When I was first learning arithmetic, I remember being corrected when I attempted to subtract a larger number from a smaller one. It was dutifully explained that if I started with only eight objects, it was impossible to take away ten. That made sense to me, and I was satisfied because I now knew the “truth” about numbers. In later grades, the subject of integers arose, and I was angry when I discovered there were such things as negative numbers. I was livid! Why had my teachers lied to me? It turns out that you can take larger numbers away from smaller ones. My mother attempted to console me in my wrath, explaining that conventional wisdom did not think small children could understand this advanced concept. By the time I was teaching my own children in a homeschool setting, I better understood the choices my teachers had made. Yet, I was certain to qualify my instruction of subtraction with the disclaimer, “You can’t subtract a larger number from a smaller one, in most cases.” When asked about those cases, I responded with examples that would make sense to each child. For my son, I explained it was like someone who spends money he does not have and overdraws a checking account, resulting in a negative balance. For my daughter, who had grown up around the golf world, the explanation was much easier since in golf, scoring involves the use of negative numbers for good shots—birdies and eagles.
I recount this because the perspective that children are unable to deal with “difficult” concepts often transfers to areas more important than arithmetic. It seriously underestimates what young ones can comprehend. In matters of Scripture, many parents shy away from “unpleasant” subjects like hell, sin, punishment, God’s wrath, and condemnation because they wish to present a picture of the faith that is pleasant and inviting. By assuming these ideas and realities are beyond their children’s grasp, the substance of the gospel is lost because the antithesis is not presented. Children have the capacity to digest these concepts and respond with the honest, emotional responses that Jesus commended (Mark 10:15). Contrary to the nonsensical ideas of child psychology, children are not injured when they are told the truth about their depravity. However, this view is not rampant among secularists alone.
Dr. Rushdoony, theologian and founder of the Chalcedon Foundation, recounts an incident from his childhood that became a defining moment for him. From a very early age, he had been an avid reader of the Bible, having read it through a half a dozen times or more by the time he was in his teens. When he was about ten or eleven, a Congregational minister, rather than being delighted that someone so young was such a serious student of God’s Word, was shocked when he learned that Rush had already read the entire Bible, cross-examining him as to whether he had, in fact, read everything. Because the pastor kept pressing the point, Rushdoony remembers being very embarrassed and horrified that there was something wrong with certain passages of the Bible.
This incident had a different result than the “well-meaning” minister intended. Rushdoony, in relating this story, said that it naturally predisposed him to take everything in Scripture very seriously and to believe that it was all the Word of God and therefore all binding. He credits this perspective with predisposing him as a child to Biblical law.(1)
However, it is not enough to identify for children their need of a Savior. Children born into Christian families are also born into the front lines of warfare for Christ’s Kingdom, against the unregenerate world. Christian parents must teach their children to understand this, as soon as possible, and to live with God’s Word as the openly acknowledged authority in every area of life.
The Covenantal Model
As Christian parents raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, it is important to place the emphasis on teaching the faith rather than pushing for a profession of faith. Rebirth in Christ is a supernatural act of God, and no amount of prompting, manipulating, or cajoling will produce a regenerated servant of Christ.
Being born into a believing family does not guarantee a saving faith. So, if the parents’ role is not to persuade, what is it? The answer lies in God’s prescription for family bonds found in Deuteronomy, where God instructs parents to make it their number one priority to teach their children God’s precepts morning, noon, and night.
4. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
5. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
6. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
7. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
8. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. (Deut. 6:4–8)
Whether or not children are of God’s elect, Christian parents should expect them to behave in accordance with God’s mandates while under the care and jurisdiction of their parents. As time goes by and they are steeped in the principles and tenets of the faith, if God grants them new birth, there will be no need to cajole them to embrace the faith fully: they will seek out ways to satisfy their hunger and thirst for righteousness. Rushdoony makes this point in his discussion of election when he notes,
[O]ur election is not our choice, but God’s choice. St. Paul tells us that, apart from our election and salvation in Jesus Christ, we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13). Dead men cannot make choices. The sinner, insofar as any ability to save himself is concerned, is a dead man. He is given over to death and hell. His salvation is a miracle, and miracles are certainly not made by sinners or dead men!(2)
An Earthly Illustration
Recently I asked my youngest daughter to tell me when she knew that she was a Schwartz. At first, she gave me an erudite answer, “I never had any doubt I was a Schwartz.” I told her not to evaluate in hindsight, but to tell me her first recollection that she was part of our particular family and not another. After thinking a short while, she said she knew she was a member of our family when she was around other families whose children could have as much candy and as many treats as they wanted ###i
When she was very young, her dad and I made sure she knew her name and where she lived in case she ever got lost, but the realization of her identity came when she viewed herself in a greater context than our family. She was never under the impression that she had chosen which family she was born into, or that she had established the rules and regulations that were a part of membership in our family. She grew into an understanding of her role as daughter and sister, and embraced these roles more fully as she matured and attained greater comprehension. We did not have to persuade her to be a Schwartz. She was a Schwartz, and as she matured, that became more and more real.
In a like matter, we do not determine if and when we are going to be born again. This is supremely an act of God in us and in our children. From a parental point of view, we provide the context and guidelines for being a covenant child, and as the child matures, he embraces this identity, even if he is unable to pinpoint the exact moment of his conversion. However, if he has been raised with the knowledge of God’s law being the governing rule of conduct, then when the reality of his heart of stone being turned into a heart of flesh becomes apparent (Ezek. 36:26), he is better able to understand the tutoring he had received that led to comprehending the magnitude of his conversion. It is in this way that Christian family culture is nurtured.
Christian Family Culture
Henry R. Van Til noted that culture is religion externalized. Thus, every Christian family has a family culture that either reflects God’s law-word as the starting and ending points for all actions and decisions, or it does not. As God’s law-word is taken seriously, decisions regarding educational choices, where the family will live, selection of friends, and the choice of a church congregation will be dictated by that standard. Although rarely exercised in a fully consistent manner, our goal should be to treat God’s directives not as a smorgasbord from which to choose, or according to our personal likes and dislikes, but as fully authoritative, setting aside personal preferences.
As God’s foundational institution, the health of the Biblical family will be the barometer of the health of the church, the state, and the health of the culture in general. When Scripture is the standard, the Christian family becomes a strong foundation and a strong participant in all cultural institutions. It is in this context that the doctrine of election can have the greatest impact.
[W]e are not only chosen by God the Son, but ordained by Him. To ordain (tithemi) means to appoint to a particular form of service. It is a serious distortion of Scripture to limit the meaning and scope of salvation and ordination to our rescue from reprobation. Such a focus is common to Calvinists and Arminians alike; men are saved from wrath, from hell, and are redeemed for heaven, we are often told. This is a dangerous partial truth which results in humanism. It reduces the goal of salvation to man, and man’s security, whereas Our Lord declares that it points beyond us.(4)
This ordination to service necessitates that Christian parents embrace the reality of the war that has been ongoing since the Fall of man and will extend until the culmination of history. Indicative of their resolve to be counted among those on the Lord’s side will be the Christian education of their children, acquainting the children with and equipping them for the daily battles for their hearts and minds. Since the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, His people are daily involved in a war between principalities and powers in high places that are intensely opposed to letting the light of the Christian family and its individual members advance in the culture and claim ground for Jesus Christ. Covenant children need to understand that as Christians, their light (the reflected light of Jesus Christ) is in view wherever they go. Rather than believe they can make truces with the devil, they need to appreciate that their very presence in a covenant household places them on the scope of God’s enemies.
As they move in and through a dark world, they will be targeted by the powers of darkness and evildoers who do all in their power to marginalize Christians, move them off the narrow path, and promote defeat. Those who decide to “remain neutral” in this conflict, wishing to play it safe, should realize there are no God-free zones. Either they are for Christ or against Him; there is no middle ground. The enemies of God know this; it is time that the Christian family realizes this fully.
The Full Armor of God
Christian children need to be taught that the entire earth is contested ground and usurpers can only be effectively challenged with the weapons ordained for this warfare—the full armor of God (Eph. 6:11–17). These are the very weapons that God’s enemies hope God’s children never discover, or if discover, never use! For when Christians stand in truth, with righteousness, ready to share the good news of Jesus Christ according to His rules for establishing a godly culture, God’s enemies on earth and in the spiritual realms are rightly disturbed. Their strategy to win the turf war is to convince the people of God not to fight!
Protected by our faith, which is our shield, strengthened by the helmet of salvation, which directs our thoughts and undergirds our knowledge, Christian families thus apply the law-word of God (our sword, or weapon of attack) to individual lives and our culture as a whole. This is how we destroy the strongholds of the enemy where unbelief and wickedness rule, so that the truth of God’s Word can bring forth healing.
If one is not schooled in these realities, and is taught instead a nicey-nice religion of compromise, watered-down doctrine, and appeasement, the enemies of God have much less to worry about. However, when ambassadors of Christ move in their various positions and influence their individual spheres, the victory that the Bible teaches Christ won at Calvary will be increasingly visible.
As we teach and pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are proclaiming the victory accomplished by the cross and sealed with the resurrection and ascension. That is why this prayer ends with the acclamation: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.” God already knows this about Himself. We repeat it in acknowledgment that we are part of that victory. In our own strength, we are no match for the devil. However, in the power of the risen Christ, the devil flees from us (James 4:7).
Take Off the Blinders – Put On the Glasses
The lies that permeate our culture are meant to discourage and sidetrack the people of God. Even those who witnessed Jesus’ death remained cowered in a room and ineffective Kingdom workers until they were given spiritual eyes to see and ears to hear what their physical eyes and ears had seen and heard. When the blinders came off and the glasses of God’s Word were used, thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit, the disciples turned the world upside down. It is no different today. Although our situation seems dire, we have no business proceeding in the Lord’s service with a defeatist attitude. We must come into the presence of the living God with thanksgiving in our hearts and into His throne room with words of praise on our lips. The good news is that the enemy has been defeated and we are privileged to be a part of the clean up operation to establish the crown rights of Jesus.
[T]o become productive, we obey God’s commandments (John 15:14). To be productive in Jesus Christ is not a vague and gushy fact: it is the reality of taking God’s law-word seriously and applying it to every area of life and thought.(5)
Discerning the Battleground
It is a romantic illusion that the turf wars exist only out in the culture. While it is true that the hijacked arena of the university and the morally reprobate mass media are competing for the hearts and minds of young people, the devil can have a field day in families where God’s authority structure is abandoned and the interpersonal relationships of family members are not governed by God’s law-word.
How many perceive themselves to be faithful servants of Christ when it comes to dealing with strangers and potential converts, but have no compunction about dishonoring a parent or failing to fully nurture and train their children? Unfortunately, too many have bought into the idea that holiness need not be of primary importance as they deal within their family culture. Can we bear fruit elsewhere if we do not bear fruit in our families?
[O]ur Lord tells us that we are ordained to bear fruit, to be productive. We are compared here to fruit trees; a good tree bears fruit. A little earlier, our Lord compares us to the branches of a vine, Himself, “the true vine” (John 15:1). Again, the emphasis is not on being in the Lord or in the vine, but on bearing fruit. “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away and every branch that beareth fruit he purgeth it, that it might bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2). Thus, God either casts us, as dead branches, into the fire (John 15:6), or else He prunes to make us more productive. Very plainly, all of God’s dealings with us are designed, not to give us comfort in our salvation, but to make us productive. We cannot resist that purging and pruning without resisting God. Our desire to have a comfortable corner and an easy life have no standing before Him.(6)
It is an illusion that one can bear fruit elsewhere if such is not evident within the family environment. That is why hands-on, responsible parenting involves making this a number one priority.
The Promised Land
When Jesus commissioned the church prior to His ascension, He expanded the scope of the Promised Land to include the entire world. As we fully engage in the turf war that we find ourselves in, we can take comfort and direction from the words originally given to Joshua to be shared with the families of Israel,
3. Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.
5. There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
6. Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.
7. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest.
8. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.
9. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (Josh. 1:3, 5–9)
As we go and make disciples of all nations, let us remember that the covenant children of Christian families have an enormous role to play in the sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As they are taught the reality of their depravity and the awesome grace of God to save, they will be better equipped to silence the foe and the avenger (Ps. 8).
(1) Excerpted from the transcript of an oral history given by R. J. Rushdoony to Janet Larson.
(2) Rousas John Rushdoony, Systematic Theology (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994), Vol. 1, 522.
(3) Our children were also taught not to use either of these Schwartz distinctives as a way to act in a superior or an inferior manner. These were family rules, and the children were expected to comply without “attitude.”
(4) Rushdoony, Vol. 1, 522.
(5) Ibid., 523.
(6) Ibid., 523.