Passing The Faith, Whose Job Is That?
Recently the heading of a short article caught my eye. It read, “Discipleship, Whose Responsibility?” Certainly as a Pastor the subject of “Discipleship” grabbed my attention. After all, that’s part of my job along with other ministers, isn’t it? That was just the point in asking the question. Is it really the church’s job or the home?
I am reminded of a supposed event for one preacher. He was new in the small church and was asked to substitute in a boy’s class since the teacher was out one Sunday morning. He decided to see what they knew, so he asked who knocked down the walls of Jericho. All the boys denied having done it. He was appalled at their ignorance. So at the next Deacon’s meeting he told them about the experience. “Not one of the boys in our church knows who knocked down the walls of Jericho,” he lamented. The group was silent for awhile and finally one seasoned man spoke up. “Preacher, this seems to be bothering you a lot. But I’ve known those boys all their lives and they’re good boys. If they said they didn’t do it, I believe them. Let’s just take some money out of our church repair fund and fix the wall and let it go at that.”
We laugh, but in truth, Biblical ignorance is more widespread than we think. The obvious fact is no church nor any parent can do it all. Everyone is busy at home these days. Schedules of work, school, sports and lots of other things compete for parent’s time with children. But we must consider that at best among church going families, the church has the child for thirty to forty hours a year in Sunday School. The parents in the home have many multiples of that time. If just a fraction is spent in talking about the Lord and encouraging faith, it can make a huge difference down the road for a child.
The transition in the nature of the family and faith in our own country has forced us to reexamine and reevaluate the basic tasks of the home and family. Many churches and families are becoming keenly aware that something big is happening in America. We face a rapidly changing culture with regard to the religious training of their children.
Believe it or not, the Israelites discovered the same problem of how to pass faith to the next generation thousands of years ago. The minority of the people of God lived surrounded by the pluralism of nations which might have swallowed up the children of Israel had they not taken their faith seriously and passed it on to their children and to their children’s children.
The famous speech by Moses about this matter is found in Deuteronomy 6 in your Bible. Our Jewish friends know it as the Shema. It has been repeated in the homes of faithful Jews since the days of Moses. The Shema vowed commitment to God and accepted responsibility to pass on the precepts of faith to the next generation. This ancient text reminds us of the ongoing principle that the primary task for discipleship rests not with the priests in the Temple or Synagogue or today with ministers in Christian churches, but with the family.
Take note of these significant words, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy might, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children and shall talk of them, and thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house and on the gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
Consider with me both the implications of these words and the application in our lives today. The father would daily recite these words before his family clearly stating his faith in God. They lived in a place with many gods. His God was not simply one of many. In that day we would call them pagan gods and their worship was crude. However, we live in a day of many gods also. They don’t require animal sacrifices and strange religious practices as much as expect the sacrifice of our time and money and give in exchange entertainment but not peace, excitement but no hope. Some men and women have made a god of their jobs and have no time or emotional energy for each other or their children. While there is nothing wrong with relaxation and recreation or even a good job, they can easily become gods of this world taking the place of real worship of a living God with whom we can have a personal relationship.
Furthermore, the Shema states not only the foundations of faith for the parents, but their responsibility to pass it on to their children. If their children married foreigners and adopted an alien religion, the Hebrew faith would disappear. The same thing could be said of the Christian faith today. If the church and the family are not working together, the church has little chance of giving a sure foundation for a life which will reflect faith in Christ. Children usually reflect the values of parents more than anyone or anything else in their lives. Our children know exactly how we spend our money, what we do with our spare time, what words we use when we are excited or angry and what we think of the Lord.
The Shema also provides for an external witness. Verses 8-9 show us that the Israelites had visual reminders everywhere about God. They were on their hands, their foreheads, on their doors and on their gates: “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” Many Jews took this literally by putting passages of Scripture into little boxes called phylacteries and attaching them to their hands and foreheads. They would also put mezuzahs containing this passage on the doors of their homes. The idea is that God’s Word is to be so central to your family’s life that your kids think about it every time they turn around. The principle here is this: whatever we need to do to remind us of God, we should do it. Proverbs 3:3 says, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”
While it’s ok to put up literal reminders, our “hands” represent our actions, our “foreheads” represent our thoughts and attitudes, our “door frames” symbolize our homes and the “gates” refer to social life outside of our homes. Remember that Jesus was not impressed with the Pharisees who took this passage literally but didn’t apply it their lives in Matthew 23:5: “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long.” The great need of our day is to have our homes so full of the Word of God that our children can’t help but see and hear it wherever they go and whatever they do. The bottom line is this, we are to make God real to our kids.
Let me summarize what I have been trying to say in this article with these words. I am convinced that Christian parenting must be based on simple, yet profound principles of faith, family and the church. Every successful family passing their faith to their children reflects these values. Here they are:
* Nothing is more important than someone’s relationship with God.
* No one has more potential to influence a child’s relationship with God than a parent.
* No one has more potential to influence the parent than the church.
* The church’s potential to influence a child dramatically increases when it partners with a parent.
* The parent’s potential to influence a child dramatically increases when that parent partners with the church.
Just imagine what would happen in our nation if every family adopted these principles. Of course not all will do so. But then again, you and I are not responsible for what everyone else does, just what we do. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or just someone who loves and cares about children, you can do something to help pass our faith to those who will come after us. If we fail, there won’t be anyone to give it to the next after them!
Because later this month we celebrate Father’s Day and so much of successful faith sharing needs to come from Godly fathers, let me share the following story.
When this boy was small a dad overheard he and his two buddies talking in the backyard one day. One boy said proudly, “My dad knows the mayor of our town!” The second boy said, “That’s nothing. My dad knows the governor of our state!” Wondering what was coming next, this dad heard his son say, “That’s nothing. My dad knows God!” The father slipped away after hearing this, and with tears flowing down his cheeks dropped to his knees and prayed earnestly and gratefully, “O God, I pray that my boy will always be able to say, ‘My dad knows God.’”
It is my prayer that every father knows God and that his faith will be so transparent that his children will never have to wonder what dad believes.