Scripture’s Covenant Youth (VII): Samuel

Among all the many faithful people in Israel of whom Scripture speaks, and even among all the covenant youth that are mentioned in Scripture, Samuel is unique. He was unique in several respects, but the most important characteristic of this great man of God was that he alone came closest to holding all three offices in Israel: prophet, priest and king, something no man ever did in Israel, in fact, might not do. He was prophet to whom the Lord spoke and who brought the word of the Lord to the nation. He was priest and often sacrificed for the people – as he did, for example, when he went to Bethlehem at God’s command to anoint David king in Saul’s place. But he was not king. Yet he was numbered among the judges who fought for the nation and judged them while Israel did not yet have a king. Samuel even served in that transition period when God gave Israel a king to take the place of judges. Saul was deposed from office by God himself for the sin of disobedience. Saul was the choice of the people; David was God’s choice.

You probably know the story of his birth. His mother Hannah was the wife of a man named Elkanah. But Elkanah had two wives, and was, we may conclude, a rather prosperous man. But, as was always the case in families where a man had more than one wife, in this home too, there was trouble between the two wives. God tolerated families with multiple wives during these Old Testament times, because godly marriages are a picture of Christ and his church, and because the picture was dim, blurred and unclear in the time when Christ had not yet done His great work of making His bride a pure and holy bride. God no longer will tolerate such marriages for Christ has come and He has one wife and one only, the church. He loves her and none other (1 Tim. 3:2, 12). Nor can He love any other for He died only for His bride.

The spiritual condition in Elkanah’s home was not the best. It is true that Elkanah did take his family to the tabernacle once a year to make their sacrifices to God as the law required. And it is also true that Elkanah loved Hannah in preference to Peninah (1 Sam 1:4-5). Hannah was the God- fearing wife of Elkanah. I doubt whether Peninah even loved the Lord, for she provoked Hannah “sore” because God had not given Hannah children (1 Sam 1:6), while Peninah had sons and daughters (1 Sam. 1:4). She mocked Hannah’s longing to have children.

Hannah was very sad that the Lord had not given her children, but Elkanah, it seemed, did not understand what was the reason for Hannah’s sadness. He thought that extra gifts to Hannah would cure her of her sadness. But, it seems, he was too lacking in any real spirituality in his inability to understand that Hannah’s sorrow was not so much the mere fact that she could not have children, but that she could not share in the blessing that most godly mothers possessed: to be a part of the nation of Israel and so to have a part in bringing forth the Christ, the Seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent and bring deliverance from the tyranny of sin (1 Sam. 1:8).

How do we know that her inability to have children was her great sorrow?

The answer is the fervency of her prayer for a child along with her promise that if God would give her a child, she would dedicate the child to the Lord (1 Sam 1:16-18). And even more powerfully, the song that Hannah sang when the Lord gave her a son (1 Sam 2:1-10) has many similarities to the song that Mary sang when she knew she was pregnant with Christ (Luke 1:46-55). It seems to me that Mary had Hannah’s song in her mind when she sang the song recorded for us in Luke. It was as if Mary, in her astonishment that the Lord had done what he said he would do, spoke in her song of and to all those godly women in the old dispensation who eagerly longed   for   the   coming   of   Christ, and found their joy in bringing forth children of the covenant who would bring into this world of sin the Christ himself. Mary collected all these songs and prayers of covenant mothers and said, as it were: God is faithful. I am to bring forth the hope of Israel’s mothers.

And so it is yet today even though Christ has brought salvation.

Throughout the entire new dispensation, the church of Christ has been blessed with such mothers as Hannah. These mothers live and die with two great truths in their hearts that lead them to understand Hannah’s sorrow in not having children.

The first is this: They are given the blessedness of bringing into the world God’s elect, for God’s promise is that he will save his church from believers and their seed. These covenant mothers bring forth the church of Christ itself.

Second, they know that Christ will come only when the last elect child is born and brought to faith in Christ. They have a part in bringing about that glorious day when Christ, the hope of the church, will come to take His people to glory. It is as if every covenant mother has her eye on and her heart aching for her Saviour who shall presently come to take her and her children to be where Christ is. They understand Hannah’s prayer. They will say when they stand before Christ: “Here am I, Lord, and the children thou has given me (Isa. 8:18, Heb, 2:13)1.

I know I have not yet written about Samuel, but I will – in the next article, God willing; but all these things are necessary background. Samuel was, in the words of Hannah, lent to the Lord as the living expression of Israel’s hope. This so permeated Samuel’ life that all his work was to bring Israel to a stronger hope for the coming of their Saviour.

 

1 We must not conclude that Christ must wait to come again until godly mothers have had their children as they planned to have them. The date of Christ’s coming is eternally fixed. But because the text from Isaiah that I quoted above is applied to Christ himself in Hebrews 2:13, the glorious idea is that Christ assigns to each covenant mother what children of God’s covenant they must bring forth, and to them He gives this great privilege. Christ determines His “children.”

 

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 44

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Scripture’s Covenant Youth (V): Moses

After my discussion of Joseph as an example of a very godly covenant youth, I consider with you Moses, an unusual child of God, who lived about 400 years after Joseph. I have written about Moses in the forum articles, and do not intend to repeat what I said in those articles. In fact, most of what I discussed in those articles were events in Moses’ life as a grown man. And this series of articles is about youth.

In Exodus 2:2 we are told that the parents of Moses saw when he was born that Moses was a “goodly child”, and so they hid him for three months rather than give him to Pharaoh’s police to have him killed according to the king’s command. The mention of Moses as a hero of faith in Hebrews 11 repeats what Exodus says: the parents saw that he was a “proper” child. But “proper” is the same as “goodly”, and the Revised Version translates the word in Hebrews as “goodly”.

Many guesses have been made about the meaning of “goodly”. Some say the meaning is that Moses was an exceptionally beautiful baby. Others say that at his birth Moses already possessed abilities that could only be done by children older than he. They speculate that Moses was already able to walk, or to speak; or that his understanding was beyond that of a baby. Some even speculate that he had a halo above his head.

The Bible does not tell us and we may not speculate or curiously inquire into what God has chosen not to reveal. It is, however, clear from the actions of Moses’ parents that something about the baby made them sure that this child had a special work in God’s covenant.

There is one expression in the narrative of Hebrews 11 that has struck my attention and forced me to ponder why it should be included in the Biblical narrative. The text in Hebrew 11 tells us that Moses’ choice for God’s people was “when he was come to years”.

The expression most probably did not refer to Moses’ physical and mental maturity. In our churches, generally, young people, born and raised in the church, make confession of faith when they “come to years”. That is, they have come to physical and mental maturity. We interpret that expression to mean, therefore, that God has so determined that covenant children come to years when they are physically, mentally, and spiritually mature. They are adults because they are ready to leave father and mother’s sheltering care. They are adults because they have attained such maturity that they are able to think and act for themselves without the guidance of covenant parents.

The spiritual development of a covenant child is a wonderful work of God. It comes with physical and mental maturity.

In the first five years of a child’s life, he is so dependent on his parents that he can do nothing by himself and needs constant help. Also, he depends on them to teach him what he has to know. And, in the child’s mind, what the parents say is truth, not to be challenged. When little children are taught to pray, the parents tell them what to pray. When they ask, “Why must we speak to someone whom we cannot even see ?”, the parents assure them that God, though invisible, hears what they say. They accept that without question.

This continues when they start school, for whatever their teachers say has to be true, because “Teacher said so”. The parents have a greater task if their children have to go to public schools, for teachers tell children things that are not true. Parents must know what their children are learning and must correct any wrong ideas by pointing to what God says.

As they develop into their early teens, most children begin to think that they can now make their own decisions and no longer need the guidance and discipline of parents. But deep down in their hearts children of the covenant know they need parents yet for a while. And while they may argue with parents and claim to be “old enough to decide for myself ”, they know they are not, and the struggle to be independent when they are still dependent is a large part of the difficulties early teenagers have. I have always found the most difficult catechism classes and children at home to teach are those in their early teens.

But by mid-teens young people come to a point of maturity. Maturity means that in their development spiritually and intellectually, they receive and examine what they have been taught, not mechanically, but because they have thought it over, compared it with Scripture and come to their own conclusion as to whether what they are taught is true or false. In the church, they are ready to make confession of faith. They not only believe what they do because they were taught this by parents and teachers, but because they have found what they were taught as true. They themselves have compared their knowledge with the Word of God. They know it is true, not because mom and dad have said so, not because the preacher has said so, but because they have compared it with Scripture and found that it is taught in the Bible.

So, by the time young people reach their late teens or early twenties, they are physically, mentally, and spiritually ready to make confession of faith and take their place in God’s church as responsible and eager contributing members of the church. We could say, “When so and so came to years he made his choice for the people of God – as Moses did”. Moses made his choice for the people of God when he came to years. So do we!

Confession of faith is a very important event in the life of a Christian youth. It is so important that I would like to discuss it in some detail. But it is better to do so in another article.

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 42

News from the Covenant Christian Education Society

On the night of October 10, 2014, men of the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church gathered together in response to the call of Deuteronomy 6:7 – “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up”. These men recognised the pressing need for our children, and our children’s children, to be given a Christian education: an education that was founded not only on academic excellence, but especially on the Word of God. That night, thirty- one men signed the roster forming our first society for Christian education, and elected six to its Board.

The Board was immediately given a number of tasks. The Board was to propose a name and constitution for the newly formed society. But more importantly, the Board had to begin investigating into the conditions necessary for forming our own Christian school in Singapore.

As the investigation progressed, it quickly became clear to the Board and Society that a fully functional Christian school – think having a school building with classrooms, labs, a gym and so on – would not be ours for several years yet. In the first place, the small number of children of school-going age in CERC today meant that it would be nearly impossible to set up such a school. There would not be enough students, nor sufficient funding to pay for the school. In addition, education in Singapore is heavily regulated by the government, thereby presenting us with a number of hurdles to cross before our school can be set up (more on this later).

With these considerations in mind, the Society at its January 2016 meeting adopted the name Covenant Christian Education Society, along with a Constitution for the Society. The adoption of the Constitution was significant because in it was embodied the basis for the Society: its belief in Scripture as the foundation for all things, the covenantal relationship between God and His people, and the need to raise covenant children for the service of God. In addition, the adopted name and Constitution reflected the unique position we had in Singapore. The Society expanded its initial goal from establishing a Christian school to one that also included providing a means for us to give our covenant children a Christian education while a school could not yet be formed.

In the course of its investigation, the Board uncovered a number of issues that would stand in the way of our having a Christian school. The largest hurdle to the formation of our Christian school today would probably be the enactment of the Compulsory Education Act. Established in 2003, the Act requires all Singaporean children to undergo Compulsory Education (CE) in a national primary school. Exemptions are only permitted for special needs children, Muslim children wishing to attend the madrasahs*, and those who wish to home-school. Parents who wish to home-school their children may apply to the Ministry of Education (MOE) for an exemption from CE, but home-schooled children must still, like all other students, sit for and complete the national Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) when they are between 11 and 15 years of age**. There are currently no laws requiring children to further their education after completing the PSLE.

Because of the apparent difficulty of giving our children of primary school- going age a Christian education, the Board has decided to focus its investigation first on the possible alternatives for Christian education for parents with young children.

Undoubtedly, the most ideal scenario would be to have our school recognized by the MOE as an official alternative to the public primary schools. However, at this point this appears difficult to do. Establishing our school as a national school would mean having to comply with standard MOE policies, which would almost certainly prevent us from teaching the Bible or from a biblical perspective. And while a Christian private school currently exists as an officially recognized alternative to public school education, it was formed before the current legislation took effect, and today the authorities appear to have little desire to grant approval for more of such schools. It is also not possible for us to establish our school as an international school, as Singaporean students would not be granted exemptions from CE to attend an international school.

The investigation appears to have yielded nothing but difficulty after difficulty, and obstacle after obstacle. Perhaps as you read this you are beginning to ask– will we ever have a Christian school?

The Board does not have an answer to that, but we trust that God will provide in His time. However, let us not despair as though the cause of Christian education is lost. While we do not yet have a Christian school, there are still possibilities for our children to be given a Christian education instead of attending a public school.

The opportunity to apply for a CE exemption to home-school our children remains open. While home- schooling cannot replace the learning experience which a child can enjoy in a Christian school, it provides us with the ability to educate our children from a Reformed perspective instead of leaving our children in the hands of the public schools. Because this option appears the most feasible as a near- term solution for Christian education, the Board is exploring the possibility of developing a Christian education experience for home-schooled children. While there are no concrete plans yet, possibilities include providing a suggested home-school curriculum for parents, and gathering the children for lessons, outings or other activities.

Despite the difficulties, let us remember that the Christian education of our children is an urgent calling for us. The third generation of children are already arriving one by one, and in God’s providence we will be blessed with more children in future as our young people marry. We – yes, all of us – have to be ready to raise these children in the ways of the Lord. How can we be ready?

Young people, make the covenant education of your children a priority.

You may not be married, or even dating at this point, but you can already begin to make preparations to enable you to give your children a covenant education in future. Start by taking an interest in the work of the Society, because providing our children with a Christian education is not only the Board’s work. It is also your calling too! Familiarize yourself with the possibilities and constraints of Christian education in Singapore. In addition, recognize that you may one day need to apply for a CE exemption to home-school in order to give your child a Christian education. There are certain requirements to be fulfilled for that exemption to be granted, and you can begin exploring how you can be ready to meet the requirements, should the time come that you need to apply for that exemption.

Adult members, your own children may be past the school-going age, or perhaps the Lord has not given you children of your own. Nevertheless, the calling in Deuteronomy 6 comes to you as well. As the entire nation of Israel was commanded to teach their children the ways of God, so also are you to teach the children of our church, though they may not be your own. If you are able, consider giving financially to help the cause of Christian education, for Christian education is costly, especially for young parents raising a family on one income. You can also volunteer your time to support the activities related to Christian education, perhaps by teaching a class or two, or being a chaperone at an outing for the children, should such activities be organized. In any case, Christian education is no easy task, and there will be many different ways for you to contribute.

Finally, pray for the work of the Society and the Board, for the work ahead is too great for our own strength to bear. It is only through Christ, relying on His strength and resting on His promises, that we may one day see our children, and children’s children for generations to come, educated in a solidly Reformed school.

*Madrasah: An Islamic religious school

**Ministry of Education, Singapore. (2016). Com- pulsory Education: Exemptions. Retrieved from https://www.moe.gov.sg/education/education-sys- tem/compulsory-education/exemptions

Written by: Daniel Tang | Issue 40

A Murderous Scourge

“Fears over the Zika virus have contributed to a ‘huge’ increase in the number of women in Latin America wanting abortions, researchers say.” (Gallagher, 2016) At the time of this writing, a great scourge of death is sweeping the world – and no, it is not Zika. The Zika advent, however, does shed light on history’s greatest ongoing genocide: today’s worldwide culture of murder in abortion.

In the BBC article cited above titled “Abortion demand ‘soars’ amid Zika fear”, published on 23 June 2016, it was estimated that abortion requests have at least doubled in Brazil and increased by a third in neighbouring countries. Some of the responses from affected women are recorded. In one woman’s words: “We are all very alarmed and I do not want have a sick baby, please, I do not want to continue my pregnancy because it is very dangerous.” Another said: “I love children, but I don’t believe it is a wise decision to keep a baby who will suffer. I need an abortion. I don’t know who to turn to. Please help me ASAP.” In the article, it was lamented that the illegality of abortions in many parts of Latin America are turning many to unsafe underground providers, and the governments of said countries were roundly criticised for sparking panic and fear.

All this is not very far away from us here in Singapore, although by the time of publishing in November, Zika might well be almost last year’s news. Shortly after the outbreak was first reported in early September and the first local pregnant mother diagnosed with Zika, the topic of abortions (which is legal in Singapore under 24 weeks of pregnancy) was raised. A public health director was quoted: “If the scans are totally normal, I think all is well. If the scans are very abnormal, then I think the result is clear. But sometimes there will be borderline cases and I think that’s where there will be very difficult decisions.” Another medical professional added: “Whether or not to terminate the pregnancy is “a very personal decision” (Khalik, 2016).

Few clearer signs of the nearness of our Lord’s return are there, when men assert that the decision to commit the murder of other human beings is “a very personal decision”. Indeed, our Lord tells us plainly that “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:12). Indeed, the widespread acceptance of abortion in our day is a prime example of how men “think to change times and laws”, as will Antichrist in grand fashion when he arises (Dan. 7:25). The issue is no longer about whether it is wrong to kill, but when. Words like “kindness”, “mercy” and “circumstances” readily find their way into abortion morality debates – how cruel are the tender mercies of the wicked (Pro. 12:10)! Love worketh no ill to the neighbour (Rom. 13:10) – which clearly includes not slaying the neighbour.

Recently, my wife and I had our own personal   experiences   encountering the abortion zeitgeist. At the first visit to our gynaecologist early into the pregnancy of our unborn son, our doctor who is herself a Christian and opposed to abortion, was at pains to explain to us the details behind common prenatal abnormality testing. A battery of extra tests are routinely offered in many clinics to parents that enable the confirmation of birth defects such as trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) and various others, if routine checks show up abnormal (routine checks alone are not enough to confirm birth defects). This article will not delve into the details of these tests except to state that, as there are no pre-birth interventions available for such babies at present, the main purpose of such testing is for parents to deliberate the possibility of abortion. (Another reason parents may opt for the checks if they are not considering abortion, could be to prepare themselves mentally for the task of raising a child with disabilities after the child is born. However, the tests are not without risk to the child, so tests for this reason are not often recommended, as I understand.) Our doctor wanted to know from the outset whether we might consider abortion in the scenario of a child with defects. As I gather, there were probably personal limits to how far she would go to assist couples in taking that path. We did not need to find out, as we asserted that abortion was out of the question. We decided against undergoing the extra testing and left it at that.

Some time afterwards, however, while I was on an internship, I happened to speak to a colleague who had given birth recently, and who claimed to be a Christian herself. She was surprised that we had chosen not to undergo the abnormality tests from the outset, to which I replied that we saw no point if the sole purpose was to consider abortion, which we would never consider an option. This colleague then took it upon herself to counsel me that the huge costs of raising a child with abnormalities should give us pause to consider carefully. At the time, I asserted in reply that the challenges were not trivial, but that God would certainly give such Christian parents the necessary grace to bear the trial. Perhaps it could have been added too that the costs in this life, however immense, cannot for a moment compare to having to stand before the Almighty God in the last day to answer for the wilful murder of one’s own child. Now, this is not to say that abnormality testing is wrong in itself or that those who chose to do so necessarily sin. However, judge for yourselves the nature of the decisions that such tests purport to help parents deliberate.

Our rejection of abortion as murder does not in any way minimize the great difficulties that parents who are tempted to consider abortions may face. Often, crushing problems – poverty, lack of family/community support, crippling disabilities like microcephaly (which can be caused by Zika) – lead women to have abortions. While circumstances can never be a sufficient excuse to commit murder, these are nevertheless real problems and real temptations, and we must not think that these could never become a temptation for us as Reformed Christians. For mothers who do fall into the terrible sin of abortion, the consequences, apart from the slaying of the baby, are often severe. There are emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual traumas, and some women may be haunted by their conscience and the ghosts of their decision for the rest of their lives (McGeown M., 2015). We must be prepared to reach out to such women with the gospel and with compassion when we encounter them. As a church, we rightly condemn abortion when we preach Lord’s Day 40 of the Heidelberg Catechism on the sixth commandment, for abortion is murder – and yet, the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover even the sin of murder for the broken, repentant sinner. Our responses must contain these two truths: Christ condemns the transgression of his commandments, but He does not condemn the penitent sinner for whom His blood has covered all sins.

Having covered at length in this article the negative fulfilment of the law “Thou shalt not kill”, it would be a shame if we did not take the opportunity to look at the positive aspect of the law as well – that we love our neighbour, which includes loving our children who are gifts of God. Focused solely on the horror of wilfully slaying babies for which millions have their consciences grievously seared, we may lose sight of the incredible wonder and blessing that is a child brought into the world by God, through the astonishing intricacies of conception and birth. The changes in the body of the mother, feeling the movements of the child in the womb – these are but some of many ways that we realise anew that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and we confess that “marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well. (Ps. 139:14).

We need not fear Zika, or any other birth defect, sickness or disease, for all these are sovereignly held in the hand of our Almighty Father. This is not to say that such conditions may never affect our children, but that if it is the Lord’s will that they do, they are His specific trials that are given to us in love and for our purification. All children are brought into this world in exactly the way the Lord has designed, whether healthy or with “defects”, down to the smallest cell. This is a tremendous comfort to Reformed Christians, all of whom can sing with truth: “All that I am I owe to Thee, thy wisdom Lord, hath fashioned me” (Psalter 383).

For Christian parents, the birth of a child is a moment of great rejoicing, for notwithstanding the many trials and sorrows that accompany childbearing, covenant children are added to the eternal congregation of believers. While we know that in the sovereign counsel of God, not every single one of our children may be elect, we know of a certainty that the covenant promise is for us in our generations (Gen. 17:7). Truly, it is a great privilege for parents to be used by God in the raising of the next generation of the church.

As the Lord’s return draws near, ever more will these views be at odds with the culture and world around us. We live in the midst of a society obsessed with death. As pilgrims, our confession will be as a blinding irritant to the ungodly. Though we shall be mocked and hated for speaking the truth on abortion, let us reflect that it is for the Lord alone to kill and make alive (1 Sam. 2:6). Even as the world rapidly darkens around us and the ungodly are apparently ascendant in all aspects of society, let us remember that the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his saints to execute judgment (Jud. 14-15). Let us pilgrims take heart, for Christ is coming swiftly on the clouds of glory.

REFERENCES

Gallagher, J. (2016, June 23). Abortion demand ‘soars’ amid Zika fear. Retrieved from BBC News: http:// www.bbc.com/news/health-36595448

Khalik, S. (2016, September 9). Zika spreads to Bedok; first mum-to-be hit by virus. Retrieved from Straits

Times:   http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/zika-spreads-to- bedok-first-mum-to-be-hit-by-virus

McGeown, M. (15 Jan., 2015). Abortion: the Culture of Death. The Standard Bearer, pg. 178-9

McGeown, M. (1 April, 2015). Letters: Abortion…and the Grace of God for Sinners. The Standard Bearer, pg. 295-6

Written by: Chua Lee Yang | Issue 40

Our Children’s Education (IX)

Covenant education for Covenant seed is faithfulness to Jehovah’s Covenant. Leaving our children to fend for themselves in the ungodly education of public schools is contrary to all the precepts of the Covenant. We rob our children of their Covenant privileges when we give them an ungodly education instead of a Covenant one.

It is sheer folly to expect godly, spiritually mature men and women to be raised under an ungodly education. As a corrupt tree cannot produce good fruit, so an ungodly education cannot produce godly children.

Jehovah’s calling for Covenant parents is not to raise up the political and business leaders of this world. It is to raise up “Davids”, “Daniels”, and “Pauls” for the church of Jesus Christ; it is to rear mothers in Israel.

Educating our children carefully in the ways of the Covenant will serve an important purpose. We will raise a generation that knows their Reformed faith intimately; by God’s grace, they will love it, confess it, maintain it, defend it, live by it, and even die for it. We will raise a generation who will be jealous for their precious Reformed heritage because they have a God who is jealous of His glory. We will raise a generation whose chief end in life is the glory of their God.

It is extremely crucial for parents in CERC to understand and be convinced of Covenant education. Most of our second generation members have undergone the public education process and know of its evil consequences. If the Reformed faith is to survive and be developed in all its splendour and beauty, the next generation must not be bystanders in their children’s Covenant education.

If CERC pursues the path of Covenant education for her young (using whatever means the Lord provides us), we will be very much alone. Most churches in Singapore have carelessly given their Covenant seed over to the public schools and are suffering its devastating consequences. We must not be afraid to be alone, for God’s people always constitute a very small remnant.

 

I have no doubt that Covenant education in Singapore is a difficult path that will involve much sacrifice. It is, nevertheless, the path that Scripture directs for us as Covenant parents. God assures us that He will bless us in the way of obedience.

God has provided the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) as an example for us. There is nothing cultural about the PRC’s insistence on providing a Covenant education for her children. It is Biblical. It is confessional. It is Reformed.

For reformation to take place in the church of Jesus Christ, we must give serious consideration to the education our Covenant children receive and make significant effort to be greatly involved in it. The Christian education of our children is not a matter of choice. It is our Covenant duty. It is our Covenant privilege.

It is a Covenant necessity.

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 39

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