The telephone rings in the middle of the night. The caller weeps uncontrollably. A teenager is...dead. Hearts break; words of comfort flee; advice fails. A funeral takes place; final “good-byes” are whispered in muted tones; classmates mourn; friends grieve. Everyone wants to know —why?
The telephone rings in the middle of the night. The caller weeps uncontrollably. A teenager is...dead. Hearts break; words of comfort flee; advice fails. But there will be no funeral, or hushed “good-byes.” Classmates will not mourn; few friends will grieve. Fewer still will bother to ask, “why?”
What is the difference in these two scenarios? The first describes the physical death of a teenager; the second describes a spiritual death. The former causes our hearts to ache, and our eyes to mist. But does the latter? The spiritual death has, at least potentially, far greater implications. Suppose, for example, that the teenager who died physically was very much “alive” spiritually. Suppose this child—in humility to the Lord and in submission to His will—had obeyed the biblical commands in regard to becoming a Christian, and had lived faithfully to the very hour of his demise. After the funeral—when all the visitors have left and the last morsel of food has been put away—as the time comes to turn out the light and lay their heads on pillows of sorrow drenched with tears of grief, what shall comfort those parents at that awful moment? Neither possessions nor station in life shall suffice. Rather, faith in their God and in the truthfulness of His promises will sustain them. With both Hosea (13:14) and Paul (1 Corinthians 15:55), they may raise their voices to heaven in joyful praise, with the anthem on their lips, “O death, where is thy sting? O death, where is thy victory?” They shall be comforted with the full knowledge that this life is so very short (James 4:14), and that at its end they too—if they have lived faithfully—shall inherit the same reward as their child (1 Corinthians 3:8). Their physical loss is temporary; a spiritual reunion is promised.
The same cannot be said, however, of a spiritual death. If the child in the second scenario chooses to abandon his faith in God and live in rebellion, were he to die in that condition, his last state would be worse than his first. Peter wrote by inspiration:
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse with them than the first. For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandments delivered unto them (2 Peter 2:20-21).
The Scriptures are clear in addressing the horrible fate which awaits those who live in unbelief (Romans 1:18-32; Revelation 21:8).
Consider the grief that parents must feel when their son or daughter is the one described in the second scenario above. Conservative estimates suggest that we are now losing 50% or more of our young people after they graduate from high school. In many areas, the numbers approach 90% (see Goad, 1981, p. 9). These statistics are not just meaningless strings of numbers about “other folks’ kids” when you suddenly awake to the heart-rending fact that it is your child or grandchild who is lost. When you are prostrate before God, praying on behalf of that child’s soul, the situation is more real and more urgent than you ever thought possible. So these are the obvious questions: (a) why are we losing our children; and (b) what can we do about it?
WHY ARE WE LOSING OUR CHILDREN?
In any given year, an estimated six million people have their lives altered forever—by becoming parents. Children are intended to be a tremendous blessing. The psalmist echoed this thought when he said: “Lo, children are a heritage of Jehovah; and the fruit of the womb is his reward” (127:3). They can bring such love, joy, and pleasure to a home.
Yet children also bring sobering responsibilities. As one parent put it: “What a responsibility—to know that our children will build a life on what we teach and the love we show them. No wonder parenting is a job that brings more joy and challenge than any other” (Mayhue, 1992, p. 49). How many of those six million people prepare for the challenge of rearing children—in the sense of making the necessary mental and spiritual adjustments to ensure that a child will be reared in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4)? In Psalm 127:3 the writer noted that children are “a heritage of Jehovah.” In the next verse, he commented on the nature of that heritage when he observed that “as arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the children of youth” (127:4). Here is his point: children, like arrows, are to be launched toward a singular target! That target is heaven; we want our children (figuratively speaking) to walk once again in the cool of the Garden with their God. To a great degree, parents (and often grandparents) determine whether or not children reach that target. Our neglect—intentional or accidental—can rob them of that heavenly home. One writer has suggested:
All across this great land mothers and fathers alike are throwing up their hands in despair and asking, “What has happened to our kids?” or “Where did we go wrong?”... When we read or hear of a case where a child is physically or sexually abused we become extremely angry. We seek swift and severe punishment of those who are perpetrators of child abuse. Yet, what many parents fail to realize is that they shall stand before God and give an account of abusing their children in a way that is much worse than any physical abuse one could imagine—and that is spiritual abuse! Perhaps the greatest form of abuse is that of neglect. Children must not be neglected when it comes to basic Bible teaching.... Why, you ask? Because the consequences are eternal! (Causey, 1992, p. 12).
Indeed, the consequences are eternal. During His earthly ministry, Jesus taught His disciples a lesson on this very point. Matthew (19:13-15), Mark (10:13ff.), and Luke (18:15-17) all record a conversation between Christ and His disciples on the subject of children. He rebuked those disciples who wanted to prevent the children from coming to Him, and He warned: “See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I tell you, that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10). Jesus wanted children near Him. That has not changed. R.W. Lawrence said of this instance: “And so the invitation of Jesus stands clear: ‘Parents, relatives, loved ones, friends of the little children: bring them to me!’ The invitation has never been modified or rescinded” (1976, pp. 22-23, emp. in orig.). It is the task of parents and grandparents to bring these children to Christ—to launch them (as “arrows in the hand of a mighty man”) toward the target. If we fail in this task, our children’s souls will be lost.
That we are failing is evident, else we would not be losing 50-90% of our young people after high school graduation. But why are we losing our children?
We Have Failed to Teach Our Children Spiritual Values
Aside from the obvious responsibility parents have for the salvation of their own souls, there is no greater responsibility than saving the souls of their children. The job of rearing and training children is exactly that—a full-time job. Children cannot be trained properly by parents who approach the task half-heartedly. David Boswell correctly observed:
As parents we owe certain obligations to our children. We can’t let them down. We can’t let God down. God expects each and every parent to do his or her part in raising children. The very first responsibility we have as parents is to teach our children of God. Every other responsibility falls before this one.... As parents we also need to know that instilling in our children a faith in God and the Bible, is the best thing we can ever do for them. That early teaching will stay with them the rest of their lives. Impressions are made while they are young (1980, p. 785).
We become upset when a child makes Ds or Fs on a report card, but may never give it a second thought when those same children fail to study and/or prepare their Bible class lessons. Dalton Key has lamented this fact.
Our children are important to us. We closely monitor their scholastic and athletic progress. Their knowledge of past events, current events, human events, and human psychology must not be hindered. Their sports achievements must not be hampered. Yet we passively allow the next generation to grow up without the most important knowledge, the most valuable training information of all. Our children know books, but know little about the Book of Books—the Bible (1992b, p. 1).
The prophet Hosea observed that “my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6). The truthfulness of that statement has not dimmed across the centuries. Where knowledge is lacking, wisdom always will be in short supply. A generation ago, we taught diligently on such topics as the existence of God, the inspiration of the Bible, the importance of the creation account, the uniqueness and singularity of the church, etc. But ultimately we taught less and less on these matters and, as a result, our children’s faith began to rest on sand instead of rock. When the winds of tribulation and change came, that faith collapsed and we lost our children to atheism, agnosticism, theistic evolution, denominationalism, and similar errors.
Someone Did Their Job Better Than, and Before, We Did Ours
Christians always have served God in an anti-Christian environment. That was true in the first century, and it is true in the twentieth. Similarly, parents have always had to rear children in such an environment. While parents taught one thing, the world taught another. The key to success was, and is, helping children understand that while Christians exist and function in the world, they are not of the world (Romans 12:2; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15). Blurring that distinction in the mind of a child has disastrous results.
Somewhere along the way, it appears that we forgot one important point—it is not a matter of if our children are going to be taught; it is only a matter of what they are going to be taught, and who is going to do the teaching. The question is: who will we allow to do the teaching, and what will they be allowed to teach? Rita Rhodes Ward, a retired public school teacher, knows from firsthand experience that often “when a Christian mother leads her 6-year-old to the first grade room or her 5-year-old to kindergarten, she leads him from the sheltered environment of the home into the cold, pagan environment of secular humanism. From that day on, the child will be taught two contradictory religions...” (1986, p. 520).
Certainly it is not the case that all public school teachers are humanists. There are those who approach their job from a Christian perspective. Nevertheless, the public school environment often creates an atmosphere of hostility toward the belief system which Christian parents attempt to instill in their children. In their volume, The Evolution Conspiracy, Matrisciana and Oakland have a chapter entitled “Children at Risk,” in which they suggest that “traditionally the schoolroom has been an open forum of learning. Today it has become a pulpit for the aggressive conversion of impressionable minds. It is the battlefield where war is being waged against the Judeo-Christian God, His principles, His morality, and the Bible” (1991, p. 125).
There is ample evidence that this assessment is correct, and that it has been for quite some time. Dr. C.F. Potter was an honorary president of the National Education Association. In 1930, he authored the book, Humanism: A New Religion, in which he made the following statement:
Education is thus a most powerful ally of Humanism, and every American public school is a school of Humanism. What can a theistic Sunday school’s meeting, for an hour once a week, and teaching only a fraction of the children, do to stem the tide of the five day program of humanistic teaching? (1930, p. 128).
At a seminar on childhood education some years ago, Dr. Chester Pierce, professor of education and psychiatry at Harvard University, told those in attendance:
Every child in America entering school at the age of five is mentally ill, because he comes to school with certain allegiances toward our founding fathers, toward our elected officials, toward his parents, toward a belief in a supernatural Being, toward the sovereignty of this nation as a separate entity. It’s up to you teachers to make all of these sick children well by creating the international children of the future (1973, p. 24).
Some public school teachers have a “hidden agenda,” their objective being to destroy our children’s faith. This situation represents a real and present danger to a child’s spiritual well-being. If we allow humanists to influence our children—and if they do their job better than, and before, we do ours—our children will lose their faith, and we will lose our children.
Parents Have Served as Faulty Role Models
We cannot expect to be taken seriously by our children if we, by our example, leave them with the impression that they are to “do as we say, not as we do.” During his tenure as editor of the Rocky Mountain Christian, Roy H. Lanier Jr. penned an editorial in which he observed:
What is happening to our children? Why are many showing little interest in the work of the church? Why are so many quitting the church and Jesus when they leave home? Why are we having all these heartaches?
It is because of a faulty role model by the parents. Children, especially teens, can see through the outer walls of sham and know that something is wrong in their own homes. It may just confuse them; they may not be able to give in detail what the problems are, but they know something is awry. There are many stubborn and rebellious children who do not know why they are so rebellious. They just know something is wrong and they cry out against it with all the abilities at their disposal (1981, p. 2).
Parents cannot live unrighteously and expect their children to be righteous. We often say in jest, “monkey see, monkey do,” when children mimic our actions. But behind the joke is a painful lesson—children do mimic our actions! The question is: what do they see to mimic? Dalton Key answers:
We read with avid interest the funny page, the sports section, the advice columns, the financial, world, national, and local news items, but can’t seem to find the time to open the one book with all the answers for a problem-filled world—the Bible....
Our lives are hectic and schedule-driven. Our days are ruled by clocks and calendars, our joy hinges on time off and free time, yet we foolishly ignore the book of timeless treasure, the volume of divine truth which prepares souls to live beyond life and travel past time into the bliss of endless, heavenly eternity. We are too busy for—the Bible.... Yes, these are the confessions of a world-filled church. Make application where you will, allow the shoe that fits to be worn, let the chips fall where they may.... Let’s start putting first things first (1992a, pp. 1-3).
Sometimes we seem not to realize that we teach our children in two ways: (1) by what we say through oral instruction; and (2) by what we do through physical action. The adage is true: “What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” Children cannot (and should not be expected to) “sift” our actions, allowing the inconsistencies to be blown away as chaff before the wind, all the while retaining the consistencies as the grain. That is not their job; it is ours as parents.
We must begin immediately to correct this problem. To lose 50-90 out of every 100 of our youngsters is repulsive; to lose even 1 is a tragedy; that “1” is someone’s son or daughter. But what can we do?
The following suggestions represent a compendium of ideas gleaned from several authors on how we can keep our children saved (see Goad, 1981, pp. 9,11; Lanier, 1981, p. 2; Workman, 1981, p. 2; Kearley, 1992, p. 5).
(1) We must give our children proper spiritual values by teaching them about the existence of God, the inspiration of the Bible, the deity and Sonship of Christ, the uniqueness and singularity of the church, the moral and ethical systems which God has designed for mankind, and the value of a single soul.
(2) We must demonstrate that God, His Word, His Son, and His church are the most important things in our lives. Our priorities must be correct, and we must not veer from those priorities. Our children need to hear us say that spirituality matters, and see us live as if it really does.
(3) We must provide a “hothouse” of unselfish love. Our children need to know there is a place where they will always be accepted, and where unconditional agape love is freely given. We should provide them with a happy home—a place where they can “make memories” that will last a lifetime. They should experience in the home a foretaste of heaven.
(4) We need to teach our children to pray, and to read their Bibles frequently. Communion with their heavenly Father is important, and study of His Word will enrich their lives and provide them with strength to overcome the temptations of the world.
“The Bible is a parent’s best friend. The principles of child-rearing sprinkled throughout the Bible are time-tested and true. They are quite literally heaven-sent. And one more thing I know—it is high time we who are parents begin to take parenthood seriously. May we use both the good sense and the Good Book which God has given us as we ‘bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord’ (Ephesians 6:4)” (Key, 1992a, p. 2).
[EDITOR’S NOTE: In the January 1995 issue of Reason & Revelation, I penned a companion piece to this article, “The Spiritual Endangerment of a Child.” Both articles apparently struck a nerve; we received so many requests for copies that we had to reprint each issue—twice! At the time, it was clear to me that our children were being endangered, and that we were losing them to the world. I wish I could say, years later, that the tide has turned. The evidence, however, suggests that it has not. See, for example, my June 1998 article, “Protecting a Precious Heritage.”]
Boswell, David (1980), “Parents’ Responsibility to Their Children,” Gospel Advocate, 122:785, February 21.
Causey, Bud (1992), “Who’s Watching the Children?,” First Century Christian, 14:12-13, February.
Goad, Steven Clark (1981), “Keeping Our Children Saved,” Firm Foundation, 98:9,11, May 5.
Kearley, F. Furman (1992), “Save the Children,” Gospel Advocate, 134:5, May.
Key, Dalton (1992a), “Our Children,” Old Paths, 16:2, February.
Key, Dalton (1992b), “Confessions of a World-Filled Church,” Old Paths, 16:1, June.
Lanier, Roy H. Jr. (1981), “What is Happening to the Children?,” Rocky Mountain Christian, 9:2, July.
Lawrence, Robert W. (1976), “Teach the Children!,” Gospel Advocate, 118:22-23, January 8.
Matrisciana, Caryl and Roger Oakland (1991), The Evolution Conspiracy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House).
Mayhue, Linda (1992), “Day Care vs. Mother Care,” Gospel Advocate, 134:49-51, April.
Pierce, Chester (1973), lecture presented at Denver, Colorado seminar on childhood education. As quoted in: Michaelsen, Johanna (1989), Like Lambs to the Slaughter (Eugene, OR: Harvest House).
Potter, Charles Francis (1930), Humanism: A New Religion (New York: Simon & Schuster).
Ward, Rita Rhodes (1986), “Educating Children in an Anti-Christian Environment,” Gospel Advocate, 128:520, September 4.
Workman, Gary (1981), “20 Suggestions on Raising Your Kids for Christ,” The Restorer, 1:2, June.
Originally published in Reason & Revelation, August 1993, 13:1-5. Copyright © 1993 Apologetics Press, Inc. All rights reserved.