TRAIN UP A CHILD
Sunday School “Rally Day”
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Along with the beginning of another new school year also comes the time for Junior and Senior Confirmation, and new Sunday School curriculum and various Bible classes to begin again. Over 200 years ago a woman was concerned for children in the streets of England’s slums and began teaching Bible lessons to a group of them. The idea became popular, and the concept of the “Sunday School” was born, catching on quickly throughout the country. From there it spread everywhere.
Several centuries before that, Martin Luther took many children into his home and used his Small Catechism as the basis for instruction. He considered the teachings in it to be the mere basics for Christian learning, and included in the title of each section of the Catechism is the phrase: “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to the household.”
Primary responsibility for the spiritual and moral guidance of children rests with parents; not teachers, principals, coaches or government. The classes and programs offered by our churches are intended to supplement what should already be going on in the home, and not to usurp or relieve daily parental responsibility.
The Teaching Staff of your congregation does want to support Christian training and upbringing, however.
TEACHING GOD'S LAW
One reason for Sunday School and classes is for assisting with moral guidance, pointing up our desperately sinful natures, those things that are sinful and wrong in thought, word and deed, and working to instill lifelong attitudes of humble repentance in all who come. How many times does it take for a child to finally get the message not to touch something, stop fighting, take out the garbage, quit whining, take a bath, go to bed or clean his or her room? When children exhibit their relatively normal selfish human behavior, it usually takes repeated remarks (and sometimes carried out threats) to get them moving! Doesn’t it? In Sunday School, VBS and Catechism classes the lesson to willingly honor and obey father and mother is reinforced, for example; the 4th Commandment!
Youngsters also often complain that rules are made to apply only to them and that “Nobody else has to do such and such,” or “Everybody else gets to do such and such.” Teachers can help them see that those complaints usually aren’t valid, that other adults besides just one’s own parents teach the same values, and the lessons are taught to the whole class and not just the individual.
Parents can do themselves a favor and receive support in giving proper moral guidance by ensuring their children’s regular attendance, also setting a proper example by their own Bible group and personal study involvement. The moral instruction given is of course straight from God’s Word and Law, yet assuredly in our churches it’s always meant to be coupled with the Gospel as well!
TEACHING THE GOSPEL
Teachers are an invaluable help in that way, too, and I’d like to illustrate it for you with a personal story: From the time I was a 5 year old child to about 9, for 4 years, I was terribly afraid in the dark. With the covers pulled up tightly around me up to my eyes, it would take hours for me to go to sleep. Every shadow became a fierce bear or lion or gangster coming to get me. Sometimes I’d get so scared I couldn’t even cry out, but even when I could, I’d often suffer first in silence for hours because of feeling guilty about always disturbing my parents.
My father left home to go to school for a couple years when I had been younger, and then for several months off and on in following years he was gone, too. I suspect that had a lot to do with my fear and not being pacified even by a nightlight. At any rate, I desperately wanted my Dad’s reassurance that he still loved me and would take care of me. As he was able through the years of my fear, he GAVE me that kind of reassurance! Sometimes night after night, and sometimes two or three times a night, he would respond to my terrified screams by sprinting to my bedside. Then he would often lead me by the hand, turn on all the lights and show me that no people or animals were in any closets or drawers or lurking under the bed. Many were the times he told me he’d surely hear anyone trying to get in and that he’d be ready and waiting to prevent such a person from getting to me. Although it was quite rare, sometimes he would even talk soothingly about God and Angels looking out for me, and just a few times my parents even let me snuggle between them in their bed for the rest of the night. From one night to the next, on and on, I wanted reassurance of my father’s love, and he gave it to me. He even said he was willing to die to protect me!
Some psychologists might criticize such “mollycoddling” while others would applaud such parental commitment. The point here, though, is that what my dad DID do in the case of my fear is very much like the prime purpose for Sunday School or other Bible class opportunities. It’s to teach how our HEAVENLY Father still loves us each and every one! That message should lie somewhere in every lesson in some way, shape or form, and Christian children AND adults easily lose sight of it with lives so heavily influenced by the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh. Just one or a few tellings of God’s tremendous sacrificial love in Christ doesn’t tend to last us very long. (My night fears finally went away, by the way, when I discovered that the terrifying growling I often heard wasn’t the bear I imagined, but my brother’s snoring.)
GOD DESERVES OUR RESPECTFUL ATTENTION AND REGULAR ATTENDANCE
Let me illustrate yet a third reason for the importance of taking advantage of the spiritual opportunities offered through congregational teaching programs: The story is told of a man who worked for a railroad being thrown into a terrible dilemma. A speeding train full of people was heading for certain doom as it approached a parked train on the same track. The man could throw a switch to change the path of the moving train, but his young son was just crossing that second track bringing the man’s lunch. If he threw the switch, he wouldn’t be able to get to his son in time to save him. If he didn’t throw it, hundreds of people would die. So, with only seconds to make the choice, the man threw the switch and saw his own son die. Now, if that story is true, only the most hard-hearted could say that the man’s sacrifice was meaningless, irrelevant or worthless, as some say of Christianity.
Yet we know that the story IS true of God and His Son! The sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross holds redeeming value for all mankind and is vastly superior to anything we might ever offer back to God. As Heaven’s Hosts proclaim, to the Lamb who was slain and rose again truly belongs all power, and wealth, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing, and at the very least (to say nothing of what we owe in money or specific acts of service) we each rightly owe Him our time and study of His Word and Truth.
The “old, old Story” heard again and again is for our reassurance beyond just learning God’s Laws, and His own patient desire is that we keep a firm grip on the comfort of knowing He IS always still there and loves us – by continually hearing the message of His Son’s atoning death for our sin. He shed His lifeblood and tasted hell for us all, rising from death in victory, and faith that is nurtured in THAT Truth is the ONLY thing that can really give us the power to lead truly Godly lives and surmount the difficulties we ever face.
The amount of time we devote and the level of our hearts’ desire to truly abide in Jesus and the security of His Word has EVERYTHING to do with how much merit we allot to Him. Consider the account of Martha’s rushing around to serve Jesus while Mary just sat at His feet learning from Him. Martha’s devotion to serving Jesus was, of course, commendable, except as measured against her first taking time to BE served BY His teaching.
The same benefits and reasons for regular attendance can be explained just as simply for the benefit of grandchildren, friends and neighbors as you invite them, too! Studying the Bible together teaches God’s values for our good, it communicates His immense love for us in Christ, and He genuinely deserves our coming to hear about Him.
“Let the little children come to Me,” Jesus once said. Don’t let them be deprived of any opportunities to have the Gospel’s assurance repeated, whether it be at church OR at home. Let’s also be supportive of the teachers in the valuable service they so willingly render. And let those who are beyond childhood not neglect themselves, either: Let’s not depart from the way WE should go!
Then all that remains is for God to make good on His gracious promise: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will NOT depart from it.”