Christian Parents Establishing Christian Homes
If we were living in the Old Covenant time and were Jews, there would be a very simple formula to follow in order to raise covenant children, or children who would be included in the number of those who were part of the people of God, the nation that God called His own. I am not saying that this process would be easy, but I am saying the formula would be quite simple and following it would guarantee desired results.
Some of that process, generally stated, would include:
- Circumcising our male offspring 8 days after birth.
- Raising both our male and female offspring under the teachings of the law, forcing them to abide by the law under the threat of death for rebellion against the law.
- Taking them on the appointed days in the year to Jerusalem for the regulated sacrifices, as well as all the other regulated observance of days, feasts, and ordinances.
- As our offspring continued in the way that we taught and trained them, they would be included in the covenant and continue as such into their own adulthood life.
- As obedient members of the Old Covenant community called Israel, our children would be guaranteed temporal blessings. Disobedience to the covenant terms would lead to a loss of the blessings of that covenant.
What the Old Covenant (Mosaic, or Sinaitic) could not provide was the assurance of eternal life or an eternal relationship with God. Many, if not most, who were included in the Old Covenant community missed the eternal blessings promised in the Abrahamic covenant. These blessings were missed because while there was circumcision of the flesh and external formality of ceremonial worship, their hearts were not circumcised and were in fact far from the true and living God. Those who did receive a new heart (just like all in the New Covenant) were ones who saw more in the sacrificial system under the law than merely a religious exercise. They submitted by faith to this God-ordained picture of the promised Messiah, who would bring salvation through His death and resurrection.
The Old Covenant is now obsolete. According to Hebrews 8: 13, the authority of that Old Covenant was ready to vanish away. Jesus Christ came and fulfilled it in order to introduce a new and living way. God’s relationship to humanity is no longer determined by identification with ethnic origin or physical bloodline. There is now neither Jew nor Greek (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). God is no respecter of persons on the basis of nationality. The people of God now are identified, not by circumcision or family ties, but by faith in Jesus Christ expressed in baptism and a life of communion with others who have the same precious faith. His holy nation and peculiar people now are those who have been called by God through the preaching of the gospel.
What has this change done in relation to parenting? Are we responsible to raise New Covenant children, just as OT Israel was responsible to raise Old Covenant children?
The answer to this question will be greatly affected by our understanding of the change, if any, that has occurred by the coming of Jesus Christ. Did His cross and resurrection institute a change for the people of God? If not, then it seems that those who press parents with their responsibility to raise children of the covenant, assuming their inclusion in the “holy nation” because of their baptism and training, are correct. If the cross of Christ did mark a change, then we must give consideration to what these changes are and how it impacts our responsibility as parents.
To defend every statement in this brief article would require much more than a brief article. I will set forth propositions that I trust will serve to help bring clarity of thinking to those who are approaching the raising of their families in a New Testament framework of thinking. What I have said and will continue to say in this article reflects the basic theological foundation of those who have historically been called Baptists.
The NT Church and OT Israel are not the same. There are similarities. The church is no doubt shadowed in the OT, just as many other truths. Yet, the reference in Acts 7 to the "church in the wilderness", must not be confused with the church that Jesus promised to build (Matt. 16:18). The "church" of the OT included the called-out people that descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The NT church includes those who have been called out by the gospel and baptized into one body. While I understand a grand and final glorious church to include all for whom Christ died, including OT saints, (Ephesians 5:25-27) the church existing in this age on earth consists of those who have been received together as baptized believers by other baptized believers in any given location.
While some "Baptists" will hotly debate the details of the previous statements, we will all agree that the NT Church is not put together in the same manner as OT Israel. What was true for OT Israel is not necessarily applicable in the same way for a NT Church. An example, for the purpose of this present discussion, is seen in that OT Israel was entered by physical birth (genealogy was essential to OT Israel), while a NT Church (local, visible – which was true of OT Israel) is entered following the new birth and baptism. Only those circumcised in their heart (regenerated) are to enter a NT Church.
John Piper preached a message on this subject and expressed this clear distinction between the OT and NT this way: John the Baptist commanded those who had already been circumcised into the Old Covenant community to be baptized as a sign of entering a new spiritual community of repentant people. We believe this is what Jesus continued and commanded. This is why Peter stood up on Pentecost and said to 3,000 circumcised Jews, "Repent and be baptized." The New Covenant community (the church) is not something you can be born into according to the flesh. It is something you are born into by the Spirit. The evidence of this new birth is faith and repentance, and the sign placed upon it by the church in the name of God is baptism.
The "New Covenant community" is seen wherever you have a regular gathering of baptized believers. Of course, wherever you have baptized believing adults, you will have children, which leads us to the concern of this article. While there are differences in the covenants, there is a basic similarity in God’s revealed will for parents who have new hearts on both sides of the cross. Therefore, while it is essential to recognize the distinctions of the old and the new, it is possible for Christian parents to find clear helps in the OT for guiding us in our responsibilities in regard to establishing Christian homes.
The ultimate goal for Christian parents in relation to our children is expressed Ephesians 6:4. Naming the Lord as the centerpiece of all instruction and discipline guides us to our proper emphasis and priority. All we do is to be to the glory of God. Our desire must be to lead our children to see the greatness and the worth of God to be worshipped. We must lead our children to see that there is no other way ordained by God in heaven or earth to come to Him but by His Son, Jesus Christ. They must understand that Jesus Christ is indeed God manifest in the flesh. The Apostle Paul alludes to the goal of fathering as he speaks of his own relationship with the Thessalonicans. He said, As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory (I Thess. 2:11,12).
We must make sure that we are establishing such an emphasis in our homes that our children understand that neither they nor family values are our highest value or supreme goal. Our families must not become an idol to us so that everything we do places our relationship with them at the forefront. Our children need to understand through our teaching and example that God is real, worthy to be trusted and obeyed, and that He is more significant than anything this world has to offer. The Creator, not the creature or created, is the highest value.
Christian parents in this New Covenant age are responsible to cultivate a God-centered environment in their homes and an environment that will demonstrate to our children that any other kind of life other than a God-centered life is utter foolishness and ultimately disastrous. This is the same goal expressed in the Old Covenant in Psalm 78. Notice the following excerpt from that Psalm (vss. 1-8), Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
We are responsible to show to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. We must teach the next generation God’s law and point them to the greatness of the true and living God, the God of Israel. As we teach them, it is our hope that they might set their hope in God, and not forget His works and keep his commandments. We are hoping to avoid a stubborn and rebellious generation who does not set their hearts upon God.
We carry out our responsibility to teach and train in hopes that their hearts will be subdued and Jesus Christ will be embraced in a saving way. But, parents cannot give the new heart that is promised in the New Covenant. God repeatedly speaks of this as His work (Ezekiel 36:26; Jer 24:7; Heb. 8:10). The best that parents can do if left to ourselves is raise Pharisees, or hypocrites. Even when doing our best, we might still have a rebellious offspring (Isaiah 1:2). As we fulfill our responsibility to establish a Christian environment in our homes, we must bathe all our efforts in much prayer. In the end, we are cast upon the sovereign mercy of God to give to our children that which will truly change their lives and make them heart worshippers of the true and living God through Jesus Christ. If our children are saved, all glory must go to God, not us (John 1:13; I Cor. 1:29,31).
I’ll close this article with four exhortations, including a lengthy quote, from thoughts gleaned from a couple of messages, preached by John Piper, found on the www.desiringgod.org web site. Please give careful consideration to these simple helps to keep us focused on the main thing in regard to the task of establishing a truly Christian home in this New Covenant age.
Live lives that are saturated with God. Lives that are obviously governed by an intimate relationship with God. Piper suggests that in too many "Christian homes" a relationship with God, makes no difference in how much TV the family watches
or what they watch. He makes no difference in whether the music in the home edifies
the spirit or drags it down. He makes no difference in what the family does on the
Lord's day to keep it holy. He makes no difference in the disciplines of eating and
exercising and sleeping. He makes no difference in what kind of car or house or clothes
or furniture they buy. He just seems to be irrelevant most of the time.
And kids of course know this. And they draw from it the obvious conclusion—God is nothing very relevant to my life, and the cause of Christ is nothing great and all-consuming. God is not exciting enough to build your whole life around. He is a kind of necessary evil to be tolerated on Sunday but a dispensable drag on Monday through Friday. You can read this pretty easily from the kids that come from such homes.
So the first thing we must do is to be radical Christians—or I should say, simply, real Christians. We should saturate all our daily life with God. He should be the source and goal of all our acts. "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). The children will see it and by God's grace will believe that the triumph of God is the greatest thing in the world.
- Make sure your children know that the Bible is the most important book in your life, and should be in their lives. Get your counsel from God’s Word. Frequently and openly ask, what does God have to say about ______? Turn to the Scriptures in your homes!
- Set an example of faith in God in your home. Make decisions motivated by faith and hope in God. When there are needs, talk about God’s provision. When He provides, give thanks! When things are not as you might like, cease the murmuring and complaining and demonstrate your confidence in God’s providence. Show your children that you really believe that God will do as He has promised!
- Reveal joy in knowing and serving God. Duty should be delightful to the child of God. Show your children that it is not a drudgery to serve God. Let them see that your highest joy is found in serving HIM! Lose the perpetual sad countenance and the drooping shoulders. Cease the constant tearful appearance and sing the praises of your God in the hearing of your children. Let them know that you are living the greatest life known to man, a life that is ordered by the God who loves you and is worth making every and any sacrifice to serve.
John Piper says, If there is one memory that our children should have of our families and our church it is this; they should remember God. God was first. God was central. Is this true in your family? What memories are we creating in our children? What will they pass on to the next generation? Whether they agree with us or not, and whether they follow every detail of our example, may our children know that their parents were fully and wholly devoted to the glory of God in all things. This is our responsibility as Christian parents in this New Covenant age.
Kyle White, Pastor