Tag Archives: Teaching the Bible to children

Out of the Mouths of Babes

An eight year old child had the courage  to stand up in church and speak when our pastor asked if anyone had anything to share.  She told of a dream she’d had.  It was an abstract dream filled with symbolic imagery, and she wanted to know what it meant.  We have an amazing church body:  her dream and her request were taken as seriously as any grown-up’s.  We prayed for an interpretation, and it was not long in coming.  I will not go into what the dream was or what it meant in this venue.  But it was meaningful and relevant to everyone present and I am so thankful that our people in our little church body have learned what children are capable of.

Unfortunately, it is a lesson most of America has yet to learn.  Just a few days ago, I received a “learning chart” during a teachers’ training session which outlined what children are able to learn at what ages.  I wanted to pull out my hair and scream.  We short-change our children in this country because we’ve bought into the myth that children are incapable of learning until it’s too late to teach them.  By the time our schools, and yes, even our churches get around to teaching deeper truths and thinking skills, the prime time for learning these things has passed.

From where did this insidious belief that children are not capable of abstract thought until they have reached puberty come?  I have no idea.  Certainly it was not invented by anyone who has ever actually spoken to a child!  Children are born hard-wired for abstraction!  This is the reason, as everyone knows, that the younger the child, the easier it is to teach him languages.  What is language but mutually acknowledged symbols in a given culture?  What is an alphabet but a series of symbols associated with certain sounds?  And what is make-believe but highly abstracted thinking?  Our children are being encouraged to be stupid by our society’s refusal to train their natural abilities at the optimum age.  Instead of teaching them what they need to know, we set them in front of a TV and let them learn to have short attention spans.  We send them to school at ever-younger ages but do not allow the schools to teach them what they are capable of learning until that capability is gone.  I offer the most obvious example of this: teaching foreign languages in high school.  By the time a child has reached puberty, the optimum age for learning language has passed.  But we refuse to “inflict” such learning upon children until they are just old enough to be frustrated by it.

The most frustrating aspect of this cultural mentally to me personally is that this thinking has permeated Christian education.  Children are taught the same, tired watered-down Sunday School lessons over and over until they are old enough to have learned that the Bible is boring and irrelevant.  Just how many times can we teach a child, for example, about Noah’s ark (emphasis on cute, furry animals) without actually getting into the horror and tragedy of the story?  This story is told with all the realism of a fairy tale without the symbolic language, leaving out the most important points: mainly, that the ark itself, while perfectly real, was also a symbol of Christ.  Then when they are older,  we try to get them to study the Bible on a higher level, usually when they are teens.  By that time, they have passed the age of easily grasping abstract thought and must be taught how to think abstractly again.  Many times, these teens have not the patience to relearn such skills, or are not able to do so.  The deep symbology of the Scripture is lost on them.

Children have so much potential.  God has built into them the ability to learn and grow at an amazing rate early in their lives.  We squander His gifts to our children by our neglect of them.  We should be encouraging our children to be “seen and heard” in our churches.  We should be taking them seriously, listening to them, giving them opportunities to serve and take part in the body.  Most of all, we should be teaching them from the cradle the things of God.  ALL the things of God, not edited, prettified versions of the things of God.  I have previously posted my recommendations on how to teach young children theology in this blog, specifically in my first two offerings: “Teach Your Children Well–Even the Little Ones” and “Teaching Theology to Children.”  I hope to hear the ideas of others who teach children.  We need to spread the word!

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Teaching Children that the Bible is God’s Word

This lesson, based on II Timothy chapter 3, helps a child understand the origin and the purpose of Scripture.  I have heard so many adults say that they wished they knew more about the Bible.  Helping children to understand the importance of studying the Scriptures, of memorizing them, of praying for the Holy Spirit to reveal truths to them through what they read, will guide them into a lifetime of learning Spiritual truth.  Everyone is capable of it; not everyone is confident of their ability to do it.  Helping a child form the habit of study, memorization, and prayer will give them the confidence and the tools they need to continue to pore over the Scriptures as adults.
Paul wrote this second letter to his dear friend Timothy just before he was martyred.  What do you think you would tell your friends if you knew you were about to die?  What if your friends had come to know Christ through you and depended on you to teach them about the things of God?  What last words would you write down for them to help them keep strong in the faith after you had gone? One of the things Paul felt was important say to Timothy was to assure his young friend that the Scriptures really contained all that he needed to know about God and about Jesus the Messiah.  I suppose if you were used to having a man like Paul around to answer your questions personally, you might think it would be hard to learn  more about God after your great teacher was gone.  But all that Paul knew about God and about Messiah he got from the Scriptures and from the words of Jesus Himself.  Timothy had access to those same Scriptures, and by this time Matthew and Mark had probably already written their Gospels so Timothy might also have had access to Jesus’ words and the story of His life as well.  The fact is, everyone has the same chance to learn as much as Paul had learned about God.  We have the same Scriptures Paul had, and we have all four Gospels and Paul’s own letters, as well. In addition, we have Luke’s account of the early church in the book of Acts and some of letters of James, Peter, John and Jude.   Even more important than that, we have the Holy Spirit in us to help us understand what we read and to help us to remember it. We have all we need to be as knowledgeable about God and about Jesus as any great scholar.
Here’s what Paul says about it: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Let’s take that apart and see what it all means.  “All Scripture is God-breathed.”  We know that Paul is writing this letter to Timothy, but since what Paul is writing is also Scripture, we know that he is not writing his own ideas.  He is writing down whatever the Spirit of God is telling him to write.  If I were to tell you to write down every word I say, it would be you doing the writing, but the words would be mine, wouldn’t they?  I could tell you to write down what I say in your own words, so that the words would be yours, but the ideas are still mine.  The wording may change a bit to match the personality of the person speaking, but the meaning is still mine.  Now, if you said something that did not mean the same as what I said, I would stop you and correct you, right?  If I have the power to do that, you know God does, too!  He makes certain His meaning is clear, even when He allows the men doing the writing to use their own words.
Paul is not the only one who explains how Scripture came about.  Paul says Scripture is “God-breathed”, which means that God spoke his Word to whomever was writing it.  Here is what Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples and close friends, says about Scripture: “But know this first of all, that no  prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,  for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (II Peter 1:20-21) This makes it clear that God’s Word is GOD’s Word, not the words of mere men.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching.”  All Scripture is useful for teaching, even the boring parts that are hard to understand!  The genealogies in Matthew and Luke were boring, weren’t they?  It might be harder to find useful things in a list of names, but someone who really wants to hear God speak and who is praying for the Holy Spirit’s help can dig in and find some great stuff!
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for rebuking.”  What is “rebuking?”  That’s a word we don’t use much nowadays, isn’t it?  It means to tell or show someone what they are doing wrong.  It’s easy to criticize people, but that’s not very useful if you can’t explain to them why GOD says that what they are doing is wrong.  In order to use Scripture to rebuke someone, you must be very familiar with it and be able to find the right passages for what you need to tell that person.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for correcting.”  It’s not enough to tell someone they are doing something wrong.  You need to be able to tell them the right thing to do.  Paul gave an example of this in an earlier letter when he told the church not to steal.  “It’s wrong to steal, so stop it!” is a rebuke.  “Instead of stealing, work to earn money for what you need.” is a correction.  Rebuking and correcting should always work in pairs!  It’s more helpful to give someone something positive to do instead of just telling them what NOT to do!
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Everything we need to know to be useful in the work of God is there for us in Scripture.  We just need to be faithful in reading and studying God’s Word so that we can know all that He wants us to know.  This work of learning the Scriptures never, ever ends!  The more you study, the more you learn.  It’s like a well of water with no bottom.  You can get as much out of it as you wish.  Or, you can get very little out of it.  It all depends on the effort you put into it.  God will not open your brain and stuff His Word into it.  You must put it there yourself!  He is not going to speak to you through His Word if you don’t want to listen to Him. You must ask Him to speak to you and let Him help you understand His Word.


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