Thursday, February 23, 2006

Sharing faith with our children (Part 12)
Routines

I never thought I'd envision routine as good, but sharing faith with our children involves a lot of routine, and this is important to their family and spiritual formation.

First, each night of the week is reserved for a certain activity with a name. Monday is "Game Night," and lately we've been playing Nurtz, but our oldest always wants to play Spoons. Tuesday is "Lot of Books" night, and we read aloud a running book or series with each or sometimes read at once to all. Will share in another post some of the books and series we read.

Jacob, listening as I spoke with Susan Butler at church about "Guess who's coming to dinner," said, "No, that's 'Movie Night'!" Since these are weekly routines, they often change, so we'll forgo the movie night. Saturday night is "Invite Night" and we invite friends and often throw people together who might have something in common but may not know each other.

Our children love this routine because it allows them to know what's coming yet there is mystery and excitement in what game or book or visitor is next.

Second, we have routines for each evening at supper and bedtime. Some of these are songs, others prayers, stories. We often sing a song at dinner that we learned from Tim and Becky Talley in Malindi, Kenya. It goes like this, but I can't find the author. If someone can tell me, I would like to give attribution and can add that later.
As our family gathers round this table
where this meal has been prepared
let all our hearts be grateful
as we offer up this prayer
Our Father in Heaven
for this meal you have given
we want to say thank you from our hearts
bless the one who prepared it
and Lord as we share it
won't you stay with us and be our guest of honor?
won't you stay with us and be our guest of honor?
And we all say Amen and dig in.

Third, at bedtime, routines have morphed as the children get older but they still love them and crave them. Recently Anna has taken to wanting ten hugs and one special one and ten kisses and one special one. We often read a chapter in a book, and here is one prayer I say over them. Alternately we ask them to pray on different nights.
Dear Lord: Like Jesus, I pray that your child and ours, [Ashley, Anna, Jacob], will grow in wisdom, body and stature, and in favor with you and favor with all people. Teach her to love you with all her heart, mind, and strength, and love her neighbor--mostly her sister this week--as herself. In Jesus name, Amen
Routine is not a highly valued American ideal--it's more often called a rut, but if the rut is pointed in the right direction, I'd rather be in that rut than meandering. And when kept fresh by our own creativity and joy, these routines will be rich in meaning and heart.

Recently I was on the phone with Ross Cochran about joining him at Camp Tahkodah. He said for two weeks the campers enjoy life without the aid of electronics. Sometimes, he said, everyone is just laughing, enjoying stories and fun they are making up. Ross asked Jacob to get on the phone and asked him did he like to swing on a rope over the water? Yes came Jacob's reply. Did he like basketball? Yes. Horses? Yes. Hiking? Yes. Sleeping in a cabin? Yes. Frisbee? Yes. Girls? Noooo!

I suppose that when we go to Camp Tahkodah this summer, it will be full of routine, yet with creative and joyful hearts people come together and have a blast. That's what can happen in family.

In another post I'll talk more about prayers for children and will also talk about what we plan for Lent. I'll give you a hint: I'm an old Neil Postman fan.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Sharing faith with our children (Part 11)

Personal experience
I got sick the day my school had scheduled for six-graders to watch a sex education film. We'd all anticipated learning more about the "birds and the bees" from this public school film about adolescence and the difference between boys and girls.

Sensitive to my missing out on this grand occasion, Mom sat down with me in the living room that morning and lovingly walked me through the differences. I couldn't look at her so I put my head on her lap and for some reason I responded to the news by quietly crying. Perhaps it was embarrassment, and I remember feeling left out of this rite of passage of children at my school.

This was not the only time Mom and Dad helped me understand my sexuality, but they also gave me the old James Dobson book on adolescence and we had a few awkward conversations about what the cows were doing in the fields, one time in particular when I exclaimed, "Look! That cow is jumping on the other one!" Mom explained and I was mortified but glad she told me so I didn't go blabbing at school how one cow was trying to jump over the moon and didn't quite make it.

This of course, was not the end of sexual education. Some was passed on to me by fiat. I have subscribed to Sports Illustrated since I was eleven, and I believe it's the best sports magazine in the world, but one week a year, it epitomizes all that's wrong about that difference between men and women and once again makes objects or idols out of human women. So this time of year I would come into my room and find my Sports Illustrated on the bed, sans the cover and interior of the Swimsuit issue. Mom was protecting my young mind and heart from objectifying women. Over the years I finally understood the lesson she was trying to teach me: that women are not made for the purpose of augmenting and airbrushing into idols. They are made for loving relationships with God and other humans.

Our culture and sexuality
Lauren Winner wrote Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (Brazos, 2005), and it is fast becoming one of the most read books on young adult sexuality. Here's a quote from the book about what we are made for.
Our bodies and how we inhabit them point to the order of creation. God made us for sex within marriage; this is what the Reformed tradition would call a creational law. To see the biblical witness as an attempt to direct us to the created order, to God’s rule of creation, is not to appeal to self-interest in a therapeutic or false way. It is rather to recognize the true goodness of God’s creation; things as they were in the Garden of Eden are things at their most nourishing, they are things as they are meant to be. This is what Paul is saying when he speaks to the Corinthians: Don’t you know that when you give your body to a prostitute, you are uniting yourself to her? To ask that question is to speak the wisdom of Proverbs in the idiom of law. It is a law that invites us into the created order of marital sex; a law that rightly orders our created desires for sexual pleasure and sexual connectedness; a law, in short, that cares for us and protects us, written by a Lawgiver who understands that life outside of God’s created intent destroys us. By contrast, life lived inside the contours of God’s law humanizes us and makes us beautiful. It makes us creatures living well in the created order. It gives us the opportunity to become who we are meant to be.
Jill has also lovingly walked with me through sexual temptation, in particular when the Swimsuit issue has come in over the years. I certainly must continue to learn the discipline of the lust of the flesh and eyes, but it also helps to avoid contact where temptation lay. So last year I called and requested Sports Illustrated skip that issue on my subscription. This year, it didn't come at all.

"The Talk"
"The Sex Talk" has morphed into many talks and at an earlier age in our home. Talking about sex seems to come much earlier for my children than it came in my experience growing up. I was in junior high before I understood what homosexuality is, and I had barely discovered the differences between sexes. Now, I talk to my children often about sexuality and what they hear from friends, what they might overhear on television or see on billboards, etc.

Jill and I read a four-part book series on sexuality to our children (ages 6, 9, 12) that helps us talk about sex in God's design in formal ways to boost the informal discussions we have along the way. Stan and Brenna Jones have written a must-have series on God's Design for Sex that is divided into Book 1 for ages three to five, Book 2 for five to eight, Book 3 for eight to eleven, and Book 4 for eleven to fourteen. Each book ramps up the story of our sexuality and God's design with increasing detail and explanation.

So far we've read the first two books to all our children (we've given Book 4 to our twelve-year-old to read on her own), often together and giggles and smiles and hidden faces behind throw pillows ensue, but they love it, and it's truly a joy to walk them through changes in their bodies and minds and being able to share sexuality through the eyes of faith and God's design rather than defaulting to reacting whenever we find out they've heard something at school or from a friend. We're like a good local TV station: "You heard it here first!"

Soga cultural views of sexuality
In my novel, High Places I wrote about the rites of passage that allow a young boy in Uganda to become a man. Part of this process is to build and move into his own hut. This allows more privacy for the parents and builds a sense of ownership and responsibility in the young adolescent. Girls often are given in marriage at young ages, after they develop physically, but much of that is changing in those who are realizing that girls deserve education as much as boys do, so some girls are given different rooms of the house or another hut to live in as well.

Often, an aunt or uncle takes a child aside and reveals to them the mysteries of sexuality and marriage. There are taboos of speaking about sexuality with certain direct relations. In fact, a daughter-in-law is not even allowed in the same house with her husband's father. This is to protect from indiscretions and shameful relationships.

Early parameters for Israel's sexuality
From Israel's earliest days as a people, God has set boundaries around their sexual lives, calling this and everything else they do in body as a holy act that must remain worthy of their walk as "my people who are called out" (Hebrew term for title of Leviticus). The holiness codes of Leviticus repeatedly show that the sexual act that creates another life is a sacred act. In Leviticus 18, immediately following an introduction to separation from Egypt and Canaan and their ways, comes a litany of prohibitions about sexual perversions, starting with the general and becoming more and more specific and grotesque, including beastiality and giving children in prostitution and even sacrifice. At the end of some of the prohibitions is the statement, “I am the Lord.” This says that sexuality is under the authority of God who cares about what we do under the covers. It says something about the nature of God. He cares about and gives parameters for sexual life (18:7-18).

Sharing faith in God for our families means giving important parameters and guidelines for sexuality, communicating what Godly intimacy is, what God desires, practice of self-control, and learning about beautiful sexuality in marriage. There's no way this can be achieved in "the talk" but in a purposeful and gracious conversation over many years with our children as they grow and mature.

You can read a longer and excellent excerpt from Lauren Winner's Real Sex.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sharing faith with our children (Part 10)

While in most American families, it's not easy to gather the troops as they scatter to the wind of various activities, sports, and occupations during the day, dinnertime is usually the best shot we've got to do it.

Last night, like most nights, we had two activities: Boy Scouts for our son and basketball for one of our two daughters. I had talked to Jill earlier in the day and we planned our strategy. I would arrive home by 5:30 and we'd eat together and be off to Boy Scouts in one direction and the game in the other by 6:30.

When we eat leftovers, which is about half of the time (and these are homemade good leftovers from something Jill had cooked earlier, so we all like them), we tend to sit down at the bar, stand around and eat, instead of gathering at the table. So we have to be intentional on nights like this to sit down together.

The girls had been tussling over something earlier in the afternoon, so they needed to reconnect and be prayed over, so I called the children off the barstools and into the chairs around the table and when we'd nuked all our food we sat down and prayed about the argument the girls had had, thanked God for the opportunity to enjoy the activities we were heading to . . .

This wasn't a long sit down dinner. We were at the table all of fifteen minutes max, but that's a lot of time when the conversation is direct and intentional. We talked about our day and then chatted about what Valentine's Day's all about and got to talking about Love Languages.

Gary Chapman's book, The Five Love Languages, has been perhaps the most influencial book on relationships Jill and I have read, and it is also very helpful in navigating the way we love and discipline and talked to and give gifts to our children. It's also helpful, on nights like this, in teaching our children that we both have a language of love ourselves and ought to learn the different love languages of others so we can truly love them with what good friend Terry Smith calls the Platinum Rule: love your neighbor as she wants to be loved. I think this is the intent of Jesus, that we truly love as the other person wants to be loved, not simply loving with a superficial glancing notion of how we think someone wants to be loved based on our own preferences of how we're loved.

I learned a big lesson about this years ago when I again bought flowers for Valentines for Jill and she asked how much they cost. She really doesn't like flowers as the stereotypical woman does. When they arrive, she's concerned about the expense because 1) she keeps the checkbook, 2) it really doesn't turn her crank. What does? When I wash the dishes or vaccum or clean the bathrooms--these are acts of service and one of the five love languages.

What are the five love languages Chapman describes in his books (he has several, including one for children and one about God's Love Languages)?
1. Acts of Service
2. Word of Affirmation
3. Meaningful Touch
4. Giving Gifts
5. Quality Time
So around the table last night we asked the children, "Would you rather I serve you by helping you organize your room or hear me say "good job and I'm glad you're my son or daughter"? When they answered one of those, we took that and pitted that one against another until a winning language emerged.

While they like all the expressions of love, our two bookend children grabbed on to quality time together and our middle child ended up with meaningful words. We also noted that the two girls are different when receiving words of discipline and honesty about their actions. Our middle daughter does not like to hear that she has done wrong, but our oldest can hear those words and let them roll down her back like water on a duck.

So this morning when Jill gave the children a few tokens of love in the form of Valentine's candy and a T-shirt, they didn't balk. They like gifts, but we also included a love letter for each of them, and both the gifts and letter put smiles on their faces.

Sharing faith with our children comes back over and over again to learning how to love one another and speak one another's love languages. We really speak them all in different situations but we realize that we all primarily enjoy receiving one or two of the languages. Finding and continuing to speak that language uniquely to each individual is very important.

Do you know your own love language, your spouse's, your children's, your co-worker's, your neighbor's?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sharing faith with our children (Part 9)

Most of us never grow out of the desire to mold clay. My wife, Jill, used to make modeling clay (homemade playdough) from flour, salt, water, and food coloring. The clay provided hours of enjoyment as they created new shapes and forms.

Professional sculptors using high quality clay or other materials such as rock can sculpt or chisel a human form that is both attractive and realistic in size and dimension.

Still, I've never seen a sculptor breath life into his or her creation. As the debate and controversy rages over cloning stem cells and animals and humans, the fact remains that we can't breath life into another person.

God chose to breath life into humans. The second account of creation, Genesis 2, beautifully imagines God breathing into man's nostrils. Every breath we take is still from God and only because of God.

In my novel, High Places, I wrote a scene depicting a father blessing a son by spitting water on him. In Soga culture, a form of blessing is to fill the mouth with water and spit in the face of one you are blessing. I never received this privilege but Muto, who died last year, blessed my truck in this way, that I wouldn't get in wrecks and that it would be used to help people in Soga.

Here is the scene from High Places.
Mutaka closed his eyes.

Was he praying or sleeping?

Whoever Mutaka was praying to, Tenwa wished would bring the answers.

Mutaka picked up the jar of water and his cheeks sucked in when he opened his mouth to drink it. His lips sagged but closed around the side of the jar and water flowed in and some down his chin. His wrinkled cheeks now puffed where crevices were.
He didn’t swallow.

What was he doing? Why didn’t he swallow the water?

Pfu! Water sprayed in a million drops on Tenwa’s face, in his eyes.

What was this? Why? What had he done to deserve . . .

“I never wanted to curse you!” Mutaka said.

“Then why? Why did you climb to the top of a termite hill and curse me to the gods?” Tenwa asked. Why had Mutaka done something he didn’t really want to do? Why grab a dog by the ears when he has done nothing and will only turn and bite you when you come back? Still, Tenwa knew what drove Mutaka to curse and stand on the hill and beat his breast and call down sickness and a dry mouth and empty stomach and shriveled groin.

Isab. He couldn’t call him father anymore. He had only one father. And though the creator didn’t beat him, he seemed to stay far away and silent. Or was he speaking through Jessica, through Mutaka, through the missionary?

O speak to me God!

Another spray of water landed on Tenwa’s face. Water dripped from his nose. He blinked from the moisture on his eyelashes and in his eyes.

“You tore down our shrine and yet . . . "

And yet what?

Mutaka shuffled his feet in the dust as he circled Tenwa.

“You despised your father and turned away from my advice. You stole from our neighbor when you were a young boy. Hatred was bound in your heart from the beginning. Is that what builds a clan? Or do such things in the heart of man rot his bones and the flesh of his family?”

“I still hate my father.”

“You still hate?”

“My father . . . "

“You think your father brings hate?”

“Yes.”

Mutaka placed the jar back on the rock. He untied the bark cloth from around his waist.

“No. You bring hate on yourself and upon your clan. Your father was not your true father.”

What was he saying?

Mutaka closed his eyes and placed his hand on Tenwa’s head.
As I shared with you in an earlier post with a link to Brent Abney's essay about his father, we transfer life to our children. We breathe life into them or we suck life out of them.

I want to reflect this week on what I've done for my children. Have I exasperated my children in some way, not engaged them? Or am I breathing life into them. Before bed last night, I prayed part of St. Patrick's Prayer over them and our home:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye of every one who sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sharing faith with our children (Part 8)


I want my children to model the life of Jesus. Even as a child, Luke 2:52 says Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, favor with God, favor with humanity.

How do we as parents grow in those four areas and how to we model this and create an environment for this kind of maturing in our homes?

Our children need to mature emotionally. We love and enjoy our children, but they are indeed children emotionally and functionally in day to day life together. Yes, parents can be emotionally immature, but that's largely because they were not taught (or it was not caught) emotional maturity as children. Occasionally my three children sit at the table and argue over who sits where, grumble about eating good food, pinch one another, sulk, and complain during a meal together that should really be one of the great pleasures of life. Now, adults can do the same in more passive aggressive or subtle ways! Emotional maturity must be taught at a young age.

This emotional maturity is connected tightly with wisdom. Wisdom writers closely connect the fool with those who have no self-control, who talk before they think. A large part of wisdom is learning to express appropriate emotions. I'm not suggesting that we sand down the edges of intense emotion in children so that we pacify and socialize them. I'm suggesting that we learn to express more joy when something good happens, more saddness when something is truly sad, to learn to empathize with the pain of those around us, to grow emotionally mature and wise in how we live.

Our children need to grow in stature both in body and in spirit. Paul says in Ephesians 4:12-13 that Christ himself equipped good people who would in turn equip others for works of service, “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (TNIV).

This stature that young Jesus was growing into is the stature we desire: to measure up in maturity, so that when people see our lives, they see a reflection of Jesus, his image, in us. That’s the goal of transformation for our children: being transformed and matured into the full stature and image of Christ.

Our children need to learn how to relate to God. Jesus grew in favor with God. What does it mean that he grew in favor with God? Was Jesus not already with the Father before he descended into earth in the flesh? Perhaps he was showing us what maturing in a relationship looks like. And this is an important area that is more caught than taught. We show our children what a relationship with God looks like in real life.

Teaching them a relationship that is not truly lived in a parent’s life will have little or no effect. When we reflect each day on what God has done for us, how he as a Father provides daily bread, each breath we take, how we serve him by reaching out to the bereaved and hurting, how we treat our children as God treats us, with tenderness and compassion yet with discipline and tough love.

Our children need a community. We should not teach our children to be so self-sufficient that they mistakenly believe they are independent of others, of their influence on them. This can work both ways. If we are aware of the impact—whether positive or negative—others have on us, we are better positioned to act appropriately with that influence. We need one another.

Children in the United States today receive instruction that is intended to strike a blow against the debilitating and abusive parenting that tears them down, the harsh and negative influences on their lives. So many children need an extra dose of “I am special” training. In many countries, however, children are taught that they are a special part of a group, a family, and that is largely what makes them who they are.

In Africa, for instance, the saying goes, “We are, therefore I am.” Children, then, are programmed with a world view that sees the community as the entire puzzle, and their life becomes an important puzzle piece that fits into that economy, family, tribe, country.

Jesus grew in these four areas: wisdom, stature, favor with God, favor with humanity. When we see our children formed in these ways, we—like Mary—will “treasure all these things” in our hearts as well.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bono preaches at National Prayer Breakfast

President George W. Bush asked Bono to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast today. See and hear it here.

Sharing faith with our children (Part 7)

Continued from February 2 post . . .

Children as non-members
How, then, do we approach our children with our faith in Christ specifically in terms of their decisions of public faith? Do we view them simply as non-members until they come of age? While in some families or Christian cultures children are intensely noticed and attended and taught, some churches still function with an unspoken view that children are non-members until they make a decision to follow Christ or become adults. This is like the first view in the Southern Baptist study: children as non-members, but the latter three views are more dominant today in Christian communities.

Potential disciples
A Christmas letter from friends who are members of a Church of Christ illustrates one of the four views of children. In the letter, our friends described how they are teaching their pre-school children the Ten Commandments and the books of the Bible. They also described ways in which the children participate in the life of their church. While they do not view their elementary school-aged children as Christians in the sense that they have decided to follow Christ on their own and have been baptized, they do view them as needing instruction and seek to bring them into the life of the church as nurtured participants. Our friends teach and nurture their children, yet they are viewed as too young to be baptized. They have not reached the age of accountability or disciple-ability. They would likely view their children in the third category: as potential disciples.

While views of children vary according to culture and churches worldwide, many parents and churches in the Stone-Campbell Movement view their children as potential disciples. This would be true of particularly Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ and to a lesser extent in Disciples of Christ, which would likely lean more toward the maturing participants view. The closer a child comes to the age when she is convicted of sin and affirms Christ as her Savior and Lord, the more she is viewed as a prospect for evangelism. For example, a Bible class full of children eleven and twelve years old is ripe with potential disciples in the typical understanding of Churches of Christ in the United States.

Prospects for evangelism
We have talked with conservative Baptists and Evangelicals who view five and six-year-old children as prospects for evangelism. As soon as the children are able to reason and know right from wrong, they move to convict their children of their sinfulness and their need for a personal Savior. For instance, we have Baptist friends who confessed Christ and were baptized at age five. Many in Churches of Christ would say this is too young. Catholics, meanwhile, baptize infants. For them, the process of maturing and confirmation begins as early as the child is able to comprehend the rites and teachings of the church. This is an example of the prospects for evangelism view.

Do we consider children prospects for evangelism as soon as they can reason and are able to say a prayer of repentance and submit to baptism? If we believe five or six years old is too young and we choose to wait and view our children as potential disciples, what age is right for disciple-ability or accountability? At what point do they become utterly sinful and ready for initiation or conversion? Or do we view our children as maturing participants in faith and nurture them?

These are not easy questions to answer, but there is more truth in the asking and reflecting on these ideas than in remaining quiet and continuing to allow these concerns to go unspoken. When we do not ask these difficult questions about our children’s spiritual development, we fall back to the least common denominator within our particular tradition. The current least common denominator in Churches of Christ is the unwritten and rarely spoken idea of the “age of accountability.” Twelve years old is the average age for baptism among students, according to a study by David K. Lewis, Carley H. Dodd, and Darryl L. Tippens.

The goal of this examination of how children in Churches of Christ come to faith was not to pinpoint a particular age to be baptized but to discern how to help shape young lives into the image of Christ. The 1995 report shows not only how adolescents view God but also proposes ways to build vital spiritual foundations in them through their experience in the community of faith. In one chapter they explore the influences on baptism, reasons for baptism, life change at or after baptism, and ways to enrich the emotional and spiritual power of this ritual.

Dodd, Lewis, and Tippens ask whether our children really take a U-turn in conversion, or are they instead coming to a signpost along a maturing faith path? Is conversion language of Scripture lost on our children? How can children developing faith in a Christian community identify with moving from darkness to light and condemned to justified? Adolescents, say the authors, “convert in a manner that is more appropriately ‘Jewish’ than ‘pagan.’ Most choose to be baptized after having been believers for years. Thus, the changes in belief and behavior are incremental, not radical.” They do not view baptism as a dramatic darkness to light experience because most were raised in a faith community. More than half of the adolescents surveyed, however, did say that baptism changed their lives by helping them display the fruit of the Spirit. So they view their baptism seriously but do not typically view their conversion experience in the same “dramatic terms our theological tradition holds up as normative.” The report points to a gap between the “theology of dramatic baptismal change, and the fact of change that is comparatively subdued, incremental, and colorless.”

The language of Apostle Paul is applicable to the situation. Paul reflects on baptism as an event in the past that is continually significant. This reflection is vital to teens’ and adults' understanding of their baptism. It becomes more and more important in hindsight. At the same time, the authors make it clear that nothing in their research would suggest that those baptized at age twelve are less likely to remain faithful than those baptized later. Those baptized in their late teens do show a more immediate response to the meaning of baptism. Among unbaptized sixteen-year-olds, however, only eight percent viewed God as important in their lives.

Maturing participants
We must, therefore, prayerfully plan spiritual and faith formation in our children. When children can think independently, have a primary understanding of God’s redemptive story and have faith in Christ, what prevents them from going down in the river to pray?

Faith in our God will bring our children to baptism when the time is right. The process of discipleship does not begin and end with a string of questions administered on a church pew the day of a child’s baptism. While this call to count the cost is important, the church’s role is deeper than simply discerning what a child knows before baptism. Our role is to nurture faith, to call our children to discipleship.

My children are twelve, nine, and six. If I baptized any of them today, I would not be baptizing them because I believed they were lost the day I baptized them but more because baptism is a sign of the faith in Christ who they have loved and served from the day they could first sing "Jesus Loves Me." I do, however, point out that their behavior toward me, their mother, siblings, friends is sinful when hate, lies, and cruelty--to name a few--are in their hearts. I'm not suggesting that my children are without sin. Instead, if they are ones called by God and willingly enter baptism at an age of discipleability, they are passing a signpost on the road to God that they've been on many years.

So when we baptize our twelve-year-old believers, we do not baptize them believing that they would have been lost the day before because they were unbaptized. For instance, my friend John Mark Hicks baptized his daughter, Rachel, at the age of eleven. If for some reason she had died the night before, John Mark says, "I would have 'preached' her into heaven as though I had baptized her the day before. She did not move from lost to saved as much as she owned her own faith and matured in her relationship with the faith community. When we baptize our children, we are initiating them into the full narrative of their faith and conversion over a long period of time."

These last two posts have been adapted from the book I co-authored with John Mark Hicks, Down in the River to Pray. To order click here

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sharing faith with our children (Part 6)

We've been looking at how we approach our children with our faith in Christ. We are called to nurture them in faith and lead them to discipleship in Christ.

But how do we begin? Part of the answer to this question depends on our view of humanity and our children. Do we believe they are lost from birth or at an early age we might call "age of accountability"? Or do we view them as already saved partakers in faith gradually being transformed and sanctified in Christ?

Must we view our children as lost before they can be found? We do, in fact, nurture our children to honor God from the time they can sing, “Jesus loves me this I know” to the point when their faith leads them to baptism. But, are they converted, nurtured, or both?

A study of Southern Baptist methods of evangelizing their children helps to frame the discussion. In the study, four ways emerged as the primary historic approaches of the church to sharing faith in Christ with their children. Over time, children were viewed in the Southern Baptist churches in one of four ways:

•Non-members
•Prospects for evangelism
•Potential disciples
•Maturing participants in the faith community

First, early in the history of the Southern Baptist movement children were considered non-members. Though Baptist roots are found in English Puritanism, Thomas Halbrooks, author of the study, said that one major difference was the Baptists’ insistence on adult baptism. Founder John Smyth said the church “is a company of the faithful: baptized after confession of sin and faith.” Consequently, baptism “does not belong to infants.”

Second, children were also viewed as prospects for evangelism. Revivalists such as Charles G. Finney encouraged parents and teachers to instill Christian character and hope for traumatic conversion at “the earliest possible moment.” Many revivalists did not baptize infants, but they did want to bring children into the fold as quickly as possible, viewing children as young as five-years-old as prospects for evangelism. By 1960, the normative age for responding to the gospel among Southern Baptists had dropped from “Juniors (ages nine to twelve) to Primaries (ages six to eight).”

Third, in the mid-1900s, children were increasingly viewed as potential disciples. The revivalist’s idea of children making decisions at such tender ages was called into question in light of developing ideas of educational psychology. Children in some churches were deferred until they were of the “age of disciple-ability.” In 1963, Lewis Craig Ratliff wrote a doctoral thesis discussing the quest for “disciple-ability” in children, rather than “age of accountability.” While accountability focuses on knowing right and wrong, disciple-ability requires the child to have an “ability to understand abstract ideas, the development of selfhood and independence from parents, and social maturity.” Ratliff pegged this range at somewhere between 13 and 15, and in this window of opportunity the child would be able to profess faith, follow Christ in baptism, and become a member of the church. Before this time the child is viewed as a potential disciple.

Fourth, Southern Baptists the last several decades have begun to view children as maturing participants in the faith community, according to Halbrooks. This approach focuses more on nurturing children within the context of the church. William E. Hull, in a paper presented at the meeting of the Baptist World Alliance in 1980, said Baptists need a theology of the child that recognizes and follows more of the Hebrew insights into the nurture of children. Three major stages of development, says Hull, are “infancy” (birth to 9 years) when children ought to be taught their religious heritage, “childhood” (9-12 years) when children ought to affirm this heritage and commit to faith, and “adolescence” (12 years and up), when children ought to take great responsibility in the life of the church and own their faith completely.

This study of Southern Baptist views of children is significant because it describes four historic approaches to sharing faith with children in one denominational body. Most Evangelical churches today land near the maturing participants view. Stone-Campbell churches, on the other hand, come closer to the third view but some churches and individuals seem to be moving toward the maturing participants view as well. Generally, however, most Churches of Christ view children as potential disciples until they reach an age where sin can be discerned and a decision to follow Christ can be made independently from parents.

Tomorrow, I'll illustrate with a few examples of practices and beliefs in churches I've experienced and discuss this idea of maturing participants more.

How do we view our children? Do we view them as non-members until they are baptized? Are they lost until they are baptized? Or do we view them as prospects for evangelism? Potential disciples? In a household with Christian parents, can we call this a Christian family when not all the children are baptized? What is the church’s role in leading our children to faith? Do we instead nurture faith from early years?