Though I’m not an old man by any stretch, I quite often feel that way when I tell my kids how much life has changed in these United States since I was their age. We had a five and dime store in our little town, a big pack of M&Ms was a quarter, and a genuine milk shake at the local drive-in set you back 75 cents. My children can’t believe that while still very young we used to ride our bikes all over the neighborhood and even down to the grocery store without adult supervision. They get the same storybook sensation when watching It’s a Wonderful Life where George Bailey works the counter, serves up ice cream, and makes home deliveries for Mr. Gower’s drug store at the tender age of ten. My children wonder if life really used to be like that or if it’s just the fanciful imagination of a fictional story.
In today’s world of internet pornography, registered (and unregistered) sex offenders, human trafficking, and child abductions, I can’t imagine sending my children across town unaccompanied to deliver sundry goods to strangers. In our collective distrust of the unknown, modern American parents now feel compelled to hunker down behind gated communities, in private parks, and among neighborhood watch programs as we personally shuffle our children back and forth to carefully selected activities from the safety of our armored SUVs. We maintain diligent surveillance of our offspring constantly, because although we like to assure one another that life is getting better, we know that the number of domestic threats to these precious little lives is growing daily.
Public life has changed empirically and dramatically in American Society over the last fifty years, and the amount of money we spend on locks, security systems, and guard dogs only testifies to the fact. Every grammar school now sits behind a defensive line of chain-linked fence, as we dutifully protect our children not from a foreign enemy, but from ourselves.
Every grammar school now sits behind a defensive line of chain-linked fence, as we dutifully protect our children not from a foreign enemy, but from ourselves.
Okay, society has experienced a quantum leap of lurking dangers for our little ones over recent decades and we therefore have to guard their well being, but what does that mean for the individual Christian and for the church? Should we also hunker down in a defensive posture or should we embrace the style and flow of modern life with an eye on simply influencing it for good? We know the threats are real and increasing, but what response would the Lord have from us?
I think it’s vital that we in the church step back, evaluate, and make sure that we as Christian parents and church leaders are protecting our children from the predatory nature of this world while still maintaing a diplomatic reach to it so that we might fulfill the great commission of Christ. We must engage the world, but we must also protect ourselves, especially our children from not only physical dangers, but the ever encroaching spirit of the age.
The Lord calls us to be salt and light to an insipid and veiled world, which requires personal interaction and investment. But it is also imperative for us to recognize that our children are impressionable, vulnerable, and easily entangled in the web of contemporary culture. Social media, the all-pervasive-internet, and a national addiction to cable TV have allowed worldly concepts and definitions to infiltrate the most dedicated Christian families. No one is immune.
And part of that susceptibility is by design. God created us to be influenced by our community. We all speak with an accent, and that accent has been determined by the rhythm of language filling our ears from early childhood. I prefer scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast and not rice and miso soup precisely because I was raised in California and not Tokyo. The culture of our community shapes our tastes, appetites, and thinking.
So how do we remain effective purveyors of the gospel to a godless world and still protect our children in their budding faith? How do we guard their minds and their hearts from the pursuant evil without moving into cloistered communes and cutting ourselves off from the outside world? It’s a tactic that has been tried countless times in countless ways, and the results are almost always disastrous doctrinally and spiritually.
Christian parents and church leaders can learn a valuable lesson from the world of sports, which also happens to be very biblical. Most forms of competitive athletics have both an offensive element and a defensive one. Players learn the two roles and their fundamental differences from the earliest stages of athletics, as little basketball players discern between shooting the ball for two points and stealing the ball from the other team. Offense requires one method of thinking and reacting, while defense demands another.
And so it is with the Christian life. When it comes to influencing this world, to preaching the gospel, and to making disciples, we are on offense. We must go into all the world, including our own hazardous culture, and declare the salvation of Jesus Christ. Our children can see and learn that our families are engaged in the proclamation of the gospel in a very offensive strategy. But we also need to teach our children to play strong defense. When we see that the world is alluring us to think in an unbiblical fashion, when it entices us to live and act after our sin natures, we need to assume a full-court-press mentality. That’s when it’s time to protect and encourage one another in the faith.
Just as with athletic teams of every sort, it’s difficult to hold these two strategies in balance. It’s easy to strengthen one and let the other atrophy on the sideline. But I think the best way to begin, especially with our children, is defense. Teach them the scriptures, help them to know why they believe what they believe, and ask them repeatedly why the definitions of this world are categorically wrong. When they have established a sound and credible defense from the pages of scripture, the Lord can then ease them out into the arena of offense. Because as soon as they begin to claim Christ publicly in an overt fashion, the attacks will be ruthless. And just like that little beginner on the basketball court, they’ll recognize when to transition from offense to defense.
American culture is steadily “slouching toward Gomorrah” as Robert Bork said in his book of the same name, and the dangers are everywhere, especially for our children. Many young Christians are being savagely overthrown by the enemy as they walk away from their faith in Christ. But if we will teach our children to recognize the difference between offense and defense, when to influence with the gospel and when not to be influenced away from it, they’ll have a tremendous understanding of the Christian life. Jesus preached the kingdom throughout Israel, but he defended himself against attack from Satan with the word of God. He knew both strategies well, as we must know them too. Let’s teach them effectively to our children so that they might flourish in their life and service to Jesus.