Theology and Parenting Questions
The Love of God: The Basis of Moral Education
Is there such a thing as biblical civility?
What is holiness?
Is Proverbs 22:6 a promise or probability?
Are parents responsible for wayward adult children?
What do the Ezzos believe about Fellowship and Association?
Is man born good?
1. The Love of God: The Basis of Moral Education
Moral education is a primary teaching emphasis within the Growing Families community. That is because a moral life style that shows consideration for others, is a way of life, not simply window dressing added to a child's personality. Parents help their children learn moral lessons, internalize meaningful values, and then translate them into social skills. These parents are in tune with the guiding principles for raising children who are kind, courteous, respectful, cooperative, confident, and sensitive to the needs of others. Yet, we know how easy it is to list moral qualities, of which all people have a general knowledge, but the particular refinement of virtues our community strives for, is indeed most rare. For such refinement speaks to an uncommon level of devotion on the part of parents to live the virtues that they are working to instill within their children.
Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Parenting at this level of moral achievement takes time, effort, patience, sacrifice and a commitment to the refinement of virtues ascribed to a noble and beautiful life. This is the mother, father and child whose inner person abides with all that is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good character, excellence and those things that are worthy of praise (c.f. Philippians 4:8). No child arrives at this level of moral distinctiveness if the home life from which he or she comes is not already conversant with such virtue.
However, mere knowledge of virtue is not sufficient without a basic understanding of how children integrate moral thought and how those thoughts eventually form life-long perceptions. Parents must equally stay vigilant of the many moral inconsistencies confronting children each day. Hollywood serves up a culture of death, network TV exploits their innocence, and the Internet is sophisticated enough to identify their secret desires and prey on their weaknesses.
Yet, in the end, the refinement of a child’s character is largely the product of Mom and Dad’s direct influence. Unless that influence is willfully surrendered to outside forces or sacrificed to life’s busy demands, children will absorb the moral lessons of their home life. Whatever character qualities are tossed aside or devalued will be devalued by the child. It is simply a truth of life. If something is not important to Mom and Dad, it will not spontaneously become important to the child.
The various resources offered by Growing Families International can help parents connect the dots between God’s message of love and good will toward man and character development. God’s love in action is an extension of His character, and training that reflects His character satisfies two human needs. First, through moral training, children learn of the nature of God, which is different than the natures with which they were born. The natural world is seen, heard, felt, smelled, and tasted, but the supernatural world is revealed through quiet and unseen things like the Holy Spirit, revelation, faith and the virtues that reflect God’s person, heart and will.
Second, the outward expression of God’s love is the great evangelizer, for wherever His love is shown in word or deed, there is life. Children trained along these lines become flag bearers of truth and beauty within the society. Therefore, it is out of the moral context of God’s love that are community finds strength, direction and purpose.
If there is one word that can encapsulate the application side of moral truth, we believe the word is civility. This is not the generic “civility” tossed back and forth by political pundits on Sunday talk shows, nor the conversations generated by public and private acts of incivility that makes more fodder for entertainment media (disguised as “News”). Rather, it is a civility deeply informed by the nature of God’s goodness.
Civility, for most of the world’s population, is a self-serving necessity. “I’ll be nice to you, if you will be nice to me. I’ll respect you, if you respect me.” This is called the ”ethics of reciprocity,” a philosophical stepchild of moral relativism. It works only if everyone is willing to participate, and most are not. In contrast, for those bound in the Love of God, ethical conduct serves a vertical purpose that has trickle-down social implications. Christians do not act kindly with the hope that people will be kind in return, but rather, we do so because God is kind. We do not act virtuously to get people to respond to us in like manner. We live virtuously, because God is virtuous.
Although the word, “civility,” is not found it the Bible, the concept of civility flows throughout scripture. It is tied to our conduct, how we are to treat other people, and more importantly, why we are to do so. For example, let’s return to the description of God’s love found in First Corinthians 13:4-5. There we read that love is patient, kind, does not act jealously, is not rude, does not brag, and is not selfish.
Moving to the general epistles, we read that love is considerate (Titus 3:2), and it honors all men regardless of social status (1 Peter: 2:17). It speaks words that are gracious (Ephesians 4:29) and life-giving. Love esteems others (Philippians 2:3), and love thinks well (Philippians 4:8). Civility then, is the application of God’s love reflecting moral qualities such as respect, politeness, care and consideration of other.
Civility is all about the message we carry from God’s heart to the world. Civility is the moral language of heaven. As a language, it serves a dual purpose. First, it identifies us as people who belong to God. As the day’s light is an extension of the sun’s light, so our conduct is an extension of our place in the City of God. Second, true biblical civility reflects God’s love in action.
The reflected expressions of God’s love impact all social relationships, from how we greet people, respect their property, and honor the aged ones in our midst, to how we share a meal with each other. Everything is connected to a purpose greater than ourselves, and that is precisely what separates the civility derived from God’s nature and love and the counterfeit civility birthed from moral relativism. The latter has man trying to meet his basic needs without God, the former is man meeting his fellow man’s basic needs with the love of God.
God desires to be made known to the world, so He chose a people on Earth to represent Him to all nations. In times past, the Nation of Israel was given that privilege. “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2).
With Israel’s corporate rejection of Christ as the promised Messiah, the Church age was born and the followers of Christ became God’s earthly representatives to the World. To the Church, Peter wrote, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a Holy Nation, a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9). What is God’s purpose for calling the church? The verse continues, “That you may declare the praise of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”
Declaring God to the world is the purpose for which Israel existed and now the Church exist. For the New Testament saint, God desires our behavior be distinctively different. Not different simply for the sake of difference but distinctively reflective of His character which is in fact the means by which we, God’s people, declare His praises, and in so doing, His presence. But what does distinctive living look like everyday and what is the means by which God extends Himself to the world?
We believe the family is the most fundamental social unit in God’s world for Kingdom building purposes. Why? Because the family is the values generating and perpetuating institution of every society. That was true in the old covenant and Israel and it is true with the new covenant and the church. We are drawn to the conclusion that parenting is a Kingdom issue, and of great importance to God. When the Christian family is no longer what it ought to be, everything else that the church does is weakened if not destroyed, for what we are as a family is what we are as a church. For what is the church but a family of families, and a household of households.
The primary focus of Christian parenting should be defining God to our children and we believe that task is best accomplished by introducing and guiding our children in and by character of Love, for God’s love is intensely moral. The moral law of God is a relational prescription for a healthy life—a prescription that starts in the family and is passed on from generation to generation through God’s kingdom builders—parents.
But there’s much more. Enjoying wonderful relationships within our families and communities is not the ultimate purpose of character training. Biblical virtues and values, the building blocks of God’s moral law, lived out in the Christian family and community serves a greater purpose. By our behavior we are to help define God to the world so the world can find God. That is the essential purpose of a holy lifestyle.
Holiness for the Christian and Christian family is not something we are as much as it is something we do. It is a call to distinctive living and moral accountability. Through our holy lifestyle we make God known to the world. That is why the Apostle Paul told the early church that: “Whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). In its simplest form, the word glory means to make bigger, to magnify. We make something bigger so more people can see it. How do we make God bigger to the world? Jesus said it very simply. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good behavior and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Our good behavior governed by the moral law of God is the most concrete form of Christian witness and is the means by which we define God to the world and help the world find God.
This is also why moral training in the Christian community and the Christian home is so important. The results of morally beautiful behavior reflective of Christ become a compelling testimony declaring the praise of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light, (1 Peter 2:9). That is why we passionately teach our children about the preciousness of others, how to show kindness, gentleness and preference of others and all the virtues that make up God’s character. That is why we teach that a child’s holiness is more important than his or her happiness.
For our children, the moral law of God is not only a standard and means by which we restrain habits of sin, but it is the means by which we demonstrate His love, mercy and justice. Not only are we defining God to the world, we are defining God to our children. A worthy task for each generation.
4. Is Proverbs 22:6 a promise or probability?
“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Is Proverbs 22:6 a promise of salvation or an implied probability? Simply stated, it is neither; it is a Proverb. A proverb is a statement of general truth which has application for the varying circumstances of life. According to the Bible, King Solomon was the wisest man ever to live (I Kings 4:29). One of the distinguishing traits of his wisdom was his insightfulness into human behavior. The Holy Spirit guided his ability to articulate his observations into the literary genre of Proverbs.
A proverb is communicated in a metaphorical nature and in figurative language. In Proverbs 22:6, Solomon is only stating a truism associated with parenting. He is not declaring assurance onto which some expectation of salvation may be founded. This proverb is similar to others which relate to child-training. For example, Proverbs 10:1 states, “A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother.” Here is Solomon’s observation: the consequences of either correct or incorrect parenting are manifested in either the wisdom or the foolishness of one’s offspring. There is no promise implied, just a statement of fact. Proverbs 17:25 says, “A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her who bore him.” Again, a declaration of truth was derived from observing the emotional struggles and broken hearts of parents whose children had gone wayward.
When we examine Proverbs 22:6, we find a statement of substance and of general truth. In Proverbs 22:6 Train means to initiate or to prescribe the learning patterns or to cause one to learn, or to set the spiritual patterns for life. By using this word, Solomon is stating that the wise parent will be the one to initiate learning in his child by training him “in the way he should go.”
The phrase “in the way he should go” has two meanings. One is assumed, and the other is implied. According to the context of biblical training, God’s principles and standards are presumed to be the subject matter of the development of a child’s moral character. The text implies that the training done by the parents should reflect their recognition of two factors: the natural way of children and the uniqueness of each child. The natural way refers to those constant factors naturally found in our humanness. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child,” Proverbs 22:15a. “The heart is more deceitful that all else, and desperately sick,” Jeremiah 17:9a. The second factor refers to the uniquely creative bend of each child. In essence, Solomon is suggesting that the wise parent understands the nature of children in general as well as the uniqueness of his own child.
The phrase “and when he is old” pertains to the results of parental training. The word old is used to represent an elder in the Hebrew economy. That would be at 40 years of age, the beginning of the wisdom years. He will not depart from it refers back to the entire training process. Solomon’s challenge to parents can be wrapped up in this summary: When you initiate godly training in your child in conformity to his nature and uniqueness, the principles instilled within his character will become second nature to him when he matures.
We do not believe the promise of salvation is implied in this verse, nor is the notion that a wayward teenager will instinctively return to the innocence of his Sunday School days. What is implied is the weight of parental responsibility in training children. The seeds we plant today in our children’s hearts, whether good or bad, will inevitably bear fruit at a future time.
5. Are parents responsible if their adult child is wayward?
We must stay mindful that two forces are at work in the life of our children: The manifestation of parental responsibility to have sufficiently trained, and the volition of the child, once informed about life’s obligations.
What would cause a child to reject the values taught to him early in life? There are many answers to that question, but at the top of the list should be something the Bible calls depravity (Isaiah 53:6). Man knows what is right, but still he chooses to go his own way. Other reasons for the abandonment of values include fear (2 Timothy 1:7), loneliness (2 Timothy 4:16), greed (1 Timothy 6:9-10), immorality (1 Timothy 4:12 and 2 Timothy 6:9-10), legalism (1 Timothy 4:3-4), and disillusionment that Christianity does not deliver what was promised (1 Timothy 6:5-10). The apostle Paul saw many people defecting from the faith and listed the above as some of the reasons why people drift away from God. Some may be the same reasons adult children drift away from their parents. Any relational problem a parent may face may be the result of sin on the part of the child, community, the parent, the world we live in, or a combination of all four.
We live in a day marked by a victimization epidemic. The truth is, in most people-to-people situations, we are both victim and agent. Some children are victims of poor parental choices. Yet it is equally true that they are themselves agents of sinful choices as well. Our perspective would have both parent and child taking responsibility for their own actions to whatever degree responsibility applies. Somehow, in the confluence of activity of parent and child, each will have responsibility for their own actions, in some ways responsible for the life of the other, yet each will stand before God unable to shift the blame of sin to the other.
The defining factor of our children’s success (spiritual, moral or material), is not whether they have the resources provided by good parents, but whether they were given the gift of resourcefulness. Our job as parents is not to make our child this or that, good or bad, wise or foolish, successful or a wasteful. The only things parents can do is give their children the tools that will help them make good, honorable and successful decisions in and for their life. We can equip our children with the source of wisdom, be an example of wisdom, encourage them in wisdom, point them to wisdom, but in the end, we cannot make them choose wisdom. Yet, we still give this warning. It will be to the parent’s shame if the child never knew the way of wisdom
6. What do the Ezzos believe about Fellowship and Association?
We believe it is incumbent on every Christian to conduct him or herself according the manner pleasing to God. “Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians: 4:1-6). “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself” (Phil 2:3). Therefore we believe:*
1. Our fellowship starts with the person of Christ more than one’s creed, doctrine, opinion, or denomination. Those who are joint heirs with Christ are joint heirs with us. The oneness in Jesus Christ is greater than simply being “one of us.”
2. We consider the act of fellowship and association to be indicative of the love of Christ but fellowship does not signal a total agreement of our brother’s creed. We use our fellowship to discuss our differences, to lead or be led by the light of the Word of Christ, but we do not look at our differences to determine the rightness of fellowship nor our ranking with God.
3. We do not withdraw our fellowship from any Christian except in the case when a belief requires us to violate our conscience in order to maintain or be accepted in fellowship. We will not separate ourselves from members within God’s family any further than what they separate themselves in conduct from Christ.
4. Genuine biblical fellowship is not based on one’s perceived rightness of doctrine any more than one’s perception of a brother’s lack of knowledge. Our fellowship is based on the humility of Christ, and the love of God, not one’s treasury of Scripture knowledge.
5. Our loyalty to Christ is greater than our loyalty to a creed; our loyalty to the family of God is greater than our loyalty to the world; and our loyalty to truth is greater than our loyalty to friendship.
6. As it relates to our associations and fellowship, we want to be known more for the things we stand for than the people we stand against. Therefore we commit ourselves to contemporary agreement of unity in the essential doctrines, liberty in the nonessentials, and charity in all things.
* The articulation of our views was aided by the work of Keith Price and Anthony Norris Groves, a missionary to Baghdad in the 1830.
7. Is man born good?
First, let me say that I do not believe the historical and classical use of the word "good" is an appropriate antonym for "evil" since evil is at the end of the ethical spectrum. A better word might be "virtuous" since it better represents the opposite of evil. "Good" as a moral concept, is rather nebulous and certainly only relative to the moral principles of virtuous and evil.
With that said, I am framing this response within the confines of a Christian worldview relating to man and his nature, and guided by my understanding of what the Bible teaches on this subject. I do not believe man is born in a state of good, (virtuous) or the state of evil, but he is born with a capacity to do either to some minor or greater degree. Mankind not only has the capacity to do good and evil, but also demonstrates at times, a desire to do both.
"Desire" as a moral concept, removes any notion that man is born "morally neutral." It is often said, by those who believe in the "goodness" of man, that children are born "morally neutral," implying that they have the capacity to do wrong but lack all desire to do so. However, that conclusion runs contrary to the self-evident fact that children demonstrate plenty of desire to act maliciously, and bring injure to others.
Doing "evil" is of course, different than doing something that is simple wrong. "Right" and "wrong" are not exclusive moral concepts, but measurements of performance based on the context. I can do a math problem right or wrong, or plow a field rightly or wrongly, but neither of these are moral functions of life, nor a basis of my standing before God. However, man can do wrong against another person, bringing injury of some kind. Sometimes it is an accident with no malicious intent, other times it is done with malicious intent, and that is when "right and wrong" falls into the moral/ethical category.
The biblical concept of "sin" or "sinfulness" does not equate to evil, although all evil is sinful. The concept that man is born "sinful" speaks of three things: First, that there is the penalty of sin that is passed on from the first Adam to every human being; second, the capacity to sin lies within each one of us, and third, mankind possess the desire to sin and will act out on that desire just like he possesses the desire to do good and can equally act out in that way.
What then is sin? Sin is the fulfillment of man's capacity, propensity and desire to live at any moment contrary to the virtuous will and nature of a perfect God. Therefore, the theological construct that all mankind is born sinful means: all are born under the penalty of sin, all possess the capacity to sin, all are born with the desire to sin, and in this life, we all sin and fall short of what is described as, "the glory of God."
The short answer to the question then, is “no, I do not believe man is born “good”, no more than I believe man is born "evil”, but he is born with the capacity for both.