An old Chinese proverb says, “One generation plants the trees and another gets the shade.” Our generation lives in the shade of many trees that were planted by our ancestors.
In spiritual terms, we derive shade from our parents’ and grandparents’ ethical standards, their perceptions of right and wrong, their sense of moral duty, and above all, their spiritual commitment. Their ideals determined the kind of civilization we inherited from them, and our generation’s ideals will likewise shape tomorrow’s culture for our kids.
There’s no question that society is in a serious state of moral and spiritual decline. So the question that faces Christian parents today is whether we can plant some trees that will shade future generations from what may well be the blistering heat of anti-Christian values in an anti-Christian world. Are we planting the right kind of shade trees, or are we leaving our children totally exposed?
The Demise of Modern Society
It should be obvious to anyone who is committed to the truth of Scripture that our culture is rapidly disintegrating morally, ethically, and above all spiritually. The values now embraced by society are badly out of sync with God’s divine order.
In fact, the only taboo these days is holding to the absolute moral standards the Lord instituted in His Word. Lifestyles of promiscuity, debauchery, rebellion, and lawlessness aren’t merely tolerated—they’re celebrated. Selfishness, greed, and dishonesty are accepted and even expected.
And the standards for the family aren’t any better. Divorce is available on demand for any reason, or for no reason at all. Married women with children are encouraged to work outside the home. Entertainment, and television in particular, dominates home life. The genocide of unborn children is aggressively defended. Gender differences have been downplayed, suppressed, and—as much as possible—eliminated from public discussion. And homosexual marriage is aggressively promoted throughout the culture—to the point that anything less than celebrating it is viewed as bigotry.
In short, our society is waging an all-out war on the biblical standards for morality, and the family is one of the key battlegrounds.
Where Is the Church in All of This?
As the building block of society, the family needs to be protected and defended. But mere moral reform is not the solution for all that ails our secular society. This is not a rallying cry for Christians to be more aggressive in pursuing political action. Far too much of the church’s effort in recent years has been squandered trying to confront anti-family trends, such as abortion and homosexuality, through legislative efforts alone. Reform is no answer for a culture like ours. Redemption is what is needed, and that occurs at the individual, not societal, level. The church needs to get back to the real task to which we are called: evangelizing the lost. Only when multitudes of individuals in our society turn to Christ will society itself experience any significant transformation.
Meanwhile, Christian families have an obligation to plant shade trees for future generations of children. But, frankly, even in the church, the family’s condition looks pretty bleak.
Not that there aren’t positive signs. For nearly three decades there has been a tremendous preoccupation among evangelicals with the need to rescue the family. Christian bookstores are well-stocked with books on marriage and the family. Christian radio is also crowded with family-oriented programming. There is no shortage of Christian programs, seminars, and ministries devoted to the family and parenting.
Despite all the ink and air time such ministries have devoted to the subjects of parenting and the family, though, statistics still show that in general, Christian families are not in much better shape than the families of their non-Christian neighbors. Children from Christian families are not immune to the lure of drugs, gangs, promiscuous sex, and all the other evils plaguing the youth of today. By and large, Christian families are suffering from all the same woes as non-Christian families.
Something is clearly wrong.
Is It Biblical, or Just “Christian”?
Part of the problem is that many of the parenting and family programs being labeled “Christian” today are not truly Christian. Some are nothing more than secular behaviorism papered over with a religious veneer—an unholy amalgam of biblical-sounding expressions blended with humanistic psychology. Even some of the better Christian parenting programs focus far too much on relatively petty extrabiblical matters and not enough on the essential biblical principles. One book I consulted spent chapter after chapter on issues like how to make a chore list to hang on the refrigerator, how to organize your child’s schedule to limit television time, games to play in the car, and similar how-to advice. Such pragmatic concerns may have their place, but they don’t go to the heart of what Christian parents in a society like ours need to address. (That particular book actually had very little that was distinctively Christian, outside the author’s preface.)
Some Christian parenting programs seem to begin well but quickly move away from biblical principles and into other things. Those other things often receive more stress than more vital issues that are truly biblical. Parents who sign up for such programs demand detailed, heavily regimented programs or turnkey parenting systems that work right out of the box. So that is what the experts try to produce. The resulting lists of rules and how-tos quickly supersede the vital biblical principles. The lure in this direction is subtle but strong, and rare is the parenting guru who successfully avoids it.
What we desperately need is a return to the biblical principles of parenting. Christian parents don’t need new, shrink-wrapped programs; they need to apply and obey consistently the few simple principles that are clearly set forth for parents in God’s Word, such as these: Constantly teach your kids the truth of God’s Word (Deuteronomy 6:7). Discipline them when they do wrong (Proverbs 23:13–14). And don’t provoke them to anger (Colossians 3:21). Those few select principles alone, if consistently applied, would have a far greater positive impact for the typical struggling parent than hours of discussion about whether babies should be given pacifiers, or what age kids should be before they’re permitted to choose their own clothes, or dozens of similar issues that consume so much time in the typical parenting program.
Over the next few days, we’re going to closely examine those biblical parenting principles and others, and consider God’s design for the family, and how best to provide shade for your children by training them up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).