Train up a child in the way he should go

There is a verse in the Bible that I think is particularly pertinent for today, yet can also give rise to all sorts of objections. It is Proverbs 22v6: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”. Detractors may argue this can lead to indoctrination (a bad thing) and there are too many examples where children later rebel against the sort of training, i.e. usually based on Christian teaching, those who subscribe to what this verse exhorts us to do might like to give.  My response is that parents, like me, that do subscribe to this teaching, should also encourage their children (but only in the right setting) to be exposed to other ways of thinking and belief systems, and to think critically, and if their concern is for the children to live the right way they need to set an example and not be hypocrites. Like many I have tried to carry this out with my own children. Time will tell how successfully.

When I left church this morning, along with my wife, we agreed to look after the children of one of our members for a day. Training them up in any way was not on my mind but it did occur what a privilege it is to be involved, even in a small way, with the bringing up of children. Since my young adulthood, but much less so these days, I have been involved in young peoples activities: Sunday School and Bible Class teacher, Youth Club and Boys Brigade leader and so on. While I have not regarded being a leader of young people as my particular forte, I have been pleased to have been of some help. When yesterday, a vicar friend, shared that his church had a number of young people yet was short of children workers, I was reminded that while these days all sorts of community activities take up my time and attention these days, that working among young people, as happened in my younger days, is just as important. While I have no doubt that the training up of a child in the right way should primarily be the domain of parents, there is an opportunity for the wider community to assist, but what then is the right way?

Also at church today, one of our ministers gave a talk to several children in the church, which the rest of the congregation also listened to. He has been going through the Ten Commandments and today he was on number seven: “thou shalt not commit adultery”. To his credit, while making his presentation age relevant, he pulled no punches in presenting the biblical model of marital fidelity and how to avoid temptation and the consequences if we yield. He used the story of David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba as an example. It occurred to me that teaching the Ten Commandments would have been the norm in my parents day; in my own childhood upbringing it was touched on in schools but not so much and these days, unless children attend a faith school, he/she will unlikely be taught this at all. While I recognize there is more to it than this, many of society’s ills is as a result of children not being trained in the right way, including something as fundamental as being taught the Ten Commandments, upon which a good deal of our law and, even if unknowingly, ideas of how society ought to operate, is based. It also occurred to me that if my minister friend were to have an opportunity to teach the same lesson in a context outside of church meetings like today’s he could well find himself in hot water with the politically correct brigade if he taught what he taught today.

This brings me to two stories that have a bearing on these thoughts. The first begins: “Children as young as four should select what sex they most identify with before starting school, according to Brighton and Hove City Council. In a letter sent to parents ahead of the new school term in September, the local authority has urged parents to ‘support their child’ in their choice”… The second begins:Christian charities CARE, Christian Concern, Evangelical Alliance, Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship and The Christian Institute have today issued a joint statement and call to action over Government proposals to register and inspect church youth work. The statement reads: “Requiring churches in England to register before they are legally allowed to help children learn the Christian values our nation was built on is an unjustified restriction of religious liberty. Whether the threshold is 6 hours in any week or higher, the principle of outlawing ‘unregistered churches’ from teaching children the gospel is an unacceptable overreach of the state”… It is not my intention to discuss all the implications arising from these two stories, but with reference to the above verse, it seems there are some that rather than wanting to train children in the right way would rather let them (as young as four) decide for themselves what that right way is and be encouraged / allowed to follow their choice, and as for teaching material like what did my minister friend this morning, with full freedom, that this can be challenged and even disallowed if those who disagree with the ideas being taught were to raise objections – intolerable situations!

Those who read my blogs will know that, for want of a better phrase, that the culture wars that are taking place around us are very real and could be taking a turn for the worse, especially if stories like the two cited are anything to go by. What really is needed is to “train up a child in the way he should go”. We also need to aspire to be excellent role models. Not only is this good for the child but it us good for the society he/she has to live in and interact with.

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