For such is the Kingdom of Heaven - considering the value of a child
By Dr Adele Pilkington
As we draw close to another year’s end the gloom of winter is lightened by the celebration of Christmas. Whilst there may be disagreement about the actual time of year when Jesus came into the world as a helpless baby, the important fact remains that He came as Immanuel (God with us). The birth of any baby is a source of joy for most families, and with the arrival of a new-born the inevitable speculation of what the future will hold for them. For each new life is a gift from God (Psalm 127:3) and a life with potential. Whilst that potential may vary dependent on genetic, perinatal, and environmental factors, each human being is made in God’s image and precious to Him (Psalm 139:13-16).
As human beings we may be rightly appalled at abortion statistics, the plans for euthanasia for under 18s in Belgium, existing euthanasia of babies with severe disabilities under the Groningen protocol in the Netherlands, the increasing sexual exploitation of children by groups in the UK and elsewhere, the growth in child trafficking, the slaughter of children in areas of conflict around the world, or child soldiers recruited by despotic military regimes. How much more do these issues strike at the heart of God and at the essential essence of His coming Kingdom (Matthew 19:13-14)? In all of these things much of what was once considered the innocence of childhood is lost and for many is never regained. At the National Association of Head Teachers conference in May 2013, Amanda Hulme, a head teacher from Bolton warned that pre-watershed television shows such as X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent are sexualising children and causing them to lose their innocence.
The Church, as the people of God, have a responsibility to ensure God’s will is done on earth, and yet increasingly the Church is silent or drowned out by other competing more culturally-attuned voices, or is merely satisfied with not causing offence. In doing so the Church is leaving future generations at the mercy of a society which is being increasingly shaped by the forces of secular humanism, and where a multi-faith focus inevitably leads to a confusing plethora of apparent ‘ways to God’. To suggest that there is only one way (John 3:16) is seen as narrow minded and bigoted, and given current trends may soon be a criminal offence. Yet it is because of my own childhood experience that I consider making children aware of Gospel truth at an early age is vitally important.
There are many things which I can feel blessed about in my life and several of these arise from my childhood. I am thankful that I grew up in an extended family, with loving grandparents who read the Bible to me. I am thankful for a mum and dad that I could always rely on to be there and to listen to me. I am thankful for being taught and encouraged to pray, and for parents who allowed me to attend Sunday school with one of dad’s work colleagues and his family. His wife was a Sunday school teacher and she faithfully taught me bible truths, and at the age of six I understood that Jesus had died for my sin, and from that age knew Jesus as my Saviour. My main regret from my childhood is that I didn’t have links to organisations such as Scripture Union, and other youth ministries, and did not embrace Jesus as Lord of my life until later teenage years. I think the inevitable challenges of teenage years would have been eased by access to Christ-centred youth ministry. I am however thankful that I was taught Religious Education by a teacher who was a bible-believing Christian. She also happened to be the leader of the Girl Guides in the Comprehensive school and made sure we understood our oath to do our duty to the One true and living God. At that age I was clear about what that required, but would have struggled with the recently revised oath 'to be true to myself and develop my beliefs'. Even though this lady will have long gone to rest in Christ’s nearer presence, I remember well the bible verses she encouraged us to learn e.g. Genesis 12:1-3, and the Gospel songs we sang around the camp fire. What blessings!
For these reasons I value the Judeo-Christian heritage which for so long shaped the fabric of our society, and consider it is something which is worth preserving at all costs. The erosion of the values and teaching which developed from this heritage is nowhere more apparent than in the area of education. I am often bewildered by the apparent apathy of many parents who do not protest about what is happening in our society or wish to be involved in the teaching of their children Christian truth in a church context. My only hope is that they at least do this in the security of their own homes.
The Government, through Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, intend to introduce the teaching of evolution into primary schools. Mr Gove only recently banned any talk of design or creation from secondary school biology lessons, and how long will it take to enforce the same policy in primary schools? This decision not only denies children the opportunity to explore and debate these differing views, but will put increasing pressure on primary school teachers who believe in the Creator God as they cannot avoid the subject of biology in the current primary curriculum. This is at a time when government policies on same sex marriage will inevitably lead to changes in what children are taught about the nature of human relationships. Groups who support these initiatives have openly stated that children will be encouraged to embrace these societal norms despite the beliefs of their parents. This is a policy which has been used effectively for many decades in communist countries to alienate children from parents and bring about societal change. Given these trends we should not be surprised by the fact that schools in Scotland are now holding lunchtime clinics for pupils as young as 13, where they can obtain advice and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. This at a time when the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) ‘Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe’ promotes a sexual education matrix beginning at 0-4years of age where children are equipped with the ‘Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes’ to ‘enjoy the pleasure of touching one’s own body’ and ‘express their own wishes in the “context of playing doctor”.‘ Increasingly, those who oppose perceived ‘wisdom’ on such issues are likely to find themselves condemned and alienated, and potentially on the wrong side of the law. The blame for the societal melt down that we are witnessing, however, does not lie solely at the hands of government or educational establishments. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector for The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), warned in October 2013 that children are suffering because ‘hollowed out’ and fragmented families are failing to properly teach them about right and wrong. Discipline of any kind seems to be increasingly frowned upon with the increasing emphasis on ‘human rights’. Educational policies no longer focus on rewarding positive behaviour for ‘fear of making other children jealous’ and negative behaviour is ‘redirected’ rather than restrained or corrected. For example, a junior school pupil who behaves in a sexually inappropriate manner towards another pupil is taken out to a local café for a hot chocolate. What type of behaviour does this reinforce and what example does it set for those children who do their best to be obedient?
Adult life is full of rules that we must adhere to whether in the workplace, on the roads, or in communal life, and failure to do so often carries significant penalties. If children are not taught the concept of right and wrong at an early age and given clear boundaries they will struggle in many areas of life as adults. In many ways to deny children the opportunity to learn such boundaries is a form of neglect or abuse. The bible continues to provide much wisdom oh how children can be brought up to be responsible adults (Proverbs 22:6, 2 Timothy 3: 14-15, Ephesians 6:1-3). For those with children, the choice lies between following the whim of the latest secular child psychologist or super-nanny or adhering to God-given principles from the One who knows us better than we know ourselves (Romans 8:27). As with all biblical wisdom there is always a counter-balance and it is clear that an adult’s behaviour towards a child is also equally important (Ephesians 6:4)
The Church in this land is still blessed with the freedom to reach children of all ages and from all aspects of society for the Lord. However, we live in changing times and this freedom should not be taken for granted and this should lead to an increasing urgency in this vital ministry (John 9:4). Sadly in a growing number of churches there is no longer a children’s ministry as there are no children in the congregation. In other cases, churches have focused on numerical rather than spiritual growth, and this is equally relevant in terms of ministry to young people, replacing God’s grace with gimmicks and biblical truth for that which tantalises the senses. At this time, more than ever, there is a need to be counter-cultural and to offer that which the world cannot give. The next generation need to be equipped for the challenges they will inevitably face. God has provided in His Word a manual for living which remains relevant for each age and generation, but young people need to explore and understand the Bible if they are to apply it to their lives. The disciples, realising their own need, implored Jesus to teach them to pray. By empowering and equipping young people through prayer we are providing them with a firm anchor through life, which no course on self-esteem or self-actualisation will ever better.
It has been said that much anti-social behaviour among young people arises due to the lack of a role model, and yet what better role model is there than Jesus? The type of relationships that we form with others is often determined by the type of relationships that we have experienced in our formative years. Whilst in our present age there will always be those who lack good nurturing skills, any child who is encouraged in a close walk with God from an early age will be more likely to develop positive and nurturing relationships with others. If we are able to pass onto our young people these essential attributes we are indeed fulfilling those things which are closest to the heart of God (Matthew 22:36-40). This takes us full circle to the start of this article, the potential of a child and the value God places on each one of His children. The bible makes it very clear that God will judge severely those who have mistreated little children or caused them to go astray (Matthew 18:6-7), and equally there is the sin of omission where there has been opportunity to lead children to the Lord but this has been neglected or undermined (Matthew 18:10). God’s values are often counter-cultural, particularly in the society in which we live today, but we still have much to learn from children and their ability to trust. It is this ability which enables them to grasp the simple truth of the Good News that Jesus came to share with humankind. It is this same trust which enables children to come to faith in Christ at an early age, and to live godly lives built on His sure foundation. It is this simple faith and humble trust that God most values and from which every adult can learn so that we might know God better and love him more (Matthew 18:1-5). As adults we have the responsibility to ensure that future generations can share the Good News with their children and their children’s children (Romans 10:14, Deuteronomy 4:9).
Adele’s latest book of poems, “Faith in His Future” is available from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Faith-Future-Poetry-Adele-Pilkington-ebook/dp/B0...