Thursday, January 05, 2006

Are we raising legalists?

I grew up in a Christian home and remember my conversion experience at the age of 5. My Dad was in Bible college at the time and a few months after that he entered into the joys of typical denominational full-time ministry. I say all this to say that I grew up in the church with many other kids and pastor's kids. I have always wondered why so many of my generation have fallen away, including one of my own sisters. Now that I have my own children, I'm even more interested in the answer to that question.

We are fortunate to have had exellent teaching at our church on raising children. There are many Biblical principles we follow that we would never have had knowledge of if not for our church. For that I am very very thankful, and see the gracious hand of God in it all. So I'm interested in thinking about this question in a way that helps me be a better parent, and not in blaming anyone for those who fall away.

Here are a few of my own observations:

1. Training/teaching is not enough.

I see parents all the time who are very diligent at teaching and training, correcting and disciplining their children. Many of these children still don't 'get it'. They know the right answers and the knowing has no bearing whatsoever on the doing (unless a parent with a rod be present!).

2. Growing up in the church is not enough.

This one is self-explanatory I think. Growing up in the church can actually have a bad affect on unbelieving children. It is easy for them to learn to turn their ears and hearts off when hearing the truth. They become 'comfortable' with God, thinking they know him on some level, and he wouldn't really send them to hell. After all, they know all the right things and someday they'll do something about it.

3. Praising your child when they do the right thing can enforce legalism/self-dependence/arrogance.

I think I can deeply ingrain a legalistic idea of salvation in my children if I'm not thinking about what I'm saying to them, especially in the context of discipline and praise. Often the Holy Spirit reminds to give credit to him when talking with my children. The temptation is to say " you did great" instead of " I saw a difference in you, Jesus must have been helping you today" or something of that nature. Many times I ask my daughter after she obeys joyfully, if she had been praying for help to obey. Usually she says yes, but sometimes she wants to take credit for doing good. This becomes the perfect opportunity to point her back to the truths of the gospel and redirect her praise to God, thereby (hopefully) teaching her humility. Conversely, I should be careful not to make discipline the motivation for obedience. This is a real temptation for me. If I'm always saying, "If you keep doing that, you will be disciplined" is this instilling in them the idea that God is our greatest joy and it's a delight to obey him? I'm teaching them to look at the whole thing backwards. In fact, discipline is grace from God to keep us from hell, and to keep us delighting in him.

I may come up with more thoughts on this later. It's obviously something I'll be thinking about for awhile. For a parting thought, the old hymn "Trust and Obey" comes to mind. I can only remember the chorus at the moment:

Trust and obey
For there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus
But to trust and obey

It strikes me how we like to turn this into 'obey and trust'. As if God becomes obligated to take care of us if we obey, so we trust him after we obey. Maybe that's why there are so many former church kids out there in the world convinced that one day they'll obey and then they can finally trust God. One thing I'm sure of, God hears our prayers. Maybe if we focus on anything as parents, this would be the best place to start.

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