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What Do We Owe to Our Children?

P.E. Kretzmann

1950 Synod Convention

Synopsis of an Address on “Christian Education,” delivered at the convention of the Norwegian Synod, June 14, 1950.

One of the most important subjects in the practical life of Christians today is that of the education of our children. The problem is of such importance that practically the entire educational world is employed in finding the answer to the question: How can we best meet the needs of the coming generation in the field of instruction, education, and training? We Christians look for the answer to the Word of God.

We remember, first of all, that children are a gift of God. The Lord tells us this in express words in Psalm 127:3; Ps. 128:3–6. And the statements of the inspired writers in these two psalms are borne out amply in other parts of Holy Writ. Childlessness was regarded as an absence of blessings on the part of the Lord. The holy women of Biblical times, such as Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth, and others, like Sarah, the ancestress of the chosen race, were anxious to bear children. It was a cause of great rejoicing when the Lord granted His blessing in the home, so that the barren woman could become a joyful mother of children. Ps. 113:9.

We keep in mind, in the second place, that our children belong to God; that is, they are not absolutely ours, but are, as it were, merely lent to us for a season, to he given back to the Lord as His own for time and eternity, 1 Sam. 1:28. Our children belong to the Lord by the fact of creation It is God who, by the creative act in holy marriage, gives the fruit of the womb to parents. And Christian parents, in particular, are conscious of this fact, regarding themselves as instruments in God’s plan of creation and preservation. Christian parents are constantly aware of the fact that their children are not absolutely theirs, but that they belong to the Lord. — And Christian parents, in particular, are conscious of the fact that their children belong to the Lord by virtue of their redemption. It is self-evident that Christian parents bring their children to the Lord in Holy Baptism, as the Lord has given direction in His Word. By the Sacrament of Baptism our children become members of the body of Christ, members together with us, enjoying the blessings which flow into their hearts by faith. In a very definite sense it is true of our children that the Lord has called them by name, that He has written them in His hands: they belong to Him. — And so our children belong to the Lord also by virtue of their sanctification. In Holy Baptism the Holy Ghost has called them by the Gospel, through the washing of regeneration. Hence the Holy Spirit lives in their hearts and works in their minds, in the measure in which the Word is employed in their instruction and training. He who does not have the Spirit of God is none of His, while one, child or adult, who is guided by the Spirit in and through Word, may in the power that comes to him in the everlasting Word, a lamp to his feet and a guide to his way.

On the strength of these Scriptural facts we are to appreciate, in the third place, that God has given us specific instructions with regard to what we owe our children. Speaking in a more general way, in Deut. 6:6.7, the Lord has given us the direction: “These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children,” the word used in the original indicating that constant drilling in the truth of God’s Word is essential in the education and training of our children. In the Jewish Church this admonition of the Lord was so earnestly heeded that the children in the homes were taught to repeat daily what is called the Sh’ma, consisting in the statement: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord,” Deut. 6:4, together with a number of other passages. The constant repetition of this statement, together with the proper explanation, was regarded as a fundamental part of instruction and training in the homes of the believers. And the same truth is presented for consideration of Christian
parents in the New Testament, in the well-known words of the apostle: “Ye fathers, … bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” Eph. 6:4, that is, deal with them in the same manner in which the Lord deals with you, by proper education and discipline. The word, as used in Holy Writ, includes every form of guidance, instruction as well as restraint. Holy Scriptures rightly distinguish between legalistic severity and sinful lenience. We know what the Lord tells us about the fact that the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, and that foolishness is bound up in the heart of the child. While the restrictions of the Law are very frequently necessary and may not be discarded, we should never forget that the Word of God, properly applied, is the only instrument to produce the reaction which we desire on the part of our children.

But here the objection might be raised: All these admonitions are addressed either to the parents alone, or to the parents of children. How do they concern the Christian congregation? Why should we establish and maintain Christian parish schools? Now it is very true that Christian parents cannot shed the responsibility of their parenthood and their obligations over against their children, no matter how good the parish school may be to which they entrust their offspring. If there is no proper cooperation between the Christian school and the Christian home, the objectives of Christian education cannot be achieved. Therefore Christian parents will be particularly anxious to have a Christian school for their children. But, on the other hand, it would be altogether out of order for members of a Christian congregation to say: Let the parents who have children of school age take care of their Christian schooling; as for us, we have no children in school. No, all members of a Christian congregation must feel the responsibility for the souls of the children. This is true, for one, by virtue of the Great Commission, even in mission stations where many or even all of the children in Sunday school are not yet baptized. For the Lord says that we are to teach all nations the great truths of the Christian religion, specifically those pertaining to their salvation, and to instruct them with regard to all things whatsoever He has commanded us. — And as for the baptized children of our parishes we must keep in mind at all times that they are our responsibility by virtue of their membership in the body of Christ with us. The apostle tells us, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, as of us as have been baptized being members of His body together, 5:26.27; 1 Cor. 12:12.

We are bound to conclude then, on the basis of Holy Writ, that not only the parents, but the entire Christian congregation has the responsibility for the instruction, education, and training of the children of the parish and of all others whom the ministers and teachers of the Word can reach with the Word. And this means, properly understood, the education of the entire man, body, mind, and soul. The purpose of God will not be adequately served by part-time instruction only, as in Sunday schools or in released time classes. In a school that measures up to the ideal of God’s directions, all the subjects in the course of study should be taught in the light of the Word of God and the Christian religion. This, as a matter of fact, includes a thorough training in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, so that all children will know the way of salvation and be adequately grounded in the Word of Truth. But it includes also the training in other subjects, in geography, in history, even in arithmetic, for only a Christian teacher will be able to give the pupils that background of Christian thinking, of a right Christian philosophy of life, which will give the believer the right judgment in all things, 1 Cor. 2:15. It may rightly be said that the Lord addresses not only the individual parent, but the entire Christian congregation when He states: “Train up the child in the way in which he shall go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Prov. 22:6.