Catholics surveyed. We are rightfully thankful for the doctrines and the teaching ministry of our churches. We are rightfully thankful for the leadership that God has given our churches. We do well to expose our children to these teachings, ministries and ministers. But we dare not think that mere exposure to these things will produce a biblical worldview in our children.

Second, we must not think that rote, analytical exposure to the Bible will produce a biblical worldview in our children. It is good to encourage Scripture memorisation in our children. It is good to recite Scripture to them when we discipline them and when we seek to teach them. But listing Bible verses will not, in and of itself, produce in them what we desire to produce. Our responsibility goes far beyond that.

To produce a thorough, biblical worldview in our children, parents must be involved. We cannot rely on others to raise our children for us. Yes, we want our children to be exposed to sound teaching outside the home—church, children’s ministries, etc.—but it is our responsibility to instil a Christian worldview in our children.

To do this, we need to instruct our children in an environment dominated by Scripture. Throwing out a few proof texts here and there is insufficient. Quoting a verse or two when we discipline them is not good enough. Teaching them to memorise Scripture is good and important, but it will not by itself instil in them a Christian worldview.

I was impressed (and convicted) recently, reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, to see the amount of effort Muslim families put into catechising their children. The author recalls that, as they were sitting at the dinner table, as they were driving to the mosque, as they were travelling to holiday, his parents were instilling Islamic teaching into his heart and mind. Christian families are tempted to feel that they have done their duty if they maintain a ten-minute family devotion. That is good and necessary, but training our children in the ways of God requires more. As Deuteronomy 6:4–9 teaches, we need to instruct our children “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Further, Christian parents need to teach their children to love God with their minds (Matthew 22:37). This means that we must train them to think Christianly in every area of life, not only in “religious” things. They should look at every matter of culture through the lens of a Christian worldview. If they do not deliberately think in a biblical way, they will naturally think in an unbiblical way. There is no middle ground.

At the same time, Christian parents need to strive to neutralise false teaching in their children. False teaching is pervasive, and Christian parents need to know what their children are being exposed to so they can counter what is false. If children attend public school, parents need to spend time with them to deliberately counter the untruths they are learning. If they have unbelieving friends, parents need to dialogue with them to counter the influences those friends have on them. Parents need to know what their children are watching on TV, listening to on their iPods, viewing on the Internet, and reading in their books, so they can help their children to discern what is untrue.

Finally, we need to plead with God on behalf of our children that they will embrace the truths of Scripture and reject the lies of the devil. The word of God is powerful, but ultimately God himself must do a work in our children’s hearts. We are deeply dependent on God, and the best way to show dependence is to pray.

For 85% of young Catholics, there is at least one major area in which parents and the Church failed to instruct them and counter error. Evangelicals need to hear this as a warning. We need to make sure that we are on guard against this happening to our own children. Only as we take responsibility to expose them in a thorough way to the testimony of Scripture, teach them to think biblically, counter error, model godliness before them, and plead with God on their behalf, is there any hope of producing another generation of Christians who are faithful to God and his word.

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