Teaching Our Children To Witness

The title of this article is the subject given by the Evangelism Committee of Grandville Protestant Reformed Church for a lecture on 4 August, 2015.

I’d like to make three observations by way of introduction. First, it is important to distinguish clearly between the concept of preaching and evangelism on one hand and the concept of witnessing on the other hand. God has given to the church institute the responsibility to preach. This is the proclamation of the pure doctrines of the gospel in the local congregation (including the instruction given by the church to her youth in catechism classes). This also includes all the work of missions. On the other hand, witnessing is the activity of every believer. It is to give external and observable expression to the faith which God has graciously given to live within every believer.

Second, we should realise that we are always giving a witness! We are not to think that sometimes we witness and sometimes we do not. We are giving a witness all the time. We are either giving witness to our new man in Christ or giving witness to our old man. Because we are always giving a witness, Jesus purposefully added the word “so” when He said, “Let your light SO shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). We are to give that kind of a witness which results in glory being given to our heavenly Father by those who observe our witness. The conduct of a professing Christian can “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.” But also we are warned that “the word of God be not blasphemed” by our conduct (Titus 2:5,10).

A third observation by way of introduction is that parents (as well as grand-parents and teachers) must realize that to teach their children to witness correctly requires that they give a good and clear example of proper witnessing. It is always true that we teach by example more loudly than we do by verbal instruction. Those who are teaching are to demonstrate their instruction in their lives, striving more and more to give witness to our faith, so that our Father is glorified.

What are we to teach our children when it comes to a proper witness? Nothing special – and yet nothing more amazing than what divine grace only does! Nothing more than being what they are in Christ, namely, children of God. Nothing more than what they are commanded to do.

It is my observation that generally the parents of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA) are doing a very good job of instructing their children in the knowledge of the Bible, of Biblical doctrine, and of the teachings and practices which make their churches distinctive in the church world. The parents in the PRCA have the great and good help of the church (both in catechism, Sunday School, Young Peoples’ Society, and Young Adults). In addition, most of the parents have the help of a local good Christian school. The result is that the children and young people have very good head knowledge of the truth and are able to present and argue their positions quite well.

However, it is also my observation that there is much room for improvement in the lifestyle of godliness, which flows from a real heart understanding of the truth of Scripture. There seems to be a “culture” which does not expect a lot of godliness from our young people. Why is it that we are not surprised that there are reports of parties with alcohol and marijuana by those who are in high school and college? Why is it that we almost expect that the kind of music being played in their cars and on their MP3 players and at bonfires is of a worldly nature? The videos being commonly watched are judged to be ok to watch because “there’s nothing bad in them.” And all the young people acknowledge that there are some among them who are “friends with benefits.” And they all declare themselves to be children of God regardless of how they live.

These sorts of activities are acknowledged to be alarming… to most. Criticisms have been raised in the consistory room and statements have been made from the pulpit. However, there has been very little change over the forty plus years of my ministry. Instead of changes I hear excuses: “They’re young.” or “What do you expect?” And even more alarming is the fact that what I heard in the mid 1970s I continue to hear in 2015: “I did some bad things when I was young and I turned out OK, so I expect this generation to turn out just fine.” Is there a more horrible justification of sin than this? Is there any wonder that the witness left by our children (and grandchildren) in the local community can at times be so very poor? And is it any wonder that this lack of godliness leaves a witness which is very inconsistent to their head knowledge of the Bible? And is it any wonder that observers question their declaration that they are children of God?

Why ought we to drill our children and grandchildren in godliness as much as in the doctrines of grace?

First, faith is a certain knowledge which holds for truth what God has revealed in His Word. This faith is what binds one to Jesus Christ, and this union to Jesus not only gives the elect the ability to acknowledge the truth but also this acknowledging of the truth accords with godliness (Titus 1:1). This is the beautiful appropriateness of the title which Reverend Ron Hanko gave to his book, “Doctrine According To Godliness.” Paul admonished his preacher son, Titus, to teach with all authority “the things which become sound doctrine,” that is, the things which characterize a lifestyle which is consistent with sound (health-giving) teachings (Titus 2:1,15). Godliness is not only as important as knowledge of teachings, but it flows from a real and genuine understanding of the teachings. Paul exhorts Titus to instruct the young women to live in such a way “that the Word of God be not blasphemed,” and to instruct the Christian slaves to live in such a way “that they may adorn the doctrine of God your Saviour in all things” (Titus 2:5,10).

Second, we ought to drill our children in godliness as much as we drill them in the doctrines of grace because God does not have one standard for adults and another for children and still another for teenagers. God gives the same Ten Commandments to teenagers as He does adults. And He does not have a lower expectation for teenagers as He does for adults. When we think of Genesis 17:7 (“I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee”) we should also think of Genesis 18:19: “For I know him that (literally, I have known him in order that) he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.” God knew Abraham so that Abraham would command his children to keep God’s way, and this would result in God bringing upon Abraham the reality of His promise that His covenant was with Abraham and with his seed after him! This is the point of the instruction given in Deuteronomy 6:7-9 and Ephesians 6:4. Our children are to know the truth of God’s Word, but also they are to be commanded to keep God’s way. They are to be commanded not to live as they please – their way. God does not expect less of them than He does of their parents.

Third, the language of the Marriage Form is very instructive. When giving the three reasons God had for instituting marriage, the Form speaks of the children which God may be pleased to bring into the marriage, and it states that the parents are to bring up these children “in the true knowledge and fear of God, to His glory, and their salvation.” Notice that this speaks of the relationship the children have with God Himself. They are to view themselves as in an intimate, wonderful relationship with God. They are not only in a relationship with their parents or their friends. We are to set before our children what it is to know God and to fear Him, so that they are concerned about His glory. We are to insist that our children know and fear God and live to His glory. And they are to do this as children and as teenagers!

Fourth, we are to realise that remissness in observing God’s commandments and carnal security are the effects not of a correct understanding of God’s Word but of rash presumption (Canons I – 13b). Accurate and genuine knowledge of God’s Word does not excite in anyone a spirit of pride nor what is known as carnal security (a spiritual carelessness about how one lives) (Canons V – 12). Instead the correct response to the assurance of salvation is daily humility, an adoration of the depths of God’s mercies, a cleansing of oneself by mortifying all my wants, and for rendering grateful returns of ardent love to God. Also the assurance of the grace of perseverance is the real source of humility, filial obedience, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering, and in confessing the truth and of solid rejoicing in God. Instead of rendering one proud and cocky about what they know of Scripture, a real understanding of Scripture always leads to humility, and is a constant incentive to serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works (Canons V – 12).

As much as faithful parents will demand of their children that they have a good and extensive understanding of “sound doctrine,” they will demand that they be godly. The godliness which is consistent with sound teaching is described with these words: sober, discreet, chaste, temperate, obedient (cf. Titus 2:1-6). It is to love God with our all and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

Godliness is a delightful awareness of God and of His relationship with me. Generally we have a very good intellectual grasp of God and of His greatness, but experientially we often put God in a box. He is a Sunday God. He is a God we talk about when we pray or read the Bible. But He is not around when we are playing a sport.

He is not present when we talking with our friends. When you got dressed this morning, were you thinking of God in any sense? When you are in the middle of playing a game and are intent on winning, where is God? When you are carrying a grudge (sometimes for years), where is God? When you think about shop lifting, where is God? When you are thinking of using drugs or alcohol, where is God?

Which godly virtues do we seek to develop in ourselves, in our children, in our young people? Do we teach and demonstrate proper and sincere confession of sin and sinfulness? Do we teach and demonstrate what it is to fly for refuge to Christ crucified? Do we teach and demonstrate what it is to mortify the flesh and to press toward perfection (Canons V – 2)? Do we urge our young people to be sober in all things, that is, curbing their desires and exercising self-control (Titus 2:4,6,13)? Do we teach our young people and demonstrate to them bowels of mercy and kindness? Forbearance? Forgiving? Agape love? Do we teach our young people to have a works-based or a grace-based acceptance of people? We have a correct theology of salvation and of divine acceptance by grace alone, but we often demonstrate mercy, forgiveness and love on the basis of works. Do we teach and demonstrate solid rejoicing in God and the incentive of the constant practice of gratitude (Canons V – 12)?

Some concluding thoughts: May parents and grandparents press upon their children a new “culture.” May we all see the tremendous importance of a lifestyle which adorns and not blasphemes God and His Word. Let us realize that the ungodly are able to identify a proper and an improper lifestyle in one who professes to be a child of the King. They know when we walk the talk or when we are just talk. May we not even think that because we were naughty as teenagers, we do not need to be so hard on our young people! What does God demand? What does God expect?

May God give us the grace to maintain firmly our system of catechism instruction, and the good Christian schools wherever we have them. In an area where there are the good Christian schools, the catechism instruction has more opportunity to show how God’s truth is to be applied and lived. Think of how the instruction in the truth given in Romans 1-11 and Ephesians 1-3 is followed with that truth being applied in Romans 12- 16 and Ephesians 4-6. The Form for Ordination declares it to be the duty of the minister of the Word to explain and to apply God’s Word. Press the Word upon their minds and (prayerfully) on the hearts of the children and young people. Constantly urge them to see that what is most precious to them is a real knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ (first question and answer of the Essentials of Reformed Doctrine catechism book).

May we all pray to Him Who alone is able to put a real, genuine understanding of the truth and of the godliness which harmonises with that truth in the hearts and minds of our children and young people. May they shine in such a way that their Father is glorified. This is teaching our children to witness!

Written by: Pastor Ronald Van Overloop  | Issue 37