Rousas and Dorothy Rushdoony shared a Sunday dinner at our home in the fall of 1994. Some other families joined us, and there were many children present. Offering thanks for the meal, Rushdoony prayed for the children in a way that I will never forget: "May these children and their children's children be Christians until the end of time!"1
Rushdoony's was a good Biblical prayer, since Scripture consistently emphasizes the intergenerational aspect of God's covenant mercies. God established an everlasting covenant with Abraham, for instance, in Genesis 17:7, "to be God to you and to your descendents after you." That intergenerational covenant was reaffirmed at Pentecost, in Acts 2:39, as Peter proclaims "the promise is for you and your children...." The Westminster Larger Catechism (Q183) instructs us to pray for coming generations, and gives scriptural proofs for this practice (2 Sam. 7:29; Jn. 17:20). The prayer for Rebekah's seed in Genesis 24:60 emphasizes both the number of her children and their success: "May you, our sister, become thousands of ten thousands, and may your seed possess the gate of those who hate them." (Compare the language of "possessing the gates" of their enemies with God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:17 and with Christ's prophecy concerning the church in Matthew 16:18.)
God's Mandate to Fathers
Scripture commands fathers to train the next generation. There is a clear command to teach the law of God, the fear of the Lord, and Christian principles in both the Old Testament (Dt. 6:4-9) and the New (Eph. 6:1-4). Scripture says that God chose Abraham "that he might command his children and his household ... to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice" (Gen. 18:19). Indeed, Abraham's obligation to teach his children was tied to the gospel promise that all nations would be blessed through him in Christ (Gen. 18:1; Gal. 3:8). Fathers who fail to train their children, furthermore, are prohibited from holding office in the church of Christ (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Titus 1:6).
In addition, fathers are required to transmit to their progeny a sense of God's working in history. God performed the miracles of the Exodus so that "you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians, and how I performed My signs among them; that you may know that I am the LORD" (Ex. 10:2). Note this well: God did miracles, so that we would have awesome Bible stories to tell our kids of God's power. (Sunday school teachers in my home church labored over the flannelgraph board to demonstrate God's work in history. I am sure, humanly speaking, that my confidence in God's Word and God's power rests in part on their faithful Exodus 10 style service.)
The recitation of Biblical history was, furthermore, to be personally meaningful. "What does this rite mean to you?" (Ex. 12:26) This was the question Hebrew children were to ask of their fathers at the time of the Passover celebration. It gave fathers a ready opportunity to explain God's redemptive work in the Exodus. But it had to be personal — it couldn't be a stale, perfunctory performance. After all, the child asks, "What does it mean to you?" Similarly, Christ is our Pascal Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7) and the sacrament of the Old Testament is analogous to that of the New. The Lord's Supper is an excellent opportunity to remind children of what Christ's sacrifice means to us.
In 1982, I shared a hospital room for a number of days with an old Jewish man from the north suburbs of Chicago. He was a fascinating man with stories of his migration from Russia, his Orthodox grandfather, and his service against Hitler's forces in World War II. He was amazed that I was studying Hebrew in a Christian seminary, and he taught me little Hebrew prayers. He grieved that his own children hadn't learned the language and cared little for their Jewish heritage. Yet my new friend didn't really believe anything and even described himself as a "non-theistic" Jew. His children, it seemed, were merely living out the faithlessness of the father.
Christians need to take their own history seriously. We need to learn lessons from the past, celebrate the godly dimensions of our heritage, eschew examples of unfaithfulness, and share with the next generations what redemptive history means to us. Hebrews 11 is a good, brief example of Christian history-telling, which moves us with illustrations of faith. We must use history to train future generations in the Faith. Indeed, it is our prayer that our descendents will be followers of Christ from generation to generation.
Your Children's Inheritance
That calling is especially important since the prevailing secular culture offers little encouragement for training children in Christ. I have heard of a bumper sticker, attached to an expensive motor home, reading, "We are spending our children's inheritance." It suggests a shockingly hedonistic disregard for the next generation. The genuine Christian says, instead, with Proverbs 13:22, "A righteous man leaves an inheritance to his children's children." The inheritance we leave to the next generation is spiritual as well as financial.
How do we leave a spiritual inheritance? Psalm 145:4 says that, "One generation shall praise Thy works to another, And shall declare Thy mighty acts." What follows are suggestions for fulfilling that psalm and using history as a tool of intergenerational covenant evangelism.
How To Do It
First, Christians must teach children the law of God. They must come to know their Bible, the commandments, and the law-word of the Sovereign Lord. (Our own children profited greatly, I believe, from our last reading of Deuteronomy. They liked to ask about the provisions of the law, how it might apply today, and what were the principles to live by.) I wonder how many evangelical homes have regular family devotions where the Scriptures are read and applied.
Second, Christians must teach children the history of God's redemptive workings. This is something that our children have naturally enjoyed. Scripture has stories of real people: war stories, romance stories, stories full of pathos and sin, stories filled with faith and courage. For capturing the interest of boys, you cannot improve on David and Goliath, or Ehud and Eglon. On Lord's Day afternoons, for example, we have read FoxesBook of Martyrs, Fair Sunshine, and missionary stories. It is a reminder that these are our heroes, these are the stories of the faithful, and these are the ones we follow after.
Third, Christians should catechize their children. Children are able to learn easily by memorization, and when they study, say, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, they are able to grasp a superb theological framework. It is no accident that many of the Reformers set themselves to crafting catechisms for training the next generation. Scripture is, after all, profitable for teaching doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16).
Fourth, Christians should use personal history evangelistically, showing their own experience with God's saving work. Learning about their parents' journey in faith encourages children, and we should be eager to reveal our acquaintance with "experiential religion."
Fifth, Christians can give examples of God's providences in their lives. Scripture is filled with examples of God's guidance. There is an element of providence in marriage, for example, for God is the one who "joins together." We have wonderful opportunities of sharing with children God's special providence in our families, or our callings, or our particular trials. Christians must not act as if they were "practical atheists"; rather, they should point to the sovereign God who directs their paths.
Psalm 78:5-8 has a good example of how Christians should use history. First, there is a reminder of God's law. ("For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers.") Second, there is a command to teach the Word to future generations. ("That they should teach them to their children, That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born.") Third, there is an emphasis on covenantal evangelism: transmitting genuine faith in God to children and grandchildren. ("That they may arise and tell them to their children, That they should put their confidence in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments.") And finally, Scripture uses a negative example, urging listeners to avoid the rebelliousness of generations past. ("And not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not prepare its heart, And whose spirit was not faithful to God.")
Christians should have great confidence in the task of covenantal evangelism. God has promised to bless our children. Psalm 102, a psalm rich with messianic imagery, describes the afflictions of the man of God. Yet it concludes with a precious promise: "The children of Thy servants will continue, And their descendants will be established before Thee."2 May it be so with us, and with our children, and children's children, generation after generation, until the coming of the Lord.
1. It was a moving prayer, especially considering Rushdoony's roots. His family has a long Christian heritage in Armenia, stretching back to the 4th century. Rushdoony is the eighth in a direct line of ministers. Some in the family, including Rushdoony's maternal grandfather, were martyred during the brutal Turkish genocide of Armenian Christians in the early 20th century. An interview I did with Rushdoony is available online at http://www.visi.com/~contra_m/cm/interviews/cm13_ interview.html.
2. The photograph of my family in my office has affixed to it the words of Psalm 102:28. It is a reminder of our Christian convictions, and of God's covenant faithfulness from generation to generation.