(This is part 2 of a multi part series on transferring faith and doctrine to our children. Read the first part before continuing with this. It serves as background for what is discussed here.)
Taking up the challenge of transferring doctrine to the next generation as set out in Psalm 78 is a huge responsibility and not something to be taken lightly. In a previous discussion on this, I pointed out that we do this because it is a command from God, and not a choice to either do it or not. The question is how do we approach this very daunting task ahead of us?
I would like to discuss this from a very well known passage in Scripture, but one I think we do not always integrate into our daily lives (mainly because its Old Testament and references the Law). The people of God was on their way to the promised land, when God gave them a set of commands to live by (Deuteronomy 4-5). In Deuteronomy 6 we now pick up the responsibility with regards to the commands given. It is relevant for this discussion as it touches our topic of transferring doctrine and faith to the next generation.
God calls Israel to obedience to the laws of God in verses 1-3 :
1 Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it:2 That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey.
Important is that in verse 2 there are included three generations that are to live in obedience to God, which indicates the responsibility of the current generation to the next. There is even a promise to keeping the commands, and that is a “prolonged life” and an increase in population.
After this call to obedience, there follows the very important truth statement in verse 4:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD …
This statement is very important, because it serves as a hinge between the command given in the first three verses and the practical implications in the verses to follow. As such, it gives us the reason why we are to take up seriously the spiritual well-being of the following generations. If it was not for the fact that it was this “one Lord our God” that commands us to obey His Word, it would have been pure religiosity with no personal relationship. The task of transferring knowledge of God to the next generation(s) is therefore not one of obedience to a set of dead rules made and enforced by men. It is rather a loving commitment to the living God who commands that His Word be obeyed above all cost.
Sadly many live with the idea that God’s Word contains a bunch of dead rules. Because of their religious background they do the things it asks as law and this legalism is being passed on to the next generation. The young generation starts accepting that their parents / leaders are following just because they “have to” and therefore they develop a warped idea about God being far off but still demanding obedience. This is probably because of the same vicious cycle coming from a previous generation.
Teaching the next generation the truths about God and His Word hinges on a true and thorough knowledge of who God is. Therefore, we are called to take head of who God really is. This knowledge is furthermore not academic in character, but personal in its impact. Therefore, the verse proclaims God as “the Lord our God”. “Lord” here being the covenental name Yahweh, by which He committed Himself to them as their personal God who will dwell in their midst. This personal attachment is also stressed by the phrase “our God”. In a real sense, this verse indicates a Almighty, transcended God that is committed to a personal relationship with the people that He choose as His property.
It is a fact that to know someone, implies that you know the person’s character, his attributes, his deeds, i.e. everything that can be known about that person and you also desire to know him/her in an increasing manner. No relationship is built successfully on hearsay or speculation or sensation. It is true knowledge that brings deep commitment. This is why it is important to know the doctrine of God and then have this doctrine integrated into your daily life.
When is the last time you examined your knowledge of God? Is it rooted in a legalistic religiosity, airy-fairy mystery, or is it a knowledge that is constantly deepening as you grow in your knowledge of and commitment to His Word? It is impossible to transfer faith and doctrine to the next generation if your own worldview is not built on the knowledge of the “Lord our God” who is “one”. Knowing leads to love and love leads to commitment. Once we know Him, we gladly accept the grip that He has on our lives and we love to obey His Word. This is evident from verse 5 onward:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart.
Jesus Himself taught the principle that our obedience to His Word is a measure of our love for Him (John 14:15, 21). John confirms this principle in his first epistle (1 John 5:2). This was not a new principle that Jesus introduced. It is already alluded to in the giving of the Law in Exodus 20:6: “And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me,and keep my commandments” (also Deuteronomy. 5:10). Even Nehemia appealed to this in his prayer concerning Jerusalem (Nehemia 1:5). This love for God flows from knowing Him and is displayed in our obedience to His Word.
If we want the generations to come to know God, to put their faith and trust in Him, to obey His commands out of love for Him, we need to live this reality. There is no substitution for this. We tend shift this responsibility onto others and think by applying all sorts of programmes everything is in order. The church is not the primary source of transferring faith, neither is the school. The reason many shift to these measures, is plainly because they do not themselves know God, love nor obey Him, but they expect these institutions to teach their children what they are not willing to commit to.
The shocking reality the Bible teaches is that we as parents are their role models in everything, and that includes the principles of loving obedience to God based on thorough knowledge of Him as taught in His Word. Our children copy what they learn and see and experience at home and this becomes their reference in life. I read this statement and think it is appropriate for this discussion: “While many churches have focused on the educational content of Sunday school, youth group meetings, and small group Bible studies, the study suggests that the ‘hidden curriculum’ of parental lives is the most powerful religious curriculum of all. It’s simply not enough to ‘send’ our kids to a church building or a youth activity to learn about our faith, we’ve got to make strides to grow in our faith as parents and take our kids with us on the journey!”
The challenge in this section is this: can you truly say that your children (and their children if you are grandparents) are being taught the wonderful riches of God by you living according to these principles? If you are serious about your children and their children living in a relationship with the “Lord our God”, then you need to take your own spiritual life into serious consideration. No amount of church involvement, pastoral care and counselling, psychological analysis or seminars will be able to impact your children more than you living in a true relationship with God because you know Him and love Him and obey Him.
If you’re not at this point yet, the way back is repentance and trusting God for healing and restoration in your own life. Maybe you too are the product of disobedient parents not living and obeying these principles. Then the way to restoration is repentance and putting your trust in God. Every vicious and corrupt cycle can be broken by God who displayed His love through Jesus Christ. Start studying the source of knowing God, His Word by which He reveals Himself.
The point is that transferring faith and doctrine to generations to come is a matter of you loving God and obeying His Word. Anything short of this, results in warped views of God, His Word, and the world that children experience everyday.