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Engaging Families With Jesus

The Rev. Donald Moldstad

2013 Synod Convention Essay

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15


He rushed the two men through the door of his house. Moments before he had been holding the tip of his large knife against his abdomen, contemplating suicide. Thoughts of his family had been distant as he selfishly wanted to end it all; but now, something had changed. Suddenly the knowledge these men possessed was so valuable that they must meet his family. Those who were closest and most precious to him—with whom he had the most direct influence—must be enlightened as he now was. How quickly did the jailer of Philippi make his way home that evening? How loudly did he call for everyone to come and meet Paul and Silas? After drawing water for their baptisms, who went first?

When the wonderful knowledge of Christ touches the heart there is a new Spirit-driven impulse awakened toward our loved ones. Luke describes the joyful scene,

Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household. (Acts 16:32–34)

The jailer’s entrance into the kingdom of grace immediately colored his vocations in life, beginning with his roles as husband and father, to influence those closest to him.

“Place the oxygen mask on yourself first, and then assist your child.” This announcement must be given by flight attendants because the first inclination embedded in our nature is to provide care for our children. If a cure for cancer was discovered, even an atheist parent would place his child in line ahead of himself for the vaccine. How much more should we not expect this response in those regenerated by the Gospel? On the day of Pentecost, it is not difficult to imagine parents having their children stand in line ahead of themselves to receive the washing of regeneration from the Apostles following Peter’s invitation (Acts 2:38–39). This reaction in us may be rooted in natural law, but, more importantly, is now co-opted by the new obedience we have been given toward the Lamb of God who has redeemed us. Our children are the most precious earthly gifts we have. Pastors have discovered through the years that you win over the hearts of your members through their children.

Following an Adult Instruction class, a young man who had never before learned of God’s grace, approached me wanting to know how to explain this wonderful truth to his brother. The subject of evangelism had not even been mentioned in the few classes thus far, but he was already anxious to spread the doctrine of justification. The Gospel brings with it the power to produce its own evangelists. When a dead branch is grafted into the Vine of Christ, one of the first grapes to appear is the desire to reach others, typically those closest to you.

Keeping Our Eyes On The Target

There is a potential danger to this study: All of us mutually recognize the great importance of the Christian home, and yet our theological focus is not to be on the family. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day probably had great marriages, and may have been wonderful parents, impressing Biblical commands on their children. However, the central target of Biblical instruction is not to have strong marriages, and morally upright children, but our focus must remain on the work of Christ to redeem us from sin and death. The Mormons have demonstrated very well that Satan can use even the blessings of solid families to deter people from the Gospel.

As the sainted Prof. Juul Madson once said, “Sometimes sanctification can get in the way of justification.” Staying off drugs, retaining one’s virginity until marriage, etc. are to be treated as wonderful by-products of keeping our families with Christ, but should not become the focus of our theology. The thief on the cross may have come from a broken home, struggled with alcoholism, and lead a rebellious adolescence prior to his conversion. The woman at the well lived in the sin of fornication, had multiple marriages, and yet, by God’s grace came to repentance. How many others in Jesus’ day had all the right outward, moral criteria for being considered a healthy family, and yet lacked repentance and trust in Him alone for salvation? There will be many in hell who had strong marriages, and great parent-child relations. We must keep our eyes on the true target of our faith: heaven through repentance and faith in Christ.

Keeping this final heavenly goal in perspective is essential for our understanding of the Biblical purpose of the Christian home, as Dr. Martin Luther states:

Married people should know that they can perform no better and no more useful work for God, Christianity, the world, themselves and their children, than by bringing up their children well. Pilgrimages to Rome and to Jerusalem, building churches, providing for masses, or whatever else the work may be called, is nothing in comparison with the right training of children, for that is the straight road to heaven; and it can not be more easily attained in any other way. It is the peculiar work of parents, and when they do not attend to it, there is a perversion of nature, as when fire does not burn or water moisten.1

The Christian Home: Heaven’s Little Embassy

In my ancestry there was a pagan forefather/mother who was brought to the Christian faith, altering the spiritual direction of my family tree. I do not know his/her name, or how many generations have come and gone since that time. At some point the Holy Spirit broke that heathen chain, and since then has chiefly utilized private homes as the way to reach my spiritually dead heart and bring me to Christ. For most Christians today, this is the path the Gospel has taken to reach us. Dr. David Scaer writes,

The Gospel is at work through one person in the home, and the best missionaries are a believing mother or father whose life is a preaching of salvation for their spouses and children. The best missionaries are not ‘the evangelists’ who bring tears to our eyes and cause us to fall on our knees. The best missionaries are parents who bring their children to church for baptism and those who are patient with their unbelieving spouses.2

The Christian home is of great concern to our heavenly Father since it serves as the primary—though not exclusive—venue for passing on the Gospel. Where families embrace Christ and His Word, these homes will also become the best outreach centers for the church into the community. When home missions are started, the primary evangelists are the dedicated members of the church, whether married couples, single parents or singles without children. It is God alone who can bring a person to faith through the efficacious Word of Christ, which “is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). It is that same God who frequently makes use of human associations to carry out this work. The relationships of husband to wife, parent to child, and extended relations in the family are treated with the highest degree of care throughout Scripture, due to the tremendous spiritual importance attached to them. Luther instructs us:

The greatest good in married life, that which makes all suffering and labor worth while, is that God grants offspring and commands that they be brought up to worship and serve Him. In all the world this is the noblest and most precious work, because to God there can be nothing dearer than the salvation of souls. …You can see how rich the estate of marriage is in good works. God has entrusted to its bosom souls begotten of its own body on whom it can lavish all manner of Christian works. Most certainly father and mother are apostles, bishops, and priests to their children, for it is they who make them acquainted with the Gospel. In short there is no greater or nobler authority on earth than that of parents over their children, for this authority is both spiritual and temporal. Whoever teaches the Gospel to another is truly his apostle and bishop. Mitre and staff and great estates indeed produce idols, but teaching the Gospel produces apostles and bishops. See therefore how good and great is God’s work and ordinance!3

God frequently uses images of family to depict our relationship with Him: He is “our Father,” Christ is our “Brother,” through Baptism we are the “Bride of Christ,” we are the “children of God,” and “brothers and sisters in Christ.” When the Second Person of the Trinity became incarnate to save us, He was not placed into a pack of animals, nor did He come in a garrison of angels, but was rather born to a Virgin mother and raised in a humble home with earthly parents. Due to their sway, the Holy Spirit consistently instructs us in these holy vocations in the home throughout Scripture. Dr. CFW Walther suggests that once a child is baptized, parents should consider themselves to be like Mary and Joseph:

If the parents of the most holy God-man recognized it as their duty to lead Him into the house of the Lord, how much more should we recognize our duty to lead our children, who are sinners in need of grace, to the Lord early on! … Our children are not given to us as toys and pleasantries or as our servants. Instead they are entrusted to us by God, so that when they know nothing about Him we should lead them to their heavenly Father. … (As parents) We each have a little Child Jesus to carry in our house and in our arms.4

“Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society the way a child catches measles,” so writes Francis Schaeffer.5 It goes without saying that a person’s upbringing will often determine his/her spiritual foundation. The concept of in-home evangelism displays itself throughout Scripture. In the Ten Commandments God specifically decrees that a holy Sabbath is to be observed by all members of the family, a day of rest which depicts the coming Christ, who is our Sabbath-rest (Hebrews 4:10–11, Romans 4:5–8). This command applied to parents, children, servants and even the strangers within their gates. (Exodus 20:10). Though we think of this Third Commandment as part of the Moral Law, it is intended to create a family environment in which the Gospel of the coming Messiah would be highlighted on at least a weekly basis.

In his Large Catechism, Luther dispenses three times the amount of ink expounding upon the Fourth Commandment when compared to any of the other nine. Half of his categories in his Table of Duties address family relations. He clearly understood God’s spiritual design for the home. Since Christian parents are engaged in the highest heavenly work, they must realize the extreme importance of their roles, and view their children in the proper light. In similar fashion the reformer frequently exhorts children to see their parents as the very representatives of God in their lives. Here are some samplings:

This is a sad evil that all live on as though God gave us children for our pleasure or amusement, and servants that we should employ them like a cow or ass, only for work.

Let every one know, therefore, that above all things it is his duty (or otherwise he will lose his divine favor) to bring up his children in the fear and knowledge of God.

See to it that you first of all have your children instructed in spiritual things, giving them first to God, and afterwards to secular duties.

(God) separates and distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to Himself. For to honor is far higher than to love, inasmuch as it comprehends not only love, but also modesty, humility, and deference as though to a majesty there hidden, and requires not only that they be addressed kindly and with reverence, but most of all that both in heart and with the body so we act as to show that we esteem them very highly, and that, next to God, we regard them the very highest.6

In this way, our namesake set the tone and mind-set for Confessional Lutherans since the Reformation. The early years of a child in the home are so crucial for his/her future with the church, since all else will be built upon this instruction. It was expressed well in a Synod essay from 1953, by Rev. Milton Tweit:

We are to teach and train our children from the time they are small. The foundation we lay in those years must be safe and sure so that they can build a safe and happy life upon it. People today pride themselves on their scientific and careful approach to all things. Before building, they plan very carefully how they may lay a foundation which shall be lasting and strong, standing unbroken even after the superstructure is decayed. Cost is certainly figured in, but is not spared, because the wise man knows that a poor foundation will cave in, and the whole building put thereon fall into ruins. It is a good thing that people use wisdom in planning the foundations of life, which are exceedingly more important! Woe unto us, if it must be said to us by God: ‘The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8). God help us to apply true Godly wisdom in the training of our children.7

Home-life in Biblical Times

The first mention of formal worship (Genesis 4:26) is listed in the middle of all the names of Adam’s growing family. Luther speculates that our first father preached to numerous generations regarding the Gospel given in Eden: “Adam, Seth, Enos exhorted their descendants to wait for the redemption, to believe the promise about the woman’s Seed.”8 We are not surprised that the believers who survive the flood are all from one family. From the earliest days, the Messianic promise (the Gospel) was to be passed on carefully in the home. God indicates this special design for family relations to be utilized for the spreading of His saving Promise:

The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” (Gen.18:19)

Old Testament believers clearly saw the significance of home-life where souls would be engaged with the Messianic faith. Dr. Walther observes, “Until the time of Moses, the holy preaching office was exercised by the father of the house and head of the family or head of an entire tribe. It was one part of their fatherly office and authority, carried out in God’s stead.”9

Among the ancient Jews, children were considered to be a great blessing, and the duty of teaching your child in the faith was of supreme importance. Though this concept is certainly familiar to us who are members of the church, this was unusual among other peoples of the day, who at times would even sacrifice their own children to pagan gods. According to Josephus, during the Exodus, Israelite parents had taught their youth to hold Moses in such high regard that upon his death: “The young grieved (not only to lose Moses), but also because it so happened that they were to be left by him before they had well tasted of his virtue.”10

Jews were consumed with the stages of a child’s development, using eight distinct terms to denote various steps from infancy to young adulthood. Informal training in the faith began very early. The Jewish philosopher, Philo claimed children were trained to recognize God while still bundled in swaddling clothes. Jewish mothers taught the Law to their children while nursing. Josephus writes that from their earliest consciousness they memorized the commandments to have them imprinted on their hearts. Family customs involved with church festivals contained a formal question and answer session from child to parent regarding the significance of the event, in keeping with God’s directives (Deuteronomy 6:20–25). Some families utilized honey and sweet cakes during instruction in the Torah so the child would associate it with a pleasurable experience.11

Formal education for boys began at age six, when they were sent to learn at the feet of local rabbis. Girls were primarily taught in the home by their fathers. Each town had a school, typically in the synagogue, and education was compulsory (it was considered unlawful to live in a community with no school). Reading and writing were part of the standard curriculum. From ages 6–10 there would be training in the Torah (first five books of the Bible). From ages 10–15 they would study the Mishnah (doctrinal commentary). By age 15 and beyond they would study in the school of the rabbis, should they desire to advance. Instructors were ordered not to over-work their students to prevent them from growing weary of religious instruction. By their mid-teens, young men were expected to begin contributing to the family income. Quite often marriages were arranged by families, though with the child’s consent. As an older teen or young adult you would typically start married life by living with the groom’s parents for a few years. The entire progression of life was geared to prepare your child for a stable adulthood and remain in the faith of the fathers.

Jewish leaders, rabbis, scribes and priests placed a great burden of responsibility upon the Jewish father. He was expected to fulfill the following for his son: have him circumcised, teach him the Torah, teach him a trade, find him a wife, and teach him to swim. The synagogues had numerous rituals and traditions connected with various stages of a child’s education. A child learned to fast for a few hours, starting at age 9, in hopes of working up to fasting for an entire day by age 13.12

In the life of a young Jewish child, ceremonies and rituals had strong corporate, community and familial aspects to them. In the centuries before the Messiah’s arrival, unlike our own culture, your identity was not formed by your individualism. Rather, your identity came from your relationship to the larger church community and by embracing the established traditions of the faith. Conforming to these well-established practices was the norm of the day. This thinking was embedded into the Jewish view of family, worship, and society at large. Observing customs of the church was of the highest importance.

During Passover it was customary for the youngest child to be re-taught its meaning as the rest of the family listened. In Jesus’ day, each home commemorated the rededication of the Temple (Hanukkah) by having children light a new candle for each of the 8 nights. The Jewish calendar was carefully observed, marking the special times of purification, when all yeast (representative of sin) would be removed from the house. By the first century BC, it was not uncommon for families to have a copy or at least a portion of Scripture in the home. Religious instruction was all-encompassing, according to Dr. Alfred Edersheim, a convert from Judaism:

In the days of Christ the pious Jew had no other knowledge, neither sought nor cared for any other—in fact, denounced it—than that of the law of God. … The knowledge of God was everything; and to prepare for or impart that knowledge was the sum total, the sole object of his education.13

A similar approach carried over into the New Testament church, based heavily upon Jewish practices. The Holy Spirit records for our learning the in-home religious training which young Timothy received from his grandmother Lois, and mother Eunice (II Timothy 1:5). Clement of Alexandria (150–215AD) writes that many parents already had copies of the Scriptures and were reading them to their children in their houses. The historian, Eusebius, records interesting details about the upbringing of young Origen (184–254AD), whose parents required him to memorize Bible passages even as a little child. His hunger for Christian doctrine grew beyond his parents’ ability to answer his questions. This produced wonderful fruit: when his father was about to be martyred for his faith, the teenage Origen was so ready to die with him, that his mother had to hide his clothes to prevent him from leaving the house. He wrote his father a letter of encouragement in the faith, saying, “Don’t change your mind on our account.”14

Evangelism and Marriage

At the core of the Christian home is the institution of marriage, given first to Adam and Eve prior to the Fall into Sin. God has implanted this estate into the very fabric of humanity. As our Lutheran Confessions state regarding marriage, this “union of man and woman is by natural right,” and “is an ordinance divinely stamped on nature.”15 To demonstrate its great value, our Lord showcased His first public miracle at a wedding celebration (John 2:1–11). The Holy Spirit uses its imagery to describe our union with Christ through Baptism (Ephesians 5). Though marriage is not the primary subject of this paper, we note that it is intended by God to provide the foundational footings for heaven’s earthly embassy in the home. Within its boundaries, God intends to dispense numerous temporal and eternal blessings to spouse and children alike.

The early patriarchs safeguarded marriage primarily due to its direct connection to the mission of the church: Abraham made his servant take an oath that he would find a wife for his son, Isaac, from those of their faith, and not from the nearby Canaanites (Genesis 24). When Esau married pagan women from the Hittite tribe, the Holy Spirit records, “they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:34–35). This prompted them to demand of their son, Jacob, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padan Aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take yourself a wife from there” (Genesis 28:1–2).

Marrying one who is not of the household of faith, poses a potential threat for your own spiritual contamination, and will probably cause great challenges to raising your children in the faith. Sad to say, in our day many young Christian men and women have discovered this difficulty the hard way. It may not seem so significant on the front end of the relationship, but will typically show up when a child reaches the age of three or four years old.

Recently the dissolution of the marriage of Hollywood stars, Katie Holmes (a professed Christian) and Tom Cruise (a Scientologist) was a great example of this problem. What seemed to be meaningless religious differences during the early years of their relationship, suddenly became very significant when their little daughter, around age 4 or 5, was old enough to develop a world view, reaching a stage where she would ask the deeper questions about life. Ms. Holmes realized that the religious beliefs of her husband’s cult were turning the girl “into a monster” (her words). She believed her only option for protecting her daughter from having her mind polluted was to divorce. Her daughter is now enrolled in a Catholic school.

If parents are pulling the spiritual cart in opposite directions there will usually be a nullifying impact on the child. How many souls have had their eternal welfare sacrificed by a parent’s poor choice of an unbelieving mate in favor of less important human qualities? We must instruct our teenagers to be thinking of Judgment Day for their future children even when they begin the dating or courting process. The selection of a spouse is the most important determining factor in establishing the spiritual course of the home. Though one Christian parent may be less intense in his/her faith than his/her spouse, it is at least necessary that both husband and wife are demonstrating some appreciation for Christ’s Word and Sacrament—pulling the cart in the same direction.

Satan has attained the highest degree in Christian doctrine. He recognizes the tremendous significance of marriage for both the temporal and the spiritual kingdoms, and understands how unique it is in God’s plan for evangelizing humanity. One of the apparent deplorable by-products of the acceptance of gay marriage is that it has typically coincided with a drop in appreciation for “traditional marriage” in countries where it has been embraced. May this upcoming generation be made aware. Like enemy combatants seeking to destroy their opponent’s embassy, throughout time the devil has waged war against this divine gift. The nineteenth century Norwegian Bishop, Nils Laache, writes:

Marriage is the foundation of human society, planted by God at creation and sanctified from the beginning. But ever since it was corrupted by the fall into sin, the devil still rages against it, for he knows that when he spoils marriage, he undermines all order of society and makes us like Sodom and Gomorrah… As many as will follow the Lord Jesus must heartily hate this lie of the devil and maintain the sacred, indissoluble nature of marriage.16

Luther provides similar commentary:

Next to God’s Word, the world has not a more lovely and endearing treasure on earth than the holy estate of matrimony, which He Himself instituted, preserving it, having adorned and blessed it above all stations, from which not only all emperors, kings and saints, but even the eternal Son of God, though in a super-natural way, are born. Whoever, therefore, hates the married state, and speaks evil of it, certainly is of the devil.17

There can also be a wonderful evangelistic “glow” from a Christian marriage and home for outside observers, especially those who have not experienced such blessings in their own families. Many have commented that they were drawn toward the Christian faith by experiencing the stable and happy home-life of someone they were dating. In this way, without their awareness, many Christian families let their light shine before men in their communities, serving as a wonderful by-product of the Gospel.

For those who find themselves married to an unbeliever, God specifically instructs the believer to remain married for the sake of continued mission work among both the children and spouse. Paul writes, “For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (I Corinthians 7:16). From heaven’s perspective, maintaining the marital union is all about preserving opportunities for the family to be engaged with the Gospel of Christ. It is fitting that the Lord chooses to first address women in this predicament. Pastors will tell you that most often it has been a faithful, believing wife who has been used by the Holy Spirit to gently lead her husband to Christ. Her tenderhearted, daily witness of her Savior by humble acts of Christian kindness, can finally “wear down” her husband to seek out the Source of such love. As my father often said, “There will be many men in heaven because of Christian wives.”

The Unique Office of Christian Fatherhood

Many years ago two families came for a private Baptism. The one family I knew very well, since they had been faithful members connected with the parish for generations. I was introduced to the other family as they entered the narthex, and it became very apparent that the non-member great-grandfather of the child was not taking this event very seriously. He made it known that he had much better things to do with his Saturday morning. The great-grandfather associated with our church, on the other hand, had dressed up for the service and saw this day as the sacred entrance of his great-grandchild into the kingdom of light. As we went through the responses in the Rite of Baptism, I observed the 40–50 worshipers. It was visibly obvious how the views of each great-grandfather had been passed down to the entire side of his respective family. You could see the reverence in the faces of the first family, and how irrelevant this seemed to be in the minds of everyone in the second family (with the exception of the child’s mother, who had since taken instruction). In each case, the great-grandfather’s attitude had clearly been handed down to succeeding generations.

A “generational fallout” nearly always takes place when a father despises God and His Word. Hatred toward God is a disease which one then inherits due to a lack of training or love toward God in childhood and adolescence. The consequences are often eternal. The Lord threatens that He will “visit the iniquities of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me” (Exodus 20:5). For this reason, throughout Scripture, God primarily addresses the fathers with the charge of spiritual leadership in the home (Exodus 34:4–9; Leviticus 26:36–42; Numbers 14:17–19; Jeremiah 32:17–20, Ephesians 6:4). For some reason, God has designed these human relationships to rely heavily on the father’s role when it comes to spiritual matters. A father’s impact on the religious life of his children cannot be over-emphasized. Luther states it rather strongly,

No one should become a father unless he is able to instruct his children in the Ten Commandments and in the Gospel, so that he may bring up true Christians. … If the kingdom of God is to come in power, we must begin with children, and teach them from the cradle.18

Engaging families with Christ means first and foremost recognizing this “spiritual gravitas” that God has placed into the office of fatherhood. The number one predictor of a child’s worship life is the worship life of his father. In his book, The Pastor at Work, Rev. Arthur Haake makes this case:

The church’s first chief effort in evangelism should be with the husband and father. All too often the church’s mission efforts with a family begin and end with the child. Most of the examples of Biblical evangelism have to do with the men. The father, according to God’s order, is to be the priest in the home. The efforts to bring him into the fold will bring many blessings. The best thing which can be done for a family is to lead the father to walk with God and have him assume his exalted and God-given position in the home as a priest of God.19

Numerous sociological studies have borne this out. In 1994 an extensive survey was conducted among hundreds of families in Switzerland to determine whether a person’s religion carried through to the next generation (the study did not set out to demonstrate anything in particular about the role of fatherhood). Here are the findings, reported in the theological journal, Touchstone:

One critical, overwhelming factor became obvious: The religious practice of the family’s father, above anything else, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children. Even if the mother is regular in attending church, and the father is non-practicing, only 2% of children will become regular worshippers as adults, and only 37% will attend irregularly (twice a year). In such homes over 60% of their children will be completely lost to the church.

However, when the father is regularly in church, but the mother is not, the percentage of children growing up to become regular in church goes up to 38%, and up to 44% for those who are less regular in attending church.

In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). … A non-practicing mother with a regular-attending father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children never darken the church door.20

The author of the report, Anglican theologian, Robbie Low, then makes these applications for his own church body, the Church of England:

You cannot buck the biology of the created order. Father’s influence … is out of all proportion to his allotted, and severely diminished role in Western liberal society. … The Church of England had a 45/55% ratio of men to women before 1990. Now the ratio is 37/63%. Of the 300,000 people who left the Church of England during their targeted ‘Decade of Evangelism,’ some 200,000 must have been men. During that same time attendance by children dropped by 50%. … The churches are losing men and, if the Swiss figures are correct, are therefore losing children. You cannot feminize the church and keep the men, and you cannot keep the children if you do not keep the men.21, 22

He ends with this straightforward conclusion: “No father—no family—no faith. Winning and keeping men is essential to the community of faith and vital to the work of all mothers and the future salvation of our children.” Might this explain why Satan expends so much time trying to diminish male leadership in ecclesiastical positions, and why God has established these principles for both the home and the church?

In his book, Family Vocations, Dr. Gene E. Veith writes regarding the role of fathers:

Because God works through the vocation, vacating the office of father has serious consequences. Whether we are culturally belittling fatherhood, socially experimenting with it, or historically pretending its irrelevance, we cannot manipulate God away from the channels He has chosen to provide. The needs for a father will remain.23

“‘Our Father, Who art in heaven…’—God would hereby tenderly invite us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children.” God exercises His fatherhood through earthly fathers and mothers. By His design there is to be a link in the chain of authority from Himself through the parents (primarily the father) and then to the child. Learning to have spiritual respect toward the parents is the primary place for teaching a child to have a similar spiritual respect toward God. Veith notes that this cannot be taught—or at best can rarely be taught—by a youth leader or a pastor, or, we might add, a Christian day school teacher. It is best instilled in the mind and heart of the child in the home during the early “plastic stage” of life, as Dr. Paul Kretzmann labels it.

Dr. Veith summarizes that the duties for a Christian father toward his child, as set forth in Holy Writ, do not require any great degree of schooling, but are actually quite simple:

  1. Be married to their mother
  2. Do not divorce her.
  3. Do not abandon your children.
  4. Be involved in your children’s lives.
  5. Take your children to church.24

An atheist parent can grant forgiveness to his child, but only a Christian parent will tie his/her personal forgiveness back to Calvary. Luther suggests that fathers should recognize their unique position as God’s proxy and mimic our heavenly Father when dealing with a sinful child to apply the Gospel:

(After disciplining his son, the father) again invites his child to himself and gives him the very best words. He stops and throws away the rod, yes, he rages against the rod, leers at it and treads it under his feet as if it were the rod and not he that had done the chastening. This is the best interpretation of his distemper, since he has meant it for good and it is not wrath. It rather becomes pure love. He gives him thereafter a penny or apple as a sign of the truth so that the poor child forgets the rod and he establishes him again as his child.25 (from Luther’s commentary on the prophet Zechariah).

Fatherhood is treated lightly in our current culture. As the comedian, Adam Corolla put it, “We look down more on smokers than we do on dead-beat dads.” The role of the male parent has been devalued. Americans have generally lost respect for the office of fatherhood, considering it almost unnecessary. This brings great negative consequences for our society as a whole in which the church must operate. Might this trend increase as more and more women become the primary bread-winners in the home, and fewer couples seek marriage? A Twin Cities news station reported that inside the city limits of Minneapolis 78% of newborns come home to a house with no father. David Blankenhorn, a Harvard graduate, writes:

Tonight, about 40% of American children will go to sleep in homes in which their fathers do not live. Before they reach the age of 18, more than half our nation’s children are likely to spend at least a significant portion of their childhoods living apart from their fathers… The most important absence our society must confront is not the absence of fathers, but the absence of our belief in fathers.26

This unique role is also highlighted by the warning St. Paul provides the church in Ephesus: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Instruction in the Word of God must be dispensed in a loving and careful way. As much as a Christian father can bring great blessing to his child’s spiritual life, he may also run the risk of alienating him/her from the church if his control is too harsh. When an adult child has wandered from the faith, it is important for both parents—but especially the father—to retain communication with the child, and gently use your loving admonitions to invite him/her back to Christ. In this way we imitate the patient father waiting for his son’s return in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal.27 This is a delicate balance. Luther encourages parents to create a happy learning environment in the home, where discipline is guided by love:

(St. Paul) forbids that parents should provoke their children to anger, and thus discourage them. This is spoken against those who use passionate violence in bringing up their children. Such discipline begets in the child’s mind, which is yet tender, a state of fear and imbecility, and develops a feeling of hate toward the parents, so that (the child) often runs away from home. (St. Paul means) that we should discipline them from love, seeking not to cool our anger, but to make them better.

It is highly necessary that all parents regard the soul of their child more than his body, and look upon him as a precious, eternal treasure, which God has entrusted to them for preservation, so that the world, the flesh and the devil do not destroy him.28

The father’s spiritual influence on his child seems to retain some force even when faced with less-than-desirable circumstances. I have observed cases where men have failed to train up their children in their early years, but decades later have still managed to have a positive spiritual impact once the child has reached adulthood. Some have managed to do so even after a divorce, when handled properly in light of God’s Word, or even after death. Veith notes similar examples:

In the case of divorce, a father with visitation rights who stays in His children’s lives can still exercise his fatherhood. In a strange grace, when the father dies, the effect of his absence is not so harmful. Again, it is the sense of being abandoned, having the feeling that my father doesn’t love me, that a child finds so devastating. A father who dies, by contrast, loved me and, in Christian hope, still loves me.29

Luther suggests that there are only three ways a father can ruin his children spiritually:

  1. Neglect to instruct them properly in the truths of God’s Word
  2. Provide them with a bad example in word and deed
  3. Teach them to love the world and all its wealth, and to be important in the world’s eyes

The Unique Office of Christian Motherhood

In the 1920’s an English theologian wrote that while in college he nearly abandoned his Christian faith upon learning the theory of evolution. Coming to his senses, he finally reasoned that his mother had taught him the creation truth so wonderfully, that denying this would now mean a rejection of her honest and faithful instruction. This thought alone prevented him from leaving the faith. Mothers are blessed with an almost irreplaceable gift for reaching the heart. If you grew up with Christian parents you probably have very fond memories of your mother leading you in bedtime prayers, reading Bible stories to you, and providing you with gentle admonitions throughout the day (some of us received more admonitions than others. I could tell you what Ivory soap tasted like by age four). The Holy Spirit even uses this quality in our mothers to demonstrate how strong God’s love is toward us (Isaiah 49:15). A mother’s approach touches the deep emotional aspects of a child’s spiritual life, in a different way than the father. My own mother kept a well-worn, little booklet entitled “Heaven” on the nightstand next to her bed. Every time I entered that room I noticed it.

Though God clearly places the largest responsibility upon fathers, in Scripture the Holy Spirit frequently spotlights the care of spiritually-minded mothers when it comes to evangelizing in the home. Samuel’s mother, Hannah, is the one extolled in Scripture for her dedication to the faith, delivering her young son to the Temple for service. The Proverbs contain many passages addressing the important role a mother’s instruction plays in the foundational years of life. Solomon writes, “My son, hear the instruction of your father, do not forsake the law of your mother; for they will be graceful ornaments on your head, and chains about your neck” (Proverbs 1:8–9). Quite often it is the mother who sits and patiently applies the godly principles of life upon the heart and conscience of a young child through tender conversations. Where this knowledge is received and followed, the child, once grown, will wear her Biblical wisdom like costly jewelry, seen by all who know him. Solomon again emphasizes this imagery, “Do not forsake the law of your mother. Bind them continually upon your heart; tie them around your neck. When you roam they will lead you; when you sleep they will keep you; and when you awake they will speak with you” (Proverbs 6:20–22). This education is so precious, that God warns the child through graphic imagery: “The eye that mocks his father, and scorns obedience to his mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young eagles will eat it” (Proverbs 30:17). When a child strays from the faith, it is often the mother who serves as the most active family-advocate before God in prayer.

The mother of King Lemuel is highlighted by the Holy Spirit as one who taught the faith so well to her son. She is then quoted instructing him in the numerous qualities of a virtuous woman whom he should seek as a believing wife: “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her, ‘Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.’” (Proverbs 31)

The New Testament also provides us with wonderful examples of motherhood evangelism: John-Mark’s mother, Mary, is believed to have been an early convert to the Christian faith and deeply dedicated to Christ. One can easily assume her influence played a large role in the conversion of her son, the Gospel writer, who was sent out by Jesus among the seventy apostles. Early tradition indicates she provided the “upper room” for the institution of the Holy Supper. Her home also served as the first headquarters of Christianity in Jerusalem, mentioned as Peter’s “safe-house” upon his miraculous release from prison (Acts 12:12).

Eunice, Timothy’s mother, along with Lois, his grandmother, is displayed as a shining example of theological training for young Timothy. In hopes of encouraging him to continue in the doctrines of Scripture, rather than pointing to any seminary training, Paul directs the young pastor to remember his mother as one who taught him, “knowing from whom you learned them” since she had impressed these truths on him even from his infancy (II Timothy 3:14–16). As if Paul is saying, “Think what wonderful teachers you have had in your mother and grandmother. Don’t fall away from this. Continue to believe in the truths they have so faithfully taught you from Scripture.”

Salome, the mother of James and John, was among the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and observed His crucifixion. Their father is never mentioned in this regard. Twice in Scripture the name of Priscilla is placed before the name of her husband (which is very uncommon), causing many to believe she played the more prominent role in supporting the mission of the church, even instructing Apollos “more accurately” in Christian doctrine (Acts 18:26). Along with Aquila she frequently opened her home as a meeting place for worship.

The characteristics of a Christian mother tend to be that of sensitivity, warmth and individual tenderness not found as noticeably in fathers. Most often they have more daily contact with the children, especially in the early years when the Baptismal faith is being nurtured. Mothers are blessed with tremendous insights into the practical application of Biblical truths, and have their pulse on the emotional needs of each son or daughter. They generally foster more of a devotional prayer life for the child. Many are gifted in music and utilize the gifts of hymnology to impress the faith into the heart and memory.

In addition, Christian mothers are typically blessed with a better sense of timing and insight than most men. This became very apparent to me one evening, when our ninth grade son had gotten into some trouble at school, and came home very upset with himself. Unbeknown to me, his spirit was very crushed. I received the news at my office, and came home in a hurry to deal with the situation. As I entered the house, rather upset and ready to climb the stairs to verbally chastise him, my wife stopped me in the hall and wisely said, “Don, he needs the Gospel, not the Law.” Not only did she show her ability to “properly divide the Word of truth,” but she understood precisely when each doctrine should be applied, and the potential consequences of my anger as his father.

During my time in parish ministry, an eighth grade boy, whose father had abandoned the family, said to me on the weekend of his Confirmation, “Pastor, you know my dad is not involved in my life. Can you please help me stay in my faith?” His mother had been—and, I assume, continues to be—extremely diligent in keeping him with Christ. Her efforts have been blessed through the years. In fact, through her son others have also had the chance to hear the Gospel. Due to a variety of circumstances, some Christian mothers have been left to raise their children in the faith with little or no assistance from the fathers. In such cases, as noted above, this is a huge mountain to climb all alone. How amazing it is when a woman does not have the support of a husband in spiritual matters, but still manages to keep her child loving Christ, and coming to receive His Word and Sacrament! These are “champion mothers.” Those of us who know how challenging this task can be with two spouses devoted to the cause, should sit in amazement of their dedication. We, as pastors and leaders in the church, need to applaud and encourage their wonderful commitment to preserving their children in the grace of Baptism. It is also incumbent on all of us in the church to find ways to assist them in this overwhelming task.

The Christian Grandparent

On two consecutive Sundays a middle-aged gentleman in my congregation had brought along his 3-year old granddaughter to church. He was proud to introduce her to me. His eyes began to swell up with tears as he said, “I’ve decided to bring her to church every Sunday. I’m not going to make the same mistake that I made with my own children.” Though grandparents are typically not as directly involved in the daily spiritual lives of their grandchildren, they can provide tremendous support and encouragement as shown by Timothy’s grandmother, Lois. Some have faithfully stepped in when the father of their grandchild is absent on Sundays. Scripture frequently speaks of the influence you may have on “your children’s children,” “from generation to generation.” Moses commanded the Israelites, upon their entrance to the Promised Land, “Take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren.” (Deuteronomy 4:9)

Grandparenthood is a unique relationship in the child’s life. Not as burdened with the day-to-day issues parents must handle, and seasoned with so much experience, Christian grandparents are often gifted with helping their grandchildren see the big picture of life from God’s perspective. They are also able to offer spiritual wisdom and direction for their own children in parenting, as Scripture directs, and as their children request. Some manage to get through to a grandchild spiritually when a parent is “too close” to the situation. St. Paul encourages the use of this godly influence in the church when he writes to Titus,

“Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” (Titus 2:2–5)

Single Christians & Couples without Children

The theme “Engaging Families with Jesus,” may cause us to overlook other very important groupings in our congregations: single Christians and those who have no children. They are frequently left out of our thinking, preaching and instruction when we think of families, though there are many in our congregations who use their talents and gifts in exceptional ways for the glory of God. It is noteworthy that the most well-known evangelist of the faith was himself a single man, whom God uses even today as the chief educator in the New Testament church by means of his epistles. St. Paul’s instruction shapes our understanding of the Gospel more than any other servant next to Christ. Despite never having had children, Paul refers to Titus, converted through his ministry, as “my true son in our common faith.”

The apostle saw great benefit in his status as a single Christian, when he writes, “I wish that all men were even as I myself” (I Corinthians 7:7). Having no earthly ties allowed him to be used by the Holy Spirit to be unhindered in serving the Gospel throughout the world, far and wide. His personal home-life could be entirely directed toward the evangelism of others outside the walls of his house or tent. How many dedicated single Christians, as well as married couples without children, have had an enormous impression on families and children through the ministry of God’s Word, as pastors, teachers, professors and other positions which support the church? In every congregation I have served, I was blessed to have very capable and willing servants such as these to assist me. While visiting one of my shut-ins who had never married, she showed me a well-worn list of nearly 25 names of those associated with the ministry in our local congregation and our synod. She said she prayed for everyone on this list every day that God would bless their work in His Kingdom. Her home served as the support system for the larger church family. I look forward to discovering in heaven just how efficacious were her many, many prayers.

Baptismal Sponsors

The practice of God-parents dates back very, very early in the church. Some believe it was started by St. Paul’s student, Dionysius. It is already mentioned by the time of Tertullian (160–225 AD), primarily in connection with adult baptisms during an era of persecution. Sponsors would publicly testify to the faithfulness of the convert to prevent the infiltration of those hoping to destroy the church.30 Christians have seen the benefit of sponsors to augment the spiritual work conducted in the home. Such a role may provide on-going evangelistic opportunities especially when a child grows delinquent in the faith. Sponsors should be sure to take advantage of this spiritual relationship as the parents initially intended.

Christian Schools: Supporting Heaven’s Little Embassies

Very early in the development of our predecessor church body, the Norwegian Synod, there was a strong dedication to the establishment of Christian schools to assist parents in this sacred endeavor. In his annual Synod report of 1875, Rev. Herman Amberg Preus declared:

A thoroughly Christian educational system is the chief of all conditions for our church body’s health and development in this country. But in the gross neglect thereof, in a non-Christian, irreligious, more or less worldly-minded training of our children and youth, I see the decay and destruction of our beloved church within a few generations. But if we are obedient to God’s will in this matter and faithfully do what God wills, then the children of our church will shine like diamonds in the crowns of saints in the kingdom above.31

At the 50th anniversary of the Norwegian Synod, Pres. U.V. Koren stated: “If there is any cause that is of supreme importance for us, a cause which the Synod now at the beginning of a new period should embrace with all its power and enthusiasm, it is the cause of schools for our children.”32

Historically the members of our church body took this directive to heart. Among the handful of congregations which re-organized in 1918 there was a much greater commitment to Christian schools for children than among the churches entering the Merger. In 1919 Pres. Bjug Harstad made a strong plea for the congregations to start schools for their children. In 1928, Rev. Norman Madson, Sr., who at first had entered the Merger, but joined our Synod within a few years, explained how this issue drew him to the ELS:

One of the reasons for my leaving the NLCA was its attitude toward the parochial school. As you all no doubt know, there is not to be found within this large church body a single Christian Day School. Our little Synod maintains at present seven such schools, and it is the earnest purpose of our Synod to establish such an institution in every congregation belonging to the Synod. … Every Christian should be interested in the proper indoctrination of the young. It is our only hope for the future.33

As we have seen through the centuries, members of local synagogues and Christian churches have organized to provide avenues for formal education in the faith for their children. When this occurs, it should never be viewed as a replacement for the instruction taking place in the home, but rather for augmentation. Formal classes are most effective when linked with parents who are committed to continue this instruction. Without the spiritual engagement of the parents through regular worship, nearly all potential gains for the child are nullified.34

Modeling the Faith—Modeling Repentance

Consider these familiar words from the Small Catechism in the context of the Christian home: “God’s name is hallowed when His Word is taught in its truth and purity, and we as children of God live holy lives according to it.” This explanation for the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, written by Luther, implies that the converse is therefore a corrosive danger to the proclamation of the name of God in the home. When parents do not strive to live holy lives according to God’s Word, they dishonor God and His name among their children, over whom they have the greatest influence. The first Dean of our synod’s seminary, Dr. Madson, preached rather pointedly to parents when he was in the parish:

There is no sin that is more severely condemned by the Savior of souls than the sin of hypocrisy. And why is that? Because it is so destructive in a twofold way. First of all, it blinds you to your own faults, and then it keeps many a poor soul that might be won for the Gospel away from it, because that poor soul judges the Christian Church by what you are. Can you think of a more vicious way to poison the heart and soul of a little child, than to speak piously of the word of God and the Church, only to be a living example of what a Christian should not be in your daily life? How telling are not the words of Emerson, who, when he heard a man speak very piously about a good cause, but of which the man’s own life was a total denial: “What you are speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say.”35

A teenage girl was sent to her pastor for having lied to her parents about her grades in school. During the talk she justified her sin by informing him that her dad often lied to police officers when stopped for speeding. Even though her father had told her numerous times not to lie, and even punished her for it, his own actions had over-ruled his instruction and established her attitude toward this sin. When the Holy Spirit addresses parents, He would have us view our personal lives in the home with an all-encompassing dedication to the faith. The instruction of our children is to be a natural part of everyday life, permeating all of our words and deeds. Bringing up our children in the faith is not to be limited to simply taking them to church or sending them to Confirmation classes. God calls upon parents to live out this faith in their daily lives, as living sermons for their children:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6–9)

Numerous surveys have indicated that one of the chief reasons listed by young people for abandoning their Christian faith is observing hypocrisy in those placed over them, whether it be parents, pastors or church leaders. When your spiritual overseer lives in a way that is inconsistent with the faith they hope to impress upon you, this undermines his/her guidance and instruction. The child views the authority of God and His Word through the authority of the parent. It is often not the sin itself that causes the damage, but how the sin is handled. Hypocrisy in a parent is like wearing a T-shirt that says, “God’s Word is not important,” while encouraging them to go to church and hear that Word. It militates against the very foundations of Scripture. When dad considers Hooters to be his favorite family restaurant, don’t be surprised when his children don’t take Christianity seriously. Mixed messages always work in Satan’s favor.

Knowing how weak and sinful we are as parents, and how we struggle with our own temptations, this burden of responsibility may cause us to throw up our hands in despair. However, God has the answer for our weakness: repentance and grace—repentance first and foremost before Him, but also repentance before our children. When they witness our sin, we must be sure to explain how we struggle and need the grace of God every day. If our sin was directly against them, we also must seek their forgiveness. This will model the Christian life. Here the doctrine of saint and sinner (simil justis et peccator) plays itself out in very real terms inside our homes, and keeps everything in proper balance. Your authority as a Christian parent is never undermined when you admit to your failings in the light of God’s Word. It is only enhanced.

My mother was an amazing Christian woman. I cannot think of a single instance in my life when she sinned in front of me. (As an adult I was shocked to learn she had a reputation for a certain sin as a young girl.) Yet, during my upbringing, she managed to convey to me that she was undeserving of God’s grace, and had a deep need for her Savior. Your children do not have to witness your sin, or know details about it, but they do need to know you have sin, and that you deal with it at the foot of the cross through Word and Sacrament. As one of our senior pastors once said, “Lift up the corner of the rug of your life so that your children know there is dirt under it, but don’t show them the whole pile.”

Our children need to know that the Absolution of Christ is precious to us because of our desperate and fallen condition. To paraphrase Norwegian Bishop, J.C. Huech: “It will never hurt the children to see their father or mother reaching for the cross of Christ with the same trembling hand as they do.” Tell your children that the Means of Grace are important all you want, but if it is not backed up by modeling this in your own life, these will be empty words. When repentance is expressed or displayed in the home, this also keeps the regenerated new man as the dominant spiritual figure before the child’s eyes. We strive very hard, as we ought, not to sin in front of our children, yet they do need to know that we are fellow beggars with them who hunger for—and can also lead them to—the Bread of Life.

At times this can play itself out even in extreme circumstances. I have dealt with and heard about Christian parents who have struggled greatly with sins of drunkenness, drug abuse, pornography, anger, and even infidelity, but who, by the grace of God, bowed before Him in sincere repentance and desired to produce fruits of a changed of heart. Though their children may have known about and were often troubled by their sins, they still retained a level of respect when they knew their parent was penitent for his/her failings. In their eyes this keeps everything in its proper order.

The Authority Book Case

Imagine a four-shelf bookcase sitting in the family room of a Christian home. On the top shelf is a copy of the Bible. Its position represents God’s authority over all other books on the rows beneath it. On the shelf beneath Holy Scripture are two books representing the desires, wishes and will of the parents in the family. They are entitled, “The Book of What Mom Wants,” and “The Book of What Dad Wants.” On the lower shelves are similar books for the children, “The Book of What Junior Wants,” etc. When a parent openly disobeys the Word of God, in essence they have removed Scripture from its top position of authority, dropped it down a few shelves, and moved their own personal book into its place.

This shuffling of books sends a confusing message to the children. Mom and dad may claim, “God’s Word is important,” and yet the child can clearly see that there is a different book now replacing Scripture. There is a new standard sitting on the top shelf in the home. The child naturally feels entitled to take his own book also and move it to the top shelf. The parents’ claim of Scripture’s supremacy now appears to be hollow. This is why divorce, for instance, is often so spiritually devastating to children. Despite what their parents may say, they can now see that at least one of the parents (if not both) have removed Scripture from its top position and replaced it with another standard. The child reasons, “Why should I care about what the Bible says if my parent doesn’t seem to care? Why go back to church?” God has been deposed of His seat of authority. Satan’s first temptation in the Garden of Eden has won out in the mind of the child. People have become like God.

However, every time this takes place, even in extreme cases like divorce, there is a simple way of putting things right: sincere repentance. When the offending parent acknowledges his/her sin before the child, lets them know that what they have done is against the will of God, that they are sorry, and in need of God’s grace, they again put Scripture back on the top shelf. Heaven’s order is restored. Even if the marriage is beyond the point of being salvaged, the child at least observes the parent placing God back in the position of authority.

God demands that we be perfect parents. This only happens through repentance and faith in Christ. Our Lord’s Active Obedience—His keeping of God’s holy Law in our place—is the only real comfort we have when we consider our roles as mothers and fathers, and the awesome task He has given us in the home. In Him we are perfect, absolutely holy parents. Our Lord Jesus is the perfect husband to His Bride, the Church. Through faith He has sanctified her, cleansing Her with the washing with water through the Word, to present Her to Himself as a glorious Church, without stain or wrinkle, but holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25–27). When children witness this confession of Christ active in the hearts and lives of their mothers and fathers through repentance and faith, they are truly blessed to live with perfect parents.

Satan’s Attacks on God’s Embassy

Since the Christian home is designed and constructed by God, where souls are engaged with Christ for their salvation, this means it will be the most assaulted institution on earth. You can see how important home-evangelism is in the life of the church by how much time and energy the devil hurls against it. He sends his troops to surround God’s embassy, and make his entrance through any window, door, chimney, computer screen or crack in the wall he can find. From Satan’s perspective what happens here in a Christian home is so detrimental to the cause of Hell that it simply must be annihilated. Let us focus on four of the main weapons in his arsenal:

1. Modern Culture

Luther often referred to the Gospel moving through the world like a passing summer rain. It would stay over a land for a time, but as people grew apathetic it would move on to another place, vacating the previous country. This is such an accurate picture of Europe where churches once filled to capacity are now empty museums. One can only wonder how long it will be until the ungodly culture surrounding us pushes the Gospel away to other lands. It is less and less appreciated among our population. A study published by the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology in the spring of 2005, reports that in 1950 their denomination reached one new adult convert for every 19 members in the church. In 1978 that rate had dropped to one convert for every 36 church members. By 2003 the ratio was 43 to 1.36

Coinciding with a growing spiritual apathy in the US, has come a decline of morality that has had a devastating impact on the church. Gone are the days when the major motion picture industry somewhat embraced, and even celebrated many of the Biblical beliefs that presented marriage and family as a blessing from God (“It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Father Knows Best,” etc.). The media at one time even glorified family cohesion and the joys of marriage. In 1953, McCall’s magazine reported that less than 10% of the US adult population thought an unmarried person could be happy. The article went on to encourage people to marry young and raise a large family. Today, similar avenues of communication have become weapons of attack on this very same set of beliefs and ridicules them, from almost every angle. The television industry has taken the lead role producing shows, such as “The New Normal” (an NBC series based around a gay couple hoping to have a child—now cancelled due to low viewership).

As difficult as things may have been for those of us who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the challenges our Christian youth face today in regard to their faith are even more intense. Their peers, academic institutions, the media and the youth culture are growing more and more antagonistic against the beliefs confessed in their homes. Christian beliefs are openly mocked in primetime television shows. Christian youth are being shaken to the core. In his book, You Lost Me, researcher David Kinnaman of the Barna Group states, “Our research … leads me to believe that the next generation of Christians has a … crisis of confidence in institutions, including government, the workplace, education, and marriage, as well as the church.” He categorizes Christian youth who have fallen away from the church into three groups:

Nomads—who walk away from church engagement but still consider themselves Christians.

Prodigals—who lose their faith, and describe themselves as “no longer Christian.”

Exiles—who are still invested in their Christian faith but feel stuck (or lost) between the pressures of their culture and the church.37 (It is this group where most of our ELS & WELS teens would fall today –DM).

The guidance we provide around our dinner tables is more crucial than ever. A shallow faith will not survive these cultural pressures. God does not command that we remove our children from the world, but rather teach them how to live in it while holding on to Christ, the Light of the world. For decades, standing up for the Biblical teaching of creation has made young Christians a target of ridicule by those who consider such beliefs to be ignorant. However, standing up for the Biblical teachings on present day matters of sexual morality have made young Christians targets of ridicule as “bigots,” which is a much more challenging label to bear. It is easier to live with the tag of “stupid” than it is to live with the tag of “hateful.” In this way there is a stronger emotional force that accompanies the tensions our young people are facing. Like the pressure Peter felt in the Temple courtyard, some have begun to deny or even abandon their relationship to Christ and His Word for fear of being ostracized by society.

2. Divorce

Retired Oklahoma Governor, Frank Keating, once said, “Today it is easier to get out of a marriage than a Tupperware contract.” Our society has made the dissolution of the marital union so simple and commonplace that the church has caved in on holding people to the vows they have made before God and the witness of the church. We are not immune in our own little synod. One of our dedicated ELS Christian day school teachers commented that by 5th grade (age 10) already one third of her students (mostly from the congregation) were from broken homes. This is among our most dedicated members. It has had devastating results on both parents and children. Veith writes:

The breakdown of the family has had catastrophic effects at every level. It is difficult for children to develop any sense of continuity and permanence when the most basic institution of their lives has no stability.38

The shame of divorce often drives one or both spouses away from the church. Rarely does an entire family stay regular in worship following the breakup. The divorced parent, who only gets the child on a weekend, will be very unlikely to spend his/her precious little time in church with the child during that stay. The devil knows what he is doing. Divorce erects an enormous impediment to spiritual life. Unlike our Lord Jesus who is the Great Healer, Satan is the Great Divider, with his sights set on the home. Dr. Judith Wallerstein conducted a massive 25-year study on the fallout of divorce in our society. She summarizes that children, both young and old, who experience divorce by their parents, develop a “broken template” toward all aspects of adult life. It shakes a person’s foundation and erodes confidence in all they once stood upon. 39 The church is a primary arena where this “brokenness” plays itself out.

The subject of divorce is so personal to many in our churches. One member told me she would avoid coming to church on the Second Sunday in Epiphany (Gospel: The Wedding at Cana) because it is “too difficult to sit through.” Pastors must help pick up the pieces of shattered homes, through the gentle use of Law and Gospel. The personal aspect of divorce makes it even more difficult for shepherds to address. David Scaer provides this assessment:

Divorce, even for a valid cause, is a tragedy and spawns other tragedies. A visiting pastor has an advantage in preaching about marriage and the family. What he says cannot be taken personally because he does not know the people directly. … The church, however, lives under the tension of knowing that the world has a morality it cannot condone but often cannot change.40

We must be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We must take the time and energy to preserve this blessed gift of marriage, and teach our members how to recognize its significance. Husbands and wives must learn that the best way to love their children is to go home and love each other. It will never hurt the family to spend time, money and attention on keeping the marriage strong. A senior pastor in our synod once suggested that it would benefit the congregation to give each married couple enough money to spend one romantic weekend together each year. Couples must also learn to get past their pride, and seek help before problems get out of hand and they lose respect for each other. In the same way that Christ has made it His primary concern to invest in the eternal happiness of His Bride, may we strive to do the same in our marriages so God may use this blessed estate for both temporal and eternal good.

3. Twisted Education

When addressing this convention in 1953, Rev. Milton E. Tweit, stated:

It is very plain that (Christ) has never asked to give the training of your children into the hands of any persons or agency which leaves Him out of consideration. … (A child’s) training …will take on a certain flavor. Milk or butter left uncovered will soon absorb any odor or flavor near it. Children will take on the flavor, that is, the outlook and point of view of their teachers. If it is a Christian teacher, it will be a Christian outlook and way of life. If is it a worldly teacher, it will be worldly.41

Public schooling in America was at one time almost supportive of the Christian faith. Elderly members recall memorizing the 23rd Psalm or the Lord’s Prayer in their schools (I’m not suggesting we should return to that practice). During my childhood in the 1960’s & 1970’s the public elementary and secondary schools were rather neutral toward religion. Today, however, we must face the reality that our public school system is at times taking stands against the very faith we instill in our children. This does not mean a Christian family cannot use them, or that it is sinful to have our children attend them. It also does not mean that those teaching in the public schools are non-Christian. In fact, rather, we should thank God for the many devout Christian men and women who continue to serve their Lord through such a vocation, even from our own congregations. Many faithful public school teachers live out their Christian faith in this God-pleasing vocation each day. We pray that they may continue to be the salt that seasons our nation’s schools with their Christian presence. However, we must also be on our guard for potential intrusions into the minds of our children through educational philosophies that undermine Scripture.

Exhibit A: Dr. Daniel C. Dennett is considered to be a leading scholar in American Education. He is known particularly as a specialist in the field of cognitive development for children. He is frequently interviewed on PBS, has authored over three hundred published articles on the direction our schools should take, and is highly sought as a speaker. His chilling words represent the mindset of many who are the leading experts in this field:

If you want to teach your children that they are the tools of God … If you insist on teaching your children false-hoods—that the Earth is flat, that ‘Man’ is not a product of evolution by natural selection—then you must expect, at the very least, that those of us who have freedom of speech will feel free to describe your teachings as the spreading of falsehoods, and will attempt to demonstrate this to your children at our earliest opportunity. Our future well-being—the well-being of all of us on the planet—depends on the education of our descendants.42

We minimize the danger of Dennett’s words when we see them only as an assault on the doctrine of creation. They are, but they are more importantly an assault on God, on the authority of Scripture, on faith, and—in a related way—on Christian parenthood. They are a declaration of war on the evangelism which occurs in the home. This is not neutrality. Some educators have gone so far as to suggest that teaching your child the Biblical doctrine of creation is equal to child abuse. Though we may not see this ideology playing itself out blatantly in our local schools, it does remind us that Christian parents must constantly be on their guard with what their children are learning, and how it may be corrosive to their faith. Many wonderful Christian fathers and mothers choose to utilize our public education system every day. May God give them due diligence so that the faith carefully planted in the hearts of their children is not being destroyed by those who consider such instruction “the spreading of falsehoods.”

Luther expressed great concern over Satan’s influence in the schools of Germany, if a child’s education was devoid of Biblical instruction:

(Preventing children from studying the Word of God) seems to me to be a real masterpiece of the devil’s art. He sees that in our time he cannot do what he would like to do; therefore he intends to have his way with our offspring. Before our very eyes he is preparing them so that they will learn nothing and know nothing. Then when we are dead, he will have before him a naked, bare, defenseless people with whom he can do as he pleases.43

Quite often it is not until junior high or high school when a difference in philosophy becomes more apparent. A major study conducted by the Barna Group, reported two strikingly polarizing trends among Christian young people:

  1. Teenagers are some of the most religiously active Americans.
  2. American twenty-somethings are the least religiously active.44, 45

These findings corroborate the research of Gallup Polls which reported that the average Christian has stronger Biblical beliefs at age 16 than he/she will at age 24.46 There are numerous factors which cause this stage of life to be so challenging for young believers. Many Christians have observed that the higher one moves in public academic institutions there is a stronger suction to remove the Christian faith out of our youth. It has had a devastating effect on the church. Ages 17–24 are absolutely crucial for most young Christians when it comes to retaining the faith instilled in them by their parents. When a grown child finally prepares to leave the heavenly embassy for further education, at whose feet will he/she be seated? Will they be instructors who respect and support the fact that you have spent the past eighteen years engaging your child with the teachings of Christ? How many souls have been sacrificed on the altar of our universities in recent decades?

4. Anonymous Adultery

In his attacks on God’s embassy, Satan has frequently challenged the core relationship between a husband and wife with temptations of infidelity. He now has found a new weapon for destruction. The computer, coupled with the inter-net, may be the most well designed tool to date for corrupting and obliterating marriage. Under the shield of supposed anonymity the browser is permitted to seek out and participate in activity which infects the soul and annihilates trust in the marriage bond established by God. For men this danger is primarily a temptation of visual and physical lust. For women the temptation is more often emotional in nature, by exploring virtual “friendships.”

Though lust has been with us since the Fall into Sin, Satan’s use of the internet today has added a new dimension in our times. Thirty years ago one had to go out into public to purchase a magazine, or enter a strip club. For most, the public shame was enough of a shield against such activity. The web has now made such immoral imagery so accessible, and secret, so one can easily view it in the privacy of a home or dorm room without anyone’s knowledge. Activity once only associated with “low-lifes” and “perverts” is now taking place in homes of decent, upstanding citizens and Christian families—a temptation that is just as powerful on the godly as the ungodly. It has become a spiritual epidemic that seeks to destroy both marriage and the soul. Due to the private and shameful nature of these sins they are often rarely addressed in the church or even the family. The embarrassment and stigma causes a silence and isolation, which Satan seeks to capitalize. Many Christian teenage boys and men—and a growing number of women—are trapped in this evil stronghold, or live under a cloud of self-loathing, which tends to push them from Christ, some even question whether they have true Christian faith. Dr. James Dobson claims that dealing with this guilt is one of the main reasons why young Christian men give up on the struggle, and finally avoid the church. The proliferation of pornography has also contributed to a longer delay in getting married, or the avoidance of marriage entirely. Many twenty and thirty-year olds are choosing to live a life of suspended adolescence, which our modern culture is more than willing to encourage and accommodate.

We must avoid becoming desensitized to this spiritual cancer. Inter-net infidelity undermines the gift of marriage. It causes the user to feel less of an attraction—physical or emotional—toward his/her spouse. St. Paul describes how these sins ultimately defame and degrade the believer’s body, which is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:12–20). When having fallen to these attacks, one must avoid the route taken by Judas, imagining that his/her sin is too great, and that it is beyond the ability of Christ to forgive (I John 1:8–2:2). This is Satan’s greatest lie. “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7).47

Luther’s Catechisms: Foundation for the Christian Home

Years before authoring the 95 theses, Martin Luther had already published tracts on teaching the faith in the home, as well as explanations on how to conduct family devotions. These pamphlets were accompanied by a series of sermons on evangelism in the home. Once the Reformation was underway, Luther visited numerous parishes in Saxony, and discovered how few families or pastors knew even the basics of the Christian faith. He wrote:

Good God, what wretchedness I beheld! The common people, especially those who live in the country, have no knowledge whatever of Christian teaching, and unfortunately many pastors are quite incompetent and unfitted for teaching. Although the people are supposed to be Christian, are baptized, and receive the holy sacrament, they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments, they live as if they were pigs and irrational beasts, and now that the Gospel has been restored they have mastered the fine art of abusing liberty. … I therefore beg of you for God’s sake, my beloved brethren who are pastors and preachers, that you take the duties of your office seriously, that you have pity on the people who are entrusted to your care, and that you help me to teach the catechism to the people, especially to those who are young.48

Luther quickly saw the need for creating educational materials for parents, culminating in the publication of the catechisms in 1529. Regarding the use of these books, he wrote: “It is… the duty, then, of every father of a family to question his children and servants at least once a week and hear what they know or have learned of it, and when they do not know it, earnestly insist that they learn it.”

Preparing your child to receive the Holy Sacrament of the Altar was of utmost importance to Luther. In a sermon from 1528, he exhorts parents:

Hence, you parents and heads of families, invite your subordinates to this Sacrament: and we shall demand an account of you if you neglect it. If you will not go yourselves, let the young go; we are much concerned about them. When they come, we shall learn, by examining them, how you instruct them in the Word as prescribed. Hence, do come frequently to the Sacrament, and also admonish your children to do so when they have reached the age of discretion. For in this way we want to learn who are Christians, and who are not. if you will not do so, we shall speak to you on the subject. For even though you older people insist on going to the devil, we shall still inquire about your children. Necessity: because sin, the devil, and death are ever present. Benefit: because the remission of sin and the Holy Spirit are received.49

In his Small Catechism, the first table began with this note from Luther: “The Ten Commandments, as the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.” F. Bente explains his thought-process:

(Luther) realized that besides the Large Catechism, parents were in need of a text-book containing questions and answers, adapted for catechizing the children on the meaning of each part of the Catechism. This, too, was the reason why the Small Catechism was rapidly completed before the Large, which had been begun first. Luther intended parents to use it, first of all for their own instruction and edification, but also for the purpose of enabling them to discharge their duty by their children and household. … (The Small Catechism) was to be placed into the hands of the children, who were to use and memorize it at home, and to bring it with them for instruction in the church. … Luther was accustomed to direct his admonition to partake of the Lord’s Supper diligently also to children, and that, too, to children of comparatively tender years.50

In his preface, the great reformer advocated that once the children had committed the words to memory, they should then be taught the meaning. And, he adds, “if any refuse to receive your instruction, tell them that they deny Christ and are no Christians.” (To emphasize his point, Luther even suggested that parents and employers should refuse to furnish them with food and drink, and the prince should banish them from his land.) Rev. Johannes Bugenhagen suggested that little children as young as eight-years old, once they have received this catechetical instruction in the Sacrament, should be allowed to commune. Luther also admonished the learned scholars and pastors not to be so presumptuous to think they know everything, but to go through these basic truths so that one’s faith would remain fresh and “not be overgrown by mildew.” The Catechisms, both Large and Small, continue to be great blessings for the church. Luther’s gift of placing such sacred truths into simple, concise statements has helped to guide the church for nearly 500 years. May we continue to utilize this treasure for generations to come.

Doing The Little Things: Suggestions for Our Homes

In a sermon on Jesus’ miracle at the wedding of Cana, Dr. Madson writes,

We are so prone to imagine that it is only in life’s big occasions that great things may be done. There are many who are willing to do something also for the kingdom of Christ when they can be along in big movements, do things which even the unbelieving world must take note of and admire. But, oh, how few are willing to do those things which are common and unobserved! It is comparatively easy to do those things which are admitted to be great by all who see them. But it is not so easy to do those things which are considered little or of no importance by the vast majority. How many see the importance of daily devotions in their homes? How many see the blessings which come to the church of God through the daily instruction in a congregational school? How many are ready to give of their little gifts that the word of life may be brought to those who still sit in darkness in the shadow of death?51

Having been raised in a house with wonderful, dedicated Christian parents, who provided us with twice-daily family devotions, I can think of no better way to carry out this evangelistic task. The most tattered books they handed down to me were “The Family Altar,” Laache’s “Book of Family Prayer,” and “Little Visits with God.” Yes, there were times when I wanted to sing a shorter closing hymn so I could get out to the baseball field. However, the few minutes we spent together each day in our devotions were some of the best memories of family life. Our morning breakfast devotion was simply the reading of a prayer for each day (ELH, pp. 166–171). The phrases of those prayers still resonate in my memory.

Home should be a place where the young can ask spiritual questions, and have them discussed in the light of God’s holy Word. Devotions serve as a “Christian filter” on all the events of the day. So often, parenting lends itself to being primarily a Law function. Studies show that the most frequently spoken word parents say to their little children is “No.” Having regular devotions helps mothers and fathers import the Gospel into parenting, which, as Luther says, is an alien doctrine in the minds of us all. Daily instruction in the Gospel also brings with it the side benefit of peace in family relations. Teaching a loving obedience toward our gracious heavenly Father carries with it obedience to our earthly mothers and fathers. If time does not allow for a full meditation reading, the Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful way to keep your family focused on Christ and His Word. It is amazing how much our Lord has packed into seven petitions that take only 30 seconds to pray. Analyze it closely and you will see that it deals with nearly every aspect of family life. An entire paper could also be written on the use of hymns in the home. Another wonderful opportunity for spiritual instruction takes place when a child has done wrong. Upon absolving your child, add God’s absolution along with your personal forgiveness, connecting it all back to the cross.

My father impressed upon us children that he was not responsible for having us believe—that job, he said, belonged to the Holy Spirit. However, he stated clearly that he was responsible for placing us where this activity could take place. It was well-understood in our home that while we lived under their roof our parents would require us to be sitting in the Lord’s house on Sunday morning, regardless of how late we came in on a Saturday night. Today it frustrates pastors to see parents abdicate their authority once the child is confirmed, imagining they no longer have a say in the matter of church attendance. We must teach them to retain spiritual control in the home. They have the right to say about worship, “This is a non-negotiable issue.” Think how meaningless the child’s Sunday soccer and basketball leagues will seem to everyone on the Day of Judgment. Trying to be the lenient parent in their youth may be the very attitude that undermines their relation with Christ. Satan beams with joy when he sees parents place a higher priority on a child’s batting average than his connection to Christ.

At the same time we must stay balanced and avoid cramming religion down the throats of our children. The last card you should play when they challenge you is to say, “Because I said so,” although this must be played if necessary. Explain to your child the responsibilities God has given you as part of your parental love, so they understand the reasons and motives you have for “forcing” them to go to church.

The best teaching method is by example. May our children learn to love their Savior and His Word, by seeing it reflected in our love for Him. As a wonderful Christian father once told me, “You cannot push someone with a rope, but you can pull them along with you.”

Having grown up in a parsonage, let me suggest some particular thoughts for pastors as well as other leaders in the church: My father never burdened us children with his Call. I never remember him saying to us, “You can’t do that because you are the pastor’s child.” The reasons for our obedience always had to do with Christ, and what it meant to be a Christian, not because we were “p.k.s.” We do not want the children of our pastors (or teachers, or deacons) to grow up resenting the church due to an additional burden placed upon them that they did not request. My father also was careful not to talk about the negative aspects of his work in front of us. It was not until I became an adult that I learned of some of the struggles he endured in the ministry. When I asked him why he had never mentioned this when we were young he answered, “I didn’t want you to grow up with a bad attitude about the church, the synod or the college.” We must be careful not to taint our child’s view of the church or the ministry by complaining about a meager salary, the size of the parsonage, or how certain members of the council treat us. God has given us wives and fellow pastors for such conversations.


Though we may chastise the reformed churches for placing too much emphasis on matters of marriage and home, I believe modern Confessional Lutheranism has been somewhat negligent in seeing the importance family issues hold for our members and how they impact the life of the church. In our own ELS, throughout all the years of our Lutheran Synod Quarterly (nearly 200 issues, containing 800–900 writings) we have offered only 3 theological papers that deal directly with family life: one paper was published on divorce (from nearly 50 years ago), one dealt with the training of children pertaining to Sunday School materials, and two papers were offered on marriage. Despite providing numerous devotional books for families, our Bethany Bookstore carries only four Lutheran books on parenting, four on marriage, and one on surviving divorce, amidst the nearly one thousand books on its shelves.

These subjects tend to fall under the realm of sanctification and third use of the Law, which we certainly do not want to become the main focus of our theology. Still, the question needs to be asked: Have we underestimated the importance of these issues in the life of the church, especially in the challenging times we face? Dr. Luther managed to deal with issues of home-life very thoroughly, Biblically and doctrinally while keeping the spotlight on Christ and the Gospel.

Since these matters confront us primarily with the Law, highlighting family issues both in marriage and parenting can cause two unhealthy reactions in us: a self-righteous pride in how we have raised have our children (“God, I thank you I’m not like other parents”); or despair over our many failures in the home. May God’s Word properly bring us to our spiritual knees to see that all of us are weak, heavy laden and covered with a load of sin when examining ourselves in His holy Law. Then may we find our only consolation in being lifted up by His mercy in Christ, our brother in the flesh, and our Bridegroom who has given us His perfect record as our own in the marital waters of Baptism. May that same comforting Word of God guide and direct us so that our homes may be embassies of the eternal kingdom He has prepared for us. How wonderful it is to know, that “as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” (Psalm 103:13)



1 Painter, Luther on Education, pp. 116–117

2 Scaer, D., In Christ, vol. 1—Sermons, Concordia Catechetical Academy, 2004, p. 240

3 Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 45, p. 46

4 CFW Walther, God Grant It, CPH, p. 116

5 Schaeffer, F., How Should We Then Live?, Fleming H. Revell Co., NJ, 1976

6 All from Painter, Luther on Education, pp. 115–120

7 Tweit, M. E., 1953 Synod Convention Essay, p. 35

8 Luther, M., Luther’s Works, vol. I, Lectures on Genesis, p. 328

9 Walther, CFW, found in At Home in the House of My Fathers, M. Harrison, p. 147

10 Josephus, Antiquities 4:8, 48

11 Kessel, Wm., Children in the Bible, Lutheran Synod Quarterly, 1991, XXXI, #4

12 Edersheim, A., Sketches of Jewish Social Life, p. 99ff

13 Edersheim, A., (quoted by Martin Galstad in “The Value of a Child” Convention essay,

14 Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, Barnes and Noble Books, 1995, p. 240

15 Apology to the Augsburg Confession, XXIII, The Book of Concord, Tappert, CPH, p. 240–241

16 Laache, N., The Book of Family Prayer, Luth. Synod Book Co., trans. M. DeGarmeaux, 2000, p. 117

17 Luther, M., found in Luther on Education , Painter, pp. 113–114

18 Painter, pp. 119–120

19 Haake, Arthur H., The Pastor at Work, Concordia Publishing House, 1960, p. 271

20 The Truth About Men & the Church, on-line: Touchstone, a Journal of Mere Christianity, June, 2003, publ. by Fellowship of St. James

21 Ibid.

22 see Appendix A for a short survey taken on Bethany’s campus

23 Veith, G. & M. Moerbe, Family Vocations, p. 127

24 Ibid. p. 128

25 Luther, M., Commentary on the Prophet Zechariah

26 Blankenhorn, D., Fatherless America, pp. 1–3

27 I encourage parents to read an ELS Circuit 12 Conference paper by Rev. G. Obenberger, Enabling Adult Children’s Apostasy

28 Painter, pp. 123–124

29 Veith and Moerbe, p. 127

30 Schmeling, G., Baptism: My Adoption into God’s Family, Northwestern Publ. House, 1999, p. 30

31 Galstad, M., 1936 Synod Convention essay, The Value of a Child

32 Koren, U.V., found in Grace for Grace, Lutheran Synod Book Co., 1953, p. 80

33 Madson, N.A. Sr., “Jubilee Souvenir” booklet, p. 32, from G. Orvick: The History of the Christian Day School in the ELS

34 Anecdotally: Not many years ago an official from the Wisconsin Synod mentioned that a study was conducted regarding the worship lives of those who had attended the WELS school system all the way through high school. The survey discovered that despite all of this religious instruction, if the parents did not go to church, children from these homes, once they became adults, did not attend church. In fact they were just as delinquent as children from homes of delinquent members who had never attended their schools. In other words, if church attendance is lacking in the parents, all the benefits of placing your child at the feet of dedicated Lutheran educators day after day are virtually wiped out. There are very few “success stories” from such homes. When parents place the spiritual teaching of their child entirely and completely into the hands of others, the child disengages from the church. However, where the parents are demonstrating a commitment to the Gospel through regular worship, coupling this with a formal Christian education will most often bring great rewards.

35 Madson, N. A., Sr., Morning Bells, Lutheran Synod Book Co., 2008, p. 227, from a sermon on Matt. 7:1–6

36 Rainer, T. S., Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Spring, 2005, on-line:

37 Kinnaman, D., You Lost Me, pp. 14ff

38 Veith, G. E., Postmodern Times, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1994, p. 144

39 Wallerstein, J., The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, Hyperion Books, NY, 2000, p. 62

40 Scaer, D., In Christ, p. 25

41 Tweit, M. E., Synod Convention essay, 1953, p. 41

42 Dennett, D., Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, 1995, Simon & Schuster

43 Luther, M., Luther’s Works, vol. 46, p. 217

44 Kinnaman, p.

45 see Appendix B, the Spiritual Stages of Adolescence

46 Gallup, G. Jr., The Religiosity Cycle, Gallup Polls at

47 See Appendix C

48 Teigen, BW, 1979 Synod Convention Essay

49 Luther, M., found in Bente’s Historical Introductions to the Symbolical Books, Concordia Triglotta, CPH, 1921, p. 82

50 Ibid., p. 82

51 Madson, N., Morning Bells, p. 69

Appendix A: Fathers & Church Attendance

103 Bethany Students participated in the survey, taken in May, 2013

Among the 8 who say they have never gone to church in 2013:
6 said their fathers likewise have never gone to church in 2013
one said his/her father has gone to church 4–5 times in 2013
and one said his/her father goes to church nearly every Sunday
Among the 12 students who have gone to church once or twice in 2013:
5 said their fathers never go, or have only gone once or twice in 2013
4 said their father has gone to church 4–5 times in 2013
3 said their father goes to church every Sunday
Among the 38 students who have gone to church 4–5 times in 2013:
23 said their father attends church almost every Sunday
11 said their father has attended church 4–5 times in 2013
4 said their father never attends church
Among the 45 students who have gone to church nearly every Sunday in 2013:
43 said their father attends church nearly every Sunday
2 said their father has attended church once or twice in 2013

Appendix B: Spiritual Trends in the Stages of Adolescence

Early Adolescence (ages 12–14) Age of Confirmation
Identity is strongly determined by the opinion of their peers
Great need for concrete examples of Biblical doctrines / less able to grasp the abstract
Still strongly identify with parent’s influence in spiritual matters
Boredom with “same old stories” from Sunday School which seem “too childish”
Beginning to feel the guilt over sexual feelings, and embarrassed by the subject (Especially teenage boys go through an intense internal struggle)
Greatly worried about how they are seen by peers—if they are “too Christian”
Tend to “hide” their faith for fear of not fitting in
PK’s sometimes rebel to show their independence into “adulthood” (“I will not be defined by my dad.”)
Typically self-focused, lessons applied to them personally are the most relevant
Despite some questions about the Bible, they have a general high-regard for Scripture
Topic of death is almost irrelevant, unless it has struck near them recently
Mid Adolescence (ages 15–16)
Males: Intense guilt over increased sexual desire (“Is it easier to give up, than to face God?”)
Strong period of questioning authority—parental, governmental and even Divine
Less parental control or influence; enjoying the freedom of making their own choices
Attempt to pick apart Christian teachings or concepts to show their independence
More willing to engage in arguments about religious & moral subjects (this does not necessarily mean throwing them aside, but often for “exploring”)
Assuming “ownership” of their own spiritual life and values
Religion is associated with parents’ influence—they may wish to separate from this to show their independence
More capable of grasping abstract teachings of Biblical doctrine
Concept of life coming to an end is still far removed from their thinking
Acutely aware of “hypocrisy” in others, such as parents, teachers, pastors, etc.
Late Adolescence (Ages 17 to early 20’s)
Greater independence from parents’ spiritual care
With move toward more intimate relationships, a willingness to include spiritual direction in the relationship, or move away from it
Less rebellion toward parents and other authority
Some developing an appreciation for their Christian training as they meet others in the world
Beginning to connect proper Christian choices for their future
Some humility about self is beginning to return (note the word “some”)
Becoming more aware of their own weaknesses
More easily tempted by humanistic thought as they search for truth
Begin to think in terms of serving others
Increased focus on personal future

Appendix C: Pornography: Steps to Take in This Spiritual Vattle

  1. Recognize the spiritual warfare at play. This is not just a physiological or psychological matter, but primarily a spiritual matter. It is a battle for the soul. Our struggle is with an evil enemy of our faith (Ephesians 6:10–18).
  2. Understand the wonderful, cleansing nature of repentance. This is what causes the angels to rejoice. Though you may be have fallen, and are considered a “scum–bag” in the eyes of others, yet, through repentance and faith in Christ you are now seen by the Father in the same way He views His own Son, in whom He is well-pleased (Luke 23:39–43). One may lose physical virginity through fornication, but through repentance may regain spiritual virginity, which is of much greater value to God.
  3. Be comforted by the grace and mercy of Christ. May the pain in your conscience cause you to crave the forgiveness of your Savior, who shed His blood for sins just like this. Wrap yourself in His Gospel. When the prodigal son returned to his father, even before he could utter a word, the dad fell on him with his forgiveness (Luke 15).
  4. Arm yourself with God’s Word and prayer. St. Paul’s instructions exhort us to prepare ourselves for spiritual battle. All of the pieces of this armor are actually Christ Himself (Ephesians 6:13–18).
  5. 5) Seek help by talking to other Christians. All of us are stones in the Church, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone. This is all held together with the mortar of Christian love and concern. We should utilize this strength in numbers. Satan is ecstatic when we think we can fight this battle on our own (Colossians 3:15–17).
  6. Find ways to bring light and transparency to this issue. As children of light we are to live in the light of God’s truth, and not hide under the cover of darkness in which Satan can easily dominate us (Ephesians 5:8–20). (See
  7. Establish boundaries to protect yourself. Set up screens of protection: where you keep your computer, having your door open for others to see what you are doing, etc. Small preventative steps taken in the beginning may help to diminish the gravity of the temptation.


Bente, Gerhard Friedrich, Historical Introductions to the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Concordia Triglotta, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 1921

Blankenhorn, David, Fatherless in America, 1995, Harper Collins Publishers

Edersheim, Alfred, Sketches of Jewish Social Life, Hendrickson Publishers, 1994, Peabody, Massachusetts

Galstad, Martin, The Value of a Child, essay found in the 1936 Synod Report

Ham, Ken and Beemer, Britt, Already Gone, by, Master Books Publishing, 2009

Kessel, William, Children in the Bible, Lutheran Synod Quarterly, vol. 31, issue #4, December, 1991

Kinnaman, David, You Lost Me, 2011, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI

Kretzmann, Paul E., What Do We Owe to Our Children? essay in the ELS 1951 Synod Report.

Luther, Martin, The Estate of Marriage, Luther’s Works, vol. 45, The Christian in Society, trans. by Walther I. Brandt, Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia, 1962

Luther, Martin, A Sermon on Keeping Children in School, Luther’s Works, vol. 46, The Christian in Society, trans. by Charles Jacobs, Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia, 1962

Obenberger, Glenn, Enabling Adult Children’s Apostasy, Tacoma, WA, delivered at the ELS Circuits 11 & 12 Pastoral Conference, 2009

Painter, F. V. N., Luther on Education, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO

Tweit, Milton, The Christ We Want Our Children to Worship, Synod Essay, ELS Synod Report, 1953

Veith, Jr., Gene Edward, Jr. and Moerbe, Mary J., Family Vocation, , Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 2012

On-line sources:

Low, Robbie, The Truth About Men & Church, (Church of England), Touchstone, 2013, The Fellowship of St. James

Gallup Poll

Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society: Judaism

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