A GODLY HERITAGE: CHILDREN
INTERNATIONAL RP CONFERENCE
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN
AUGUST 1, 2000
II. A GODLY HERITAGE: OUR FATHERS TOLD US
There is a man in our church, a cabinet maker, who has bought a beautiful old mansion which he is restoring room by room to its original glory. When you come to Philadelphia, you should pay him to let you see it. He and his wife have two sons, and he said to me one day, “This house will be a heritage for my sons. They will live here.” Like every farmer who works his land hoping to see his children work it after him, my friend envisions his sons continuing his work on the house.
Who will live in America or Canada or the United Kingdom or Japan or Australia or Cyprus after us? Children born today. Who will direct the nation either in obedience to God or in rebellion against him? Our children. When David sang, “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places,” he meant in part God’s promise that his heir would always be king in Israel. “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Psalm 127:3)
Every child’s birth, from the birth of Cain to the child born a minute ago, is God’s heritage to fallen Man, a source of joy unequaled in human life. No wonder Jesus used childbirth’s joy to illustrate resurrection joy. He said:
“A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” (John 16:21-22)
In a world condemned to death, a baby brings new life. He delights us because to him the whole world is new. I remember holding my son Alex minutes after his birth, his eyes gazing into mine seeing for the first time, his ears hearing my songs, his mouth waiting for its first taste of milk. First step, first word, first time seeing a snake wriggle along the ground, first question about God: what a delight to see the world new again through the eyes of a child. A friend of mine loves teaching first graders because to them EVERYTHING is a BIG DEAL. No ennui in them.
But the joy a baby brings is deeper than my having an heir who delights in his new world. A baby brings the joy of hope, for deep in the collective memory of the human race is God’s word: the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. And since Christ’s birth we remember, at the birth of each child, that our Savior, born of a woman, a man in all respects like us, has conquered sin and death. Children, especially the one Child Jesus Christ, are God’s heritage to fallen humanity. “The fruit of the womb is a reward.”
Here are three questions about the heritage of children for families and the church to consider. 1) How earnestly should you desire the inheritance of children? 2) Should you try to limit the inheritance of children? 3) How should you preserve your inheritance?
Question One. How earnestly should you desire the Lord’s inheritance of children? I speak to the church about babes in Christ, whether they are eight days or eighty years old. Paul called Timothy “my own son in the faith.” (I Timothy 1:2) John Knox cried, “Give me Scotland or I die.” Paul wrote, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1) The church should desire babes in Christ with all its heart. When a sinner repents and is born anew, the angels rejoice in heaven. (Luke 15:10) Shouldn’t we? Churches should throw a party every time a new believer publicly professes his faith, have a cake, make some noise.
A new believer is like a newborn baby. He’s hungry, he’s curious, and he’s eager. Mature Christians rejoice in a baby Christian as much as parents do in a new baby. I remember Mrs. Birdsall, on one of her visits to her family in Philadelphia, telling us with joy about a new believer in her church in Los Angelos. She said something like this, “It’s such fun having him in church. Everything is new to him, a discovery. He asks such wonderful questions. He wants to learn everything. In his delight with God we rediscover our own delight.” What would a church be like without any new believers year after year? It would be like a village with no children. It might be mature, it might be prosperous, but there would be a gaping hole.
God wants the church to reproduce itself, to grow and extend. How earnestly should you desire the Lord’s inheritance of children? Very much indeed. Pray earnestly for new believers in Japan where our missionaries labor. Pray earnestly for new believers in your own church. “What would happen,” I recently asked in a sermon, “if every one of you invited one person to church each week?” Someone answered, “We’d be out of space in no time.”
Now I ask the question maybe you expected. “How earnestly should a married man and woman desire children?” Hannah prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish, longing for a son. When Rachel saw that God had given children to her sister Leah, she demanded of Jacob her husband, “Give me children or else I die.” (Genesis 30:1) Children are God’s heritage, the fruit of the womb is his reward. A married couple should want children very much indeed. Our Confession states:
Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed. (XXIV:2)
Marriage is for having children. God does not grant children to every family. In his wisdom he gives gifts as he chooses, and no one should say in his heart that God has mistreated him by withholding children. But just as Paul teaches the Corinthians that they should desire the best gifts (I Corinthians 12:31), so it is right to desire children earnestly.
But it isn't just children we should want. We desire children to increase the church of Jesus Christ with a holy offspring. That’s right. The Bible calls our children “holy.” (I Corinthians 7:14) Jesus welcomed infants into his arms and blessed them, putting his hands upon them in a gesture that recalled Jacob’s hands placed on the heads of Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh to adopt them as his own. If you are married and you earnestly desire to see new believers enter Christ’s church, have children! Bring them for baptism. Raise them in the Lord. The historical fact is that in nearly every generation the majority of believers are themselves children of believers. The ancient church grew in part because Christians had more children than idolaters did. Not only that, they adopted the cast-off children of the Empire and raised them as Christians, as many believers are doing today.
The joy that children bring and the joy that we find in the faith of new believers unite in the joy of raising children in a Christian home. A mother called me up recently. She had to tell me. Joy should be shared. She’d been answering her older son’s questions about the Lord. Suddenly her younger son, of whom she had wondered whether he’d ever had a single serious thought in his head in his life, interjected, “I believe in Jesus.” A father took me aside after church. “I have to tell you something about Brian.” I know Brian, not his real name. I said, “Now what?” His father continued, “No, this time it’s good. Brian chose on his own not to play in the Little League championship game on the Lord’s Day.” For family reasons he had left the decision to Brian. Dad was thrilled. But if you do not raise your children in the Lord, remember: “A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her who bore him.” (Proverbs 17:25) Yes, it is right earnestly to desire children, but if we do not desire them for the Lord’s sake, to increase his kingdom as well as our own house, then our pain in raising children will exceed our joy.
My second question concerning children is this: “Should you try to limit God’s inheritance of children?” I speak first of all about babes in Christ. Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and three thousand souls were baptized. Just think. The one hundred twenty believers gathered in the Upper Room had 3000 babes in Christ to nurture. They gathered daily in the temple to pray, they went from house to house to break bread, they continuously taught God’s Word. It was like having quadruplets. Some days later Peter and John healed a lame man in the temple, and another large crowd gathered. Did they say to themselves, “We have all the new children in Christ we can handle?” Of course not. When God made people ready to hear, Peter and John preached the Word. They would not limit God’s heritage of children because they thought they couldn't handle them.
Sometimes a church loses interest in bringing new folks into the Kingdom. The saints look around their church, it seems pleasingly full, the programs are staffed nicely, bills are paid, all seems in order, and without acknowledging their own thoughts, they think, “We’re big enough now. We don’t need more people.” They become less hospitable to visitors, they stop speaking so often to friends about God. One might say, they start practicing spiritual contraception. The church in Corinth was such a church. You remember it: numerous, full of spiritual gifts, faction ridden, and morally careless. They were so carried away with themselves that they never considered how their meetings appeared to outsiders. Paul asked them:
“Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” (I Corinthians 14:23)
Their behavior in their meetings had become a barrier to sowing the Word in the hearts of unbelievers. Paul showed a different way. He always desired more spiritual children. “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more... I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (I Corinthians 9:22)
Spiritual children are born according to the timetable of God’s Providence. “The Spirit blows where it wills. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) Jesus preached in Nazareth, they rejected him. He spoke in Samaria, they didn’t want him to leave. Paul told the Athenians on Mars Hill about the man whom God had raised from the dead. They mocked. He went on to worldly Corinth, and there the Lord had many people. If your church sows the Word and doesn’t scandalize people except with the Gospel itself, and few respond, do not criticize yourselves too harshly. But do not limit the size of God’s family by your own actions. Welcome visitors rich and poor with the same enthusiasm whether you are childless or have a hundred babes in Christ. Invite people to hear the Word of God. Give the reason for your hope to whoever asks. No church should ever aim consciously or unconsciously, to limit its size. If it gets too large, it can always divide in two. What if the church won’t sow the Word? Then God will raise up others to preach.
Now what about families limiting the size of their inheritance of children? Here’s a question you may not want asked! Should you plan your family’s size, or should God do it? Or does God do it through your choices? In short, should a Christian family practice contraception? I grew up in a neighborhood with many Catholic families -- six, seven, even eight children. The Protestant families usually had two children, at most four. I thought that the question of contraception was only a Catholic issue, a matter of natural law theology. When I was in Seminary, I ran into my first Protestant who rejected contraception. He was an RP missionary -- with more than the respectable maximum of four children -- who said to me one day, “I always thought it was right to leave the arrival of children to God’s Providence.” Startled, I investigated. Here’s what I found. Prior to World War I the Christian Church taught with near unanimity that contraceptive methods in marriage are unnatural and immoral. Children are a blessing, God is sovereign in giving them, and a main purpose of marriage is to have children. That contraception is immoral, indeed obscene, was the teaching of practically the entire Christian Church. After World War I Protestant churches, liberal and conservative, embraced the contraceptive ethic with little moral qualm and remarkably little theological discussion. I don’t know why. Within decades it forgot that it had ever taught anything else.
I will leave the question of the morality of contraception in marriage open. The RPCNA has no official teaching on the subject. But I will say this. Contraception is an ethical issue about which the church needs to seek the mind of the Lord. I have begun to wonder whether there is an inner connection between contraception in marriage and illegitimacy. About one third of the children born in the United States today are illegitimate. Without them our population would be falling. Is God giving children to unmarried sinners because so many married folk are voluntarily childless, or are postponing children year after year while they pursue goals that children would put out of reach, or view children as such a burden that they want only one or two of them? Children are a heritage of the Lord. Trying to limit the number of spiritual children does not honor God. And I don’t know anyone my age who now thinks that he had too many children or had them too soon.
Question three. “How should we preserve our inheritance?” That question may seem odd where children are concerned, except that Israel lost the Promised Land because faithful generations lost their children. How do we preserve our children? Raise them in the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4) Raise them for the Lord.
In the church we raise new believers in the Lord by feeding them carefully. First the milk of the Word, then the meat. The weak in faith we receive, but not to arguments about things that aren’t central to the faith. We instruct, we teach, we exhort, we rebuke, we encourage, and we pray. What do we teach? A church should shape its curriculum for newcomers on the analogy of what a family teaches a newly adopted child. He first meets his new parents, then gets to know his new brothers and sisters, and third learns the rules of his new family.
Your church should first of all teach new members about their new Father in Heaven. In one sentence my summary of the Bible is: “God is good; believe it!” New members should learn all about God and about how he deals with the world. Because God speaks and reveals himself in every page of the Bible, they need to know it from cover to cover. A whole lifetime of learning and living will not exhaust God’s revelation.
Babes in Christ also need to know their new family. Here the modern commuting church in cities has a problem. We don’t see each other much during the week. To address that problem, many churches have a weekday small group program. Our church spends the Sabbath Day together, from 9:45 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon. The Sabbath Day belongs to the Church, the other six days belong to families for their life and work. We take an hour and a half for lunch together. The adults talk and the children play. Periodically new adult members get to name each child. Several weeks ago one of our eight-year-olds got to name the adults. We encourage hospitality among households, we pray for other churches in our presbytery, we remember our church’s missionaries. It’s important to know your brothers and sisters.
Finally, babes in Christ need to know the rules of their new family. They need to know the Ten Commandments. New Christians face the question, ”How do I live now?” Forty years ago American culture upheld elements of God’s Law. Not so today. Popular culture is horrible. Elite culture is decadent. If we do not teach God’s Law as our way of life, American culture will shape our thoughts and behavior. But American Christians often can’t obey God because they do not even know his Ten Commandments. How important are the Ten Commandments? They summarize half of the Bible’s purpose. “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.” (S.C. #3) The Westminster Shorter Catechism devotes 44 of its 107 questions to the Ten Commandments. To deal with the need to know the rules of the Kingdom, Calvin and Knox even included the Ten Commandments in their church service each week. I make it a practice to explain one commandment each week.
Babes in Christ need to know about God, about the church, and about how to live. How should we raise our children in our families? That question generates dozens of new books a year. Americans and American Christians are obsessed with the question, “How should I raise my child?” We’re obsessed with the question because we suspect that we’re not doing a good job of it. We recently took some time in our adult Sunday School class to discuss at length four books on child rearing that many Christians have read: Raising Kids God’s Way by Bill and Mary Ezzo (c. 1990); Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp (1995); Dare to Discipline by James Dobson (1970), and Baby and Child Care by Benjamin Spock (1945). Each book had some useful tips. In general we liked the Ezzo’s advice more for older children than for infants. Dobson was the most fun to read, full of biblically informed common sense. Tripp aimed not to borrow from the behaviorists like Dobson does, or from anybody who comes to hand like the Ezzos do. He wanted to develop his advice out of his theology. By the way, I don’t recommend Tripp’s book. He will have you treat your children as outside the covenant, whereas they are holy and included in God’s covenant. He will tell you to deal with your child’s heart continually, when only God can look on the heart. He will inculcate a utilitarian approach to music, art and games rather than seeing them first of all as having value in themselves. In short, he writes like the Baptist that he is. And then there was Spock, applying Freud’s theories to raising children and fertilizing the soil to yield the 1960’s children of the educated classes, self-centered, self-confident, and self-destructive.
But Spock had something in his book that I didn’t find in the others. It has something to do with his writing his book in 1945 in a very different America than exists now. He had a place for the church in raising children. He advised parents more than once, “Ask your minister for advice.” Reading Spock last, I realized one thing that had left me uneasy with the other books. They assume that parents are raising their children alone. No wonder parents need to buy child-rearing books! The Bible says that older women in the church should “admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children.” (Titus 2:4) Jesus himself held infants in his arms and blessed them. Our ministers baptize children. Elders are men who know how to rule their own households well, men who can therefore give good advice about raising children, men who know how to speak to children. But these books assume that the elders and more experienced Christians have no part in raising the children of the church. It’s up to the parents and them alone.
How should you raise your children in the Lord? Raise them as part of the church. It doesn’t take a village to raise a child. It takes a family within a church! Children should know many adults in the church well because you visit in one another’s homes. And children should be in church each week. The very idea of children’s church is loathsome. Baptized children belong with their church when it meets with God. Don’t teach them that they don’t really belong to the church by banishing them. If they get noisy, take them out and bring them back when they have calmed down. Don’t send them out half way through the service. Use the nursery sparingly and the rod as needed. Your children should not be able to remember a time when they were not part of the church singing God’s praise, hearing his Word, praying to him. You are raising your children for the Lord, so present them to him each week.
Something else these books leave out, grandparents. The Bible says, teach God’s law “to your children and your grandchildren.” (Deuteronomy 4:9) Read the Bible with your children, sing Psalms, and pray with them. It’s called “family worship.” And include grandparents in your children’s lives so that they too can obey God’s instruction to teach his law to their grandchildren.
One more thing about raising your children in the Lord. Enlist the whole church to pray for each child by name. In our baptismal service we include the following question suggested in our Directory for Worship: “Do you the members of this congregation receive this child into your fellowship and promise to pray for him and to help and encourage the parents as they bring him up in the Christian life?” The church stands before God and answers, “We do.” When we meet God, some churches will ask him, “Why did so many of our children turn away from you?” And he will answer, “I didn’t know you cared about that. You asked me for your children so rarely.” Parents, pray for your own children. Churches, pray for all of the children entrusted to your care. Make up a monthly calendar with your children’s names on it to help every member remember who to pray for.
Children grow up quickly, so teach them when they are young. I remember one day at the stadium in Larnaca, Cyprus, where I ran. The illiterate old woman who sold cold drinks asked me in Greek, “How are your weeds?” I thought, “How are my weeds? How are my weeds? What on earth can she mean?” I asked her to repeat the question. She did, in the same words. “How are your weeds?” Then it came to me what she meant, and I answered, “Fine. Yianni’s growing up fine.” Children do grow like weeds, quickly, strong, and untamed unless they are tamed. Except that the children of the church are not tares, they are wheat, holy to the Lord. Raise them as such.
Who will live in the land and serve God after you are gone if not your children? They are God’s heritage, a good reward. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. Happy is the church which has its pews full of them. We earnestly want spiritual children, babes in Christ. Husbands and wives also desire children, to raise them for God from within the heart of the church. They are Christ’s inheritance. “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” Amen.
Text - Psalm 16:6, Psalm 127:3, Genesis 1:28, I Corinthians 7:14
1. B. Woinksy - most loved, rejoiced over baby life from death
2. John 16:21-22 Alex singing BIG DEAL
3. collective memory: seed crush Satan; done now by one born as baby
4. 3-fold inheritance
5. children pain, so touchy main realities
I. Should You Desire the Inheritance of Children?
A. Spiritual children
1. I Ti 1:2 “Scotland or die” Ro 10”1 Lk 15:10 throw party
2. Mrs. Birdsall re Alan Noell Church w/o new believers like village w/o children: mature, but gaping hole. Pray Invite weekly
3. Stand: not born to Chr parents/RP parents
B. Natural children
1. Gn 30:1, I Sa 1:11 Confession 24:2
2. not all given children, no complaint role in raising next gen
3. desire best gift cf I Co 12:31, so yes! Ps 127:3, I Co 7:14 Holy!
4. Jesus blessed children cf Jacob adopting Joseph’s sons
C. Natural children spiritual children
1. married, want increase church? have children, raise in Lord.
a. not inferior means church growth, majority believers from here
b. ancien church higher birthrate, adopt castoffs: same today
c. Why need evangelize US? Lost children!
2. Joy Sarah re Samuel “I believe in Jesus.” Bob re Steve, play BB on S
3. pain in failure Pr 17:25 Teenagers stand can shame parents
II. Should You Try to Limit Your Inheritance of Children?
A. Spiritual children
1. Pentecost 3000 for 120 Ac 2:46 Then Ac 3:12
2. Spiritual contraception Corinth I Co 14:24
3. born acc to Jn 3:8 Nazareth-Samaria Athens-Corinth No grieving
4. but no limiting: welcome all, invite all, give reason Can always divide
B. Natural children
1. catholic issue? DH 1950’s S. Boyle re Providence
2. pre-1920 laws CT laws blessing, God sovereign, children purpose marr
3. no official tchng -- reason together
4. connected with illegitimacy, 1/3 fill up places of voluntarily childless
III. How Preserve Children? Israel lost land when lost children
A. Spiritual children: milk, no doubtful disputations Analogy with adopted kids
1. know new parents who God? “God is good, believe it.”
2. siblings how? small groups Broomall schedule, hospitality
3. rules Ten Commandments How live? little help from culture, decadent Sc #3, 44 of 107 Calvin, Knox liturgy
B. How raise children? obsessed, suspect not doing good job
1. SS review of 4 books
2. Spock refers to minister, 1945, missing from others
3. Ti 2:4, I Ti 3:3, baptism -- wrong assume parents alone
4. raise as part of church, not village but family within a church know, visit adults
5. no children’s church, no 1/2 church always remember, they’re “holy”
6. grandparents Dt 4:9 family worship, prayer calendar
7. Why stray? God: didn’t know you cared
1. 3-fold universal inheritance children live in land after us Desire, Limit?, raise
2. “How are your weeds?” Grow like weeks: quickly, strong, untamed unless tamed But wheat, not tares
3. God’s heritage Gn 1:28, Mt 28:19 Ps 127:3, I Co 7:14