Thursday, October 05, 2006

Teaching Doctrine to a Six-Year-Old

I was looking through the Desiring God website today and I came across an article called, "Teaching Doctrine to a Six-Year-Old" which was such a refreshing confirmation of the way in which my wife and I try to parent our children. I have 2 living children at this time and I hope to have more, if the Lord grants us that grace, but so far only my oldest (Micah) has experienced the trial and error method of our parental teaching. Don't get me wrong, Noah (who will be 10 months-old next Monday) is being taught also, but not in the sense of a formal, direct, or didactic system. He is being taught as you would teach any child his age - he is being taught about the love of his parents by being held, played with, and other similar things that are so important at such a young age.

Micah is 3 and we (my wife and I) have made it a point to try teach him the big issues at a level that he can understand, and not just have him learn the bible stories of David & Goliath, Noah and the Ark, Jonah and the Fish, Jesus being born, or others. When we began having to discipline him for disobedience, he knew that it was wrong because it was not ok to disobey mommy and daddy. A little later, when his communication skills were improving enough that he could ask questions about things that he didn’t understand, we started bringing the word sin into his vocabulary. The definition for a sin that we gave to him was very simple; any “no-no” is a sin, and all sins are “no-no’s”. He accepted this new word and we were able to move on. But still a little further down the road, but not too far, we began showing him that whenever he disobeyed us, he was also disobeying God – and that has been a constant emphasis ever since.

Once we had this foundation built, that disobedience is sin, and sins are against God (in addition to anyone else that might be involved), then we have been able to build upon that foundation to discuss man’s biggest problem. Whenever we talk about sin, we try to articulate how God feels about sin. We have said, and you can ask my son to verify, that God is angry at sin and that sin must be punished. We also talk about how everyone (mommy, daddy, etc.) sins, but God doesn’t do any sins, and that God does not allow any sins in heaven. Since we have established that all sins need to be punished1 and the fact that God doesn’t allow sins in heaven, we have a good picture that he understands (to the best of his 3 year old ability combined with our stumbling attempt at clarity and truth) as the basis to discuss Jesus and the cross.

It is really exciting to see the wheels turning in Micah’s head when we talk about the 10 commandments and how they relate to sin and use the same words to talk about his sin when he is doing it. For instance, when he took some markers from church, we used the word “stealing” to describe what he had done. We also showed him that one of God’s 10 Commandments (“God’s 10 rules”) says that we shouldn’t do that and if we do – it makes God very angry.

All of this, though, was built upon a foundation of “Bible-Time”. Since he was old enough to sit for a story, we would read Bible stories out of books to him, but even more than that, I would read a few minutes of the scriptures to him. I understand that his ability to comprehend the words and the arguments is not, and was not there, but it was to (a) put the truth out there, so that his little mind could soak up what it would, and (b) it was instilling in his little mind the primacy that we want the Word of God to play in our homes and in our lives.

All of this doctrinal teaching that we try to do with Micah started with two simple questions, the answers, and the necessary explanations and reinforcing statements. The questions and answers were these:

  1. Q: Who wrote the Bible?
    A: God wrote the Bible.
  2. Q: Who is Jesus?
    A: Jesus is God.
I pray that God will refine my teaching and strengthen my living as the example for my family so that my testimony will bring glory to His name, and that I might not be delinquent about making sure that my children understand the gospel, not just Bible stories.

1 One flaw in our presentation has been that “punishment” (in the sense of God’s wrath) and “discipline” (as shown in our correcting him and God’s correcting us) has been less clear than I would like. I don’t want to have him think that when we discipline him that we are doing it because we are angry (because it is out of love that we do it), or that when God punishes people in “the bad place” he is not doing it out of a love for them (because he is doing it out of his wrath at sin).

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