Monday, February 12, 2007

Sheltering Children - Part 2 - Parental Responsibility for Influences

Sheltering Children--Part Two: Parental Responsibility for Influences
By Jonathan Lindvall

In the first part of this article we considered the principle of holiness--God's call to separation. He directs us (Rom. 12:1-2) to live pure lives set apart from others in "the world"--our environment. He calls us (1 Pet. 2:9) to be His "peculiar" people. We are apparently to be unique, distinct, and perhaps even "eccentric" in the eyes of others.

Some time ago at the close of one of my BOLD PARENTING Seminars a man commented that he had finally figured out what I was trying to do through my seminars. When I asked what he thought that was, he responded, "You're trying to recruit people to be holy weirdoes for Jesus." Holy weirdoes?! Rather than being offended, I have rather become intrigued by the thought. Certainly the word "weird" has negative connotations that none of us want to identify with. But just as certainly, if we live according to God's direction the world will accuse us of being non-conformists, out of sync with society, or just plain "weird."

We also pondered others of the world's accusations: We are raising "naive" children, and we are "sheltering" our children. In the face of these allegations I am convinced we ought not to become defensive and endeavor to deny them. Rather, we should accept and glory in such charges and even prove them correct. You see, what the world calls "naive" the Bible calls "pure." I will prefer naive children to the cool, savvy, street-wise, rebels the world produces any day.

And who said "sheltering" was bad? I challenge anyone to find a single instance in scripture where the term "shelter" is used negatively. Sheltering is never portrayed as something bad. It is always seen as good. For example, Joel 3:16 tells us, "the LORD will be a shelter for His people." The Psalmist glories in God's shelter, saying (Ps. 61:3-4), "For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings." In Psalm 83:3 the word is used as a term of endearment as we are called God's "sheltered ones."

What kinds of dangers threaten our children? It is quite acceptable, in our society, for a parent to protect children from physical dangers. But are there spiritual hazards that are more threatening than mere bodily harm? Jesus said (Matt. 10:28), "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who I to destroy both soul and body in hell." As Christians we recognize that spiritual and emotional threats are more significant than mere physical perils.

Imagine the foolish parent who during a violent thunderstorm would tell his children, "I don't want anybody to be able to say I sheltered you. You need to go and stand in the front yard."

I can imagine the children protesting, "But dad, it's wet out there. I'll get drenched! I could catch pneumonia! And I could get struck by lightning and die! Please! Let me come in the house?"

Picture the foolish parent insisting, "No. You have to face the real world someday. I'm not going to be over-protective. No Sheltering Here!"

STOP! Bring them in! Sheltering isn't bad. It is good! Only a negligent parent would allow a child to face overwhelming dangers when it was in his power to protect him. Admittedly their are dangers that are beyond our control. But what of those within our jurisdiction?

Many of us are fearful of accusations of "over-protection." Certainly there is a time to release to our children the responsibility for their own influences. But such gradual releasing should be on the basis of demonstrated faithfulness in handling slightly smaller responsibilities. It is negligence to impose upon children responsibilities we have a reasonable doubt they can handle.

Repeatedly we are warned in scripture to not cause a "weaker brother" to stumble. But for which "weaker brother" will we be held most accountable? I am most responsible for the little lambs the shepherd has placed in my own family. What are the "stumbling blocks" that might "cause one of these little ones to sin" (Matt. 18:6)? The Lord has convicted me of the influences I have allowed to shape my children. I fear that I am deserving of the "millstone" Jesus talked of for making my children vulnerable to temptations through the "provisions for the flesh" (Rom. 13:16) I have clung to in my own life. Rather, I should "pluck out," "cut off," and "cast away" those appendages (figurative eyes, feet, and hands) Jesus referred to in the continuing passage (Matt. 18:6-10).

One day each father and mother will be called to give an account of his or her parenting. We will not be held accountable for our children's decisions, but for the influences we allowed to shape those decisions. Imagine your children appearing before you at the judgment and God saying, "Here is how your children turned out. Why did you let them go to the places they went, see the things they saw, hear the things they heard, and do the things they did?"

What types of excuses do you suppose will be acceptable in that moment? "But Lord, everybody else was doing those same things."

What do you imagine the Lord will say? Something like, "I didn't give your children to everyone else. I gave them to YOU!"

We might protest, "But I didn't know they would experience that influence when I allowed them to experience that activity."

I imagine the Lord will respond, "It was your job to know. I entrusted these invaluable treasures into your hand and you just let whatever influence happened to float by to shape them."

My wife and I have become convicted of a number of former freedoms that we have had to evaluate in light of their potential influence in the lives of our children (as well as our own). We have had to "pluck out" a number of influences that many Christians consider quite innocent, and perhaps even healthy.

Question of Legalism

Whenever we deal with specific points of obedience as I am going to take the risk in doing we are in danger of sounding "legalistic." Jesus said (John 14:15), "If you love Me, keep My commandments." This is not legalism. True legalism is thinking I can somehow earn God's grace. We cannot add a single thing to what Jesus already accomplished through His death on the cross in purchasing our salvation. But when Christians purpose to obey the Lord explicitly they are often accused of legalism.

Neither is it legalism when I insist on sowing what I want to reap. A farmer is not inappropriately legalistic in choosing good seed. He simply recognizes the unbreakable laws of nature. He is free to violate those laws, but will reap the consequences in the harvest he receives.

God's word provides a number of principles and insights that we can ignore and still be Christians. But Paul warns us in Galatians 6:7, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap." Parents often reap the harvest of their laziness and deception in their children.

Another form of legalism we want to avoid is one man trying to impose God's guidance in his life on others. Please join me in recognizing each of us has an individual walk with God that is in certain respects unique from anyone else's. Without denying there are universal mandates, I recognize there are things God requires of me that He doesn't necessarily require of another brother. Conversely there are things you may be forbidden to do that I have perfect liberty in. We must honor one another and provide room for each other to walk uniquely before our Master. Yet God has also ordained that we "provoke one another to love and good works" (Heb. 10:24) "as iron sharpens iron" (Prov.27:17).

Yet each of has a responsibility to challenge our brothers as the Lord is maturing us. But if God doesn't deal with you the same way He has dealt with me, that's alright. Still, the reason I right the following is that I suspect he might want to use my experience and conclusions to challenge others in similar ways.

Influences Ripe for Plucking

The first influence I believe God has called us to question is the influence of peers. There is a notion in our culture the children are good for children. The most frequently asked question about homeschooling is, "But what about socialization?" We assume that in order to learn to get along with others children must spend a fair amount of time with those their own age.

Is this idea scriptural? Does the Bible anywhere warn parents to provide adequate social interaction for their children? No! In fact all the warnings I am aware of focus on the opposite danger. Paul warned about friendships saying (1 Cor. 15:33), "Do not be deceived: `Evil company corrupts good habits.'" This statement is very emphatic. It is not that carnal friendships "might" be a bad. There is no "maybe" or "possibly" here. Ungodly companionships are inevitably a bad influence in all cases.

I am one who has rationalized such relationships in the past and have borne the scars. Without exception I have been influenced to compromise when I allowed myself to enter into close friendships with those who lacked a heart for the Lord. Notice a distinction, however, between intimate companionship and friendly acquaintance. We are clearly to be friendly to virtually everyone, but to limit close friendships to those who are going in the same direction (Amos 3:3)-- toward the Lord.

Solomon warned his son (Prov 13:20), "He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed." How can you tell if your children are experiencing companionship with fools? Fools are those who are foolish! The Bible tells us where we are most likely to find foolishness. Proverbs 22:15 states, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child." The intent of the passage is declared in the next line, "The rod of correction will drive it far from him" but this verse definitely tells us an inevitable locus of foolishness-- children. Is it possible God intended for children to be nurtured by adults rather than by peers?

The primary reason I am homeschooling my children is not that I think I can provide a superior academic experience for them (although I suspect I can). The most significant motivation is what I am protecting them from--companionship with fools! Some might call this harsh and reactionary, but I am convinced God has called me to take seriously my role as PROTECTOR of my family. Not only do I need a good offense to win, but a good defense is also imperative.

God has already provided the ideal nurturing environment for children--the family. God could have, if He so chose, designed us like some of His other creatures, to be raised with a class full of peers. He could give humans litters like he does dogs, cats, rabbits, etc. We could train a whole class full until graduation and then send them all off together. (I know He does occasionally give some of us litters but this is clearly exceptional.) Instead he places children in families where they find their place under their parents among siblings of varying ages. Is this just incidental or is there a sovereign design? I am convinced of the latter.

Many orphans and widows take great comfort when the Psalmist tells us (Ps. 68:5) "A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, Is God in His holy habitation." The next line (v. 6) is very enlightening, though. "God sets the solitary in families." God has already designed the perfect place for children (and other lonely individuals) to be "socialized"--the family.

Let me take this a step beyond homeschooling, though. I have talked with numerous homeschool parents who explain they have effectively hindered their children from becoming dependent on negative peer relationships Monday through Friday in the school environment, but their children are still significantly influenced by the negative influences of a worldly youth culture. How can this be? Where is the negative peer influence coming from?

We are called to love Christ's bride. We are commanded to not forsake assembling with other believers. We need fellowship. Yet most of us know that the programs of the church are all too often a significant source of negative influence in our children's lives. We must not allow ourselves to become cynical--developing critical spirits toward the church. But I also will be held accountable for every influence that I allow to damage my children.

The answer is not to forsake assembling with other members of Christ's body. But just because we worship with a certain congregation does not mean everyone in our families must participate in every one of its programs. While the church, Christ's bride, is clearly ordained of God to part of each our experience on an ongoing basis, this does not mean everything the local congregation does is pleasing to God, or intended by Him for our families' experience.

Our family has been affiliated with a certain congregation for nearly seven years now, but there are a number of programs we feel the Lord has called us to protect our children from. For example, our children attend the worship service with us rather than ever participating in the "Children's Church." Even if we were involved in directing the children's ministries they would be enticed to cultivate a value for the approval of peers above that of their parents. Tragically, in many churches the behavior of the children in "Children's Church" is quite less than reverent or worshipful. Irreverent behavior is contagious and we are convinced we must protect our children from acquiring this sinful disease.

Our children don't even go to Sunday School! I know this is shocking to many. I have been asked "How, then, do your children get Christian Education?" Repeating the query among those who know our family lifestyle raises laughs, but the questioners are serious. They can't imagine providing Christian Education informally in a Biblically disciplined home. I daresay my children are not deficient in their knowledge of scripture.

I thank the Lord for well-intentioned Sunday School teachers and Christian Education Directors who have a heart for the Lord and a sincere love for their students. At one time I served as director of a Sunday School bus ministry where we had 13 buses bringing in nearly 400 children weekly to the Church. Thank the Lord that there was some (minimal) fruit from all that effort. But as my own children started to come along I began questioning the influence in their lives.

Sunday School may be a God-ordained tool for evangelism, but I question whether it is God's ideal for the spiritual nurture of children from godly families. The scriptural directives to "Train up a child in the way he should go" (Prov. 22:6) and "teach [these words] diligently to your children" (Deut. 6:6) are given to parents, not to some other institution. We know that government weakens families when it does for them what they are supposed to do themselves. The same is true of the church. Leaders in the church are to "equip the saints for the work" (Eph. 4:12) not "do the work for the saints." The church needs to train parents to take responsibility for discipling their own children. Thankfully, there are more and more churches pursuing this vision.

My youth do not participate in youth groups for the same reasons. God's design for young people's social life is that it should flourish under the immediate protection of parents (more on this in a future article). Instead in the last several generations we have developed such a program mentality that we lose sight of the scripturally revealed program for lonely people (Ps. 68:5-6). This has led to such recent questionable creations as church singles groups. The forerunners were the Sunday School and then later the youth groups.

Yet we never find such programs in scripture. Now this does not necessarily make Sunday Schools and Youth groups wrong. However they should at least be open to question since they are not founded upon precedent in God's word. But today these extra-biblical programs have become such sacred cows that they are "untouchable."

Please forgive my intense language. If God leads a church to form a Sunday School or Youth Group, they obviously must obey God. But I seriously doubt that most such programs result from such direct leading. Instead it has become such accepted practice ("tradition of the elders") to have these children's and youth programs that it is unthinkable to have a church without them. Yet the New Testament churches flourished without our modern programs. Maybe we should rethink our embrace of the assembly-line mentality that has produced these programs. At the very least, even if the Lord leads my church to have a Sunday School or Youth Group that does not necessarily mean He wants my children to be part of them.

Let me take this principle even further. As my wife and I have concluded God wants us to shelter our children from unsupervised peer relationships we have set up an authority structure among our children where the older protect and serve the younger. Thus we allow our children to play with one another unsupervised as long as no outsiders are present. But when children from other families are visiting we cannot allow them to play with our children without our supervision because they naturally will not understand and follow our birth-order authority structure.

This means we limit our children's interaction with neighborhood children to times when we can see and hear everything. This is, of course, rather confining to the children, and puts pressure on us. But we are convinced we will be held accountable for every influence our children experience and thus must be aware of each influence and in enough control to immediately modify anything beyond what is pleasing to the Lord. Every time we have relaxed this standard we have almost immediately seen the negative fruit in our children's attitudes and actions, and have regretted our compromise.

If your family visited our family we would not allow our children to play with yours unsupervised. You can imagine that we have offended many folks as we implement this conviction. Some have suggested, "Do you think your children are too good for our children?" That is not the case at all. My children would likely be a bad influence on your children as well. Fools are not good for fools. I don't mean to be ungracious toward my children, but we understand that "the rod of correction" has not yet completed its work to "drive it [foolishness] out" of their hearts. We understand this to be the case with others children as well.

Because of this, we don't go out of our way to cultivate peer relationships for our children. They see their friends at church and in the neighborhood, but only in our presence. We seldom participate in institutional outings where there are large numbers of other children, even when such activities are sponsored by homeschool support groups. We definitely do not allow any one of our children to spend the night at the home of some friend. This is asking for pooling of foolishness that will frequently be the source of significant regrets.

Our children's social lives are, in fact, rich and varied. Rather than narrowly limiting their friendships to those their own ages, our frequent hospitality provides the ground for interacting with a wide diversity of people of varying ages. Far from being isolated from the "real world," our children have learned to develop serving relationships with older people and children.



1 comment:

woodluv said...

Thanks Amanda, for sharig your thoughts and convictions. I feel very challenged and also encouraged. I'm not the only one that feels the way I feel and believes what I believe! Thanks for helping me see that.

You have given me much to consider about our church groups and social connections for our kids there. And you've shown me it's OK to question the "norm" and not to do what the other church families are doing...

I was homeschooled by my mom and she has many of your convictions and consiquently so to I as a result of her passtion and love for God and His Word, and her love and passtion to really live it out in our lives.

I now homeschool my oldest and will hopefully homeschool our younger one, too. Thanks for the candid words, it gives me courage.

God Bless You richly,