Category Archives: Christian Education

Lead Them Down the Old Roads

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Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;

incline your ears to the words of my mouth!

I will open my mouth in a parable;

I will utter dark sayings from of old,

things that we have heard and known,

that our fathers have told us.

We will not hide them from their children,

but tell to the coming generation

the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,

and the wonders that he has done.

– Psalm 78:1-4

Parents, grandparents, teachers, pastors, and every believer – you have been called forth from and to follow the old truths, the ancient wisdom, the Word of God.  But even more than that, you are called to lead the following generations down those same roads.  Eternity is at stake.  Faithfulness to the gospel to which you were called is on the line.  The hearts of your children and those around you, your grandchildren, and of generations to come need to hear the wonderful words of hope, love, and redemption.  The psalmist proclaims the result of this:

He established a testimony in Jacob

and appointed a law in Israel,

which he commanded our fathers

to teach to their children,

that the next generation might know them,

the children yet unborn,

and arise and tell them to their children,

so that they should set their hope in God

and not forget the works of God,

but keep his commandments;

and that they should not be like their fathers,

a stubborn and rebellious generation,

a generation whose heart was not steadfast,

whose spirit was not faithful to God. (v 5-8)

Your children and those generations to come will follow something: will it be the the old roads of God’s faithful story leading to glory, or will we allow them to go their own way, the world’s way, leading them to destruction?

HT: Tim Challies

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Parents: See that Your Eye Be Single

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“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

We may suppose your sons have now been long enough at school, and you are thinking of some business for them. Before you determine anything on this head, see that your eye be single. Is it so? Is it your view to please God herein? It is well if you take him into your account! But surely, if you live or fear God yourself, this will be your first consideration, — “In what business will your son be most likely to love and serve God? In what employment will he have the greatest advantage for laying up treasure in heaven?” I have been shocked above measure in observing how little this is attended to, even by pious parents! Even these consider only how he may get most money; not how he may get most holiness! Even these, upon this glorious motive, send him to a heathen master, and into family where there is not the very form, much less the power of religion! Upon this motive they fix him in a business which will necessarily expose him to such temptations as will leave him not a probability, if a possibility, of serving God. O savage parents! Unnatural, diabolical cruelty. — if you believe there is another world.

“But what shall I do?” Set God before your eyes, and do all things with a view to please him. Then you will find a master, of whatever profession, that loves, or at least fears, God; and you will find a family wherein is the form of religion, if not the power also. Your son may nevertheless serve the devil if he will; but it is probable he will not. And do not regard, if he get less money, provided he get more holiness. It is enough, though he have less of earthly goods, if he secure the possession of heaven.

John Wesley (1703-91), On Family Religion

*Image credit: Ligonier Ministries

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The Greatest Good in Married Life: Raising Kids to Know & Serve God

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Therefore God has also most richly blessed this estate above all others, and, in addition has bestowed on it andwrapped up in it everything in the world, to the end that this estate might be well and richly provided for. Married life is therefore no jest or presumption; but it is an excellent thing and a matter of divine seriousness. For it is of the highest importance to Him that persons be raised who may serve the world and promote the knowledge of God, godly living, and all virtues, to fight against wickedness and the devil.

Martin Luther (1483-1546), The Large Catechism

But the greatest good in married life, that which makes all suffering and labour worth while, is that God grants offspring and commands that they be brought up to worship and serve him. In all the world this is the noblest and most precious work, because to God there can be nothing dearer than the salvation of souls. Now since we are all duty bound to suffer death, if need be, that we might bring a single soul to God, you can see how rich the estate of marriage is in good works. God has entrusted to its bosom souls begotten of its own body, on whom it can lavish all manner of Christian works. Most certainly father and mother are apostles, bishops, and priests to their children, for it is they who make them acquainted with the gospel. In short, there is no greater or nobler authority on earth than that of parents over their children, for this authority is both spiritual and temporal. whoever teaches the gospel to another is truly his apostle and bishop. Mitre and staff and great estates indeed produce idols, but teaching the gospel produces apostles and bishops. See therefore how good and great is God’s work and ordinance!

Luther, Sermon on Married Life

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Catechizing as a Means of Personal Evangelism

The work of conversion consisteth of two parts: First, the informing of the judgment in the essential principles of religion; Second, The change of the will by the efficacy of the truth. Now in [catechizing] we have the most excellent advantages for both. For the informing of their understandings, it must needs be an excellent help to have the sum of Christianity fixed in their memory. And though bare words, not understood, will make no change, yet, when the words are plain English, he that hath the words is far more likely to understand the meaning and matter than another. For what have we by which to make known things which are themselves invisible, but words or other signs? Those, therefore, who deride all catechisms as unprofitable forms, may better deride themselves for talking and using the form of their own words to make known their minds to others. Why may not written words, which are constantly before their eyes, and in their memories, instruct them, as well as the transient words of a preacher? These ‘forms of sound words’ are, therefore, so far from being unprofitable, as some persons imagine, that they are of admirable use to all. Besides, we shall have the opportunity, by personal conference, to try how far they understand the catechism, and to explain it to them as we go along; and to insist on those particulars which the persons we speak to have most need to hear. These two conjoined — a form of sound words, with a plain explication — may do more than either of them could do alone.

Moreover, we shall have the best opportunity to impress the truth upon their hearts, when we can speak to each individual’s particular necessity, and say to the sinner, ‘Thou art the man,” and plainly mention his particular case; and set home the truth with familiar importunity. If any thing in the world is likely to do them good, it is this. They will understand a familiar speech, who understand not a sermon; and they will have far greater help for the application of it to themselves. Besides, you will hear their objections, and know where it is that Satan hath most advantage of them, and so may be able to show them their errors, and confute their objections, and more effectually convince them. We can better bring them to the point, and urge them to discover their resolutions for the future, and to promise the use of means and reformation, than otherwise we could do. What more proof need we of this, than our own experience? I seldom deal with men purposely on this great business, in private, serious conference, but they go away with some seeming convictions, and promises of new obedience, if not some deeper remorse, and sense of their condition.

O brethren, what a blow may we give to the kingdom of darkness, by the faithful and skillful managing of this work! If, then, the saving of souls, of your neighbours’ souls, of many souls, from everlasting misery, be worth your labor, up and be doing! If you would be the fathers of many that are born again, and would ‘see of the travail of your souls,’ and would be able to say at last, ‘Here am I, and the children whom thou hast given me’ — up and ply this blessed work! If it would do your heart good to see your converts among the saints in glory, and praising the Lamb before the throne; if it would rejoice you to present them blameless and spotless to Christ, prosecute with diligence and ardor this singular opportunity that is offered you. If you are ministers of Christ indeed, you will long for the perfecting of his body, and the gathering in of his elect; and you will ‘travail as in birth’ till Christ be formed in the souls of your people. You will embrace such opportunities as your harvest-time affords, and as the sunshine days in a rainy harvest, in which it is unreasonable and inexcusable to be idle. If you have a spark of Christian compassion in you, it will surely seem worth your utmost labor to save so many ‘souls from death, and to cover’ so great ‘a multitude of sins.’ If, then, you are indeed fellow-workers with Christ, set to his work, and neglect not the souls for whom he died. O remember, when you are talking with the unconverted, that now you have an opportunity to save a soul, and to rejoice the angels of heaven, and to rejoice Christ himself, to cast Satan out of a sinner, and to increase the family of God! And what is your ‘hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? ’ Is it not your saved people ‘in the presence of Christ Jesus at his coming? ’ Yes, doubtless ‘they are your glory and your joy.’

Richard Baxter (1615-91), The Reformed Pastor, Chapter 3, Section 2, Article 1.

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Biblical Guidelines for Interpreting America’s “Christian Heritage”

A view of American history which gives a falsely Christian character is a hindrance, first, because it distorts the nature of the past.  Positive Christian action does not grow out of distortions or half-truths.  Such errors lead rather to false militance, unrealistic standards for American public life today, and to romanticized visions about the heights from which we have fallen [leading Christians and therefore churches into idolatrous practices of worship of a mixture of God and country].

But a false estimation of America’s history also hinders positive Christian action by discouraging a biblical analysis of our position today.  And it can compromise genuinely biblical guidelines for action.  If we accept traditional American attitudes toward public life as if these were Christian, when in fact they are not, we do the cause of Christ a disservice.  Similarly, if we perpetuate the sinful behavior and the moral blind spots of our predecessors, even if these predecessors were Christians, it keeps us from understanding scriptural mandates for action today….

[P]roper biblical principles for our attitudes to the American nation and its heritage…

(1) In the first place, we must agree with Roger Williams that no nation since the coming of Christ has been uniquely God’s chosen people.  The New Testament teaches unmistakably that Christ set aside national and ethnic barriers and that he has chosen to fulfill his central purposes in history through the church, which transcends all such boundaries….

However much particular nations may be used at particular times to do God’s work in the world, they are not the primary tools that he is now using.  Similarly, the Lord of history has not aligned his purposes with the particular values of any given country or civilization.

Instead, God calls out his people to be strangers and pilgrims, as many of America’s early settlers knew.  he calls them to repent of their sins and to avoid conformity with the world.  We are to be good citizens, but we must remember that our real home, that city with foundations, is beyond our own culture.  Our renderings to Caesar, while they must be taken seriously, are to follow the values of that Kingdom which stands above all earthly authority.  These priorities, rather than those of our culture and nation, demand our unfettered loyalty.

(2) A second principle is that God has no interest in religion per se.  There are strong inclinations, in fact, that he hates religion that is not truly Christian more than the absence of religion.  Christ condemned the Pharisees because not only were they blind, but as religious leaders they misled others.  “I hate the sound of your solemn assemblies,” the prophet Amos informed religious men and women of the Old Testament, when they used their religion as an excuse not to face the Lord himself.  One of the biggest dangers of an awareness of America’s religious past is the temptation to condone religion per se as the means to the ends of national righteousness.

There is the implicit tendency among uncritically patriotic Christians to conform any religion that tends to uphold the basic principles of American morality.  Where is the prophetic voice that condemns all religion which does not have its ultimate end in the God of our Lord Jesus Christ?  We must recognize that the American civic faith constantly repeats the chorus that any religion is good enough and that none should claim exclusive truth.  Against this tenet, we must be willing to stand as lonely prophets whose hearts are not glad with mere religiousity.  Jehovah demands exclusive loyalty.

(3) A third principle is that God judges people not according to what they say they believe but according to their real faith commitment.  God always is very practical in this respect.  We are liars, he says, if we claim to love God while we are busy hating our brother.  Similarly, when Israel would parade her religiousity, God would remind her people of the social injustice that was everywhere practiced upon the powerless.  This is the message of the book of James.  Real Christian faith can always be evaluated by the fruit it bears.  Real Christian faith will produce works, or it is not genuine faith.  According to this principle, we should evaluate the righteousness of any society not merely by the religious professions that people make, but also by the extent to which Christian principles concerning personal morality and justice for the oppressed are realized in the society.

The basis for judging the righteousness of this nation at any point is not solely to examine the membership rolls of the churches [especially in light of that, in much of pre-Revolutionary America and shortly after, church attendance was mandated].  No doubt, professions of faith are important.  But we must also look at the extent to which believers are engaged in the task of applying Christian love and justice to every facet of life.  What is really important is not the claims about American Christian heritage, nor an unjustifiable equation of modern America with the “my people” of 2 Chronicles 7:14.  What will stand in the final analysis is how believers, who recognize that their final Kingdom is not of this world, prove their faith in God by works of worship and love.

Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, George Marsden, The Search for Christian America22-24.

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Towards a Definition of “Christian Nation”

When I begin to explain that I think there should be “significant Christian influence” on government, sometimes people ask me if I think the United States is “a Christian nation.”

The question cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” until we define more carefully what we mean by “a Christian nation.” That is one reason why people sometimes become so upset about this question—different people have different meanings in mind for the phrase “a Christian nation,” and therefore they can end up talking about different things but using the same words and just misunderstanding one another.

Here are several meanings one can attach to the phrase “a Christian nation,” together with an answer to the question that varies according to each meaning:

(1) Is Christian teaching the primary religious system that influenced the founding of the United States? Yes, it is.

(2) Were the majority of the Founding Fathers of the United States Christians who generally believed in the truth of the Bible? Yes, they were.

(3) Is Christianity (of various sorts) the largest religion in the United States? Yes, it is.

(4) Did Christian beliefs provide the intellectual background that led to many of the cultural values still held by Americans today? (These would include things such as respect for the individual, protection of individual rights, respect for personal freedom, the value of hard work, the need for a strong national defense, the need to show care for the poor and weak, the value of generosity, the value of giving aid to other nations, and respect for the rule of law.) Yes, Christian beliefs have provided much of the intellectual background for many of these and other cultural values.

(5) Was there a Supreme Court decision at one time that affirmed that the United States is a Christian nation? Yes, there was, but that wasn’t the issue that was under dispute in the case. It was in an 1892 decision, Church of the Holy Trinity v. the United States, 143 US 457 (1892). The ruling established that a church had the right to hire a minister from a foreign nation (England), and thus the church was not in violation of an 1885 law that had prohibited hiring “foreigners and aliens … to perform labor in the United States.” The court’s argument was that there was so much evidence showing the dominant “Christian” character of this nation that Congress could not have intended to prohibit churches from hiring Christian ministers from other countries. It seems to me that here the Supreme Court was arguing that the United States is a “Christian nation” according to meanings (3) and (4) above. There is a long history of significant Christian influence on the United States.

(6) Are a majority of people in the United States Bible-believing, evangelical, born-again Christians? No, I do not think they are. Estimates range from 18 to 42% of the US population who are evangelical Christians, and I suspect a number around 20% is probably more nearly correct. In a 2005 poll, Gallup, after doing a survey designed to find how many Americans had true evangelical beliefs, came up with a figure of 22%.6 In addition, there are many conservative Roman Catholics who take the Bible plus the official teachings of the Catholic Church as a guide for life, and a significant number of them have a personal trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. But even if these groups are added together, it does not constitute a majority of people in the United States.

(7) Is belief in Christian values the dominant perspective promoted by the United States government, the media, and universities in the United States today? No, it is not.

(8) Does the United States government promote Christianity as the national religion? No, it does not.

(9) Does a person have to profess Christian faith in order to become a US citizen or to have equal rights under the law in the United States? No, certainly not. This has never been true. In fact, the Constitution itself explicitly prohibits any religious test for public office:

No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States (Article VI, section 3).

In conclusion, how can we answer the question, “Is the United States a Christian nation?” It all depends on what someone means by “a Christian nation.” In five possible meanings, the answer is yes. In four other possible meanings, the answer is no. Because there are that many possible meanings in people’s minds (and possibly more that I have not thought of), I do not think the question is very helpful in current political conversations. It just leads to arguments, misunderstanding, and confusion. The same points that a speaker wants to make with this claim can be made more clearly, without causing confusion, in terms of one or more of the expanded meanings that I have listed above.

Wayne Grudem, Politics – According to the Bible, 64-65.

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Strange Bedfellows: Christianity and Republicanism

Americans have long been accustomed to think of the values of religion and the values of republicanism as supporting each other. The bitterness of the Civil War, for example, was due at least in part to the intensity with which both North and South defended conflicting visions of “Christian liberty.” To this day, the Pledge of Allegiance—by conjoining “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all”—testifies to a resilient intermixture of religious and republican vocabularies. The long American habit of uniting these value systems has dulled awareness of how strikingly original the new nation’s “Christian republicanism” actually was. In fact, among a panoply of exceptional things about the American founding, one of the most unusual was the commitment by almost all religious people in the new United States to a distinctly republican vision of public life. This American position was unusual, not only by comparison with English-speaking contemporaries in the late eighteenth century, but also because almost all observers outside the United States assumed that republican thinking contradicted the principles of traditional religion.

For the writing of theology in the American environment, this confluence of republican and Christian allegiances was critical. What the Puritan canopy had once supplied as a boundary for theology, America’s republican Christian convictions would provide for later generations. To illustrate the singularity of this context for theological formation, it is useful to cite comments by Dietrich Bonhoeffer after he visited the United States in the 1930s. Bonhoeffer saw everywhere the presence of popular republican assumptions: “America calls herself the land of the free. Under this term today she understands the right of the individual to independent thought, speech and action. In this context, religious freedom is, for the American, an obvious possession.” To Bonhoeffer, it was especially noteworthy that “praise of this freedom may be heard from pulpits everywhere.” It was even more noteworthy what he took this freedom to signify: it “means possibility, the possibility of unhindered activity given by the world to the church.” For a history of American theology it is important to see why Bonhoeffer thought the Americans he observed at church in New York, New England, and the South were making a mistake. To Bonhoeffer it was not axiomatic that a republican exaltation of freedom merged smoothly with Christianity. Rather, he held that “the freedom of the church is not where it has possibilities, but only where the Gospel really and in its own power makes room for itself on earth, even and precisely when no such possibilities are offered to it. The essential freedom of the church is not a gift of the world to the church, but the freedom of the Word of God itself to gain a hearing.” In fact, he even thought that the American fascination with freedom might presage a decline—”a church which is free in this way becomes secularised more quickly than a church which does not possess freedom or possibility.” His conclusion was that “freedom as an institutional possession is not an essential mark of the church,” since “whether the churches of God are really free can only be decided by the actual preaching of the Word of God.”

Mark A. Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, 54-55.

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