Child-Centric Families Dole Out God’s Passive Wrath on Kids

In 2017, a California news channel ran a short documentary on a 12-year-old receiving an implant to block the flow of estrogen, in order to facilitate a potential gender transition down the road. There is something surreal and eerie about watching a team of five adults—including a mother and a father—huddling around a preteen to assist in a procedure that stops a natural process. The room was filled with smiles, support, and celebration for the child, who has made a major medical determination before reaching the teenage threshold.

I write not to pass judgment on a child living with a great deal of confusion or parents navigating a situation for which they never asked. Instead, it’s worth looking at how this situation sheds light on the child-centric mentality of modern-day parenting. A growing number of parents believe we must honor children’s wishes, at all costs. The world insists it’s our responsibility, as parents and as society, to bless and honor a child’s autonomy.

For example, the prevailing ethos in secular sex education enables children to determine—on their own—when they will become sexually active. Contraception and protection are encouraged, but otherwise the wisdom of the age is clear: “You [14- or 16- or 18-year-old], discern for yourself when you are ready.” In other words, society leaves children to their own devices with no real hint of standards. The fear is that if we don’t grant and support all of our children’s desires, then they won’t flourish or may be damaged in some way.

In short, the goal is to enable children to be true to themselves.

Problem of Child-Centric Self-Rule

In the garden, God gave Adam and Eve one stipulation: don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Under this prohibition resided a principle: don’t forget that God is the Creator; you are a creature. He alone is all-wise, knowing perfectly each person and detail of existence. You are made to depend on him. If you forget this, you will die.

Adam and Eve forgot, and they died.

Often, we think about the wrath of God as fire falling from the sky. Certainly, there is the active judgment of the Lord, seen throughout the Old Testament and foretold in the second coming of Christ. But there is also the passive judgment described in Romans 1: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!”

In other words, God’s judgment came not in the form of fire from heaven, but in the natural consequences of people being left to their own devices. They resisted him so persistently that he withdrew his mercy and allowed them to self-destruct as they lived on their own terms.

Moses portrayed the harrowing trajectory of human autonomy in Genesis 4–9. Starting with Cain and Abel and ending with the flood, the human condition grew increasingly dark. Before God’s active wrath appeared in the flood, humanity was self-destructing by living according to their own devices.

Fallen humanity’s self-destructive impulse emanates from the desire to live independently. We want to be the lord of our lives. All sinful behavior flows out of this self-rule.

While gender-transition surgery is a somewhat extreme example of self-rule, in a more subtle manner, many American families succumb to child-centric pressure. The standard of “good parenting” involves ascertaining a child’s talents, preferences, and affinities—and then dedicating all energy and time to meet those desires, even if it harms the child or the family.

I know it’s a bad idea, but Johnny wants to practice seven days per week.

It’s too much, but Sally feels like she has to take that sixth AP class.

I want my teenagers in church, but they just don’t want to go, so we leave them at home.

Most parents are trying their best and want what’s best for their children. This child-centric current, however, represents society enabling and facilitating self-rule, the very thing Scripture says is the essence of sin. The tail is wagging the dog in a manner that often leads to self-destruction.

Learning Lordship

A critical ingredient in growing up healthy and wise is learning to live life on other people’s terms. The school hands you a schedule. Mom and Dad serve you broccoli. The teacher makes a test and grades it. There are curfews and tardy bells and workouts and chores and driving ages. All of these challenges, which frustrate young people to no end, communicate the most valuable lesson in life: you are not the center of the world.

Such practices can implicitly lead children in the direction of God’s rule in their lives. And living life under his rule leads a child into the ultimate form of human flourishing and satisfaction.

The Book of Proverbs was originally written as a tool for older people to train children in the way of wisdom. The central verse, from which all the others flow, comes in Proverbs 1:6: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” Learning the critical delineation that God is God and you are not is the starting point to a wise and fruitful life. Living under the authority of his Word and depending on him for direction is the most significant ingredient that children need to flourish.

Institutions, churches, coaches, and parents can play a valuable role in leading kids in a positive direction. In fact, part of the value of teams, classes, groups, and community is portraying to kids that they will fall apart and fail if they desire to be a lone ranger or renegade.

All of this to say, the best thing we can do as parents is let the Lord lead the family. Too often it feels as if the kids and their aspirations dictate the direction of a family. Turning away from that mentality means seeking the Lord’s will with children in what they pursue. It also means that parents, using their God-given wisdom and considering the overall welfare of the family, have the authority to say, “No.” Such parental leadership models for kids how to live under the rule of God.

Let’s love children enough not to let them live on their own terms.

This post originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition: US Edition on Sept 5, 2019. Written and posted by Cameron Cole.

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Kids & the Lord’s Supper

The inclusion (and exclusion) of children taking part in the Lord’s Supper seems to vary from one denomination to another. Rather than relying on tradition, how does the bible help us think this through?

Photo by Enoc Valenzuela on Unsplash

Is it right to include kids in the Lord’s Supper?

Members of God’s kingdom, those who call Jesus their Lord and Saviour are invited to take part in the Lord’s Supper. It is a tangible way of remembering and celebrating the atoning sacrifice He made for us; showing the magnitude of His love and the seriousness of sin. Children born into Christian families – that is, families where the parents have received grace – are also considered to be part of God’s kingdom until such time as they openly reject Him. Not only is this consistent with OT inclusion of children in the Abrahamic promises, but also with NT view of children (this time Jews and non-Jews) being considered holy on account of their parent’s faith in Jesus (1 Cor 7:14). As such we seek to grow their knowledge, trust and faith in their heavenly Father and Saviour Jesus Christ. It seems natural then to also include them in remembering and celebrating Jesus’ death, the very means of their inclusion in God’s kingdom. Granted, children may not fully appreciate the symbolism of the bread and wine/juice in which we partake during the Lord’s Supper, but neither do they have a full and comprehensive understanding of prayer when we first ask them to talk to God. Both acts of praying and partaking in the Lord’s Supper in themselves are ways in which faith in children is grown and developed and so it is good and right to include them when congregations undertake this remembrance.

Does this mean we should always include children when having the Lord’s Supper at church? Depending on church contexts and other surrounding factors it may not be practical to have children partake in every Lord’s Supper. What I do understand from their justified standing before God it is good and appropriate to do so, not excluded or waiting until they reach a certain age.

How can we reinforce the gospel to kids during the Lord’s Supper?

The post-Jesus act of the Lord’s Supper is to bring us back to grace, remembering the body broken, and blood shed by Jesus for the atonement of our sins. The bread and wine/juice were never intended to bring us new cleansing of sin – to do so would deny the sufficiency of Jesus’ death for full atonement – so needs to be explicitly explained to kids. They help reinforce and focus our hearts and minds to the very sufficiency of Jesus’ death for sin, including their sin. A way this might be explained to children is equating it with a birthday cake. Kids don’t need a birthday cake to celebrate a birthday – the number still ticks over – but don’t they add to the celebration and remembrance of the occasion! The bread and wine/juice achieve nothing for salvation, but don’t they add to the celebration and remembrance of the occasion that did!
It’s okay to NOT take the Lord’s supper – in the same way that it achieves nothing as far as salvation is concerned, it is equally true that NOT taking the Lord’s Supper doesn’t disqualify them from God’s family. The actions of the Lord’s Supper are good, but not a work of salvation in itself. Let’s keep holding the gospel out to the kids, not build a system of works.
Kids being present with their parents during the Lord’s Supper also shows them Jesus died for Mum and Dad’s sin too. By virtue of consistently telling our kids what to do we often come across as those who don’t make mistakes. Witnessing other adults (especially their parents) confessing sin reinforces that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom 3:23).
We want children to be encouraged and affirmed that they ARE part of God’s kingdom. It gives them reassurance since they are acutely aware of their unworthiness of being so, even if they are loathe to admit it.

Some practical suggestions

Often-times when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper 1 Cor 11:23-29 is read by the person leading it, including the verses, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me” and “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me”. It is good to tell children it is actually just bread and wine/juice, not flesh and blood. Depending on their age they might have learned about metaphors at school – Jesus is using a metaphor when He uses these words.

The Lord’s Supper is often quite a reverent affair, treated with solemnity and often undertaken in contemplative silence. This is good and right because of the significance of what is being remembered, but it is also okay to talk appropriately during the Lord’s Supper – especially explaining to children what is going on, what we are remembering and celebrating, what to do and when to eat/drink. It is also perfectly fine, if not desirable for children to ask questions of their parents and others to help them understand what the Lord’s Supper is all about. If they are surrounded by a ‘cone of silence’ there is very little chance such questions will be forthcoming.

I have used the term ‘wine/juice’ throughout this article. I don’t think it wise to be giving alcohol to minors. I think a practical and loving solution is to use juice in place of wine/port, not just for the sake of children. There is every chance people within the congregation find alcohol an irresistible temptation and/or struggle**. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” Luke 5:31-32. We should expect and love all people as we seek to pastor them in serving Jesus with their lives.

*For a more robust theological discussion on this point read Andrew Heard’s paper on Infant Baptism.

**1 in 6 Australians consume alcohol at levels placing them at lifetime risk of an alcohol-related disease or injury. [Accessed July 4th 2019]

Why be purposeful in parenting?

“Surely parenting is instinctive, I’ll take my baby home from the hospital and I’ll just know what to do.”

No parent ever!
Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

Modern western society has a plethora of books and podcasts on how to parent at all stages of a child’s life. Before print and electronic media the cultural norm was for the elders, grandparents, and experienced parents (usually mothers) gathering around the first-time parents passing on learned, traditional and cultural parenting advice. While parenting seems to be instinctive for other species in the animal kingdom, it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case for humans. In all of this advice there must be a purpose to our parenting, but what is it? Some parents do choose the instinctive path and just figure it out as they go along, making decisions reactively rather than proactively. I wonder how many of them wish they had done things differently? I daresay most parents can articulate what they want for their kids and are purposefully parenting towards that goal, but what if it is the wrong goal? This blog aims to categorise different parenting philosophies (conscious or otherwise) and will attempt to outline what God wants our purpose to be.

First a couple of parenting philosophies with no purpose and some comments on their dangers.

Absent Parenting (No purpose, no motives)

This is a very hands-off approach to parenting that may be deliberate or just not considered. It could be that a parent is physically absent as a result of divorce, or work that takes him/her out of town for extended periods of time. S/he may live in the same house as the children but long days at the office means there is little time physically spent with the kids.
A physically present parent can still be emotionally or relationally absent, preferring to spend time pursuing their own hobbies and interests, leaving the kids to entertain themselves.
A parent can be physically and relationally engaged with their children (and many are, which is good), but a spiritually absent parent sees no purpose in being part of a church and no purpose in investing in any faith development of his/her kids. Sadly this is a very effective tool used by satan – he doesn’t need to convince people that God is a “a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” as Richard Dawkins would want us to believe, he just needs people to grow up thinking God is irrelevant.

I’m sure you’ll agree this is not a parenting style God would want for His children.

Abusive Parenting (No purpose, bad/selfish motives)

Sadly this is the truth in far too many lives – physically, sexually and/or emotionally abused, or just down right neglected. These kids bear the brunt of a broken world caused by sin and are the ones whose situations sadden me the most. Particularly those never given the chance to draw breath.

God does not want this for any children.

Can God bring someone to faith in Jesus when there is a lack of purpose in the way they were raised? Of course He can, but there is a whole lot of pain and damage that needs to be addressed along to way too. Fortunately Jesus can bring healing in this creation as we wait for His return.

Most Christian parents will say they have a purpose in their parenting, and they are usually good things they want for their kids, but these good desires can seductively slip into…

Misguided Parenting (Wrong purpose, good motives)

Parenting that seeks good for children – success and happiness – are motivated by a love and care for their children but if this is all they are working towards then they are misguided in their purpose. Parenting that fits this category seeks to:

  • create any and every opportunity for success, whether in sport, music, dance, drama, culture, art, or having the best education and hence career,
  • provide tools for success and happiness; resilience, organisation, persistence, getting along with others, confidence,
  • put forth a veneer of being a ‘good’ person, focussing on integrity, trustworthiness, good morals (staying away from the ‘bad crowd’), teaching right and wrong, get a good job, choose a good spouse, stay out of jail and rehab, make wise choices; all with the goal of saving their kids (and themselves) from self-inflicted pain and hardship

The problem with raising good, successful, happy adults is they don’t need Jesus. Their ‘goodness’ only has value in this world, it cannot save them. When there are others things to trust in for their satisfaction and enjoyment then they are being robbed of true joy that comes from knowing Jesus.

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good.

Matt 19:16-17

Purposeful Parenting (God’s purpose, right motives)

Not only is having a purpose in parenting a good thing, I want to convince you that having God’s purpose with the right motives is the way we can be parenting our kids with a gospel mindset. At this point you might want to read through some previous thoughts I’ve blogged about in What does God want for His Children. Understanding this helps us determine what our purpose and motive ought to be as Christian parents. I encourage you to read these verses so you are convinced for yourself the following is gleaned from scripture:

(Deut 4:10, 6:4-9, 11:18-19, Josh 4:4-7, Ps 78:1-8,
Prov 22:6, 9:10, Matt 19:13-15, Eph 6:1-4)

Our purpose as Christian parents is to be showing our kids:

  • to fear and revere the LORD;
  • the grace of Jesus through the cross, and
  • the hope we have in Jesus’ resurrection and return.

By show, this doesn’t just mean ‘there it is’. God’s desire, and so ours ought to be also, is for kids to stand in awe of who He is as creator and judge of the world, live lives that reflect an understanding of grace and hope, and for others to know this too.

At different stages, in different households, with different kids this will all look very different in practise, but I urge you to:

  • PRAY for your kids, that they would know their own sin, understand Jesus’ atonement for their sin, accept grace and live with hope.
  • TEACH your kids all about God the Father, Son and Spirit – get the bible out, read it with them, teach them about God’s big rescue plan that was always Jesus,
  • INSTRUCT your kids to identify sinful behaviours and attitudes and how to come to Jesus in repentance. This involves doing it with them, alongside them in day-to-day life.
  • MODEL a life of prayerfulness, being sanctified by the Spirit, trusting in His goodness in the way you spend your time, money, energy, resources.

Make it your purpose in parenting for your kids to know grace.
Make it your purpose in parenting for your kids to understand the gospel.
Make it your purpose in parenting they understand Jesus is God, they cannot change and save themselves, and to trust in Jesus death, resurrection and hope of His return.

Not for comfort’s sake, not for convenience’ sake, not for your reputation’s sake, not for your child’s sake, but for Christ’s sake, be purposeful in your parenting.