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For students of Church history — actual and amateur — there is no finer summary from the Reformation to the present day than Tim Naab’s Pentecostal History page. (H/T: Reformation Anglicanism — thank you!)

Catholics often accuse Protestants of an incapability to make up their minds about what church they ultimately want to be members of, however, in response, they should note that all the smaller denominations which Naab lists — also see his Too Many and Pentecostal Denominations pages — came from Holiness and Pentecostalist movements rather than from the Reformation churches. Yes, the Reformation churches have had some splits, but nowhere near the frequency and number that these 19th and 20th century movements have had.

Could it be the emotion-driven — ‘enthusiastic’ — orientation of these church members which drives them to keep splitting off into more discrete congregations? They think with their hearts and not their heads. Some splits happened because, with the best will in the world, early 20th century Holiness and Pentecostal adherents were unable to gather for bi-racial conferences which were hampered by America’s segregation laws. It was more expedient for them to reluctantly agree to split into racially-determined churches of similar enough names to be recognised by other congregants.  That said, in general, most of the splits occurred because of religious disagreement. I hesitate to use the word ‘theological’ as most of them don’t have much in the way of formal theology, which is deemed unnecessary.  You can read Naab’s potted histories to verify this. It’s all experiential. (This post of mine discusses the ‘testimony’ experience.)

These are the denominations where, largely, ‘pastor as prophet’ and ‘touch not mine anointed’ are the order of the day. Meanwhile, the members must be born again in the Spirit, otherwise, they face accusations of lack of faith or demon possession.

Even John Wesley — inspiration for the post-Methodist Holiness and Wesleyan churches and, by extension, Pentecostalism — wrote in his sermon ‘The Nature of Enthusiasm’:

As to the nature of enthusiasm, it is, undoubtedly a disorder of the mind; and such a disorder as greatly hinders the exercise of reason. Nay, sometimes it wholly sets it aside: it not only dims but shuts the eyes of the understanding. It may, therefore, well be accounted a species of madness.

Enthusiasm there, and in a theological sense, refers to charismatics and continuationism.

Two centuries earlier, John Calvin had this to say in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 9:

Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some peculiar way of penetrating to God, are to be deemed not so much under the influence of error as madness. For certain giddy men[1] have lately appeared, who, while they make a great display of the superiority of the Spirit, reject all reading of the Scriptures themselves, and deride the simplicity of those who only delight in what they call the dead and deadly letter.

Note that both men mention ‘madness’, alluding to a leaving of one’s senses where faith is concerned.

Much better to be a Berean, absorbing Christian doctrine whilst seriously and quietly reading and dividing Holy Scripture.

For more information on some of the denominations Naab — himself raised as a Pentecostalist — see his many additional links as well as the ‘Pietism and Small Groups’ and ‘Evangelical and Enthusiasm’ topics on my Christianity / Apologetics page.

As many faithful Christians will know, an Evangelical pastor, the Revd Youcef Nadarkhani, has been in an Iranian prison for several months.

Recently, Richard Ibrahim, writing for Algemeiner.com, reported:

Iranian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani continues to suffer in prison. Most recently, he rejected an offer to be released if he publicly acknowledged Islam’s prophet Muhammad as “a messenger sent by God,” which would amount to rejecting Christianity, as Muhammad/Koran reject it.

Today, a friend of mine forwarded me a set of documents which have been circulating around the world. I would like to ensure that as many of us as possible see — and forward — this appeal to anyone interested in writing their respective Iranian ambassador.

It transpires that Pastor Nadarkhani could be executed very soon. Jordan Sekulow from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) wrote the following on February 21, 2012:

We are hearing reports from our contacts in Iran that the execution orders for Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani may have been issued.

Pastor Youcef’s situation – an innocent man convicted and sentenced to death for becoming a Christian – has not been this dire since we first brought his case to your attention last year.

It is unclear whether Pastor Youcef would have a right of appeal from the execution order. We know that the head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, must approve publicly held executions, but only a small percentage of executions are held public—most executions in Iran are conducted in secret.

There has also been a disturbing increase in the number of executions conducted by the Iranian regime in the last month.

Iran is actively violating its human rights obligations by sentencing and detaining Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. We call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Youcef immediately.

We are continuing to work to help spare the life of Pastor Youcef, and will provide additional updates on his situation as we are able.

Please continue to pray, share his story, and call for his release.

The photo of the Nadarkhani family comes courtesy of the ACLJ. There is more on Pastor Nadarkhani’s story on that page.

Letters should be sent without delay to the relevant Iranian ambassador. What follows are embassy addresses for certain countries:

Embassy of Iran in Canberra in Australia
PO Box 705, Mawson ACT 2607
His Excellency Mr Mahmoud MOVAHHEDI
Ambassador

Embassy of Iran in Vienna in Austria
jauresgasse 9 – A1030 Wien
Fax: +431+7135733
Email:public@iranembassy-wien.at

The Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Germany
Podbielskiallee 65/67,
14195 Berlin

Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Ireland
72 Mount Merrion Ave.
Blackrock Co.
Dublin, Ireland
Fax: (003531) 2834246
Email:iranembassy@indigo.ie

Embassy of Islamic Republic of Iran to The Hague in the Netherlands
The Embassy of I.R. of Iran Duinweg 20 2585JX Den Haag
Web Site:http://www.iranianembassy.nl/
Email:info@iranembassy.nl

Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Pakistan
St.No.2, Sector G-5/1 Diplomatic Enclave, Islamabad

Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the UK
16 Prince’s Gate,
London SW7 1PT
Fax: ( +44)2075894440
Email:info@iran-embassy.org.uk

United States of America (Iran and the USA do not have diplomatic relations):
Representative Office of Iran in Washington, United States
c/o Embassy of Pakistan
2209 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington
D.C.20007
United States
Fax: +1-202-965-1073
Email: requests@daftar.org

A sample letter to the relevant Iranian ambassador follows:

Your Excellency,

Re: Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani

I wish to bring to your attention the urgent case of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani who was condemned to death in Iran for converting to the Christian faith.  Recent indications are that there are grave concerns that Pastor Nadarkhani’s life is in danger.

I request that your government respect its international commitment to human rights, and that Pastor Nadarkhani, and all other persons in your country who are in similar situations, be treated in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which stipulates:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief …

“All people have the right to obey their conscience, which is a work of God, wherever that leads them.  People in Islamic countries have as much right to convert to Christianity as westerners have to convert to Islam.”

I request that you pass on this appeal to the Iranian Government as a matter of urgency. Thank you for your attention to this request.

Yours sincerely,

For those of us not in a position to write, let us pray fervently that this pastor is given back his freedom and reunited with his family.

In any event, kindly share his story as a matter of urgency.

Thank you in advance for your kind attention, letters and prayers.

The following explanation of the two words for ‘obey’ in the Bible — peitho and hupakouo — come from a young technology marketing writer Mark B, aka tsupasat, who also evangelises among young professionals in the Seattle area.

Mark’s source is Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words. What it says and what he says sheds light on how far Christians should go in obeying pastors. It also expands on Revd Paul Burleson’s comment in the body of yesterday’s post on authoritarian churches.

Emphases mine below:

The Bible does say that we should obey our leaders, and that it is healthy and beneficial for believers to obey their spiritual overseers in the local church. But usually there is some misunderstanding concerning the nature of this obedience. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (NIV)

According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words, the Greek wor[d] translated in Hebrews 13:17 as “obey” is peitho.

Vine’s tells us that elsewhere in the Bible peitho is translated as: to yield, to believe, to be assured, to have confidence in, to trust, and to be persuaded by. Therefore, the obedience that peitho implies comes from a trusting relationship between human beings.

There is another Greek word that is translated as obey in other parts of the Bible: hupakouo. This type of obedience is not about being persuaded or trusting in someone. Hupakouo is about unquestioning, automatic obedience that comes from domineering authority. According to Vine’s, hupakouo is used for obedience in the following instances:

a. Obedience to God by everyone and everything (Hebrews 5:9 and 11:8)

b. Obedience to Christ by natural elements (Matthew 8:27)

c. Obedience to disciples of Christ by the mulberry tree when they commanded it to uproot and cast itself into the sea (Luke 17:6)

d. Obedience by new believers to the faith (Acts 6:7), to the Gospel (Romans 10:16), and to Christian doctrine as to a form or mold of teaching (Romans 6:17)

e. Obedience to apostolic injunctions by Christians (Philippians 2:12)

f.  Obedience to Abraham by Sarah (1 Peter 3:6)

g. Obedience to parents by children (Ephesians 6:1)

h. Obedience to masters by servants (Ephesians 6:5)

i. Obedience to sin by ourselves if unaided by God (Romans 6:12)

As we can see from this list, hupakouo is never used for the obedience that should occur between church members and their spiritual overseers. Instead, the Bible uses the word peitho in Hebrews 13:17. The vital difference is that peitho is a trusting relationship that produces a voluntary yielding and submission. Hupakouo is unquestioning obedience, whereas peitho implies that the person obeying weighs the instruction in his or her mind, and then deliberately decides to submit to a fellow human being. (Of course, our relationship with God is also trusting like a sheep with its good shepherd or between close friends, but our obedience occurs because He is our Lord and Master.)

How does this apply to spiritual authority and obedience in the church? It means that we should consider the results of our leaders’ faith. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (NIV) We should know their lives and their conduct. This should produce a natural trust …

Moreover, we consider what they say. Like the Bereans in Acts 17, we should look in the Bible to see what they say is true or not. Then we can weigh in our minds whether or not to voluntarily obey them. If what they command is biblical and we know the results of their life example, the Bible says that we should allow ourselves to be persuaded [to] obey our leaders.

You can explore Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words free online for yourself at http://www.antioch.com.sg/bible/vines/

I hope this helps in your relationships with your pastors.

What you are about to read comes from a Southern Baptist pastor in Oklahoma. He’s writing about conservative — not necessarily orthodox — churches.

However, the same characteristics can be found in ‘liberal’ — most mainline Protestant — denominations as well, including the Anglican Church. In those situations, the more undoctrinal vicars and parishoners try to persuade the orthodox 39 Articles of Religion believers to ‘get with it’ because ‘you’re so conservative’. The vicar can ridicule you, other members ask questions about your beliefs and, frankly, it’s more trouble than it’s worth, especially when the services are non-liturgical and the sermons bear little relation to the Gospel reading for the day. Lutheran excommunications also take place, resulting in a sad severance of faithful believers from their church congregations by postmodern local celebrity clergymen out for their own glory, not Christ’s. I have also read of small Evangelical groups in America where this occurs; one woman thought she was among like-minded Bible-believing friends only to find that they ostracised her from their group for being too conservative. So, the knife cuts both ways.

Without further ado, the Revd Wade Burleson, who has come up against unbiblical complimentarians (‘federal headship’) clergy in his own denomination, has these thoughts.  Excerpts below are from his blog post ‘Our Problem Is Authoritarianism and Not Legalism’ (emphases in bold are mine, the italics his):

The church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century is losing its power because of an infatuation with authority. It is authoritarianism, not legalism, that has become the biggest challenge Christians face. William Bausch, church historian par excellence, has correctly written, “No cultic priesthood is to be found in the New Testament. Yet we are importing Old Testament Levitical forms and imposing them on Christian ministry.”

The world has established systems of governance with imperial forms of authority, governance similar to that of the Hebrews in the Old Covenant. The Hebrews looked–and the world looks–to positions of authority for their leadership. Webster’s defines authority as “the power to influence thought, opinion, or behavior by convincing force or control”

The church of Jesus Christ was never designed to operate in this manner. Jesus explicitly taught in Matthew 23:8-11 (read it for yourself to see) that the only person who rules Christian communities is the Lord Himself. Under Him, we are all equals. He emphatically rejected the world’s system of top-down governance by declaring, “It shall not be so among you” (Mark 10:43). “The greatest among you shall be your servant (Matthew 23:11). There is no emphasis in the New Testament on authority that is derived from any “office” or position. Let me repeat that again: Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a Christian, because of title or position, has moral authority over another Christian. The idea of an ‘office’ of authority in the church, like that of the office of  ‘President of the United States,’ simply does not exist. Christ alone has the position of authority in the church and He has no vicar on earth but His Spirit, who resides in the life of every believer.

The King James Version unfortunately translates the Greek word diakonia as  “office” in Romans 11:13, but diakonia is always elsewhere properly translated as “service” or “servant.” Christians serve others and any leadership in the church flows from this selfless service and oversight of others; pagans seek offices that grant authority so that their leadership (lordship) over other people is inherent to their positions or titles. Christians morally persuade others by our love and grace; pagans morally coerce others by their positions of authority. When Christians act like pagans, they turn their homes, churches, and organizations into structures of authority where everybody is coerced to submit to the authority and control of another person in a higher ‘position’ of authority. The equality of New Covenant believers in Christ is lost because Old Covenant Levitical forms of authority are imposed on Christian ministry.

What are the signs imperial authoritarianism in the church? The following are ten indicators:

(1). There is never any freedom to question the leader.
(2). The leader often makes claims of having special insights from God, insights that the laity are unable to possess.
(3). Disagreement with the leader is deemed a sign of the devil’s influence in one’s life.
(4). Events are designed to bring attention and praise to the leader rather than equipping others to do the work of the ministry.
(5). Any concept of equality is immediately labeled rebellion or the end result of a “liberal” denial of the Bible.
(6) Authoritarian leaders are only comfortable around like-minded leaders; thus, there is an unoffical ‘speaking tour’ where only imperial, authoritarian leaders share the platform with each other.
(7). The measure of success becomes the number of people who follow the leader (“It must be of God! Look at how many come to hear me speak!“)
(8). If a person leaves the community or church, the problem is always in the person who leaves, not the leadership.
(9). Leaders who wrongly perceive themselves as those “with authority” insulate their lives by demanding absolute loyalty through giving large financial benefits to their closest ‘advisors.’
(10). The ultimate end of this kind of Christian leadership is always more; more money, more power, more followers, more publicity, more, more, more

The people of Christ are beginning to awaken to the abuses in the modern church. Whereas I thought it important in years past to challenge the legalism prevalent in the Southern Baptist Convention, I have become utterly convinced that the major problem in modern Christendom is authoritianism, not legalism. Ask yourself if you are in a place of worship where there is always a fresh, radical presentation of the freedom and equality of individual followers of Christ. If not, consider leaving, because in the end you will find your Christian community was never really about Christ or His people at all.

I am grateful to Burleson for stating that people should leave dysfunctional, glory-seeking — toxic — churches.

This allegiance to and fear of the pastor (and, where applicable, his powerful elders) is one of the Devil’s best tricks. As Burleson says, it carries into the home, where members are ‘godly’ only if they do — DO — X, Y and Z in church and outside of it. It is an unholy combination of paganism and semi-Pelagianism!

Where’s the Cross? Where are Jesus’s suffering on our behalf and His words: ‘It is finished’? Those three words signified that He accomplished His mission to free us from sin. Christians have freedom in Christ Jesus. That is the whole point of Christ’s death on the Cross. Without it, we would have no salvation.

If you’re in a healthy congregation, you probably won’t understand the anguish, correspondence, doorstepping and phone calls that come with the toxic church. They can disturb a marriage and family life, too.

Most of the comments that followed the post expressed relief and gratitude for this refreshing and welcome biblical perspective. Here are just a few of them, with further clarification from Burleson himself:

DLF: … If you want your church to grow, you have to have a consistent message and “vision”. The Senior Pastor is the “vision caster”. Everything must serve the vision or it is not acceptable. Only thing is this is drawn from marketing and branding in the advertising business, not the Bible. I worked in the business world for many years. This is taught to managers in every major company all around the world. Unfortunately, it works because of human nature, but Jesus came to teach us a better way. The problem is that people are so immature as Christians that they don’t even realize what is going on. I dare say that many pastors don’t even understand what is going on. The quality of teaching in most churches is so poor that people are on their own if they want to learn about the Bible and the Christian faith. Most folks are not that interested, unfortunately.

Tom Kelley: Control, manipulation, and favoritism are often used by those in ministry with an authoritarian mindset to exercise tight reign over their own “kingdom.” Any expression of disagreement or viewpoints that are unpopular with the ones in charge or with their ardent supporters are disallowed or silenced. The leaders are also quick to seek sympathy for themselves by claiming they are being attacked. They can be critical and unsympathetic towards fellow believers, without attempting to reach out to people they know they have hurt. And they like to surround themselves with sycophantic personal favorites who will support and defend them no matter what they do.

Paul Burleson: I’m not Wade and won’t attempt to speak for him in any fashion, but, my thoughts are that the syntax, tense, voice, and mood of “peitho” in Hebrews 13:17 all shed light on the meaning of the author’s command to obey the leadership and it gives a far different understanding than is commonly talked about today.

The language indicates the submission of a believer is a result of an inner persuasion and not dictation or fear. Their obedience was not to be blind obedience, but a submission that comes by a thoughtful observance of those who are in leadership.

Wade Burleson: There is leadership within the church. But leadership always arises by giftedness, service and Spirit-empowerment. Any leader who demands influence and control because of his position has not arisen to leadership, but has grabbed tightly to a position and is holding on for dear life. Leaders who exert authority and control because of their position are the very ones who should be removed. And the only people to remove them are those they are controlling.

Passages that speak of leadership in the New Testament are always in the context of giftedness and the presence of the Spirit (as seen in selfless service to the body).

Anonymous: … I was taught at a SBC church as a struggling newlywed and new mom that if my husband “led” me the wrong way, then I should still go along with it. The reason is that God would protect me and then correct my husband …

I was SO AFRAID of being called a “feminist” or a “liberal” or being told that I didn’t really love God or want to obey Him that I tolerated this teaching for a long time. I also did have a fear that the idea was right and that if I spoke out, things could get worse for me because God would be mad at me

Christiane: ‘Authority’ may teach, it may offer guidance, and give direction, but for a Christian person, no ‘authority’ can ever take the place of his or her own moral conscience.

I wondered what was troubling me about this discussion . . . and it looks like perhaps for many who are not of my faith, there is little or no recognition of the supreme importance of informed ‘conscience’ as moral guide, within the whole tradition of mainstream Christianity.

Sallie: [to Anonymous] I really appreciated your story. I think you would be very surprised to know there are MANY MANY women out there in the same situation you are in. Scared to death of being known as a feminist or liberal. They know there is something wrong with what is going on, but the fear of the labels or being ostracized is so strong that they just keep silent.

Marc B.: [1 Peter 5] 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

As another commenter states, it is pointless to try and carry on a dialogue with certain pastors in these situations. In the meantime, focus on your relationship with Christ and quietly look for a new church.

Be warned, however, that this might take time. Do not despair but in the meantime seek a better knowledge of the Bible and improve your prayer life, asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Also see my post of February 09, 2012: A word of advice on joining and leaving a church

Today’s post continues an examination of St John’s epistles, often overlooked as most of the passages have been omitted from the standard three-year Lectionary.

These omissions are ideal additions to my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to our understanding of the Bible.

Today’s reading is taken from the King James Version with commentary from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 John 3:19-24

19And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.

20For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.

21Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.

22And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.

23And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.

24And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

———————————————————————————

Last week’s reading ended with this verse:

18My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

John goes on to explain more about truth in verse 19. Essentially, he is saying that if we believe we know the truth of Jesus Christ and bear it in our hearts and minds, then we have assurance that we have life in Him and share the promise of eternal life.  We know that we are saved.  Therefore, we should be joyful and happy at this prospect and, by extension, not worry so much about the world around us.  A further product of this assurance is a greater freedom and ability to love those around us.

John MacArthur explains assurance of salvation in a Pauline context. Assurance can pose a serious problem for some Christians (emphases mine):

Assurance is a spiritual reality that we should enjoy. Ephesians 3:12 says, “In whom,” that is speaking about Christ, “we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.” Those are very strong terms. In Christ we have boldness, in Christ we have confident access. In other words, we are assured that we have a right to enter into the presence of God. The writer of Hebrews puts the same thought this way, “And let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” That is to say, “Go to God with whatever’s on your heart, fully assured, boldly confident that you are His child and that He awaits your arrival, the meeting of your needs.” Hebrews 6:19 says, “This hope, or this confidence, we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast.” We should be anchored strongly in the hope that is ours in Christ so that we have both assurety and a steadfast confidence in our relationship to the living God and His fulfillment of future promises. Colossians 2:2 puts it this way. “We should attain to all riches of the full assurance” …

I’m saying all that just to remind you that God doesn’t expect you to go through your life worrying and wondering about whether you really belong to Him. There are theologies that say that, there are teachers and preachers that say that. They are the same ones who think you can lose your salvation and they’re therefore afraid that you living in confidence might step over the line of sin, going too far in your confidence and therefore forfeit your salvation. And so it’s better for you since you could lose it not to think it was too secure, that keeps you more on your toes and makes it more likely that you’ll hang on to it …

You cannot lose it and so you might as well enjoy having it. That’s exactly what God desires …

Because God has chosen from before the foundation of the world to whom He will give it and all to whom He has chosen to give it He will give it. Everyone whom He has chosen He calls, everyone whom He calls He justifies, everyone whom He justifies He glorifies. So from the elective purpose of God in predestination before the foundation of the world, to the consummate glory of the saints, everything works according to the perfect plan of God in giving salvation so that the purpose of God in the beginning is the end of the redemptive work. What God intended to do is exactly what He will do. He intended to give salvation to sinners whom He chose before the foundation of the world and that is exactly what He is doing.

The work of Christ also was complete. It was so complete that there is no way you can forfeit salvation. That would undermine the efficacy and the completeness of the work of Christ. If His work was not sufficient to hold you, then it would be a deficient work. Furthermore, you have the intercessory work of Jesus at the right hand of the Father, making sure that no successful accusation is ever brought before the throne of God against you.

You also have the work of the Holy Spirit who is your guarantee of eternal life. He is the down payment, the arrabon, the engagement ring, the firstfruits by which you were sealed and held until the day when you see the Lord.

It is an excellent reminder of a sovereign yet merciful God.

MacArthur adds:

One of the worst things taught today is dominant kind of teaching in the Charismatic Movement that says essentially that Satan can come along and steal your salvation, so you have to stay alert and pray the demons and devil away so he doesn’t come and steal your salvation. How would you like to live under that kind of fear? That’s not at all what God wants us to do, He wants us to enjoy the security that we have by being sure we are His.

But postmodern clergy who no longer believe in the necessity to repent are also to blame. These men and women find it difficult to preach on the eternal truths of the Gospel, which, contrary to popular belief, do not change over time:

much of the preaching today is neither strong or convicting, doesn’t set a holy standard at all. About the only time the subject even comes up, the subject of assurance, is to argue with those who are unwilling to give psychological assurance to someone just because they made a profession of faith in Christ. And I’ve had that personal experience. In dealing with other pastors or dealing with other ministries, the subject of assurance doesn’t come up unless I would bring it up and say, “Why are you giving people who make a profession of faith in Christ some little psychological formula to make them feel secure, when you don’t know their faith is genuine until you’ve seen the fruit of it?”

If you or people today in the evangelical world struggle with assurance, perhaps than any other earlier time, because the preaching lacks a strong call to holiness, it lacks a strong and clear definition of faith and repentance.

And there is the doctrine of grace — God’s mercy and goodness working through us. Until a couple of years ago, I never thought much about grace. Certainly, growing up Catholic, yes, we left Mass or the confessional in ‘a state of grace’. If we were mown down by a bus at that point, we were assured of heaven. Well, when does grace expire after Mass or Confession, I used to wonder. With the first sin a few hours later; grace would have to be renewed.

However, to orthodox Protestants, grace has another dimension, whereby God enables us to obey Him. Through the Holy Spirit, He helps us every minute of the day. I don’t mean to sound simplistic, but this is God’s non-stop commitment to us — 24/7.

Speaking of Catholicism, MacArthur relates a story which a couple of the nuns I had as teachers in primary school used to tell:

There’s a second reason why people might lack assurance. Some might lack assurance because they can’t accept forgiveness. They can’t accept forgiveness. They really are tyrannized by their emotions, feeling they’re too bad to be saved. There’s just too much garbage in their mind, there’s just too much sin that they can’t get rid of.

I always remember a story my father used to tell and…about a man who came to his pastor and he was concerned about all of the sin in his life. And so he said, “I don’t know how bad a sinner I really am.”

And so the pastor said, “Well, every time you consciously commit a sin, go hammer a nail in the barn door.”

And I don’t know how long it was before the man came back and said, “There’s no more room for nails.”

And he [the pastor] said, “Now if you want to understand the forgiveness of God, it’s like pulling all the nails out.” And the man was able…the pastor was able to lead the man to Christ. And he said, “Now, every time you do something in your life, I want you to go in the barn and pull one nail out.”

Well, many months went by. Little by little the nails came out. And one day he said to the pastor, “The nails are out.”

And the pastor said, “Isn’t that wonderful?”

He said, “No, the holes are still there.”

And there are some people who don’t get over the holes, you know? All the scars of the past. This is because…there’s a reason for it, this is because conscience speaks against forgiveness, it really does. I mean, it is the essence of conscience to berate you. It is the essence of conscience to accuse you. It is the essence of conscience to hold you up before the bar of God as wanting. That’s what God designed your conscience to do. Your conscience never should let you off the hook. Your conscience is not designed to mollify or pacify you and it does not go away when you become a Christian. In fact, it functions after you’ve been saved better than it did before because it was purged and purified, the Bible says. And it’s clean now and it’s clear and it has a function, and that function is to waken your heart to sin, and it will never let you off the hook. Conscience knows nothing of forgiveness. The more you’re exposed to the preaching of the Word of God, the more you’re exposed to the Law of God, the more you know about sin, the more active your conscience is and the more your conscience berates you in a relentless fashion and yields nothing to the issue of forgiveness, the more possible it is for you to feel the loss of assurance.

Having heard that story as a child I became obsessed by the holes. The two nuns — separate years at school — would say that the absolution of Confession pulled the nails out and left the holes. All I could think about was the significance of the holes, the reminders of my sins. I had an overly-active conscience at the time. That lasted about two or three years until my adolescence and a talk with one of the nuns after class who advised me to focus more on the assurance part, although she didn’t use that word. It had been a harrowing time up until then.

MacArthur says:

God will give you mercy, your conscience won’t. It is relentless in plaguing you about your iniquity. And you can be thankful for it, right?

But he cautions against going overboard with it:

One Puritan writer put it this way. “He that lacks assurance converses too much with Satan. As he that has that assurance of God’s love converses with Christ, the Spirit bearing witness to him that he is a child of God. So he that lacks assurance converses with Satan and Satan, though falsely, bears witness to his spirit that he is not a child of God. And is it not a misery to be in these converses with Satan and to be under his hellish droppings? The devil is always following and tempting me to suspect the love of Christ, to be suspicious of grace, to distrust mercy. And the more suspicious I am of the love and grace and mercy of God, the more I embrace Satan’s love.” The Puritan writer says, “The truth is, beloved, this lack of assurance of God’s love or personal interest in Christ is an inlet to many sins and miseries for first a man doubts of his own salvation, afterwards he has continued doubting. Then he rises up into a full conclusion saying, ‘Now that I know that Christ does not love me, I did but doubt before but now I know He does not love me,’ and after he has risen to this conclusion then shortly he rises higher and he goes further and says, ‘Thus, if Christ does not love me now, He will never love me. And if I have not an interest in Christ now, after all the preaching and believing of my life, and all the ordinances I have enjoyed, I shall never have that interest in Christ. So the longer I live the more I aggravate my condemnation.'”

Stop that process. Let the Law do its work. It is … to drive us to Christ. Let conscience do its work, it is to prevent us from sin by inducing pain over iniquity. Let the justice of God do its work and that is to make us thankful for forgiveness and grace. Both strong preaching of the holiness of God and the requirements that He lays before us and the refusal to accept forgiveness, cause people to have a lack of assurance.

With this conviction by the Law and our conscience comes, as John says, the condemnation of our hearts (verse 20). However, despite our own self-condemnation comes an even deeper one from an omniscient God. That said, this is where repentance — turning away from sin — enters the frame. Someone who does not have a finely-attuned conscience is unlikely to seek God’s favour and go about it through repentance.

John goes on to say that if our consciences do not condemn us, neither will God (verse 21).

These are two puzzling verses. After all, hasn’t John already spoken of our assurance in Christ? Matthew Henry explains that God is a merciful judge of His children:

But, possibly, some presumptuous soul may here say, “I am glad of this; my heart does not condemn me, and therefore I may conclude God does not.” As, on the contrary, upon the foregoing verse, some pious trembling soul will be ready to cry out, “God forbid! My heart or conscience condemns me, and must I then infallibly expect the condemnation of God?” But let such know that the errors of the witness are not here reckoned as the acts of the court; ignorance, error, prejudice, partiality, and presumption, may be said to be faults of the officers of the court, or of the attendants of the judge (as the mind, the will, appetite, passion, sensual disposition, or disordered brain), or of the jury, who give a false verdict, not of the judge itself; conscience-syneideµsis, is properly self-consciousness. Acts of ignorance and error are not acts of self-consciousness, but of some mistaken power; and the court of conscience is here described in its process, according to the original constitution of it by God himself, according to which process what is bound in conscience is bound in heaven; let conscience therefore be heard, be well-informed, and diligently attended to.

We are assured of His mercy and good favour through our desire to obey His commandments (verse 22).

The commandment God gave us, John states, is to believe in Christ as Saviour and to love each other (verse 23). We love each other by obeying the Law of the Ten Commandments.

In verse 24, John concludes that those who keep His commandments have life in Him. Henry unpacks this for us in a trinitarian context:

We dwell in God by a happy relation to him, and spiritual union with him, through his Son, and by a holy converse with him; and God dwells in us by his word, and our faith fixed on him, and by the operations of his Spirit. Then there occurs the trial of his divine inhabitation: And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us (v. 24), by the sacred disposition and frame of soul that he hath conferred upon us, which being a spirit of faith in God and Christ, and of love to God and man, appears to be of God.

Next week: 1 John 4:1-6

If you’ve missed been past two posts — here and here — on Pastor Reb Bradley’s article on homeschooling ‘Solving the Crisis in Homeschooling: Exposing the 7 Major Blindspots of Homeschoolers’, I hope that you will have time to read it in full.

In this concluding part, he discusses ‘formulaic parenting’ and ‘relationship’. This also concerns the way husbands treat wives.

We seem to have a growing trend in conservative — not necessarily orthodox — churches with men objectifying not only children but also women. Some of these men are new to the faith, others are returning from a sojourn away from the Church and others have been lifetime believers steeped in outward holiness. Some laymen’s groups are church book clubs where the latest in family and ‘godly’ advice are dutifully read and digested. The erroneous notion of ‘federal headship’ — relatively recent — is gaining currency among men who, despite their muscular physiques, feel bewildered and displaced in 21st century society. The idea that they command their families like ‘high priests of the home’, the way a fundamentalist Muslim does, has some appeal. At least there is one realm which these men can control in any way they see fit. When ‘Christian’ books and videos reinforce these notions, men can hide behind the word ‘godly’ and say, ‘Honey, I’m only making our home more acceptable to the Lord. Now, just do what I tell you and we won’t have any problems.’

In the final part of his article, Bradley warns us about objectifying family members. Emphases mine below, except in the heading and italicised words.

7. Formulaic parenting breaks down relationship

An over-dependence on authority and control, along with an over-reliance upon sheltering are often part of a “formulaic” approach to parenting. We, as homeschool parents, are committed to achieving results with our children so we look for and rely upon formulas and self-working principles to insure our success. One of the reasons we go to homeschooling conventions and read numerous books is to learn the guaranteed “how to’s” and steps from the successful veterans. Our desire for results with our family compels us to discover all the ingredients in the ultimate “family-life recipe.”

Formulas for success after all, have become the American way – impatience and love of expedience characterize our outlook on life. That is why millions of self-help books are sold every year in bookstores, both secular and Christian. By its very definition, a formula is a reliable process of producing a specified result. In life, we want the ultimate formula for weight loss, the quickest scheme to get rich, and the surefire prescription for finding true love. In the church we want the proven method for church growth, the sure techniques for evangelism, and the most effective system for raising up leaders. And with our children we want the tried and true approach for producing results. The process doesn’t need to be quick or simple, but it must be reliable, and it certainly must be biblical. To our delight, we know the Bible is full of the wisdom and promises of God. We therefore look to it for its self-working principles and promised methods.

Yes, it seems that everyone in the church these days wants to find the biblical formulas for success, but there’s a problem with trusting in formulas – we are directed, no, commanded to trust in God – not in formulas (John 14:1; Ps 37:5; 62:8). There is a monumental difference.

A formulaic perspective says, “If I am faithful to implement this principle or carry out this procedure properly, I am certain to arrive at a specific result. And If I do not do the procedure exactly right I will achieve bad results.” In this state of mind we are trusting not just in the “method,” but in our efforts to carry it out. Trust in formulas is really dependence upon ourselves. In our hearts we know this and that’s why those who feel their efforts have produced great results are tempted to take pride in their adult children – they credit themselves for doing it all right (and condescend to those who haven’t). And that’s why those unhappy with the results of their efforts feel so much like failures – they conclude they must have used the wrong approach.

Anyone who really understands the grace of the gospel knows that we cannot take personal credit for any spiritual accomplishments. We are totally God’s workmanship (Eph 2:10; Phil 2:13; 1:6) and everything good in our lives is a gift from Him (James 1:17). We can do absolutely nothing by ourselves for which we can take credit (Eph 2:8-9; Gal 6:14; Rom 4:2; 1 Cor 1:28-31; 2 Cor 11:30).   Yes, when we face God on Judgment Day he will affirm us for what we have done here on Earth (1 Cor 3:6-15; Mat 25:21), but we know He is the power behind our lives (Acts 17:28), so we rightly give all glory to Him (Rom 11:36). So many of us lean toward a formulaic mentality, because our fallen natures are drawn toward self-reliance.  We want to feel that by our own efforts (works) we have achieved something that will make us acceptable to God – by nature we are legalistic. (The reason that “human effort” forms the basis for all false religions of the world is, because our fallen natures strive toward “high self-esteem” through self-effort. In contrast, grace gives credit to God for all that is good.)  

It is critical to understand that God wants us to trust not in principles, methods, or formulas, no matter how “biblical” they seem. God wants us to trust in HIM!  As I emphasized earlier on in this series of articles, our responsibility is to obey – God’s job is to produce results (1 Cor 3:6). Our success in raising children to be lovers of God and others, is not going to be contingent upon achieving perfect sheltering or using the best Bible curriculum. It is going to be based on doing what we must as parents, but trusting God for the outcome. We absolutely mustn’t trust in our ability to intimidate and control, or in the path upon which we lead our family.

If Christians can consistently achieve seemingly spiritual results by human efforts, I ask – where is God in the equation? After studying how God dealt with Israel and how Christ conducted himself on Earth, I contend that God will not reduce Himself to being an ingredient in a formula or method … In the church is it possible that we are trying to gain spiritual results by fleshly means? Yes, biblical principles of discipline, when used by believers or unbelievers, will help develop good behavior in children, but good behavior is only skin-deep.  Fruitful parenting is about affecting our children’s hearts, not just their behavior.  To influence their hearts, it won’t be by our control – the heart belongs to the individual and must be touched by God.

I have observed that the best and most lasting fruit is born in families in which the gospel is genuinely believed and lived. Parents who daily depend upon God, and not their methods and self-working principles, are most likely to pass on their faith. I am convinced that the most contagious parenting is living a heartfelt faith before your children.

Children as people

There’s a problem with approaching our relationships in a formulaic fashion. Can you guess what it is?

People, as self-willed individuals, cannot be successfully subjected to methods of manipulation. Our children are people – they are not soulless animals to be trained. Neither are they chemicals in a formula, which can be processed for guaranteed results. It is critical that we realize our children are people whose hearts, as they mature, are influenced more by relationship than by external controls. In all our intensity we can sometimes treat them not as fellow humans, but as dehumanized ingredients in a cake we are baking.

If we think we have total control over how our children respond to our training, we will relate to them not so much as people, but more as animals. Dogs are behavior-driven and can be trained to respond to a stimulus exactly the same way, time after time. Children however are people and as they mature they will eventually decide if they will continue to respond as trained. If we do not understand this we will fail to develop the relationship they deserve as our children, and as our younger brothers and sisters in Christ – which, incidentally, will give us greater influence over their adolescent hearts.

My own recipe called for great amounts of parental control, daily doses of Scripture indoctrination, plenty of edifying music, modest apparel, and safe entertainment, all combined in the oversized mixing bowl of sheltering, and cooked in the oven of homeschooling. The timer was set and I knew that when they reached their 18th birthday, “DING” the timer would go off I would have a perfect angel food kid. I was certain of it. I had yet to learn that fruitful parenting is more about people than process.

At homeschool conventions across the country I have seen in parents a tendency to treat children as non-persons. I cannot count the times I have stood at my booth in the exhibit hall and been approached by a mom or dad, accompanied by one of their older teenage children. The parents ask me about a problem they are having with one of their children, and as they talk, I realize that the child to whom they refer is the one standing there with them. It is as though these parents are oblivious that their young adult has feelings. As I look into the eyes of that embarrassed young person I often see a detached or despairing look that hints they can’t wait to get out of the home. Other parents who approach me may not have a teen present to embarrass, but they will ask me for a method to change their problem-teenager at home. In the last few years I have tried to explain to these parents that fruitful interaction is not about what they do to their young people, but who they are with them. It’s about having a real faith in God, and expressing it in a real relationship with a real person.

Breakdown of relationship

A number of years ago, it finally dawned on Bev and I that as we had focused on parenting “methods,” our children were eventually relegated to being ingredients in a formula. We related with them as if they were “projects.”  The more we focused on formulas and principles to which we would subject our children, the more they became “things.” The more they became things the less we had significant relationship. The less we had relationship the more we lost their hearts. Without their hearts the less we were able to influence them or their valuesWe regularly spent hours coaching and admonishing them during their teen tears, not realizing that all our brilliant lectures were falling on deaf ears. Without their hearts, the best we could do was make more rules and devise new consequences, which affected the outside, but not the inside.

I want to restate the points of this last paragraph one at a time, so you can see the progression again:

1. The more we focus on formulas and principles, the more children become “things.”

2. The more they become things the less we have significant relationship.

3. The less we have relationship the more we lose their hearts

4. Without their hearts the less we are able to influence their values

5. Without their hearts, the best we can do is control the outside (for a while).

Is it clear yet?   I know that some of you don’t get it, because right now you are hoping I will lay out a step-by-step plan for winning your children’s hearts.  Ouch!  The formulaic mentality, unfortunately, is like a filter that we wear over our eyes – it is a way of viewing the Christian life that must be identified and forsaken.

Perhaps it will become clearer if I illustrate the point using the husband-wife relationship.

Let’s say that the situation involves a man and his wife. He goes off for a day to the ACME School for Husbands and returns home to put into practice all that he learns. Upon arising the first morning he pulls out a cue card, looks at his wife lying in bed and awkwardly reads, “Honey… don’t you look ….. beautiful today!” She might be flattered, and does want to believe he is sincere, but she knows that with her mask of face cream she looks awful. Besides, although his words are nice, his need to read his “heart felt” love lines smacks of insincerity, and she doesn’t trust his motives. Her hopes are up, after all, he is trying; but as the day progresses and he does one “good husband” deed after the other, it is obvious that he has merely learned some tricks for manipulating women. He cluelessly insults her cooking for the 17th time that month, then reaches into a box and pulls out a bouquet of plastic flowers to “fix it”; when his wife confronts him after he starts his daily tirade against his mother-in-law, he suddenly stops and begins reciting a contrived script about how wonderful his mother-in-law actually is; before responding to anything his wife says he first refers to list of tips he carries in his pocket, etc.

Some women would be thrilled that their husband was at least trying, but most would prefer that he not simply act loving, but that he actually love them. She desires her husband not to act like he is listening to her, but to actually care enough to listen. A woman rightly desires a real relationship with her husband, and doesn’t want to feel like she’s another problem in his life to be dealt with. She wants him – not the cliché phrases or manipulative ploys he learned from an ACME instructor. Such a woman will not easily draw close to her husband – she may even be tempted to back away out of self-protection.

But what if a husband came home from the training and instead of trying to woo his wife, he treated her degradingly, seeking to force changes in her, ie: he threatened to take away all access to money if the house were not kept neater; he took away her car keys and cut off the phone to control how she spent her time; if she cried for any reason he would scream at her and accuse her of “classic female manipulation,” etc. My guess is that most women would have great difficulty submitting to such demeaning treatment.

A woman’s struggle with such harsh conduct is understandable, since as the Scriptures teach, a wife is to be sacrificially loved and tenderly cherished (Eph 5:25, 28-29). And she mustn’t be treated roughly (Col 3:19), but regarded with special consideration and respect (1 Pet 3:7). It is a foolish man who disregards God’s shrewd admonishments – any wife with self‑respect will be tempted to keep herself at a safe emotional distance.

In these two scenarios the husband approached his wife with a formulaic mentality. He related to her like she was a project, subjecting her to various techniques and ploys to achieve a certain result. What he really needed to do was love his wife and relate to her genuinely on the basis of that love. In the same way that a wife needs to be esteemed as a woman and fellow adult, our children, particularly our teens, need to be respected. When we relate with them like they are projects they subconsciously see it in our eyes and sense it in our manner. They respond best to genuine interaction – respectful of them, as if they were intelligent beings with thoughts and opinions worth listening to. If we relate with them as if they are projects, rather than persons, they will likely remain emotionally distant from us. Yes, we are still responsible to protect them, exercise authority over them, and groom them toward full adulthood, but they must have opportunities to share their thoughts and know they have been heard. (I will address this with more specifics in a future article.)

It all goes back to my admonition in Section 5 – it is who you are not just what you do. A formulaic mentality is chiefly concerned with doing the right thing to produce the right result. Our children need us not merely to act like Christians, but to be genuine Christians. As I look back in my own life, I see that with my first three children I was too concerned with how they were perceived by others. I saw their behavior as a reflection on me, and I wanted to look good. They, therefore, sensed in me a measure of pretentiousness – not the genuineness of faith that would have drawn them to me or to the Jesus I spoke about. My sincere concern for their character was overshadowed by my concern for my reputation. I have discovered that, like me, multitudes of parents want their children’s hearts, but live a faith that fails to completely attract them.

Influencing the heart

… If we want to influence our children’s hearts and not just their behavior, it will happen because of who we are, not what we do. We cannot simply implement loving actions in our homes – we must truly love (1 Cor 13:3). We cannot merely recite Scripture to our families – we must be those who look to the Word because it points to our wonderful Savior (John 5:39). And we especially cannot treat a spiritual activity such as prayer as a “discipline” or “principle” – it must be the natural response of dearly loved children of God pouring their hearts out to their Father in Heaven.

Turning hearts of children to parents

It is possible that the pure gospel of Jesus, which first led us to him, has become clouded for us. We may believe in the grace of the gospel, but we have unconsciously supplemented the finished work of Christ with our own efforts to implement our preferred formula. We may have muddied the gospel with our preoccupation with outward appearances and external controls.

It could also be that we don’t enjoy the fruit of the gospel in our families, because we have never understood the grace of the gospel at all. Either way, I pray that the eyes of our hearts be opened to see Jesus (John 12:21; 20:29). Those who see him, most easily drop those things that hamper them in their pursuit of him (Heb 12:1-3). And those who really see him find they more naturally become like him (1 John 3:2). And it is those who are genuinely like him that have the greatest impact on those around them.

Seeing Jesus

Jesus was the greatest preacher of holiness the world has ever known, yet he attracted to himself common sinners and the dregs of society. Jesus had high standards – he was the epitome of righteousness and purity, but somehow he was incredibly attractive. He exposed sin, but he accepted sinners. He hated evil, but evildoers saw in him a wealth of mercy. Jewish society was intimidated by the standards of the Pharisees, but few were drawn to their religion of avoidance, control, and form. Is it possible that when our children look at us they see more of the Pharisees in us than Jesus? Might it be that the Jesus we represent to our children is not the real Jesus at all?

The Savior is near you and calls you to leave behind the life of empty, lifeless religion, and come to the One who embodies God’s mercy. He is righteous – he abhors evil and despises pompous religion. He hates it exceedingly, but he loves us so much, he allowed himself be nailed to a cross, so that the wrath of God would pour down upon him instead of us. He now extends to us his scarred hands, so that we would see them and declare in our hearts, he is a wonderful Savior worth following!

Loving him isn’t about our children – it is about HIM! God intends that the side effect of loving Jesus, and enjoying the grace of the gospel, will be that all people, including our children, will be touched by the Savior in us. I pray in Jesus name that as you read these words you will experience the grace of God in a fresh and new way. Cry out for it!  And may it rain down upon you with power from on high! May today be the day that you grasp the love of God and find in Him what you’ve been searching for all along.

AMEN!

I personally know only one large family whom I consider godly, healthy and ‘successful’, for lack of a better word. Both parents held graduate degrees and had met at university. The husband converted to Catholicism from a Protestant denomination. His wife had always been a devout Catholic, despite a tragic episode during her childhood. The couple had a lifelong interest and activity in local and state education, primarily at secondary and university level.

They had five children, each of whom was an individual, and developed their lives in different ways. The whole family has a very lively faith, which is still evident today. The eldest son became a priest, a daughter pursued a fast-paced consulting career, a son forged his way in photography then as a small business manager, another son became a successful businessman and another daughter became a full-time teacher after a long debilitating illness. Four attended state secondary school and one a Catholic girls’ school. All earned at least a Bachelors degree at university; the eldest son has advanced degrees from seminary. In their spare time, some of them played sports, others pursued a more intellectual path, but all trusted in the promise of Christ which, in turn, deepened their love for each other and those whose lives they touched.

Their home was elegant and orderly but always felt calm and peaceful. I don’t know how the parents managed it; each had a busy schedule, often through to late evenings. However, they showed an excellent example to their children by exhibiting a true love of Christ. The children saw that example and wanted to follow it. I can’t explain it, because whilst the couple were in the public eye and well-respected, they were self-effacing and modest people who treated each other as equals. However, they did live their faith and respected their children as people whilst giving them sound guidance and providing them with structure.

A heartfelt Christianity, deep humility and a quiet spirit helped this couple raise five talented, thinking, believing children, now in middle age, two of whom have their own families.

So, it is possible, but it takes a genuine faith in and individual relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ.

End of series

Yesterday, I featured excerpts from an article by a pastor, homeschool advocate and father of six — Reb Bradley.  Bradley’s article ‘Solving the Crisis in Homeschooling: Exposing the 7 Major Blindspots of Homeschoolers’ makes several excellent observations about the potentially isolating and outwardly pious distinctions of some homeschooling families.

He sees a crisis looming which has the potential for overly-controlled children to turn away from their parents, the Church and God.

Today’s post provides Bradley’s advice. Bradley would want you read his article in its entirety, as he requested on another website, to get the full import of what he is saying. I agree and would recommend it to every Christian adult — parent or not — as they examine their own family relationships.

Emphases below are mine, except for title headings and italicised words.

6. Over-reliance upon sheltering

…  

I took nothing for granted and evaluated the effects of everything that had contact with my family. I got rid of the TV antennae when my older children were little and allowed them to watch only approved videos, ie: ones with no boy/girl relationships or occult powers — Popeye and Mary Poppins were therefore out. They would attend birthday parties for children from church, but I would instruct them that if the birthday boy or girl’s mother tried to show a video on my “no-watch” list, they were to go to a back bedroom and entertain themselves until the video was over. We carefully screened the music they heard and watched them cautiously when they were with friends.

My children could not play with most children in the neighborhood and were even kept away from some children in “like-minded” families. They were sheltered from secular publications, let alone any Christian books or magazines that promoted values that didn’t match our own. Youth groups or Scouting were unheard of. Santa Claus, Halloween, and Harvest parties, as well as Superheroes and Barbies, were anathema. I hardly wanted them to go into Wal-Mart or grocery stores lest they be exposed to images of immodestly dressed women …

Protecting from temptations and corrupting influences is part of raising children. Every parent shelters to one degree or another. We all set standards for diet, for relationships, for reading and entertainment. One permits the children to watch network television, but prohibits cable movie stations; another forbids network TV, but allows parent-approved videos; still another tolerates only parent-approved Christian videos; and another permits only books. All parents shelter – they just draw their lines in different places.

Protecting our children is not only a natural response of paternal love, but fulfills the commands of God. The Scriptures are clear that we are to make no provision for our flesh (Rom 13:14) and are to avoid all corrupting influences (2 Cor 6:17-7:1). It warns us that bad company corrupts good morals (1 Cor 15:33) and that those who spend too much time with bad people may learn their ways (Prov 22:24-25) and suffer for it (Prov 13:20). Just as our Father in heaven will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Cor 10:13), we rightly keep our children out of situations they will lack the moral strength to handle. Young children are weak and we are to protect the weak (1 Thes 5:12) …

Sheltering our families from bad influences is critical for their safety, but it is possible to become imbalanced and rely too heavily upon sheltering. We do this in a couple of ways.

1. We are imbalanced when sheltering from harm is the predominant expression of our parenting. Are we more concerned with protecting our kids from that which is bad or with putting into them that which is good?  I want to ask that again: Are we more concerned with protecting our kids from that which is bad or with putting into them that which is good? …  We must certainly protect them from harmful influences, but more than that, we must give them that which strengthens them spiritually and morally.

In my case I protected my oldest children from harm more than I invested into them health. I certainly taught my children a great deal about God and Kingdom living – we saturated them with the Word and Kingdom stories. Their lives were full of outreach and ministry, but comparatively, I was most intense about sheltering. I was continually analyzing the effects of every aspect of life, and my children never knew what thing Dad would declare off-limits next. Those parents who aren’t analyzers like me just wait for their favorite teacher to expose for them the next unseen danger to their family. In imbalanced homes parents are most passionate about protecting children from harmful influences, and the children see that passion, then come to view Christianity as mostly about “avoiding bad stuff” …

Please note that the operative word in my assessment is passion. Our children learn what’s important to us not by what we verbally emphasize, but by what they see us passionate about. It is the intensity of our reaction to potential corruption that elevates to our children our priorities. If they see a greater intensity in us for their sheltering than they do for their equipping, we shouldn’t be surprised if they come to view Christianity negatively as a “religion of avoidance.” (In fact, our intensity may actually create a mystique and raise curiosity toward that which is forbidden.) …

Yes, it is right to value and protect our children’s moral innocence, and it is natural for us to react with intensity or anger to anyone or anything that might rob them of that innocence. However, when we treat every minor issue as a threat deserving of our outrage, it is possible we are defining Christianity for our children in a negative way.

After watching multitudes of highly sheltered children grow up and chase after the very things from which their parents sought to keep them, and seeing less-sheltered children grow up and walk strong, I am more selective about which hill I want to die on. I now pick my battles more carefully. I have concluded that fruitful parenting is more about what we put into our children than what we protect them from.

2. Sheltering is a critical part of parenting, but if parents keep it their primary focus, the children will grow up ill equipped to handle the temptations in the world.

When we enter the world as infants we arrive with immune systems still in development. Because we have had no contact with germs or disease while in the womb, our bodies need to come in contact with them, so that we can develop immunities. Babies who are isolated and kept in germfree environments fail to develop sufficient resistance, so succumb more easily to diseases when they grow older and encounter them. Medical inoculations only succeed because God has designed the body with the capacity to develop antibodies against disease. A child isolated from disease may appear to be of the greatest health to his parents, but the health of the human body is only proven by how it withstands an attack. A weak constitution succumbs to every germ and virus – a strong one fights them off. Our spiritual and moral health is developed and proved in the same way

If we isolate our kids from the world until they are adults they may appear to us to be spiritually minded and strong in character. However, it is how they ultimately engage the world that proves their spiritual resilience. This is because sheltering does not transform the human heart – it merely preserves it, temporarily. Sheltering is nothing more than keeping something flammable away from a fire ...

If we want to prepare them to thrive in the world we must take them into it and teach them how to engage it. As part of that preparation I have several recommendations:

a. Take time to teach them about God and living in His kingdom. I emphasize this particularly for dads who are careful to shelter, but rarely get around to actually instructing their children in the faith. Too many fathers are quick to forbid all TV and youth groups, but never take the time to sit down and acquaint their children with the Word and how it points us to God. Preparing children to face the world requires more than keeping them away from its corruptions – parents must put into them Truth that will draw them to God. It is those children who have found God irresistible who will be faithful to Him.

It is important at this point to emphasize that true Christianity is not merely a system of religious beliefs that can be embraced or forsaken – it is a relationship between individuals and God. Therefore, Christians are not strengthened simply by massive doses of indoctrination. Our faith is strengthened as we discover God in the Word, and as we walk with Him we find Him to be trustworthy. If we want our children to remain faithful to God we must do all we can to lead them to Him, not just to a “system of faith.”

Keep in mind that Bible instruction by itself is not some magic ingredient in a “parenting formula.” Many homeschool prodigals were heavily groomed in the Scriptures. We do best when we faithfully use the Scriptures to reveal to children the Lord himself. Remember Jesus’ words in John 5:39, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.”  It is faith in Christ that carries us – not faith in Christianity.

b. Pass on a pure faith. It has been said that faith is caught and not taught, and I would agree. As I pointed out at the beginning of this article, I have seen young married people who grew up in the public schools, but who walked in purity and close to Christ through their teen years, and are still close to their parents. What their parents gave them was not the gift of extreme sheltering, but the gift of a sincere faith in Christ. Homeschool parents must give the same gift to their children (1 Tim 1:5; 2 Tim 1:5). The problem is that we cannot give what we do not have. If we want to give our children a lasting and sincere faith in Christ, then we must first have it ourselves.

What is the faith in us that our children see? As I have sought to show in the first six points of this series of articles, the purity of our faith is degraded by our missteps in parenting:

1. If the dreams we have for our children are really about us, might not they feel undue pressure to make us a success? In other words, is the faith they see in us a self-centered one?

2. If we have regarded them as a trophy, do they feel our intensity about not making the family look bad in public? In other words, is the simplicity of our faith polluted by our pride?

3. If we have emphasized outward form to our children, might not they equate holiness with external appearances? In other words, has the grace of our relationship with Christ been slowly traded for a phariseeistic concern for externals?

4. If they hear us pronounce judgments of others, might they not learn from us self-righteousness or fear of judgment? In other words, is it possible they see in us a faith that is both shallow and proud? 

5. If our homes are controlled chiefly by intimidation and fear, might not our children feel like they are inconsequential, non-persons? In other words, are we losing the very relationship with our teens we need to attract them to our Lord?

6. If we over-elevate sheltering as an ingredient in our parenting formula, is it possible our children might come to believe that Christianity is mostly about avoiding bad stuff? In other words, although our Lord never told people to shelter themselves from anything except self-righteous religious leaders, do we present an inaccurate (and unattractive) picture of him? …

c. Expose them to the world a little at a time, so that they will not be overwhelmed by its attraction when they finally face it. Just as babies raised in germfree environments more easily contract diseases, so also do Christians who have not encountered the world

The root of lust is self-centeredness, so the more selfless and loving our children are, the less they will be impacted by lust. I therefore encourage parents to concentrate on raising children who selflessly love others. I have found that praying for those who tempt us accomplishes two things – the recipient receives prayer and we see them through the eyes of God. Those who see others from God’s perspective will tend to have compassion on them as lost souls …

d. Take them into the world on the offense, not defense. A major reason many parents choose to homeschool their children is that they are concerned about negative socialization in the classroom setting. They want control over when and how their children are faced with outside influences. When the children are confronted by the world the parents want to be there as guides. I understand this perspective, but such a view is inadequate. I want to be with my children when they encounter the world, but not merely so that they will survive it. Survival has to do with self-preservation, and is concerned with self, not others …

My 12-year-old son has been playing little league baseball every spring for the last 4 years, and I help out as an assistant coach. On occasion, when word of my son’s involvement leaks out, I will be approached by a concerned homeschool parent and questioned about the risks of such contact with unbelievers. They remind me that my son may hear bad words, vulgar jokes, and bad attitudes. Boys may even swear at him. I tell them that that is exactly what I was anticipating.

I want my son to know how to respond when unkind people express themselves (Luke 6:27-28), and I want to be with him when it happens. I want him to know he can survive quite well when others verbally abuse him, but more importantly, I want to witness it so I can coach him through it. I especially want to be there so I can help him see the world through eyes of compassion – not fear. I believe that those homeschoolers, who don’t just survive but thrive in the world, do so because they have a “kingdom” view of it. They see it as the place inhabited by the blind (2 Cor 4:4) who are potential members of God’s kingdom. 

e. Cultivate a loving relationship with them, which will allow you to speak into their lives and influence their values. I will deal with this issue at length later in this series of articles, so suffice it to say that it is the key area of need I have discovered among my own and many other homeschool families. It has been my observation that in “control-oriented” homes, relationships between parents and teens are often weakest. For us to have influence over our teen’s hearts, especially when they are engaging the world, our love relationships with them must be strong …

If our children grow up motivated only by fear of consequence, they will eventually get away with what they can whenever we are not around (Eph 6:6). If we have their hearts they will seek to honor us whether we are present or not, and their hearts will remain open to our influence. I refer you to the apostle Paul who modeled this approach to leadership perfectly, “Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I appeal to you on the basis of love” (Phile 1:8-9a). Paul’s pattern with the churches suggests he understood that appeals to love were more powerful than commands and threats. As an apostle, he could have issued personal commands many times, yet in his letters to the churches he plead with them 25 different times to do what was right, while he personally commanded them only twice (2 Th 3:6,12).

Many intense parents mistakenly think they have their children’s hearts, and therefore do not seek to cultivate better relationships. Beverly and I were such parents. We were certain that because we shared so much affection with our children that we had their hearts. However, when we gave them instructions, it was never our children’s love for us that we appealed to, it was their fear of our authority. This meant that our first three children were far more vulnerable to outside influences than they needed to be ...

f. Help them find security in their relationship with you. When my oldest son was almost 16 we let him get his first job washing dishes at a restaurant managed by a Christian friend of ours. As diehard shelterers we wrestled with whether or not our son was ready to enter the world’s workforce. We knew we couldn’t shelter him forever, and so finally concluded that he should be old enough to send into the world two nights a week. What we didn’t realize was that he would be working with drug-using, tattooed, partiers, and our Christian friend was never scheduled to work our son’s shift …

Of course, my wife and I immediately began to evaluate whether we had made a mistake by letting him take the job. After an intense discussion we decided to coach him more carefully and let him keep his job … 

I would never have guessed that his values could change so quickly or so severely. What took me over the edge was not just that he suddenly had outrageous values, but that he thought I might go along with him! It immediately became obvious that he was not ready to handle the world. To our relief, he volunteered to quit the job.

One day, several years later, I was looking back and evaluating our approach to sheltering. Something my son said shortly after he started his job kept coming back to me. When I picked him up the second night of work, he got in the car with a big smile on his face and said “They like me!”  As I dwelt on that comment, it suddenly came clear to me – my son had finally met someone who liked him for who he was. Few others in his entire life had shown him much acceptance, especially not his mother and I. It is no exaggeration – in our efforts to shape and improve him, all we did was find fault with everything he did. We loved him dearly, but he constantly heard from us that what he did (who he was) wasn’t good enough. He craved our approval, but we couldn’t be pleased. Years later, I realized he had given up trying to please us when he was 14, and from then on he was just patronizing us.

The reason our son wanted to adorn himself like his work associates, was because they accepted him for who he was. He wanted to fit in with those who made him feel significant. He wanted to be like those who gave him a sense of identity. The problem wasn’t one that could be solved by extended sheltering – he could have been sheltered until he was 30 and he still would have been vulnerable. The problem was that we had sent our son into the world insecure in who he was. He went into the world with a hole in his heart that God had wanted to fill through his parents

I have since observed that what best equips children to handle the pressures of the world is security in who they are. Whether believer or unbeliever, those young people who are least tempted to follow the crowd are those who are secure in themselves and don’t need the approval of others. The Bible calls insecurity the fear of man – it is allowing other’s opinions of us to affect our values and choices. At the very least, if we want to prepare our children to stand tall in the world we need to help them find security in their relationship with us, and more importantly, with God …

I believe that a primary reason we can over-rely on sheltering is because it is the easiest part of parenting to do. It requires no planning, little preparation, or expenditure of energy. It takes minimal immediate brainpower. We simply assess something might be harmful and say to our children, “NO.”  It’s an aspect of parenting that is effortless to do, yet seems to promise an extreme impact. I don’t know if I would go so far as to call it lazy parenting, but I will say that investing into our children does take a lot more work and much more time.

Before we leave this topic, we must consider the possibility that we are drawn to an over-dependence on sheltering because it appeals to the Pharisee in us. Maintaining a righteous appearance and avoiding uncleanness characterized the most religious people of Christ’s day, and he didn’t tolerate it (Luke 7:39-47; 15:2; Mark 7:15; Mat 15:17-20). Avoiding anything that seemed to defile made them feel “holy” and it does the same for us. The more we fixate on keeping our families away from corruption the prouder we can become of our higher standards. It may even get to the place that we can’t wait for opportunities to boast or “share” with others the standards we hold, ie: an invitation for our children to watch a movie, attend a Bible club, or accept a questionable gift, etc.). Pride is a dangerous sin because it blinds us to itself – it is the filter through which we see. Spiritual pride is even more dangerous because it involves what we think is righteousness (Luke 18:11-12). May God open our eyes that we might see why we are so prone to imbalance in this area.

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.  Col 2:20-23 

Lest this article be taken wrong, and some readers misinterpret my intentions, I want to emphasize that I am still a strong proponent of sheltering our children. My goal has been to alert parents to the problem of over‑reliance on sheltering. If you have finished this lengthy article, and are under the impression that I no longer believe in it, I would encourage you to go back and reread it.

I do wonder if this over-sheltering and outward piety has some bearing on the growing numbers of militant atheists in the United States. I know of some scoffers who were raised in small, harsh, controlling church and home environments who broke away from it as soon as they left home in their late teens. This is a natural outcome for some in an effort to break free from rules and rigidity associated with today’s extreme fundamentalism.

Although these people are somehow able to marry well and sustain healthy relationships, often they have no children. It is as if they lack enough positive experiences, parental trust and personal confidence to enable them to have a family.

This is a matter which the more conservative — not necessarily orthodox — churches should want to address.  Worryingly, the issues of control over children are now progressing to wives, objectifying and diminishing them in a similar way. It’s a sure recipe for disaster. More on that tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Conclusion — Bradley on formulaic parenting and relationship

The Revd Reb Bradley — pastor, father of six, homeschooling champion and founder of Family Ministries — has an article on his ministry site, ‘Solving the Crisis in Homeschooling: Exposing the 7 Major Blindspots of Homeschoolers’.

My thanks to Abby Kautt — a pastor‘s daughter and homeschooler — who blogged on excerpts of the article which she found on Josh Harris’s website. Bradley asked Harris’s readers to read the article in full.

Although it is a long article, it is a fascinating one, and I would recommend it not only to homeschoolers but to all adult Christians and parents. He has powerful insights, which I’ll also cover in the next two posts. This is one of the best précis of parenthood and homeschooling that you’re likely to read in a long time.

Emphases in the excerpts below are mine, except in headings and italicised words:

When my three married children were young, I was overly-confident in my approach to parenting. I was convinced that my children would grow up godly, and that they would avoid significant struggles with sin because of my parenting.  I was absolutely certain that since I was training them “in the way they should go”, and I was doing most everything I had written in my book, I would be a success as a parent. However, I had yet to discover it wasn’t all about ME and MY success.  In fact, I had yet to learn that the parent who thinks it’s all about THEIR success is often contributing to their children’s struggles. (Revelation #1 – proper parenting is about the children not the parent. I’ll explain in point 1.)

As each of my three oldest children reached adulthood I was shocked to discover that they did not conform exactly to the values I had sought to give them. They had retained much of what I had given, but not everything. Instead of being perfect reflections of my training, they each turned out to be individuals who had their own values and opinions. I had wrongly thought them to be exactly like wet clay, me being the potter with total control over what they would become. I was not prepared for their individuality, nor was I ready to see them as fleshly beings. As I watched them each face off with the Lord and have their own struggles with the flesh, like I had when I was their age, my homeschool dreams crashed royally.

CONTRIBUTING FACTORS

1. Self-centered dreams

When my oldest son was 18 he developed habits of disrespectful communication and I had to ask him to leave my home for a season. (In Israel the most severe discipline for lawbreakers was execution – next to that, it was setting someone outside the camp.) Needless to say, my wife and I were devastated by the discipline we imposed. In the first month he was gone we wept each day for him.  We were grieved that he was now unprotected from the junk from which we had worked so hard to shelter him, but more than that, I was heartbroken that my dreams for him and our family would no longer come true.  I remember speaking the words to him“Son, you’ve ruined my dreams.”  You see, I had a dream for my family and it involved adult children who lived at home humbly under parental authority, and who would one day leave home to marry, after following my carefully orchestrated courtship process.  But now, my son had gone and “messed up” my perfect dream.  Nothing is wrong with dreaming of good things for your children, but the truth was, my dream for my son was mostly about me.

In hindsight, what was particularly grievous was that I was more worried about the failure of my dream of  “success” than the fact that my son and I had a broken relationship. Although he did come back and was restored to us 4 months later, it still took me years to realize that I had contributed to the damaged relationship. (More on that later.)

One of the reasons parents homeschool is because they want to accomplish something good in their children. Success in homeschooling requires that academic, moral, and spiritual goals be set. It is only natural for parents to have high hopes and dreams for their children. However, when we begin to see our children as a reflection or validation of us, we become the center of our dreams, and the children become our source of significance.  When that happens in our home it affects the way we relate with our children, and subtly breaks down relationship.

2. Family as an idol

We dream for results, but preoccupation with results can turn the family into a measurement of success. For those who feel successful, family becomes a badge of honor or trophy to be admired by others or God. When we allow the success of our family to determine our security or sense of wellbeing we are seeking from it something God intends us to receive from Him. I am describing idolatry. If homeschoolers are not careful, family can easily become an idol …

A great problem with idolatry is that idols require sacrifice, and we end up sacrificing relationship with our children for the idol of the family.  When we elevate the image of the family, we effectively trade our children’s hearts for our reputation. 

Craving a reputation for success puts great pressure on us, and then on our children – we feel quite constrained to succeed with them. If they turn out okay, then we can credit ourselves with success, but if they struggle or fail, then we may live with guilt, embarrassment, and bitterness towards them. Many homeschool parents look at the choices made by their teen and adult children and live under a cloud of failure or resentment ...

It was a rude awakening for me when I saw that even the best parenting could not exempt a person from making the wrong choice when faced with temptation. I do believe that by our influence we can greatly increase the likelihood our children will love and follow Christ, but I see nothing in Scripture that guarantees well-trained children will never succumb to temptation …

3. Emphasis on outward form

Preoccupation with results often leads to emphasis on outward form. When we are preoccupied with achieving results it is natural to admire the results others seem to have achieved with their children. We like the way the pastor’s kids sit reverently in the front pew and take notes of their father’s sermon, so we go home and begin to teach our children to sit reverently and to take notes. What we don’t know is that the pastor’s kids conduct themselves with reverence and attentiveness not because he “cleaned the outside of the cup” and simply drilled them to do so — he lived a genuine love for Jesus that was contagious, and watched as the fruit was born (Matt 23:26). Parents are destined for disappointment when they admire fruit in others and seek to emulate merely that expression of fruit in their own children. Fruit is born from the inside — not applied to the outside

In the homeschool community I have observed that there can be a great emphasis on outward appearance, whether it is dressing for excellence, modesty, grooming, respectful manners, music style, or an attitude of sober reverence in worship. Some even take their children down a country path of humble fashions, raising food, and making bread. Nothing is wrong with any of these things, but we must be careful – we can model for our children outward changes and easily fall into molding their behavior and/or appearance, while missing their hearts. In some circles emphasis on the outward is epidemic ...

Let us not forget that Jesus came against the Pharisees for their preoccupation with what they felt were legitimate expressions of spirituality. They measured holiness by what was avoided and by what would be seen by others (Mat 6:1-2, 5, 16; 23:5-6, 23-28; John 7:24). The Pharisees were earnest in their religion, but they were preoccupied with outward expressions of holiness rather than hearts of humility and love (Micah 6:8) that would bear genuine fruit. I find it fascinating that in the gospels there is not one mention of Jesus coming against immodesty, even though among his followers were prostitutes and the like. Jesus emphasized cleaning up the inside while the Pharisees were the ones preoccupied with cleaning up the outside. We must ask ourselves: Which are we more like – Jesus or the Pharisees? Even now do we justify ourselves, insisting we emphasize cleaning up both the inside and the outside?

I know that some react strongly to these assertions, so let me emphasize that I do want my wife and daughters to adorn themselves modestly. God did address it once in the New Testament (1Tim 2:9), but we must ask ourselves, is it possible that we have elevated modesty, or other issues of outward form, higher than Jesus did? Concurrently, let us also be careful of measuring everyone else’s enlightenment by what we have decided is modest, spiritual, or holy. 

4. Tendency to judge

… It is a fair assumption that if we make preeminent for our families issues of outward appearance (such as humble fashions, modesty, and grooming) we will likely condescend to those who don’t hold to our standards. If we are proud of our children’s public etiquette and conduct, it will be easy to belittle those who don’t measure up. If we condemn everything but our preferred music style, we may avoid all those who hold to a different standard in music.  Standards in these areas are subjectively derived and based largely on personal opinion, yet if we are convinced our opinion is God’s opinion, we may count those who don’t hold to them as being in error or at the very least misguided.

It is easy to miss this area of pride because we may not express our judgments “arrogantly”. We may not say something condemning like, “My goodness, I couldn’t believe it when I heard the Smiths say they were putting their oldest children into school next year! They’re sacrificing their children for convenience. Seems to me they’re either compromising or giving up. I was afraid this would happen when they began attending that new church!”  Instead, we may wrap our judgments in compassionate sounding words, “I’m so grieved to hear about the Smiths’ decision. How far they have fallen — it’s so sad. We’ll pray that they see the light again! I hate it when the devil deceives God’s people!”  Arrogance wrapped in compassionate tones can be especially deceiving …

It is important to note that when pride is working its work in us, we sincerely believe our personal opinions reflect God’s utmost priorities and standards. We validate ourselves since we know we keep those standards, and by the same standards others are validated or invalidated in our eyes, as well. For example, if we are self-validating, we may decide that since we have chosen to homeschool, anyone who won’t homeschool doesn’t love their children enough to sacrifice for them. If we are self-validating, it means that since we think we understand the true definition of modesty, anyone who doesn’t dress according to our standard is carnal, unenlightened, or has fallen away.  A self-validating person is justified in their own eyes and in the eyes of those with whom they fellowship

I want to suggest that this area of pride and judgment is a difficult one to identify and renounce. By its very nature, pride acts as a filter for our thinking and therefore, our perceptions. We feel self‑justified. So I pray, even at this moment, that God will open our blind eyes and bring freedom to us all. If we are able to leave a judgmental outlook behind we increase the likelihood of our children finding in us the beauty of our Savior, Jesus.

5. Over-dependence on authority and control

When we are preoccupied with outward form our focus tends to become shallow and behavior oriented. We look upon our children as if they are roses that can be trained to grow a certain direction by constant pruning and binding. Subsequently, we rely heavily upon our authority in an attempt to bring our children under our total control. We assume if we give them the Word of God, shelter them from harmful influences, discipline them consistently, and maintain high standards for their outside, that their inside will inevitably be shaped.

I recall that when I first started teaching on parenting many years ago, I actually used the illustration of training roses to describe proper rearing of children. I was mistaken to do so – not because it is an incorrect example of training, but because it is an inadequate one. To successfully train roses requires a goal, a plan, and diligence in labor. Fruitful training of children requires the same. However, the difference is that roses have no mind of their own and only grow as they are allowed. Children are people – self-determining individuals – and they ultimately choose how they will respond to parental influence.

If we think we have total control over how our children respond to our training, we will relate to them not so much as people, but more as soulless animals. Dogs are behavior-driven and can be trained to respond to a stimulus time after time, exactly the same way. Children however, are people and as they mature they will eventually decide if they will continue to respond as trained. If we fail to understand this we will be tempted to intensely control our children up into their adult years. We will hold them tightly in the mold of our choice up until the day we release them from the home, thinking that they will maintain the shape of our mold as they venture into their married lives. Sometimes as parents we give ourselves way too much credit for the power we have in our children’s lives. Such a perspective insures we will develop a dominating style of parenting that will likely damage our relationship with our children and hinder our ability to truly influence their values …

In Proverbs 22:6 we receive encouragement towards diligent training of our children, but we must remember that they are neither animals to be dominated nor mindless plants to be pruned and bound. They are self-determining individuals who are processing their upbringing and will one day have their own time of reckoning with God.

… significant family bonds are created by not by external controls and steps along a path, but are a fruit of love in a home. Our goal should chiefly be the cultivation of Christ’s love – first in our own hearts (Eph 3:17-19) and then in our families.

6. Over-reliance upon sheltering

An over-dependence on control in a family is often accompanied by an over-reliance on sheltering of children. It is not uncommon for homeschool parents to feel that since they filter whatever their children see and hear, they will control the results in their lives. That was me for many years. I remember saying to people, “I am controlling the influences in my children’s lives, so I am going to control the outcome.”  I was absolutely certain that my children would be exempted from significant temptation and from developing particular bad habits because I was controlling what touched their lives …

In the last five years I have heard countless reports of highly sheltered homeschool children who grew up and abandoned their parents’ values. Some of these children were never allowed out of their parents’ sight and were not permitted to be in any kind of group setting, even with other “like-minded” kids, yet they still managed to develop an appetite for the world’s pleasures. While I’ve seen sheltered children grow up and turn away from their parents’ standards, conversely, I’ve known some Christian young people who went to public school, watched TV, attended youth groups, and dated, yet they walk in purity, have respectful, loving relationships with their parents, and now enjoy good marriages. Their parents broke the all the “rules of sheltering,” yet these kids grew up close to their families and resilient in their walks with Christ. Super-strict sheltering was obviously not the ultimate answer for them … 

When protection from the world becomes the defining characteristic of Christianity, we shouldn’t be surprised if our kids grow up and forsake the lifeless “religion of avoidance” they learned from us. As I stated in the December issue, point c of section 4, that is not a faith most children are drawn to; in fact, it is one that will likely repel them …

If we isolate our kids from the world until they are adults they may appear to us to be spiritually minded and strong in character. However, it is how they ultimately engage the world that proves their spiritual resilience. This is because sheltering does not transform the human heart – it merely preserves it, temporarily. Sheltering is nothing more than keeping something flammable away from a fire.

Tomorrow’s post presents Bradley’s solutions for parents in a homeschooling context.

In the meantime, how many of us read through these excerpts thinking, ‘Yes, those were my parents’ or ‘That’s my style of parenting’?

Bradley brings out all the points which form my objections to holiness movements and pietism. Recall from my pietism posts (available on the Christianity / Apologetics page) about the appeal of appearing more holy to the outside world. What can we do? Isolate ourselves. How can we dress? Not as others. How do we live? By a strict code of rules and regulations — a manmade code of laws wrapped in a few out-of-context references to Scripture to make it credible.

As far as Protestants are concerned, we have lack of fellowship all over the map. The further one goes into pietist and holiness doctrines (e.g. Spener for the Lutherans, Wesley for the Methodists and Holiness offshoots) the greater the importance of outward ‘piety’. Calvinists also fall prey to this mode of thinking; the Puritan Board’s family section often has concerned mothers discussing the evils of Hallowe’en or denouncing children’s sleepovers even with someone from church. However, some Catholics do this, too; even today, a number of them will not fellowship with other Catholics whom they believe are less ‘holy’ in their devotions.

By doing this, are we not succumbing to manmade piety? Are we not belonging to the Church of Everything Forbidden? Where’s the Good News of Jesus Christ? Where is the freedom which He purchased for us with His blood on the Cross?

I read through the comments on Josh Harris’s website. Most supported Bradley’s article, but some readers did go on the defensive. The best comment in response to them was the last one, by Matt J:

Great article and I am slightly amused as I refer back to the section where R[e]b says “Typically, when we belittle others who don’t measure up to our standards, we will also imagine others are judging us. Consequently, we will find ourselves frequently being defensive”.

As I’ve read some of the comments from people who disagree with R[e]b, I see many of them are very defensive even though R[e]b has taken a very humble approach in addressing these sensitive issues. One old evangelist used to say “just fire into a pack of dogs and the one who is hit will howl!” I hear some ‘howling’ going on in these comments as the truth is hitting close to home!

Tomorrow: Bradley’s advice for parents who homeschool

Another year and another time to intensively reflect on Christ as we prepare to commemorate His passion, death and — on Easter Day — resurrection from the dead.

On the last Sunday before Lent — Quinquagesima Sunday — the Revd Gregory Jackson of Ichabod gave the following sermon in his weekly video service.  He took for his texts Joel 2:12-19 and Matthew 6:16-21. It provides perfect reflections for and about this 40-day period leading up to the greatest feast in the Church calendar. (How many thought that was Christmas?)

Please take a few minutes to pop over and read the Bible readings and Dr Jackson’s sermon — followed by timeless Lutheran quotations — in full. People who are unfamiliar with Lenten practice will find it helpful and a source of reflection.

The passage from Joel contains a call to fast:

12Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:

 13And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.

Christ gives instructions in Matthew on how to fast — discreetly, so that others are unaware that you are doing it. We are not to make a big show:

16Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

 17But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

 18That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

 19Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

 20But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

 21For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Emphases mine in the excerpts below:

The seasons of the church year developed through tradition, but they reflect the liturgy of true Judaism. Genuine Judaism is not another religion but the foundation and first proclamation of the Christian faith. All those who worshiped before the Incarnation had a chance to see the Christ in the Scriptures, from Genesis to the Psalms. Those who hear Judaism today also hear about Christ.

This lesson contrasts the works of man with the gifts of God. The first sentence is a humorous commentary on human behavior –

Matthew 6:16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Rare are those princely gifts which are donated in secret these days. Every clever university has categories of gifts, so someone can give in the measly category, the so-so category, and the Awesome category. Board members come from the Awesome list. It is a good way to network with others too, and to gain the respect of others.

17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

Jesus points out that people engaged in real fasting would hide the fact from others, since it should not be done to gain the admiration of the public. Those who gain their rewards from man will not get them from the Father in heaven.

That teaches the concept of good works based on the Gospel rather than the Law. The Scriptures urge good works, but not to earn God’s favor, not to placate Him. Good works are the fruit of the Gospel; they flow from faith. Many people do good works without thinking of it, since everything done in faith glorifies God. The baby who nurses or soils his diaper is glorifying God, since he has faith through Holy Baptism.

This should not be downplayed or disdained, since this lesson wants us to focus on God’s wisdom rather than man’s vanity. There is a constant struggle to avoid worldly wisdom and instead listen to the teaching of Holy Spirit in the Word …

But what the world loves, God despises. What God loves, the world despises. The ignored, forgotten minister in Mustard Flats, Kansas, faithfully teaching the Word, is far more important than the glorious hero of the media who is introducing his flock to various toxins, a little at a time.

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

These words of Jesus should bear down upon us each day, as Law to show us the temporary nature of material things, but as Gospel to remind us of what lasts.

Every single thing we own – owns us. If we really love one particular object, that object has a grip on us. There is nothing wrong with loving art, or clothes, or books, or any other delight God gives us. Jesus is not saying, “Give it all away, wear a long face, and be a monk.”

He is saying, “Do not pile up those things which are temporary anyway. The fact of corruption and theft is reason enough to look elsewhere.

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

I had a favorite woolen shirt, which we stored in the apartment house’s storage room, a rather bizarre place full of antique furniture and boxes. When we got out our possessions, moths had eaten holes all through the wool, rendering it impossible to fix.

This metaphor is impossible to forget. Treasures in heaven do not share in three-way decay:

  1. Vermin cannot destroy them.
  2. Rust cannot consume them.
  3. Thieves cannot steal them.

These treasures are often mentioned in the Book of Concord … Below are many of the best quotations about the efficacy of the Word, which is openly rejected by many so-called Lutherans today.

The treasures are the Promises of God – not only justification by faith, forgiveness through Christ, but also all those blessings and comforting messages through the Word.

All the assurances of God’s love are treasures. Every passage that begins with “do not be afraid” also includes those reasons why we should not fear.

The passages about the cross are treasures too, because they are the truth of God’s order, the truth our Old Adam loathes. However, the New Creation (faith sparked by the efficacy of the Gospel) blesses the cross. The ultimate expression of the cross is a believer accepting death as a blessing. Uncle Roy, who served in WWII, told his hospital staff, “I don’t want any more treatment. I will be with Jesus soon.” And he died in peace, not in fear or doubt (unlike media heroes Paul Tillich and Pope Pius XII).

The Gospel that comforts us also brings out the worst in apostates. Unbelievers seldom care. There is no more certain mark of the apostate than a loathing and persecution of the Gospel. Since that happens within the visible church, the immediate effect is especially difficult to bear. But that is why it is called “The Cross” rather than “The Bother.”

In time, we see the apostates reacting against the cross as their blessing upon the pure Word of God. What they cannot comprehend (although they say the words at times) they do not want others to have … the apostate raves when someone teaches the Gospel. And no one does the holier-than-thou routine better than the apostate.

Chytraeus was one of the great genius theologians of the Lutheran Reformation, overlooked today. He said wisely that one proof of teaching the pure Word was “opposition.” So the cross is good.

Even family tensions are part of God’s plan, because questions make people study the Word, on both sides.

“Spirit and Word, or Word and Spirit are never separated.”

– Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, Philadelphia: General Council Publication House, 1913, p. 271.   

Is it the office of the Word simply to afford directions that are to be followed in order to obtain salvation? It is more than a directory and guide to Christ. It does more than ‘give directions how to live.’ It brings and communicates the grace concerning which it instructs. It has an inherent and objective efficacy, derived from its divine institution and promise, and explained by the constant presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in and with it. Romans 1:16; John 6:63; 1 Peter 1:23; Matthew 4:4; Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; Romans 10:5-10; Isaiah 55:10.”

– Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, Philadelphia: General Council Publication House, 1913, p. 288.      Chapter Four.

“What testimony is given to the presence of the Holy Spirit in and with the Word? The words of Scripture are repeatedly cited as the words of the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:16, 28:25; Hebrew 3:7; Psalm 10:15.”

– Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, Philadelphia: General Council Publication House, 1913, p. 288f.

“The New Testament is the inerrant record of the revelation of Jesus Christ in word and deed, and of the truths and principles proceeding, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, from that revelation. The Old Testament is in like manner an inerrant record, having the express and often repeated testimony and authority of Christ, of the preparatory and partial revelations made concerning Him before His coming. Hebrews 1:1.”

– Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, Philadelphia: General Council Publication House, 1913, J-29 p. 3. Hebrews 1:1.

‘The more purely the Word of God is preached in a Church, and the nearer the preaching and doctrine comes to the norm of the Holy Scripture, the purer will be the Church; the further it recedes from the rule of the Word, the more impure and corrupt will be the Church.’ (Gerhard)”

– Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, Philadelphia: General Council Publication House, 1913, p. 383f.

“Nor even does the efficacy of the Word depend upon man’s faith. Faith is always necessary to the reception of the efficacy, but not to its presence. There is no lack of efficacy in the medicine which is not taken by the patient. If his symptoms grow worse, he could not tell his physician that there was no efficacy in the prescription.”

– Henry Eyster Jacobs, Elements of Religion, Philadelphia, Board of Publication, General Council 1919 p. 154. 1 Thessalonians 2:13

So confident now should every preacher be, and not doubt, that possesses and preaches God’s Word, that he could even die for it, since it is worth life to us. Now there is no man so holy that he needs to die for the doctrine he has taught concerning himself. Therefore one concludes from this that the apostles had assurance from God that their Gospel was God’s Word. And here is is also proved that the Gospel is nothing else than the preaching of Christ.”

– Martin Luther, Commentary on Peter and Jude, ed. John N. Lenker, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1990, p. 245. 2 Peter 1:16-18.  

“Besides, it is an exceedingly effectual help against the devil, the world, and the flesh and all evil thoughts to be occupied with the Word of God, and to speak of it, and meditate upon it, so that the First Psalm declares those blessed who meditate upon the Law of God day and night. Undoubtedly, you will not start a stronger incense or other fumigation against the devil than by being engaged upon God’s commandments and words, and speaking, singing, or thinking of them. For this is indeed the true holy water and holy sign from which he flees, and by which he may be driven away.”

– The Large Catechism, Preface, #10, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, J-110 p. 570f.

To all my readers observing this short season, I pray that we keep a good Lent.

With St Patrick’s Day not so far away, it seems apposite to say that preparing brisket, corned (salt) beef and pastrami (smoked salt beef with a layer of pepper around it) are food landmines.

I admit, I had a failure and attempted to recover it, somewhat successfully in the end. I hadn’t intended to make salt beef but a regular brisket with a hint of barbecue flavour.

What follows are my notes on brisket, plain or salt (corned).

(My thanks to Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod for the graphic representing me in my usual flour-covered state.)

The following recipes are for a fresh three-pound brisket, which will serve six people. In any event, select one with a good covering of fat, which will help tenderise the meat as it cooks. This is vital; skip the fat, skip the tenderness.

Brisket

My mother, although not an adventerous cook, could make a fabulous brisket in four hours with a packet of powdered onion soup and water.

Spouse Mouse and I, having watched Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (‘Triple-D’) on the Food Network wanted something more.  We had no experience of cooking brisket or salt (corned) beef and just wanted a tender brisket without the packet of onion soup.

The following process — more than a recipe — will explain what constitutes a homemade salt beef brisket. If I were to prepare one again, provided I could afford the electricity bill, I would make a regular brisket (not ‘salt’ or ‘corned’) using an India Pale Ale — IPA — or a flavoursome lager (what Americans know as ‘beer’). Bitter or stout will overpower the meat. I would also add some dried fruit, such as prunes or apricots, to the liquid, topping it off, if necessary, with stock.

Cooking instructions will follow, but plan on nine to 12 hours over two days. My apologies for the many emphases, but they are important to the success of the recipe. Personally, I shall not be preparing this again. It is not energy-efficient and more trouble than it is worth. By contrast, I am able to roast a beautiful joint of veal in 50 minutes. Although the veal costs more, it uses less energy and works out cheaper.

Please note that for salt (corned) beef without a smoker or hot pot, you will probably need three to four days. See below.

Salt — corned — beef

What follows is my method for preparing salt (corned) beef without a smoker or pickling spices. (For Americans with a brisket and separate ‘corned’ (brining) spices and pickling agents in a separate packet, please follow the processor’s instructions carefully. As such, you may disregard the following.)

1/ Select your brisket: ensure it has a proper covering of fat layering most, if not all, of the brisket. This is important to help break this part of muscle down into digestible fibres. The greater the covering of fat, the better.

2/ Brine for salt (corned) beef: What follows is my improbable method for preparing salt beef. The result was indistiguisable from corned beef; I have no pickling spices.

a/ Prepare base for brine in microwave in a large mixing jug:

3 tbsp medium (Amontillado) sherry

3 tbsp Port

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp sugar

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

a few drops Liquid Smoke (optional)

2 tbsp crushed or chopped garlic

1/4 cup water

Microwave for 1 to 2 minutes.

Allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

b/ Add 1 1/2 to two pints of  cold water to the mix and stir. Add 2 bay leaves OR a sprig of sage and place the meat on top of these herbs. Put the meat in the liquid in a Pyrex or plastic container, ensuring the brisket is covered in it fully and cover with an airtight lid. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Avoid using a metal container if you use Liquid Smoke. It will make small holes in the pan.

3/ Turn the meat in the brining container halfway through so that all the meat is brined evenly. I saw a photograph of someone’s brisket which was piebald — half pink and half brown.  It was not pretty and would have raised eyebrows with guests.

4/ After 24 hours, rinse the meat in cold water for one to two minutes. This is important in order to get the excess salt off the brisket. You might think that such a small amount of salt isn’t noticeable, but after 24 hours, it is overpowering.

5/ Pat the brisket dry with paper towelling.

6/ In a large Pyrex dish, place the brined brisket fat side up and rub in a mix of the following:

1 to 2 tbsp thyme or winter savoury (or whatever else you have on hand)

1 tsp powdered garlic

1 tsp ground pepper

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar

1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning

Mix together and rub lightly all over onto the meat.

Onto any uncovered areas — top, bottom and sides — squirt  or spread your favourite BBQ sauce.

7/ Cover securely and place in refrigerator for 24 hours.

8/ Begin the first four-hour cooking stage. After letting the rub set for 24 hours, remove the meat from the refrigerator, bring up to room temp, add one to two uncooked peeled medium potatoes, two large onions and one bell pepper, both thinly sliced. Place all these ingredients evenly around the meat. The potatoes absorb any excess salt.  Add stock to cover the bottom third of the meat; this helps the meat fibre to break down.

Put the brisket fat side up uncovered in an oven preheated to 220° C (425º F) for 15 – 20 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and cover securely with aluminium foil.

Return to oven and cook at a low heat for four hours at 150º C (300º  F).

9/ Remove from oven and place on carving tray to rest for 15 minutes, covered in foil.

10/ Carve against the grain. The grain will be lengthwise, so cut at a 90-degree angle (right angle) against it. If this is unclear, the grain runs across the meat horizontally. Cut at a 90-degree angle, so along the width, or, alternatively, at a bias (diagonal) to the grain. Cut in very thin slices, less than 1/8″ (0.5 mm) slices for best results.

11/ Place the sliced meat into the liquid. Remove one portion of the potato. If it tastes very salty — highly probable — discard it as well as the other portions of potato and onions, as they have done their job.  Add two more medium potatoes, peeled and cut in half, along with another peeled onion cut in two to the meat liquid. Distribute them evenly.

12/ Cover, ensuring the meat is entirely submerged in the cooking liquid, and cook for another four to five hours at 150º C (300º  F) or cool and refrigerate for the following day.

The meat fibres still need to break down after this. The only way this is possible is through continued slow cooking.

13/ If you have refrigerated the meat (see step 12), take it out and let it rest at room temperature for at least one hour or longer before resuming cooking at 150º C (300º  F).  However, skim off any fat before reheating along with the potatoes — in a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid for another three to four hours. In order to do this, bring to the  boil, then lower the temperature.

14/ After this time, you should find the meat fibres breaking down nicely, including the fat.  From here, you should test the fibres for tenderness. If they tease apart nicely with a fork and knife, they are done. If not, let them simmer in their juices for another hour or two.

15/ The end result should be a pleasantly tender, pull-apart salt (corned) beef brisket for you and your guests.

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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