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Volume 8, Issue 3: Childer


Douglas Wilson

Our word tradition comes from the Latin trado, which means "to hand over." The process of godly childrearing is entirely dependent upon this process; unless parents successfully hand over their values, assumptions, and faith, then all they do is for nothing. Godly parenting must be efficacious. This means that faith must be imparted. There must be a transaction.

Modern Christian material on childrearing frequently assumes what we may call the "priorities game." According to this, the father is called on to remember that his God is first, his family is second, and his vocation last. Considered in isolation, these priorities are exactly right. The problem comes when we try to measure how our priorities are working out; this leads us to treat each category as though it were in a competition of some kind. We then determine which one "wins" by how much time each one gets. Thus a man who spends eight hours at work and one hour with his son must love his job eight times more. A man who works six days and worships for one must love his work six times more than God. This assumption is false, but nonetheless common.
Using this stern measuring stick of time expended, many parents, under the gun, try to do "all the right things." If we are supposed to have a family night, they have a family night. If we are supposed to have quality time with the troops, they have quality time. If we are supposed to have quantity time with them, they have quantity time. If we are supposed to have devotions at dinner time, they have devotions. And then, when the kids grow old enough to walk away from the faith of their parents, they still do so.
When such parents are confronted with the biblical responsibilities of parenthood (parents being responsible for how their children turn out), they may say, with apparent justification, "But we did everything!" And humanly speaking, this is quite true. They did everything -- at least everything that a sinful parent can be expected to do.
The problem is then compounded by some other parents who do not have family night, etc. but who are respected and loved by all their children. They would follow their parents anywhere, and they love the same God.
These sorts of comparative situations are what lead many to assume that successful childrearing must be the result of some sort of celestial crapshoot. "Your kids turn out. His kids don't. Baby needs a new pair of shoes."
Thus we waver. We think that our children's salvation is dependent upon the turn of a cosmic roulette wheel, or we think that we control it by our own efforts and works. But neither is the case. God has given believers countless promises concerning the salvation of their children. And each, as a divine promise, can only be received in one way, by one instrument. That instrument is faith. When such faith is present, parental good works will always be present, but as a result of the faith, not the cause of it. We must always remember our religion is not based upon works. Salvation is by grace through faith -- not by works lest anyone should boast. This includes the salvation of our children. This is the order of Christ's kingdom.
Now let's return to the question of transaction. One parent hands his child ten dollars, and it is received. Another parent hands his child a million dollars, which flutter to the floor. In the first there is a transaction; in the second there is not. The obvious question is, "What causes a godly transaction to occur?" The answer given above is faith -- not works. Of course, a godly faith will always exhibit works, but this is after the fact and a fruit of faith, not a partner with it. God has promised us the salvation of our children. Do we believe Him?
If we do, then we bring up our children with confidence. The word confidence also comes from the Latin, meaning with faith. Christian parents lose their children to the world because they do not believe God for them. Objections crowd into our minds" -- but this makes the salvation of our children dependent upon what men and women do!"
Not at all. Faith is a gift, and, further, it is merely an instrument of salvation. The cause of salvation is the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
We must be careful not to mix categories. The grace of God in the salvation of children is no more set aside by a parent's faith than it is set aside by the requirement of a missionary. "How will they hear without a preacher?" The grace of God in election is the ultimate cause of anyone's salvation. But this cause does not take away the role of secondary causes -- rather, it establishes them. If the preacher is not sent, the sinners do not hear. And if parents do not believe and labor faithfully as a result, then their children will not hear either.
In this regard, parents have one advantage over the evangelist to the heathen. The "evangelism" done by parents is the only kind of evangelism which has scriptural promises of individual success.
The faithful parent looks to God and His word. Then, with faith in hand, he looks at his children ... and hands it over.

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