Training Children to a Habit of Obedience

WFS_Three_Smiling_Kids_lightstock_164908_medium

This is an object which it is worth any labor to attain. No habit, I suspect, has such an influence over our lives as this. Parents, determine to make your children obey you—though it may cost you much trouble—and cost them many tears! Let there be no questioning, and reasoning, and disputing, and delaying, and answering back. When you give them a command, let them see plainly that you will have it done.

Obedience is the only reality. It is faith visible, faith acting, and faith incarnate. It is the test of real discipleship among the Lord’s people. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). It ought to be the mark of well-trained children, that they cheerfully do whatever their parents command them. Where, indeed, is the honor which the fifth commandment enjoins, if fathers and mothers are not obeyed cheerfully, willingly, and at once?

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Parents, do you wish to see your children happy? Take care, then, that you train them to obey when they are spoken to—to do as they are told. Believe me, we are not made for entire independence—we are not fit for it. Even Christ’s freemen have a yoke to wear, they “serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:24). Children cannot learn too soon that this is a world in which we are not all intended to rule, and that we are never in our right place until we know how to obey our betters. Teach them to obey while young, or else they will be fretting against God all their lives long, and wear themselves out with the vain idea of being independent of His control.

Reader, this hint is only too much needed. You will see many in this day who allow their children to choose and think for themselves long before they are able, and even make excuses for their disobedience, as if it were a thing not to be blamed. To my eyes, a parent always yielding, and a child always having its own way, are a most painful sight—painful, because I see God’s appointed order of things inverted and turned upside down—painful, because I feel sure the consequence to that child’s character in the end will be self-will, pride, and self-conceit. You must not wonder that men refuse to obey their Father which is in heaven, if you allow them, when children, to disobey their father who is upon earth.

Parents, if you love your children—let obedience be a motto and a watchword continually before their eyes.

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Spoiling is a very expressive word—and sadly full of meaning. Now it is the shortest way to spoil children—to let them have their own way—to allow them to do wrong and not to punish them for it. Believe me, you must not do it, whatever pain it may cost you unless you wish to ruin your children’s souls.

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Parents, I beseech you, for your children’s sake, beware of over-indulgence. I call on you to remember, it is your first duty to consult their real interests, and not their fancies and likings—to train them, not to amuse them—to profit them, not merely to please them.

You must not give way to every wish and caprice of your child’s mind, however much you may love him. You must not let him suppose his will is to be everything, and that he has only to desire a thing and it will be done. Do not, I beg you, make your children idols—lest God should take them away, and break your idol, just to convince you of your folly!

Learn to say “No” to your children. Show them that you are able to refuse whatever you think is not fit for them. Show them that you are ready to punish disobedience, and that when you speak of punishment, you are not only ready to threaten, but also to perform. Do not merely threaten. Threatened folks, and threatened faults, live long. Punish seldom—but really and earnestly. Frequent and slight punishment is a wretched system indeed.

Some parents have a way of saying, “Naughty child,” to a boy or girl on every slight occasion, and often without good cause. It is a very foolish habit. Words of blame should never be used without real reason.

As to the best way of punishing a child, no general rule can be laid down. The characters of children are so exceedingly different, that what would be a severe punishment to one child, would be no punishment at all to another. I only beg to enter my decided protest against the modern notion that no child ought ever to be spanked. Doubtless some parents use bodily correction far too much, and far too violently—but many others, I fear, use it far too little.

Beware of letting small faults pass unnoticed under the idea “it is a little one.” There are no little things in training children—all are important. Little weeds need plucking up as much as any. Leave them alone, and they will soon become giants!

Parents, if there be any point which deserves your attention, believe me, it is this one. It is one that will give you trouble, I know. But if you do not take trouble with your children when they are young—they will give you trouble when they are old! Choose which you prefer.

—J. C. Ryle, The Duties of Parents

Recovering the Lost Art of Catechism

“Presbyterian Catechising” by John Philip

In the Philippines, the Catholic tradition has been so inculcated by the Spanish conquistadors in the Filipino culture that majority of Filipinos profess the Catholic faith as soon as they are able to speak. Catholicism then has become synonymous to being Filipino, just as Thais are to Buddhism, and Indians to Hinduism.

A majority of the congregants in local Christian churches are converts from the Roman Catholic tradition, and so the practice of catechism is not foreign to them. Because of this notion, covenant communities who desire to use catechesis in instructing their members in the faith have faced opposition because these converts are prone to believe that it is Roman Catholic in practice, and should not be part of the ministry of the Protestant church.

However, that should not be the case. For as it is, Roman Catholics do not have the exclusive right of usage of the word “catechism.” Zacharias Ursinus, the author of the Heidelberg Catechism writes in his article “What is Catechism?“:

The Greek word kataecaesis is derived from kataeceoh, as kataecismos is from kataecidzoh. Both words, according to their common signification, mean to sound, to resound, to instruct by word of mouth, and to repeat the sayings of another. Kataeceoh more properly, however, means to teach the first principles and rudiments of some particular doctrine. As applied to the doctrine of the church and as understood when thus used, it means to teach the first principles of the Christian religion, in which sense it occurs in Luke 1. 4, Acts 18. 25, Gal. 6. 6, etc. Hence, catechisation in its most general and comprehensive sense, means the first brief and elementary instruction which is given by word of mouth in relation to the rudiments of any particular doctrine; but, as used by the church, it signifies a system of instruction relating to the first principles of the Christian religion, designed for the ignorant and unlearned.

Heidelberger_Katechismus_1563Ursinus also writes that catechism has always been practiced in the church, beginning in the Old Testament:

[T]he origin of catechisation which is said of the whole economy or service of the church… was instituted by God himself, and has always been practiced in the church. For, since from the very beginning of the world God has been the God, not only of those of adult age, but also of those of young and tender years, according to the covenant which he made with Abraham, saying, “I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee;” (Gen. 17. 7.) he has also ordained that both classes should be instructed in the doctrine of salvation according to their capacity…

In the 12th and 13th chapters of Exodus, God commands the Jews to give particular instruction to their children and families in relation to the institution and benefits of the Passover. In the fourth chapter of the book of Deut., he enjoins it upon parents to repeat to their children the entire history of the law which he had given them. In the sixth chapter of the same book, he requires that the doctrine of the unity of God, and of perfect love to him should be inculcated and impressed upon the minds of their children; and in the eleventh he commands them to explain the Decalogue to their children. Hence, under the Old Testament dispensation, children were taught in the family by their parents, and in the schools by the teachers of religion, the principal things contained in the prophets…

In the New Testament we are, told that Christ laid his hands upon little children and blessed them, and commanded that they should be brought unto him. Hence he says, in Mark 10. 14, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.” That the catechisation of children was diligently attended to in the times of the apostles, is evident from the example of Timothy, of whom it is said that he knew the holy Scriptures from infancy…

So likewise the Fathers wrote short summaries of doctrine, some fragments of which may still be seen in the Papal church. Eusebius writes of Origen, that he restored the custom of catechising in Alexandria, which had been suffered to grow out of use during the times of persecution… After this period the doctrine of the church, through the negligence of the bishops and the subtlety of the Romish priests, became gradually more and more corrupt, and the custom of catechising grew more and more into disuse, until at length it was changed into the ridiculous ceremony which to this day they call confirmation.

small-catechism-luther-1529Even so, the Reformers like Martin Luther wrote his Larger Catechism for adults in 1529, along with the Small Catechism for children. In his preface to his Small Catechism, Luther correctly notes:

The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach [so much so, that one is ashamed to speak of it]. Nevertheless, all maintain that they are Christians, have been baptized and receive the [common] holy Sacraments. Yet they [do not understand and] cannot [even] recite either the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed, or the Ten Commandments; they live like dumb brutes and irrational hogs; and yet, now that the Gospel has come, they have nicely learned to abuse all liberty like experts.

John Calvin also produced his catechism in 1541, which underwent two revisions in 1545 and 1560. Catechesis only came to Rome in 1556 when the Council of Trent published the Roman Catechism, which was intended for the use of their clergy.

This is what J. I. Packer and Gary Parrett had to say in an article in Christianity Today about the very same concern:

Historically, the church’s ministry of grounding new believers in the rudiments of Christianity has been known as catechesis—the growing of God’s people in the gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty, and delight. It is a ministry that has waxed and waned through the centuries…

Today, however, things are quite different, and that for a host of reasons. The church in the West has largely abandoned serious catechesis as a normative practice. Among the more surprising of the factors that have contributed to this decline are the unintended consequences of the great Sunday school movement. This lay-driven phenomenon swept across North America in the 1800s and came to dominate educational efforts in most evangelical churches through the 20th century. It effectively replaced pastor-catechists with relatively untrained lay workers, and substituted an instilling of familiarity (or shall we say, perhaps, over-familiarity) with Bible stories for any form of grounding in the basic beliefs, practices, and ethics of the faith.

Thus, for most contemporary evangelicals the entire idea of catechesis is largely an alien concept. The very word itself—catechesis, or any of its associated terms, including catechism—is greeted with suspicion by most evangelicals today. (“Wait, isn’t that a Roman Catholic thing?”)

Surely, catechism has always been practiced in the Christian church and it did not originate from the Roman Catholics, but from God Himself. RCC converts in our churches need to know this truth and we have the responsibility to carefully instruct them in love. Thus, I echo Packer and Parrett’s words:

We are persuaded that Calvin had it right and that we are already seeing the sad, even tragic, consequences of allowing the church to continue uncatechized in any significant sense. We are persuaded, further, that something can and must be done to help the Protestant churches steer a wiser course. What we are after, to put it otherwise, is to encourage our fellow evangelicals to seriously consider the wisdom of building believers the old-fashioned way.

Classical Christian Education: Teaching Truth, Goodness, and Beauty to the Glory of God

“School of Athens” by Raphael

Classical Education is a method of teaching children according to their developmental stages of learning, which correspond to the aspects of the Trivium, that is grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The Trivium has been around since the Middle Ages, but also find its roots in Ancient Greece. Classical Christian Education, however, is educating children in the Trivium with a distinct Christian worldview.

While modern education seeks to put the child in the center of all learning, Classical Christian Education sees that God is the center of all learning. It recognizes that all truth is God’s truth, and that one cannot fully distinguish truth and error without understanding God’s truth as revealed in the Bible. Everything should then be examined through the lenses of Scripture, as it relates to God and His revelation. Children need not be shielded from the plethora of opposing philosophies and harsh realities of life. Rather, they need to be grounded firmly on the Word of God, which will then arm them with the grid whereby they can sift through different ideas that will come their way.

N.D. Wilson, son of Classical Christian Education proponent Doug Wilson, wrote this excellent piece on how to train children in his book Notes From The Tilt-The-Whirl:

The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.

I truly believe that Classical Christian Education will give children the tools to do just that. Children will learn how to acquire information (grammar), how to think critically (logic), and how to communicate with clarity (rhetoric).

Francis Schaeffer once said about education:

If Christianity is not just one more religion, one more upper story kind of thing… then it has something to say about all the disciplines, and it certainly has something to say about the humanities and the arts and the appreciation of them. And I want to say quite firmly, if your Christian school does not do this, I do not believe it is giving a good education… True Christian education is not a negative thing; it is not a matter of isolating the student from the full scope of knowledge. Isolating the student from large sections of human knowledge is not the basis of a Christian education. Rather it is giving him or her the framework or total truth, rooted in the Creator’s existence and in the Bible’s teaching, so that in each step of the formal learning process the student will understand what is true and what is false and why it is true or false. It is not isolating students from human knowledge. It is teaching them in a framework of the total Biblical teaching, beginning with the tremendous central thing, that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. It is teaching in this framework, so that on their own level, as they are introduced to all of human knowledge, they are not introduced in the midst of a vacuum, but they are taught each step along the way why what they are hearing is either true or false. That is true education. The student, then, is an educated person.

Classical Christian Education is where knowledge and virtue converge. But ultimately, the goal is for children to recognize and treasure truth, goodness, and beauty, to the glory of God.


Learn more about the Trivium and Christian Christian Education from these valuable resources: