by Dr. Jerald C. Joersz
A member of my family (raised LCMS) will not allow his children to be a part of anything connected to a church. He wants them to “make their own decisions regarding religion when they are old enough to understand.” How can I approach him about this without causing resentment?
Your letter shows how much love and concern you have for this father and his family. When you go to him, assure him of how much you care. With gentleness and respect, invite him to share his reasons for his approach–which is not uncommon among many today who believe parents should be non-directive and leave children to find their own way in religious matters also. Praying for God’s will to be done, ask him if you can, in turn, share some thoughts that you have learned from your study of God’s Word regarding our responsibility as Christian parents.
It is hard to think of a better place to begin than St. Paul’s familiar counsel in Ephesians 6: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (v. 4).
To fulfill our calling as Christian parents, we will need to be very directive regarding Christian teaching (and not just religion in general; note Paul’s words “of the Lord”). The terms Paul uses (“bring up,” “discipline,” “instruction”) together convey teaching someone how to make responsible choices. Above all, we want to help our children grow in the knowledge of God’s love in Christ for them and in their desire to live the new life given to them through their Baptisms. God desires that by word and example we nurture and train our children as best we can at every stage of their development, so that they may “learn Christ” (Eph. 4:20). Their later decisions in life will then be informed and shaped by the Christian life they have learned to know and actually experience in their homes.
Christian parents must avoid embittering their children by harshly domineering over them. One Christian writer (John Stott, author of Message of Ephesians) says that parents can provoke resentment and anger in children by making irritating and unreasonable demands which make no allowances for the inexperience and immaturity of children, or by harshness and cruelty at one extreme or by favouritism and over-indulgence at the other, or by humiliating or suppressing them, or by those two vindictive weapons sarcasm and ridicule.
“Conversely,” he continues, “almost nothing causes a child’s personality to blossom and gifts to develop like the positive encouragement of loving, understanding parents.” In his bestseller All I Really Need to Know Learned in Kindergarten (1986), Robert Fulghum began by saying, “ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday School.”
What Fulghum says about life in general is doubly true of our spiritual life as followers of our Lord Jesus. The knowledge and wisdom to make God-pleasing decisions later in life does not drop down full-blown suddenly from heaven, guaranteeing that children will make the right choices. The writer of the Proverbs–an expert on divine wisdom–writes, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
Our calling as Christian parents begins when we bring our children to the baptismal font, where we hear Jesus’ words: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16).
> On the Web Download The Lutheran Difference: The Holy Spirit by Dr. Korey Maas at www.cph.org.
About the Author: Dr. Jerald C. Joersz was formerly the associate executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations.