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Religious Education

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The commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. – Deuteronomy 6:6

Religious education is always a hot-button topic. Despite the legal right to profess one's faith, public schools generally reject God and embrace hedonism, disrespect, and irreverence. The values that were taken for granted just a generation ago are now questioned, and any references to God – to Jesus, to creation, and to faith – are increasingly forbidden.

In many quarters, marriage has been redefined, and the idea that a family should be headed by one man – with one woman at his side – is derided as old-fashioned and restrictive. Religious symbols and celebrations connected to Christmas and Easter are pushed aside, supposedly out of respect for non-believers, and "tolerance" has become a god.

All of this is like pulling out the rug on which our children stand. It has nothing to do with respect for other traditions and cultures. Instead, it is a concerted effort by a godless society to destroy the framework which once held Western civilization together.

Of course, it is foolishness to believe that we can make God disappear. Whatever we do, God will be there. God was there long before we existed and will be there long after we are gone. It is imperative, then, that we as parents boldly pass on to our children the religious values we hold dear, regardless of the consequences.

Our children crave a foundation to stand on. Their emotional stability as adults will depend on what we teach them when they are young. How, then, should we lead them to God? For one thing, we can never force our values down their throats. Instead, we must let them feel and know the impact of our own faith on a daily basis.

God's spirit does not let itself be tied down to the space of a lesson or a memorized text. Thus we cannot depend on pious words, but need actions and deeds with which to pass our faith on to our children.

What we teach now will continue to bear fruit for years to come. If our own children learn to honor father and mother and God, they will pass this commandment on. And if they learn to discern the difference between right and wrong, they will be equipped to teach the same discernment to their children.

We can bring God to children best by pointing them to nature. Jesus himself used parables and metaphors from the natural world to illustrate a point. Still today, children will sense God behind a brilliant sunset or a starry sky; they can imagine him in the roaring wind or in a violent storm. They will be the first to perceive that behind the beauty of the earth is a Creator, who also dwells in their hearts.

We can also teach children about God by reading stories to them: by telling them about the life of Jesus, and explaining to them the meaning behind Christmas and Easter. There is no better time than the weeks before Christmas for reading aloud the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, or for telling about the hosts of angels that announced Christ's birth. In the same way, children can be taught about Easter by hearing about Christ's suffering on the cross, followed by his joyful resurrection.

Memorizing short verses from Scripture can also be a way to teach faith. Children who learn important passages by heart will have a rock to stand on in later life and will find comfort and reassurance through God's word when hard times come. Music can point a person to God as well: my own children began hearing Handel's Messiah when they were quite small and say that their faith is strengthened by it still today.

Thanking and praising God is as important as asking him for help. Whether by saying grace before a meal or praying at bedtime, children should be taught to thank God for all they have – for parents and family, friends, food, and a roof over their heads. Reminding them that not all children have what they have opens their eyes to the needs of others.

In a time when polarizing rhetoric and hateful arguments rule the public square, it is crucial that our homes be oases of inner strength and security – that we as parents model the values by which we want our children to live. This is the greatest gift we can give our children and the most important aspect of education.

From Why Children Matter by Johann Christoph Arnold.

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Contributed By Johann Christoph Arnold Johann Christoph Arnold

A noted speaker and writer on marriage, parenting, education, and end-of-life issues, Arnold is a senior pastor of the Bruderhof, a movement of Christian communities.

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