Child Sacrifice in the Twenty-First Century

November 6th, 2013 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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Last month in India Rajkumar Chaurasia axed his nine-month-old son to death as a sacrifice to the Hindu goddess Durga (Kali). Kali is famously the goddess of destruction, so Chaurasia committed the horrific crime to please her. He thought that the sacrifice would bring happiness to childless couples, according to police.

 

As enlightened Westerners, we rightly recoil at such barbaric acts. If religion leads us to destroy, rather than to build up/inspire/encourage, then religion is wrong. That any god could take pleasure in child sacrifice is a testament to the destructive power of irrational belief—more proof that “religion poisons everything.” Thank goodness we’ve turned to more rational ideals and away from cruel superstition.

 

What would drive people to sacrifice their children? The purpose is to gain the favor of the god to whom the child is sacrificed, precisely what Chaurasia purposed. It is a wretchedly cruel instance of quid pro quo: “I will sacrifice something of great value to me, but then you have to do what I want.” If I burn my child on the altar, you have to provide a good harvest next year; if I throw her off the cliff, you will keep my enemies from overtaking me; if I axe him to death, you must make many wombs fertile in response.

 

In other words, people have sacrificed their children throughout the ages because they wanted something more than their children. It is the most severe form of pagan idolatry. Whatever idol I seek—whatever it is I want most in this world, whether that be security, riches, health, or even something as innocuous as self-fulfillment—I am willing to give up that which I should love most unconditionally to receive it. It is selfishness to the core.[1]

 

Once child sacrifice is reframed in these terms, however, our “enlightened” Western culture has cause to shift uncomfortably in its seat. In the United States, at least, we have been practicing state-sanctioned child sacrifice since 1973. In fact, we have killed more than 50 million babies in the pursuit of our idols. I am referring to abortion.

 

What would drive us to sacrifice our children? What are the gods whose favor we seek? They are not false gods like the days of yore—Molech, Ba’al, even Kali—but modern gods of our own making. We sacrifice children to the idol career, to self-actualization, to selfish visions of the perfect life (and there is no room for a child with Down’s syndrome in those visions, it seems). If a child would hinder my plans for happiness, I will happily sacrifice him or her on that altar.

 

So, before we judge the religious practice of child sacrifice too harshly, perhaps we should examine our own secularized, humanist, enlightened version of it first. It is no less cruel, no less barbaric, no less selfish than Rajkumar Chaurasia’s appalling act. If the latter shocks and horrifies us, so should the former.

 

A final word, for the evangelicals who constitute the overwhelming bulk of my limited readership: Before we slip into our own version of smug judgmentalism (not that we’d ever fall into that!), it may be worth noting our own version of child sacrifice. While we rightly oppose abortion vocally and vehemently, we may still fall into the trap of sacrificing our children spiritually for the sake of counterfeit gods. The idols of education, advancement, success, achievement, fun, athletics and extracurricular activities all clamor for our devotion. Will we keep our children from spiritual life for any of these? For what will we allow or force them to skip fellowship with believers? What gets in the way of our family worship times—opening the Word and praying together as a family? You get the idea. We are just as wont to place our desires above our children’s most important needs.



[1] Small wonder, then, that the God of the Bible detests child sacrifice so intensely (cf. Jeremiah 32:35 and the harsh response to Manasseh’s sin of child sacrifice in 2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33): God expects us to live self-sacrificial—not egocentric, self-serving—lives.



Who Needs Youth Group?

July 16th, 2013 | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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Last week I satirically alluded to the importance of young adults attending church and youth group, lest they should fall into an early, chronic church consumerism. Some might respond, however, that though church is an indispensable means of grace, youth group is unnecessary. After all, neither youth pastors nor youth groups appear in God’s Word; and, indeed, the onus for transmitting the faith to the younger generation falls unmistakably on parents (cf. Deuteronomy 6:7; Ephesians 6:1-4). Why, then, have youth groups at all? And, should we decide to have youth groups still as a support ministry, why the histrionics about youth who don’t attend regularly?

 

Fair questions, these.

 

I would submit some cautious replies. I confess at the outset that I will employ experiential arguments in defense of my thesis. I am not generally a fan of experiential arguments, for they lack the weight of reasoned biblical argumentation. (The trouble with arguments from experience, after all, is that someone else may have a different experience—and who is to judge between them?) Nevertheless, as I noted above, I haven’t got much in the way of biblical support for youth ministry—only a vast and distressing lacuna—so I’ll make do with what I have. I acknowledge at the outset, though, that my conclusions will have to be tenuous because my premises are necessarily so.

 

I want to be especially wary of teaching human traditions as the commands of God (Mark 7:8). The Bible regularly enjoins participation in the local congregation and submission to the authority structures of the church (e.g., Hebrews 10:24-25; 13:17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Ephesians 4:11-16); however, nowhere does God command youth to attend a mid-week gathering aimed at them especially. Thus, attendance at youth group is not a question of obedience to God’s commands, but rather a question of discernment and wisdom for widely divergent families. Should all families send their children to youth group? If not, who should? And why?

 

Who Needs Youth Group?

Based on my experience in different contexts, cultures, and churches, I would say two very different groups of students would benefit immensely from regular[1] attendance at youth group.

 

First, youth who attend public schools should probably make youth group a priority in their lives. At least in the United States, public education is now intentionally anti-Christian, indoctrinating children with a worldview fundamentally at odds with Christian belief. This is not just a question of specific issues, such as naturalistic evolution, but a comprehensive approach to truth. The sad fact is that this indoctrination process is remarkably effective. Fewer and fewer Christian teenagers have a robust biblical understanding of the world, and fewer still can meaningfully engage with culture where they do disagree. Biblical knowledge is at an agonizing ebb. And while I grant that parents could supplement and correct the false teaching their children receive at school, the cold, hard truth is that few do—or do enough anyway. For these reasons, I believe youth who attend public schools should attend youth group regularly, to receive the instruction and equipping necessary for their circumstances—especially with university looming on the horizon, where these challenges will intensify!

 

Second, youth who are homeschooled should probably make youth group a priority in their lives—but for very different reasons. Indeed, one of the main motives for homeschooling is to pass a biblical worldview on to one’s children. However, what is often lacking in children of homeschooling families is an ability to engage winsomely and boldly with the culture around them (occasionally even including the other kids in their youth groups!). Homeschooling runs the risk of being unbiblically insular: children receive an abundance of Christian worldview, but have little skill at communicating its message to those in desperate need of it. For this reason, I believe youth who are homeschooled should attend youth group regularly, to have opportunity to engage with the lost and struggling meaningfully—and to learn how to do so more and more effectively.

 

Who Might Not Need Youth Group?

While I believe youth group should benefit every teen who attends, nevertheless I can see two groups who—given the constraints of time and energy—need not make it a priority in their lives.

 

First, youth who attend Christian schools might not need to attend youth group regularly, though it would depend upon the school. Two questions must be asked of the school: (1) Does the school provide truly Christian education, or is it merely a private school that Christians attend? That is, does the school not only teach the content of the faith (e.g., Bible classes taught by professionals trained in the subject), but also the practice of the faith? Does the school have a compelling discipleship structure, and is making disciples the top priority of the school? (2) Does the school provide opportunities to engage with the lost and struggling, so that students learn to communicate the gospel winsomely and boldly? This might happen through regular outreach events or through welcoming a percentage of the student population that is not Christian. If these two criteria are met, then it is very likely that those youth could forego youth group if they had good reasons for doing so—provided they belong to the second group too, however.

 

Second, those youth who participate fully in the “adult” ministries of the church would not need to attend youth group regularly. By full participation, I do not mean spectating during the service and volunteering to hold small children in the nursery. That is not fellowship as Scripture defines it. Rather, full participation requires using one’s gifts to serve the church, leading to mutual edification and outreach, and partaking in genuinely Christian relationships. These would involve mutual confession, encouragement, admonition, prayer, and accountability. If a young man or woman enjoyed that sort of fellowship with other members of the congregation—in a small group, for example—while using their gifts to build up the church, they could forego youth group.

 

A Final Caveat

Of course, my whole argument demands that the youth group reflect a functioning biblical community, having the same priorities and ministries that Scripture enjoins. A spineless, shallow, merely entertaining, or even merely relational group isn’t worth attending regardless of one’s educational situation. If the heart of the youth group is seeing who can drink a soda through a dirty sock the fastest, then I would strongly encourage all the youth in the church either to participate in the “adult” ministries fully or to seek reform prayerfully and lovingly. If, however, the heart of the youth group is equipping young men and women become to become fully-devoted followers of Christ—making disciples, that is—then I can only encourage participation.



[1] By “regular,” I mean often enough to be a functioning member of the community: i.e., using one’s gifts to serve others in the group, and developing relationships of sufficient depth for accountability and admonition.



How to Train Your Teen to Be a Lifelong Church Consumer

July 11th, 2013 | Posted in Blog | 2 Comments
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  1. Don’t make them attend church/youth group. After all, church is only for those who feel like going. If they are too tired or just don’t like it that much, assure them those are valid reasons to opt out of fellowship with other believers.
  2. Make sure they are entertained, not equipped. Priorities, after all: if all your youth group is doing is teaching them to follow Jesus, without sufficient fun saturating the event, it is time for a change.
  3. Speaking of priorities and attendance, let them skip church/youth group any time you have a schedule conflict. No one would argue that homework and extracurricular activities are more important than gathering with the saints. This will also prepare them for the future, when careers and hobbies will climb above church on the priority list.
  4. Don’t correct them if they complain about church/youth group. Complaining is only a minor sin, remember. (I can only think of one generation that God wiped out entirely because of it.) They don’t need loving rebuke; they need laughter and participation in their immaturity, else their self-esteem might suffer.
  5. In fact, when they complain, bring it to the youth pastor. That way they’ll learn the real problem is the leaders, and—more importantly—they’ll learn that they know more than their pastors about ministry anyway. (That bit about making it a joy for your leaders to lead doesn’t apply to youth pastors.)
  6. Ground them from youth group when they misbehave or get low grades. Church is like a cell phone—a distraction to be removed when behaviors get careless—not an indispensable means of grace. And if they struggle with obedience to the commands of God, the last thing they need is a community of believers facing the same issues and striving to grow in grace together!
  7. When all else fails, change churches regularly. Remember, it’s not about unfailing commitment to a local congregation because of your membership in the body of Christ; it’s about making sure your needs are met. The only way to make sure that happens is to leave every time you’re unhappy. I would recommend at least one switch, and preferably two, during their teen years. 


Family Matters

February 20th, 2013 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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One hears it like a mantra today: “Family is more important than church.” It is said with such tendentious frequency that we rarely stop to ask whether or not it is true.

 

In a sense it feels a little bit like saying, “The Father is more important than the Son,” or “The Son is more important than the Holy Spirit.” It is contrived and unnecessary categorization. The family, after all, is merely a temporary expression of an eternal reality; the local congregation is the imperfect and visible manifestation of that eternal reality. We are parents only momentarily, in the same way that we marry and are given in marriage only momentarily (Mark 12:25); but if our children are appointed for eternal life and so believe in the finished work of Christ, then they will join the eternal family of the people of God.

 

In truth, balancing “church” and “family” is not unlike pastors balancing warning and assurance of salvation. Some have grown presumptuous in their faith and so need to be warned that they will not inherit the kingdom of God apart from genuine repentance (cf. Hebrews 6:4-6). Others, however, grow discouraged by the raging war between flesh and Spirit and so need to be assured that nothing can separate them from the love of God in Christ (cf. Romans 8:28-30).

 

In the same way, some neglect their families because they are so busy with church activities that they cannot find the time to instruct and train their children in the riches of grace. Men and women like this need to remember that the family is an expression of the church, that they are responsible to impress the truth of God on their children (cf. Deuteronomy 6:7-9; Ephesians 6:4). These are men and women after Eli’s heart, and they can expect to reap a similar reward (1 Samuel 2:12-25). Others, however, have made idols of their children, equating physical proximity with loving engagement, rejecting the primacy and authority of the church—and ultimately God—in the life of the family. Jesus had hard words for people like this, reminding them that we cannot be disciples unless we “hate” even our own children by granting God the first place in our lives—and thus our family’s schedules (Luke 14:26).[1]

 

Perhaps the balance would be easier to strike if we more clearly defined what we mean by “family” and “church.” I suspect we could eliminate much of the confusion by focusing passionately on our commission, making disciples. Our primary focus in participating in church activities (cf. Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 Corinthians 12-14) and spending time with our children (cf. Deuteronomy 6:7-9; Ephesians 6:4) is making disciples of all people—whether in the church or at home. Now we have a criterion by which to judge what we do in both spheres, to determine which is really more important at any given moment: is what I am doing going to make disciples, or is it mere activity in an occasionally holy place?

 

Consider: Could you miss one of your child’s many cross-country meets—especially considering she is also involved in volleyball, ballet, musical theater, and pep club—in order to attend a training session on relational disciple-making at church? Should your child skip his small group in the church’s youth group, where the bulk of relational disciple-making takes place, because his coach told him he had to play club soccer in order to make the school team in the spring (and even though you both know full well he won’t play soccer once he graduates)? Or, conversely, would it be wise to skip the church’s Family Fun Night in order to spend some concentrated time discussing with your daughter Christian response to the interpersonal conflict she is involved in at school—including an extended time of prayer afterwards? Might you even routinely miss your thirteen-year-old son’s Bible Club because it is the only time you can meet together for your father/son Bible study on Proverbs?

 

You get the point. Blanket statements about prioritizing family ahead of church (or vice versa) probably reflect priorities skewed away from our commission anyway. It would be far better to consider both family and church as vitally important, and then to make individual decisions in the Spirit as you face them. Mere attendance at family and church functions is never enough, and so thorough, prayerful consideration of each activity—especially in our idolatrously over-scheduled Western world—is an absolute necessity.

 

May God grant us Paul’s wisdom, in understanding well the overlap between church and family, and his fervency, in making disciples as passionately as parents invest in their children (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-12).



[1] I have heard some argue that God is first in their lives, but church activity is far down the list of priorities. All that is well and good, so long as we still separate out disciple-making from mere church activity (see below). Can you really have a thriving relationship with God—that is, are you loving him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength—if you are not actively loving your neighbor by making disciples? Shouldn’t we categorize disciple-making as part of our relationship with God?



Two Easy Steps to Powerful Parenting

February 29th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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  1. Get down on your knees, fall on your face, and seek his will and wisdom, pleading for his grace.
  2. When the Spirit releases you, get up and go about your gospel-proclaiming, disciple-making business until he calls you to get down on your knees, fall on your face, and seek his will and wisdom, pleading for his grace.

 

Repeat as necessary.



Redeeming or Retreating?

February 20th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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Most holidays suffer from insufferable commercialism and superficiality in these dark times. Occasionally Christians respond by retreating from the holiday as a whole. I wonder if this is really the best course of action, however, especially when young children are present; I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to redeem the holidays instead.

 

While not addressing the issue directly, Scripture does hint at the latter response. After all, Jesus encountered the same crass commercialism in his day. During the Passover—what should have been a time of joyful celebration of God’s continuing faithfulness—he enters the Temple precincts and drives out those who were all too clearly worshiping Mammon instead (Mark 11:15-17). The connections to our contemporary celebration of Christmas seem too obvious to draw. But notice that he does not then abstain from commemorating Passover, but instead invests it with new, rich meaning when he celebrates the Last Supper with his disciples. Can we do the same?

 

If our purpose as parents is to teach our children as much about God as we can in the short time we have with them, can we afford to spurn such wonderful opportunities to do that—all in the name of pious asceticism? Paul said, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Here are opportunities to share something of God’s goodness and greatness in a way that speaks powerfully to children.

 

Consider Valentine’s Day, which passed by last week. Undoubtedly this holiday—like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving—has descended into a pit of inanity and outright sin. But its simple message, uncorrupted by the world, proves biblical enough. To celebrate love—both human and divine—seems decidedly Christian. Why not redeem this holiday by teaching our children not about superficial, tawdry, spurious romantic love, but rather about the incomparable love of God—and the resultant love of Christians for one another? Our daughter, age three, loves Valentine’s Day because, like most kids, she loves celebrations. But the message she heard was the Lord’s: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). I would not want to miss an opportunity like that.

 

Scripture enjoins celebration (Exodus 23:15-16; Esther 9:28; Psalm 145:7; Luke 15:23). Throughout her history, Israel celebrated—occasionally wildly—God’s remarkable faithfulness (e.g. Exodus 15:1-21; 1 Kings 8:62-66). Let us take advantage of these days of celebration to dazzle our children with God’s goodness and grace. That is the power of redemption, not retreat.



The Goal of Parenting (Part Two)

November 15th, 2011 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The goal of parenting is not to be the perfect parent.

 

The goal of parenting is that your children know God as the perfect Father.

 

Parents devote too much energy to the idolatrous pursuit of perfection in parenting: choosing the best method of discipline, sleep training, nutritional habits, devotional activities. While working through the possibilities and choosing the wisest course for your family is important, it is not the most important.

 

What happens when the cracks in the façade begin to show (and they surely will, as we are all steeped in sin and self)? Pursuing perfection means papering over the cracks, so that our children, our spouse, our neighbors, our Bible-study group can worship us in the splendor of our holiness. Pursuing grace means embracing our failures as a God-given reminder that we need Jesus—and he is more than enough for us.

 

And he is more than enough for our children. In the moment of our weakness, they can see his strength; in the moment of our sin, they can understand his grace.

 

Do not strive for perfection. Strive for the display of his goodness and grace in your life—even when you mess up. That’s good news. That’s news your children need to hear.

 

(For The Goal of Parenting: Part One, see here.)



The Goal of Parenting

November 7th, 2011 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The goal of parenting is not to raise children who are good.

 

The goal of parenting is to raise children who know God.

 

We must be wary of any parenting philosophy that assumes, however implicitly, that we hold sovereign sway in our children’s lives—as if we could rear children so perfect they are not in need of God’s grace. This is heresy of the very worst sort.

 

Too many parenting approaches, even those offered by Christian authors, prove behavior-centered and discipline-driven. For those who have been redeemed solely by the substitutionary work of Christ, however, our approach must always be Christ-centered and gospel-driven. The difference is more than semantic; it is revolutionary.

 

What do we do when our children sin and disobey? If behavior-centered, we will insist on obedience and teach it as effectively as we can. But if we are Christ-centered, we will make the most of this opportunity by sharing the gospel fully—to show that Christ is the remedy for our sin, and not mere discipline. Obviously, parents who love their children will discipline them and will teach them to obey (Hebrews 12:7-8). But we will do more than this. We will love them enough to share the good news of God’s grace with them every time they sin. We will love them enough to ensure they do not become whitewashed tombs, perfectly obedient and painfully faithless, neither loving nor being loved by God.

 

Surely this is Paul’s point in his famous address to fathers: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Behavior-centered, discipline-driven parenting is palpably exasperating. We are called to a higher standard, to bring them up in the training (which surely includes, but is not limited to discipline) and instruction of the Lord. We are to teach them all that we know of God and his goodness. Do they learn about him only from the rod we apply to them? That would be a perversely distorted picture. Or do they learn it from our worship, prayer, humility, confession of sin—especially when we sin against them—seeking forgiveness, sharing the gospel once more? Do they see the cross stamped upon our lives, or only the law? Could we say to them, “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:14)—and trust that they would immediately think of the gospel, taught and lived by their parents? Or would we shudder to think of the picture we have painted of him?

 

The goal of parenting is to ensure our children know God as fully as possible when they leave our temporary care. What has your parenting style preached to your children?