Saturday, October 2, 2010

Unprofitable Home Defense, 5

Continued from "Unprofitable Home Defense, 4"

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)

But we also have the decree of election, a decree that extends both to strangers and in the line of our descendants, but a decree that does not promise us that every child born to believing parents is elect. God commanded Abraham to circumcise both Ishmael and Isaac in Genesis 17, yet Ishmael remained a lost man; it was with Isaac alone that God established his covenant (Genesis 17:19). Isaac in turn had two sons, Jacob and Esau; both received the sign of God’s favor, and yet God’s favor was on Jacob alone. (A Reformed Pastor)

Parents can do everything right, and their kids still turn out wrong. (Host of a Christian talk radio show)

To me, at least, it seems that many Christian parents of the Reformed persuasion equate the second quote above with the third: "Since it's all in God's hands, nothing I do will influence the eternal destiny of my child."

This is rotten theology. It twists what the reformers actually taught into an ungodly grotesquerie

This is akin to the error that certain hypercalvinists fall into who say that since God elects the saved from all eternity, we need not preach Christ to the lost. "Anybody who belongs to the elect," they in effect say, "will come to Christ whether we give them the Gospel or not."

But we observe that many more come to Christ through the ministry of those who preach the Gospel. This is so because God does not ordain an end apart from the means to that end.

So also, God seems to elect the children of those parents who show the most diligence in their training -- in and out of school. The Westminster Confession of Faith states the principle behind this phenomenon thus: 

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (WCF III 1, emphasis added)

Does my application of the Confession square with Reformed tradition? Well, I guess it depends on which Reformed tradition you mean. Before 1660, Puritans sought to transform individuals and society through the application of Scripture. After about 1660, the Puritan emphasis turned inward, away from society to the idea that the Christian's primary (if not sole) goal in life was to achieve personal piety.

We can see this contrast by first looking at what Matthew Henry -- a later Puritan -- has to say about Proverbs 22:6.

Ordinarily the vessel retains the savour with which it was first seasoned. Many indeed have departed from the good way in which they were trained up; Solomon himself did so. But early training may be a means of their recovering themselves, as it is supposed Solomon did. At least the parents will have the comfort of having done their duty and used the means. (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible)

(Note the unstated and unfounded assumption that David actually serves as an example of consistent, good parenting. There is Biblical evidence to the contrary.  In similar fashion, the pastor quoted at the beginning of this article operates on the assumption that the child-training Ishmael received from Abraham and the Egyptian Hagar equated in all important respects with the child-training Isaac received from Abraham and Sarah)

Contrast what Henry says with some words of another, earlier Puritan:

Wherever thou goest, thou wilt hear men crying out of bad children and bad servants; whereas indeed the source of the mischief must be sought a little higher: it is bad parents and bad masters that make bad children and bad servants; and we cannot blame so much their untowardness, as our own negligence in their education.

Does he seem to say that a poor outcome in children's attitudes and behavior result from parental neglect of their children's education? That how (and by whom) a child  is trained constitutes the primary influence in how that child turns out?

(Note that in those days, apprenticeship was a major vehicle for educating youth. Thus, the mention of servants probably refers to those young people who served as apprentices to Puritan artisans and merchants.)

Let's see if another quote from the same Puritan is not consistent with how I've interpreted the first quote:

A family is the seminary of Church and State; and if children be not well principled there, all miscarrieth: a fault in the first concoction (i.e., the family) is not mended in the second (i.e., the Church or State); if youth be bred ill in the family, they prove ill in Church and Commonwealth; there is the first making or marring, and the presage of their future lives to be thence taken, Prov. 20:11. (Emphasis added;unitalicized portions represent my inserted comments)

He seems to imply that how children turn out is a direct result of how parents train them. In this passage, he also indicts a generation of evangelicals which, instead of laying the burden for our youths' exodus from our churches upon the parents, lays it upon the churches with demands for bigger and better youth programs with rockin' music and eye-poppin' programs.

But back to our premise. Has our unnamed Puritan missed the contemporary doctrine that the child's destiny and character are determined by God from eternity irrespective of what their parents do? Apparently so, for he further says,

Upon all these considerations, how careful should ministers and parents be to train up young ones whilst they are yet pliable, and, like wax, capable of any form and impression, in the knowledge and fear of God . . . .

Wow! It's almost as though he believes that just as God's elect seem to gravitate to those who preach the Gospel, so God's elect children gravitate to families that will take pains to educate them in accordance with the faith. (I love it when I find theologians who agree with me.)

And what of those parents who neglect their responsibility? Our nameless Puritan has choice words for them.

But while negligent ministers are (deservedly) cast out of their places, the negligent masters of families take themselves to be almost blameless. They offer their children to God in baptism, and there they promise to teach them the doctrine of the gospel, and bring them up in the nurture of the Lord; but they easily promise, and easily break it; and educate their children for the world and the flesh, although they have renounced these, and dedicated them to God. This covenant-breaking with God, and betraying the souls of their children to the devil, must lie heavy on them here or hereafter. (emphasis added)

Where better to "educate their children for the world and the flesh" than in those schools which systematically exclude God from their course of study? "The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts." (Psalm 10:4)

Of course, you are assuming that I have dredged up some obscure Puritan to set against the well-known and revered Matthew Henry. So, who is it that I have quoted?

His name is Thomas Manton, and he was a member of the Westminster Assembly. The quotes I have used above all come from his introduction to the 1648 edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Today we have available a more developed understanding of how our worldview affects every aspect of our thinking. We also have available tools [that Manton never dreamed of!] to help us inculcate our children with a more consistent Biblical worldview.

Yet so many Christian parents, including those who profess Reformed doctrine, choose to "educate their children for the world and the flesh" in the public school system. I close by quoting again Thomas Manton's warning to those who do so:

This covenant-breaking with God, and betraying the souls of their children to the devil, must lie heavy on them here or hereafter.

This discussion continues here.


The Warrior said...

Excellent. Hard, but in a good way. Since when was soft preaching a good thing, especially in the face of such an important topic (i.e., our children!)?

Will blog this. Thanks for always making me think, and this post was enjoyably engaging as well.


Gravelbelly said...

Thanks, Spencer. As you may be able to tell, the subject of how we do (or do not) disciple our children has been on my mind for many years, now. And thanks for pointing out my little faux pas in this post. I've made the correction.

The Warrior said...

I can see that; and justly so. It's our children, our future, and just plain our duty. We should take it seriously, right?

Thanks for writing these!