Reformation and our Children

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“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5-6).

One of the great marks of a true, God-given reformation is the characteristic described here by the prophet Malachi. The hearts of fathers are turned to their children. The hearts of children are turned to their fathers. This characteristic is not at odds with correct theology, rather it depends upon it. And any vaunted “correct theology” that does not issue forth in this result is either false theology, or what might be called true-on-paper theology. Jesus was noted as a teacher because he taught with authority, and not like the scribes. This did not make everything the scribes said false. They sat in Moses’ seat, the Lord said. What they said was true enough. But how is it to be lived? How does it translate into everyday application?

I have said on different occasions that the Auburn Avenue controversy is all about our children. How is that? Not only so, but some of the other controversies that have arisen are directly related to this as well. And how is that?

A brief glance at the books and tape sets off to the right should quickly show that our ministry has a particular driving emphasis — on marriage, family, children, discipline, and education. This is not because this is an area where theology is irrelevant, but rather because this is where theology is undeniably enfleshed. I am fond of saying that your theology comes out your fingertips, and whatever it is that is coming out your fingertips is your theology. Therefore, orthodox Reformed theology means loving your wife as Christ loved the church. Orthodox Reformed theology means bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

For many years, we have emphasized that parents should believe God for the salvation of their children, should love and nurture their children accordingly, that elders and pastors have a profound obligation before the Lord to lead the way in this, that the elder qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 about managing households well are widely and routinely disobeyed in the Church, and that reformation will not occur unless all this is addressed in a lived-out, loved-out fashion. If I have memorized all of the Westminster Larger Catechism, but speak harshly to my wife, then, as the apostle Paul noted, my theology is just so much balloon juice.

All of this converges. The covenant is not an abstraction. The covenant exists in history, and extends over generations. Generations involve children. And covenantal reformation therefore means . . . turning the fathers back to their children. Reformation does not mean turning the fathers back to big, fat books of theology — except to the extent, and only to the extent, that God uses such theology to turn fathers back to their children. Further, when this happens, the hearts of the children are turned back to their fathers. Is a man genuinely Reformed? I don’t know. Do his children love him, and faithfully serve his God? If a man’s children do not love him, and do not faithfully love, worship and serve his God, and then that man presumes to engage in theological polemics, we should not be surprised when we are suddenly surrounded with sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.

We are engaged in pursuing theological and liturgical reformation, but we are pursuing familial reformation as one of the most important indicators of how we are doing. As God blesses, we will continue to do this. Some of the attacks on our ministry have been calculated to make people think we have abandoned our standards (on elder qualifications, for example), which we have not. Some of them are calculated to drag the debate back into the realm of abstractions, rather than within the realm of the covenant itself. But if we think biblically, we are not to debate the covenant in the classroom, as though the ins and outs of this were merely to be followed like a proof from Euclid. Paul asks the Thessalonians, what is his joy? What is his crown? Is it not you? Authentication of ministry is to be found in people, and when a minister is a family man, that authentication is to be found both in little people, and grown people who grew up in this household. Biblical ministry, and biblical qualifications for ministry, are always written on human hearts.

By the grace of God, every Saturday night, our household begins our extended family’s observance of the Lord’s Day. Not counting guests and boarders, with just our family, there are fourteen of us. In a few months, there will be seventeen. All of us love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. “Knox, what day is it?” “It’s the Lord’s Day.” “Jemma, why is this the Lord’s Day?” “Because Jesus rose from the dead.” “Bel, what kind of day is it?” “A sweet day.” “Rory, what did God make in the beginning?” “Light.” And as I look at this exuberant gathering of saints–a shadowy type of what “here am I, and the children you have given me” actually means–I rejoice that the lines have indeed fallen for me in pleasant places. This is all the grace of God, and this is what we declare.

This will seem to some as though it is just more “covenant confusion.” But following the glazed rolls around the table, following the love in the conversation, following the theological argument, and following the gospel of sheer unmerited grace, are all the same thing. And what is that “thing?” It is faith, the gift of God, lest any boast.

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