How to Share The Faith With Your Child

How to Share The Faith With Your Child

How to Share The Faith With Your Child
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
23 Jan, 2020

Controversy recently surrounded the directives laid down by an ex-evangelical who counsels people to raise their children “unfundamentalist”. “Do not evangelize a child”, Cindy Wang Brandt commanded in a tweet. “Your religion does not have a right to stake claim to a child’s allegiance.” We might ask what authority she has for her edicts and what she believes should claim a child’s allegiance. She thinks children should be shaped by certain “progressive” values, but who says these are the right ones? It’s still a call to evangelise children, only with agnosticism. Christian parents face a stark choice: if we don’t evangelise our children, the world will. It’s not about imposing our personal religion. The God who created and sustains them has a claim on them as moral creatures. Their ultimate purpose for living is to love and serve Him with all that they are. Not to raise children diligently in relation to this is the greatest possible neglect.

How will you prepare your children for the future when you don’t know what that future will hold? That’s a thought that can quickly overwhelm any parent but it’s one for which the Christian parent should be well equipped. It begins with realising that God’s truth is sufficient for living in God’s world. God’s Word is sufficient for teaching us all that we need to know for life and godliness.

1. Share the Faith Comprehensively

Teach them to remember what God’s Word says. That way they can recall it whenever they need it and it will shape their thinking. This is the importance of catechising. When children have the complete system of doctrine stored in their minds it not only shapes their thinking, it protects them from error.

In addition to teaching them what to think, we also have to teach them how to think. Show them how to discover Scripture’s doctrine for themselves. They will then be able to apply Scripture to any future challenges they encounter.

The authority of Scripture is what undergirds this. How are children to be raised? “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). This involves loving spiritual instruction and discipline. It can be done in a wrong and deficient way. We can be stumbling blocks to our children through a bad attitude and example. This is why the Apostle Paul prefaces these words with a caution against provoking our children to wrath and anger.

Sharing the faith with our children is a process of discipleship, patiently teaching and correcting them over many years. We want to see them embrace Christ by faith for themselves and live for Him and so we will stress the urgency of eternal realities but also the need to devote our whole lives to Christ. In the midst of busy family lives it may seem challenging to make room for nurturing our children in faith but what could be more important? It will not simply happen spontaneously, we have to set aside time for it and patiently commit ourselves to it.

James Fergusson has some helpful comments on Ephesians 6:4 and how it counsels us to share our faith with our children. It is a verse that outlines the duty of parents in a way that carries a necessary caution. We have to recognise that we can be apt to abuse our parental authority.

2. Share the Faith Without Embittering Them

There are various ways in which we can provoke our children to anger or embitter their spirits.

  • by denying them their due, in food, clothing or means of education (Lamentations 4:3).
  • by commanding things that are in themselves unjust (1 Samuel 20:31).
  • by unjust and rigorous commands about things that are in themselves indifferent (1 Samuel 14:29).
  • by castigating them with bitter words, especially when there is no cause, (1 Samuel 20:30).
  • by chastising them unjustly, when there is no fault (1 Samuel 20:33)
  • by chastising them too harshly or at the wrong time and in a wrong way when there is a fault.

3. Share the Faith Practically

Paul guards us from the other extreme of too much indulgence towards our children. He exhorts us to bring them up, or (as it is in the original) to nourish them. This includes not only giving them what they need to be sustained from the womb onwards (Genesis 21:7). It also means making provision for their future (2 Corinthians 12:14). It involves training them up in any lawful employment by which they may be able under God to sustain themselves and their own (Genesis 4:2).

4. Share the Faith Intelligently

Parents must combine nurture and admonition with the education of their children. Nurture means timely and compassionate correction (Proverbs 13:24). Admonition means informing their understanding, teaching them how they ought to conduct themselves towards God in religious things (Genesis 18:19). Teach them also how to conduct themselves towards others in righteousness, politeness and good manners. This is also a great part of the duty of parents towards children (Proverbs 31:1, 8, 9).

5. Share the Faith Evangelistically

Their education must be in the admonition of the Lord Christ. This means, as becomes Christians, and by which young ones are instructed primarily in the knowledge of God’s Word, of Jesus Christ, and of the way of salvation declared by Him.

6. Share the Faith With Natural Affection

The prevalence and influence of sin in the souls of fallen men and women is so great that in some it entirely extinguishes, or greatly weakens the most intense of our natural affections. It can make them run in the opposite direction from that which they ought to. The apostle assumes that in some parents even natural affection to their own children will be weakened to such an extent. They will provoke them to anger and embitter them through unnatural behaviour towards them.

7. Share the Faith Without Provoking Them

To provoke or stir up others to sin makes us guilty before the Lord. It makes us guilty of those sins which we provoke others to commit (Hosea 6:9). Paul forbids and condemns this as sin in parents’ behaviour towards their children. Everyone naturally has such little command over their passions (especially when provoked by real injuries from others) that the strongest of natural bonds cannot keep them under and in order. Unless restrained by grace, they will transgress their bounds. Even children cannot put up with injuries from their very parents, without being incited to sinful anger. Indeed the corruption of some children is such that they can endure less from their parents than from anyone else.

8. Share the Faith Diligently

A necessary duty is not to be neglected under the pretence that others may us it for an occasion to sin against the Lord. In particular, parents are not to withhold timely and necessary correction from their children, even though their children would be enraged and provoked to anger by it. Even though Paul forbids them from provoking their children to anger, he will not have them use that pretence to neglect to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

9. Share the Faith in a Balanced Way

People are most ready to run from one extreme of any sin to the other. They go from extravagant expenditure to sinful miserliness, from rigidity to too much lenience. So the servants of Christ, while they are dissuading people from one extreme need most carefully to guard, lest under pretence of avoiding that, people rush to the other. While the apostle forbids too much rigidity in parents, he sees it necessary to guard them against the other extreme of too much indulgence and lenience. So he emphasises, “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”.

10. Share the Faith with Love for their Souls

It is the duty of parents, not only to provide for the bodies and outward condition of their children, but also, and mainly to care for their souls. They must endeavour by all means possible to bring them up as sons and daughters for the Lord Almighty. As they are to bring them up or nourish them, so they are also to suppress sin in them by nurture or correction. They are to make them know Jesus Christ the Lord.

11. Share the Faith in the Way that You Correct Them

As parents have to correct their children from time to time they must not do it to satisfy their own rage. Rather, they must engage in it with a composed mind, as service required by God. They must aiming mainly at how the child can  amend their faults. In order to do this they need to combine instruction and admonition with correction. They must also seek the blessing of Christ to accompany it. The apostle says that nurture and admonition must be united together, and both of them must be in the Lord.

Further Reading

The article What’s Missing From Your Home? considers what it means to make the things of God real within family life in the home. The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

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How Are You Learning Christ?

How Are You Learning Christ?

How Are You Learning Christ?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
19 Dec, 2019

Anyone who is one of Christ’s disciples must be learning from Him. We understand more about Christ and what it means to be His people. This includes what He expects from us and His purpose for us. It is not just being united to Christ but becoming more like Him. As our likeness to Christ increases, so will the real spiritual unity we have with His people. But we’re not left to ourselves to define what learning Christ means or even how we do it. Are you learning Christ in the right way? Are you using the right ways to learn Christ? If we are, it results in a transformed walk. We haven’t truly learned Christ if it does not have that impact on our lives.

Greater maturity in the faith involves being instructed in the responsibilities consistent with being born again. In Ephesians 4:20-21 Paul emphasises that to be a true believer is to have learned Christ. It implies that we need to be taught and to be willing to learn. But he emphasises that we must learn Christ in a particular way. He also underlines the contrast with the world in the context of this verse. Learning Christ is entirely contrary to and inconsistent with the sinful life of unbelievers (Ephesians 4:17). James Fergusson explains more of what learning Christ means.

1. LEARNING CHRIST IS EVERYTHING

True believers must be scholars, learning something daily. The sum of everything they have to learn and know, is Christ. He is the end of the law (Romans10:4) and the great subject of the gospel (Colossians 1:27) and all the promises are fulfilled in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

2. LEARNING CHRIST IS PRACTICAL

We learn truth properly and savingly when the knowledge of truth we attain is as Christ’s knowledge was. His knowledge of truth was not merely theoretical and speculative but practical (Psalm 40:8). The Ephesians were to be taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, or else they had not so learned Christ.

We ought to walk in accordance with how we are instructed and learned by Christ. The knowledge which we have of Him and from Him, must be put into practice in our walk. Paul’s goal is to prove they should not walk as unbelievers, because they had not learned Christ in that way.

3. LEARNING CHRIST IS NOT CONSISTENT WITH SIN

Not every sort of learning Christ or knowledge of Him excludes ungodliness. Some do not see such knowledge as inconsistent with a sinful life. Many learn and know Him in one sense. But the abuse the knowledge they have of Him so as to make them sin with less restraint (Romans 6:1). They turn the grace of God into immorality (Jude 1:4). He shows this inconsistency between learning Christ and practising ungodliness by using the qualification “if so be” (or if indeed) they have heard Christ (Ephesians 4:21).

Giving free rein to sin is inconsistent with being in a state of grace and having saving knowledge of Christ. No argument prevails more with a heart transformed by grace to restrain them from indulging sin than having this truth thoroughly impressed on them. Paul chooses to use this particular line of reasoning out of many other possible arguments.

In verses 17-19 he has shown the vileness of sin in its blackest colours, but this is not sufficient to scare the Lord’s people from it. Sin has such an advantage even over the best, and such is their proneness to it, that other strong arguments must be used to keep them from falling into it. After showing the vileness of sin at length, the apostle sees it necessary here to add another argument to enforce the dissuasive arguments previously used. This further argument is that they have not “so” (in that way) learned Christ.

4. LEARNING CHRIST IS THE ONLY REMEDY FOR DEALING WITH SIN

There is no remedy or cure for our natural corruption and the festering wounds and sores it produces except in Christ Jesus. Christ must be truly known, embraced and made use of as He is declared in the doctrine of the gospel. No moral precepts, even though they may be enforced by the strongest and most moving considerations reach the root of this awful disease. He contrasts learning Christ as the only antidote against the dark futility of mind and what it produces.

Paul goes on in verse 21 to qualify what he said about learning Christ. If in learning Christ through hearing Him preached they had been inwardly taught and instructed in the truth by Christ Himself, they would know it was inconsistent with a sinful life. Then they would have been taught as the truth was in Him not only knew the truth, but also practised what He knew. He practised the truth in such a way that His life was a true replica of the holiness which is taught in the gospel (Matthew 11:29).

5. LEARNING CHRIST IS NOT A FOREGONE CONCLUSION

A minister may have various reasons for charitably regarding all, or any of the Lord’s people committed to his charge, as truly transformed by grace. Yet he ought to express this opinion cautiously. There may be reasons for them to search and enquire into their own state as to whether this is indeed the case. Although Paul expresses the charitable assessment in verse 20 that they had not so learned Christ, he qualifies it in verse 21. This is so that they test and examine themselves whether indeed they have heard Christ.

6. LEARNING CHRIST MEANS BENEFITING FROM PREACHING

The only knowledge of Christ which provides the true remedy against the power of indwelling sin comes through preaching. It is produced in us by the ordinary means of hearing Him preached and declared in the public ministry of the gospel (Romans 10:14-15). This is a condition required in truly learning Christ, whether we have heard Him.

7. LEARNING CHRIST IS THE SPIRIT’S WORK

Hearing Christ preached by sent ministers, is not enough in itself to learn Christ effectually. Christ Himself must teach us inwardly and effectually by His Spirit. Otherwise, we cannot learn Him in this way. This is another aspect and a main way in which this statement is qualified. Paul says, if indeed they have been taught by Christ.

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The Best Way to Make Mature Disciples

The Best Way to Make Mature Disciples

The Best Way to Make Mature Disciples
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
8 Apr, 2016

Currently, “discipleship” is one of those buzz words that evangelicals have begun to use all the time, everywhere. It is only a belated reaction against the modern trend to separate “mission” and “evangelism” from “discipleship”.  Some have realised that simply being “missional” (another buzz word) is not enough. Predictably, this has prompted various attempts at discipleship manuals and courses. Historically, the Church has always been engaged in making disciples. It has also been clear about the best way to engage in this.

It was well defined by Christ in His Commission to the Apostles. Making disciples involves teaching them to observe “all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).  Those who are Christ’s disciples learn from Him (Matthew 11:29) and continue in His Word (John 8:31).  Their life must also be governed by His commandments (Matthew 10:25; John 15:8).  There are things to be believed and things to be done.

 

1. The Best Means to Make Mature Disciples

Faith and Obedience are the main themes and structure of the Westminster Catechisms. They also teach these things comprehensively, in the way that Christ commanded. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, we have tools to hand (though largely forgotten) for making mature disciples.  Historically, the Church has used the tool of catechising (in a personal and flexible context) to make mature disciples.

We do not need bullet point crash courses but documents that are so rich and full that they will be lifelong guides to the truth. They will be keys to unlock greater amounts of what we need to believe and obey. The Westminster Catechisms are suitable for groups and individuals at different levels of maturity. Indeed, people can progress from the Shorter to the Larger Catechism.

Many make the mistake of thinking that discipleship involves teaching others to know and assent to biblical doctrines. Yet truths must also be believed and experienced in a practical sense. Discipleship also requires knowing the things to be obeyed and doing them.  This is what the Great Commission requires.

As David Dickson comments on Matthew 28:20: “Christ’s baptised disciples may not live as they wish. They must make sure to observe everything that Christ has commanded His ministers to teach them” (see free e-book at the bottom of this post).  The Larger Catechism particularly provides a full biblical exposition of the obedience that God requires. As well as applying God’s law, it gives rules to show how the law should be interpreted and applied for living.

David Dickson also provides useful comments on Hebrews 6:1.  He notes that there are two parts to Christian instruction.

Firstly to instruct in the key principles of religion, secondly, to bring this instruction to maturity or perfection. The principles must first be learned, and the foundation laid.  When people have learned the principles, their teachers must advance them further, towards maturity or perfection

 

2. The Most Accurate Means for Making Mature Disciples

Complete, accurate summaries: Givens B. Strickler  wrote of complete and comprehensive character of the Westminster Catechisms in an essay called “The Nature, Value and Special Utility of the Catechisms”. The answers of the Catechisms stand on their own as comprehensive definitions of the subjects they cover.

They are complete manuals of the great fundamental doctrines of divine revelation…the most complete in existence…they contain them in the most accurate form.

They also form a complete system with every doctrine in its right place and in its right relations to other doctrines. This is true of no other catechism.  Doctrines are seen in the light of all correlated truths; and thus can be so seen as to be most thoroughly understood and most fully appreciated.

Careful, accurate summaries: As Strickler notes, there is a balance in the way that the Catechisms state the truths of Scripture. They make sure that unbiblical error is rejected.

while expressing them clearly in a positive form, they, at the same time, negatively, at every important point, guard against the most serious errors.

 

3. The Most Focussed Means for Making Mature Disciples

The Catechisms focus clearly and comprehensively on the subject that needs to be taught. Their answers provide the basis for further questions to explore  the various aspects of the truth stated. This is more focussed than mentioning subjects in passing during a sermon when less direct and sustained attention is given to them.

When Catechisms are used effectively, teaching can also be even more direct, personal and penetrating. Richard Baxter commends catechising as a help to preaching. He realised in his own experience that “some ignorant persons, who had been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse of conscience in half an hour’s close disclosure, than they did from ten years’ public preaching”.

The Larger Catechism increases this focus and widens the subjects covered with accuracy. This is vital in encouraging deeper maturity in Christ’s disciples. As is often noted, the Larger Catechism covers the nature of the Church in greater detail. This is significant for making mature disciples. They are discipled within the context of the Church and the Great Commission emphasises the means of grace – the Word and the Sacraments – as part of this.

 

4. The Most Urgent Means for Making Mature Disciples

Making mature disciples will not succeed as it should until such means are taken seriously. We need to restore thorough and accurate instruction using the Catechisms to its rightful place. We will not obey the Great Commission properly, unless we give attention to this. John Calvin went so far as to say:

the Church of God shall never be conserved without catechism, for it is as the seed to be kept that the good grain perish not but that it may increase from age to age.

Children need to be catechised and to progress from the Shorter to the Larger Catechism. For adults, the practice of memorisation and public repetition of the answers associated with catechising in the past may not be so easy to achieve now. Yet these documents, together with the Westminster Confession, form an excellent basis for group study and discussion.

The documents can be used in a flexible and natural way to teach the truth. Over a century ago, Givens B. Strickler asked the question as to why ministers and others could not use the Catechisms to instruct in biblical truth so that:

in every church there shall be a number, at least, who shall know how to maintain them against any of the popular assaults that are so frequently made upon them? We shall never succeed as we may and ought until this is done.

“Missional” trends will rise and fall, methods will come and go unless the means for mature discipling are adopted. Evangelical churches will continue with the epidemic of biblical and theological illiteracy and disobedience to Christ’s commands. They will only do so by ignoring the preventive medicine to hand in these catechisms. It is high time for all of us to absorb more fully the biblical teaching of the Westminster Catechisms.

An earlier post about Catechising: How Well Do You Know the Truth?

For further reading about the benefits of Catechising read John J. Murray’s “Catechising: A Forgotten Practice“.

The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary by J. G. Vos is a helpful and very full modern guide to a neglected treasure.

Great Commission

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What is Christ’s mission for the Church? How should the Church fulfill it? This free e-Book draws from David Dickson’s comments on Matthew 28:18-20, to answer key questions about Christ’s commission to the Church. Dickson brings out the plain meaning and implications of these verses.

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How Well Do You Know the Truth?

How Well Do You Know the Truth?

How Well Do You Know the Truth?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
12 Feb, 2016

The sum of human knowledge is increasing exponentially, it is said. This is the total amount of knowledge produced and known in the world. Before World War I the sum of human knowledge doubled every 100 to 200 years. After World War II the sum of human knowledge doubled every 25 years. Currently, it is doubling every year. By 2020, the sum of human knowledge is said to be doubling every month. We may know many things, but do we know the right things? More than this, how well do we know the right things? This is our own and our children’s greatest need.

The Church has always used a well-worn method to address this need. It is called catechising. As William Bridge put it, catechising has two goals. Firstly, to increase knowledge. Secondly, to test it.  We must “continue in the faith grounded and settled” (Colossians 1:23). In a sermon on this verse, Thomas Watson shows that catechising is the best method for ensuring that we are grounded and settled in the faith.

Catechising is the most important things taught in the most memorable way. A catechism is not just a document or statement. It is living and kept in the memory rather than just on paper. This makes it invaluable for future reference. Truth is ready, on the tip of the tongue (1 Peter 3:15).

The word catechise is a Greek word for teaching used in Galatians 6:6 and elsewhere. It is vital that children, in particular, come to learn and remember Bible truth (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). We teach them so “that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Psalm 78:4-7).

The Church has proved the effectiveness of catechising. John Owen observed this. “More knowledge is ordinarily diffused, especially among the young and ignorant, by one hour’s catechetical exercise, than by many hours’ continued discourse.” Thomas Watson believed that: “To preach and not to catechise is to build without a foundation”.

 

Counter-cultural Teaching

Recent generations have neglected it, however. It runs against the grain of modern thinking. We expect to have a digital slave to retain knowledge for us. This may be useful in many contexts, but truth is different. As the Saviour taught, the most important truths are meant to “sink down” into our ears (Luke 9:44). They are meant to take hold of our hearts and the way that we think.

Memorisation is different to merely remembering. To memorise the truth is to engage with it actively.  It also requires focus and attention, things that run contrary to a distracted, hyper-stimulated age.  In a culture that values emotive self-expression, rote learning seems rigid and repressive. Yet this ignores the need for foundations and first principles. Any sphere of learning or skilled activity requires this.

 

Long-term Teaching

Memorisation retains knowledge as a necessary preparation for explanation and comprehension. As John Macleod observes, the Reformation approach:

aimed at the opening up of the form of sound words in which they set forth the truth of the Gospel.  And when what was committed to memory was opened up by loving teachers at the fireside or in the congregation, the good of having learned the letter of such statements, which were a valuable exhibition of the Faith, came out.

And, what was more, those who, in the immature years of childhood, had their minds stored with what at the time when they learned to repeat it might be beyond their reach had, in later years, when their powers came to a measure of ripeness, the chance of working in their mind what they once had learned only by rote.  They carried with them from childhood a treasure the good of which they had been long familiar.

Often have those who have gone through a course in catechistic training in their early days come to discover how useful this teaching is to them now that in later days they have come to feel the power of the truth.  They are like a mill with all its mechanism in order that waited for the turning on of the water that it might work.  Once the power is brought to bear upon them they learn to their profit the connections in which the various portions of divine truth stand to one another. And thus they start their new life of discipleship with valuable assets to their credit.  When bread is thus cast upon the waters it may be found when most needed – in after days.  There is this over and above the blessing that often attends at the time the opening up and explanation of these statements to the mind of the child.  For those who teach a Catechism are expected to open up its teaching and explain its meaning (Scottish Theology, pp.101-102).

 

Christ-like Teaching

David Dickson shows the importance of catechising from the example of Christ teaching His disciples. In Matthew 13:51 Christ asks them if they have “understood all these things”.

Christ takes account of whether His disciples understood His teachings.

1. Those who hear the gospel should labour to understand what they hear. Christ asks if they have understood.

2. Ministers should use catechising to take account of whether their hearers have understood their teaching. This is what Christ did in asking this question of the disciples.

3. No matter what capability they have, everyone should be willing to give account to their teachers of whether they have progressed in knowledge. The disciples answer, “Yea, Lord”.

 

Conclusion

Basic instruction remains necessary. The recent popularity of instructional courses like the Alpha Course  demonstrates this. Unfortunately, in reinventing the wheel such courses often alter or dilute the truth. The Westminster Shorter Catechism covers the body of truth comprehensively but with concise treatment. It sets out we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires from us. It has not been possible to improve on its approach. Any Christian will benefit from it and any Christian parent will value from using it with their children. Any minister will find that it helps reinforce their preaching. 

 

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Find out how Bible truths fit together, relate to and depend on each other so that you can learn, live and love all the truth of the Bible. This book is designed to help you do this using the Shorter Catechism.

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