I'll never forget the first day our oldest daughter went to Bible class. She had on a pink and blue plaid dress with a matching bonnet, pink socks and little patent leather shoes. In her tiny hand she clutched a pink New Testament with her name engraved on the front in gold letters. Only 17 months old and she didn't even cry when she went to class! She went eagerly every Sunday and Wednesday. In a few short weeks she could say the first five books of the Old Testament, knew who created the trees, flowers, etc., the names of the first man and woman, and had a large repertoire of songs. We were so proud of her! This is the way we were raised. This is the way good Christians are expected to raise their children.
As the next few years went by, our second child began Bible classes. They always looked so cute coming out of those classes with the other children. People would smile and nod their heads approvingly as they came by, all dressed up in ruffles, tights, (and of course, patent leather shoes!), their hands full of papers they had colored and pasted. We always worked with them at home on their memory verses and other memory work. We questioned them about the Bible stories they had learned that week to see if they were grasping their lessons. Eventually, though, the little papers they were bringing home and the concepts they were learning became a source of great concern for us.
· There was the song they loved to sing as their class was about to enter the auditorium that began: "Tiptoe, tiptoe in God's house..." Pretty soon we realized they thought God lived at the church building. In combination with lessons about the tabernacle and the temple were God did teach that he "lived", you can see how they got that idea. In these lessons, the tabernacle and the temple were always equated with our modern-day church buildings!
· They brought home a paper they had colored with the heading "We Worship God." In this picture, they were to cut out a drawing of a little girl or boy and paste it into a wooden pew. Surrounding their own figure in the pew were other boys, girls, men and women dressed in fine clothing, facing a pulpit behind which a man was preaching.
· Another paper they colored . . was entitled "We Go to Worship." There was a drawing of a man and a little boy in a suite and tie and a woman and a little girl with dresses and hats on walking up a drive toward a church building. Features of the building included stained glass windows and a steeple.
· They returned from class with another paper that was headed "Jesus' Friends Behave in Church." The picture was of a little girl holding a Bible and sitting in a pew. She was wearing proper attire (blouse, skirt, patent leather shoes) and gazing ahead. The real puzzler on this paper was the scripture references under the heading: Heb. 10:25; Mt. 21:15-16; Lk. 7:12; Ti. 2:7. Fortunately, my children were too young to look these up or they would have been as confused as I was!
· Yet another coloring paper they brought home showed a man and a little boy, both in suits and ties, sitting next to a woman wearing a dress and Jackie Kennedy pillbox hat. They were in a wooden pew and next to them was a stained glass window. The little boy was placing money in a round collection plate as he passed it to the man. This one was entitled "Jesus' Friends Give." Scripture references given were Mk. 12:41-44; I Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8:11.
· One day, the children excitedly dragged me back to their classroom to show me a "neat" thing they had been doing. They showed me a large box with one of the sides cut out that was a miniature replica of the interior of a church building. The main features were little pews facing a little pulpit. At the beginning of every class period, each child took a little figure that represented him or her and placed it in a pew of his or her choice. The little boys all took turns placing their figures behind the pulpit. Then they went ahead and did their lesson and related activities. Just before leaving the room at the end of class, they would all take their little figures out and put them away until the next time.
I finally began to notice the infrequency with which they studied Jesus. They were constantly studying either Old Testament stories or lessons about "the church" and all the things one does as a "member of the church." I couldn't complain about the Old Testament stories, but how could they be learning so little about their Savior, without whom there would be no church/ekklesia? One evening as I was reading to them at home and we came upon Jesus on the cross, they were spellbound! It turned out they had never learned in class that Jesus died on the cross. That was a sobering moment for me. That was when I finally learned my lesson from Bible class.
It seemed the "religion" we were giving our children had little to do with Jesus Christ and everything to do with wooden pews, stained glass windows, patent leather shoes, and a God who somehow lurked mysteriously in a particular building. I began to see that at very young ages, our children were being indoctrinated with concepts the adults in the congregation claimed not to believe!
In our adult classes, people gave lip service to the fact that "worship" was not just confined to a building or to four hours a week. Our "giving", they said, was not confined to just throwing money into a plate to go into "the treasury'", yet that is what we were effectively telling our children. The building itself is not sacred, they said. We would not dream of calling it a sanctuary or anything like that but we allowed our children to think that it was God's house! These very things were being taught to our little ones in adjacent rooms. At best, we were raising a bunch of faithful little church members who, like robots, would believe in performing certain acts of worship in a certain way, in certain clothes, at a certain place and time. At worst, we were raising people to whom Jesus Christ was a virtual stranger, who would one day rebel against our inconsistencies or apathetically slip away from us and the Lord.
As I reflected back on the many things they were learning that concerned us, I got angry with the congregation, the system, the teachers, the "deacon" who was in charge of the classes - everyone. Eventually, however, my self-righteous indignation turned back where it belonged. Who did the Lord entrust with these tiny lives? Whose responsibility was it to "train them up in the way that they should go?" My husband and I were as conscientious and sincere as we could be but we had blindly walked into a dangerous trap. Instead of seeing classes for what I am sure they were originally intended to be, a nice supplement to what they were learning from their parents, we had unconsciously begun to think of our own training at home as supplementary to their classes. We, like many parents, had relinquished almost all responsibility for our children's spiritual growth to a handful of well-meaning teachers who were perpetuating the church institution.
It happens that in our personal circumstances, our children no longer attend these kinds of classes; we no longer have that as a crutch to lean on. We have become more conscious of doing what the Lord instructed the Israelites concerning his commandments "... talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up." We certainly are not perfect in this but we are striving for it. We hope they are learning, as we are, that the Lord lives in our house, that all of our money is his, and that every act of obedience to him is worship.
It isn't that classes are sinful or that they can't be useful tools. Classes are nice and classrooms are nice, but no teacher can replace Mom and Dad, no crayon and paper activity can replace seeing and helping parents do good works, and no colorful bulletin board can replace the beauty of watching parents handle their daily affairs with a total dedication to and reliance on the Lord.
If you find that you spend a lot of time unteaching your children many of the things they learn in their classes, please give serious consideration to this matter. Our children will someday turn into something we don't even recognize if we don't put a stop to these erroneous concepts that are being funneled into them and begin being responsible stewards of the most valuable things the Lord has entrusted to us. (Editor's Note: Gregoria, a wonderful young woman and dedicated Christian, can be addressed in care of The Examiner. All mail will be forwarded to her. She will welcome your letter and answer it. Weigh well what she has presented.)