Friday, March 27, 2009

Moral (Biblical) Training for Children

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are” –Roy Disney (nephew of Walt Disney). Moral values underpin the veracity of our decision making more than any other determinant.

We all should know that the Bible sets a consistent and high standard regarding moral living. This moral standard is life to us. It’s what stands between spiritual life and spiritual death. And it’s crucial that our children get these ‘safety instructions’ of life.

“Let the Children Come... Along the Virtuous Way: Growing Kids God’s Way”

My wife and I have just undertaken a 19-week course called, Let the Children Come... Along the Virtuous Way: Growing Kids God’s Way. I must be honest, my initial thoughts were, ‘What, nineteen whole weeks... phew, that’s long!’ AND ‘I don’t have time for this.’ Well, I was pleasantly surprised first week. These are some of the things I learned or refreshed upon:

Biblical ethics is a higher standard compared to all other ethical systems in that it’s entirely other-oriented, “not as a way to salvation but as a result of salvation.”[1] We’re devoted to being other-oriented, as a love response to God for having saved us from the death penalty of our sin. His grace justifies us by our faith, and we want intrinsically to life for others as much as for self.

Teaching kids morally right behaviours starts with the parent.

Our local pastor taught us recently the real meaning of Proverbs 22:6, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (TNIV) It is the parents’ role to start the process and continue it through childhood and adolescence, and even into early adulthood. It’s a mentoring process of building on strengths and weaknesses, and shaping personalities, conforming and reforming them to God’s higher moral standard.

When thinking in terms of new housing estate, personality differences from one child to the next are seen as all the different designs of houses, whereas moral training is the standard of craftsmanship that went into building each house; it would be unacceptable to us, buying a house, to find out that the workers didn’t build our house true; walls out of plumb, insufficient mortar holding the bricks in place; white ant infested timber... the same goes for our children’s moral upbringing--they need to be ‘built’ solid and true.

And so, moral training should be applied regardless of personality differences. “The duty of parents is to continually bring their children to God’s standard and not lower the standard to suit the child.”[2]

If parents can’t follow the right moral standard themselves, they can hardly expect their kids to.

Missed Windows of Opportunity: Non-conflict Times

Perhaps one of the biggest failures we all make as parents is to not capitalise on non-conflict situations as coaching moments. Think about it. You’re disciplining your child and tensions run high. Are they receptive right now? Of course they’re not; but they are going to be more receptive when things are pretty well normal, and these are times to tip moral lessons into them, simply by talking to them about it.

This is done by using real life situations and applying Bible truth to them so the eternal relevance of God can be seen. For instance, when we’ve noticed our children listen attentively and not complain even though it was difficult for them, we can point them to Philippians 2:14-16, which says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (TNIV)

We can encourage them to continue behaving the way we’ve just seem them behave by saying they’re lights to the world, and it pleases God to see this. We must catch our kids doing the right things, and often.

The Moral “Why”
“Why’s” are critically important to the whole process. The critical key to success in teaching children virtuous living is to get them not simply to act morally, but to think morally too.

The moral why is a key because it hooks into the other-orientedness of the Christian faith. In other words, it engages the heart. The Key Principle for this week’s lessons was, “Without moral principle placed with the heart, the heart will not be stirred.”[3] It’s simply not enough for children (all of us, in fact) to know the right things to do, but we must know why it’s important--and what enormous impact these things have on others.

The moral why is about teaching ourselves and our children how to hold two (or more) conditions in ethics, essentially in tension with one another, and provide innovative solutions to those problems--only with the “why’s” in-train will we be able to consistently decide well for others as well as ourselves.

The “why’s” are the contextualisation that meets and adjusts what would ordinarily be the relativism of legalism. More simply put, context provides the fundamental basis for moral decision making.

Legalism would get the same situations wrong because it doesn’t cater for subtle, important nuances. Without the moral why, our kids will come unstuck in their moral application of life.

In Sum

The preciousness of others in the eyes of God is the compelling basis for moral training. We must have a ‘rational preoccupation and concern for others, and all those around us.’

I think we all implicitly know that none of us will get this parenting gig right all the time; that’s a refreshing part of this course--it appears to be presented to deal with the legalism that is sometimes present in Christian parenting teaching. That’s good news to all of us.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Gary & Anne Marie Ezzo, Let the Children Come... Along the Virtuous Way: Growing Kids God’s Way (Happy Valley, South Australia: Growing Families Australia, 2002), p. 27. Italics added.
[2] Ezzo, Ibid, p. 31.
[3] Ezzo, Ibid, p. 320.

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