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Written by Frederika Pronk
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Bringing Up Children in the Fear of the Lord

Shepherding a ChildÕs Heart by Ted Tripp, published by Shepherd Press, P.O. Box 24, Wapwallopen, PA 18660, Tel. 1-800-338-1445

What goals do parents set for themselves as they bring up their children? That they will instruct their children to be well behaved, emotionally stable, well-educated, develop good communication skills, are well-liked, use their God-given talents to the best of their ability, obtain a useful and well-paid position in life, marry well, become home owners, build a bank account, etc., etc.? All these things may be desirable, but none of these are mentioned when parents in our churches make their baptismal vows before God and His Church as to how they will bring up their child(ren).

The baptismal vows made by parents for their children include three parts. The first part concerns their state. They are born in sin and subject to all the miseries caused by the fall, including condemnation. At the same time, they are sanctified or holy, meaning that they are set apart from the rest of sinful mankind and under GodÕs special care and dealings (Ezek.16:21; 1Cor.7:14). The second part of the baptismal vow concerns the parentsÕ faith in the doctrines of salvation, and the last part demands that they promise to the utmost of their power to instruct and bring up their child(ren) in the doctrines of salvation. In the thanksgiving prayer it is acknowledged that as members of GodÕs church they are under the blood of Christ and they are to be Òpiously and religiously educated.Ó

The focus is on the spiritual instruction of the child; although it may be argued that by implication salvation would naturally include the physical, emotional, behavioural and educational needs of the child as well. The emphasis in baptism, however, is the spiritual education and nurturing of the covenant child. The focus is also on the parent(s), although the church through its offices and members, by means of its teaching, preaching and pastoral oversight has a task, and formal academic education certainly is a necessity in order to function in society.

Supposedly, Òit takes a villageÓ to raise children, according to Hillary Clinton, a leading Òchild advocate.Ó It is especially the feminists who want to have the government or agencies delegated by them take over child-rearing from the cradle and up, even dictating whether parents are to spank or not to spank. Certainly, when parents forsake their duty and abuse children, the government has a duty--not to take over child-rearing, but to make parents take responsibility. In that respect, home schooling, which presently is very popular, is an effective Christian witness and a successful counter-movement against the attempts of the secular state to take over child-rearing. Home schooling may not be for everyone, but it certainly is very Biblical and in keeping with the baptismal vows made by parents. It should be remembered that no matter how good the Christian school to which we send our children, if the home lacks a truly Christian spiritual focus, parents are not fulfilling their God-ordained duty to Òbring them up in the nurture and admonition of the LordÓ (Eph.6:4).

There is, first of all prayer and Bible study, but parents who are serious about carrying out their duty often look for child-rearing material that is both Bible-centred and practical. WeÕve read many of such books while raising our childrenÑmany of them helpful, but weÕve never found a contemporary book on child-rearing from a Biblical, practical standpoint as spiritually mature as the one by Ted Tripp, Shepherding a ChildÕs Heart

The book is divided into two parts. Part One is ÒFoundations for Biblical Child-Rearing,Ó and Part Two, ÒShepherding Through the Stages of Childhood.Ó The author shows from Scripture that parents are to exercise a God-ordained authority over their children. He says: ÒThe purpose for your authority in the lives of your children is not to hold them under your power, but to empower them to be self-controlled people living freely under the authority of GodÓ (p.14). ÒParenting is shepherding the heart of your children in the ways of GodÕs wisdomÓ (p.15). This does not mean to simply to direct Òthe behaviour of your children, but the attitudes of their heartsÓ (p.15). The author stresses the power of sin and the enmity of the natural heart, but also the power of the Gospel and GodÕs grace. The goal of parents is not to produce well-behaved children, although that is included, but that in GodÕs time, by patiently waiting on the Holy Spirit, a heart response is produced. The children ought to learn from their parents that there is to be a God-ward orientation in their life. The conscience must be addressed and responsibility taken for disobedience and sin. Children must realize that there is no forgiveness without confession. Discipline is a corrective to be administered, not in uncontrolled anger, but as a duty laid upon the parent to produce growth and maturity.

The salvation of the child is the highest goal, but by itself it could become a selfish end. The author would rather see child-rearing in the context of directing the child to see that his purpose in life (manÕs chief end) is to glorify God in all he does and in his aspirations (Westminster Confession of Faith). This emphasis directs the child to lean on God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture and not look to his own resources at all times, and especially when difficulties arise. It also means that skills, abilities and talents are to be developed to make children more able to serve God and others.

Parenting is more than care-giving. It is shepherding a child whose parents are under the authority of God. The shepherding approach is not dictatorial, but parents are to give their children Biblical guidance, provide loving leadership, encourage openness, foster sensitive communication, teach honest confession of wrongs, offer hope and encouragement, and model faithfulness in their walk with God. The author shows how we dishonour God when we use pop-psychology, behaviour modification, emotionalism, punitive correction and erratic and inconsistent methods of child-rearing. Acknowledgement of the corruption of human nature, faith and repentance are ever-recurring strands throughout the life of child-rearing and parenting.

Having laid the foundations, the author applies these aspects to three levels of child development: infancy to childhood, the childhood state (ages 5-12), and the teen years. During early childhood, training for obedience is primary; This is when character development takes place. Producing merely outward good behaviour will lead to phariseeism, and therefore during this stage the conscience must be addressed to produce conviction of sin and a heart change. During the teen-age years communication is primary. This requires much sensitivity and consists of giving encouragement, correction, rebuke, entreaty, instruction, warning, understanding, teaching, and last but not least, prayer. The chapter on teens is very helpful and shows real understanding of how children need freedom to become adults. The author also emphasizes the importance of making our home a safe, attractive and inviting place for children to be. It is where love is to be nurtured.

In an age where spanking is looked on as child abuse, parents are directed to the Scriptural foundations. There is practical help on how to apply this corrective method. For instance, do it privately, especially when you are around family or friends who disapprove of. this method. There is also help for parents who have come to the conclusion that they have used unbiblical methods and want to change.

The authorÕs own children are adults and heÕs been a pastor, counsellor and school principal for many years. Does he think he knows it all? When asked the question, ÒDonÕt you think that if you raise your children in the right way, God has promised to save them?Ó he answers, ÒIf such a promise existed, it wouldnÕt comfort me, I havenÕt raised them well enoughÉ IÕm keenly aware of shortcomings and limitationsÓ (p.225). The hope Christian parents have Òis the power of the Gospel. The Gospel is suited to the human condition. The Gospel is attractive. God has already shown great mercy to your children. He has given them a place of rich privilege. He has placed hem in a home where they have heard His truth. They have seen the transforming power of grace in the lives of His people. Your prayer and expectation is that the Gospel will overcome their resistance as it has yoursÓ (p.225).

The book is silent about the covenant, which leads us to think the author is a sovereign grace Baptist. There are several items, such as a reference to acting out a Bible story, which indicates a slightly different view than the classic Reformed view. But isnÕt the reality and hope expressed by the author, what our baptism teaches us? Every time we see or think of the water of baptism, we are directed to the blood of Christ which shows us our need of cleansing, but also shows us the power of that blood to cleanse the guilt and sins of both parents and children. Is that where our hope and expectation lies when we bring our children for baptism and make our solemn vows? Is our goal in parenting to nurture our children in the fear and admonition of the LordÑthat is, to give them a spiritual education? Or are our goals like the worldÕs? This book helps Christian parents to set their priorities in the right order.

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