Article of the Month



What is a Family?

by Edith Schaeffer


What is a family? It is a perpetual relay of truth! Watch the children as you organize a relay race, a running contest in which two lines of children wait as one from each line runs a distance and returns to hand the flag to a team member. Back and forth they run and pass the flag. If one drops it, there is a forfeit of returning to the starting place. What excitement is generated, as those finished (or waiting for their turn) watch to see how soon the flag will come back, groan when it is dropped, cheer when someone falls and skins a knee and then pops up bravely to run on again. This is a relay race in which it matters whether one person gets there, because if the flag is not handed on, the next person can’t start on his or her part of the course.

Listen carefully as we come to Hebrews 12:1, 2:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

We who are believers — who are in the Lord’s Family —are in a race, each of us as an individual. It is a race that is constantly hindered by sin, by falling down and skinning our knees, by weights which we are unnecessarily carrying along like a rucksack full of heavy nonessentials. We are urged to put these aside in ways which other portions of Scripture help us to know. It is a race in which we do fall, and we are told that two are better than one in this life, because when one falls the other can lift up the fallen one (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10). This is true in walking down the sidewalk — or in the spiritual walk. There is meant to be help given in the race, from one to another, as we are placed in different combinations together. But in this particular understanding of the race spoken of in Hebrews, there are three aspects to be thought about seriously. First, it is a race in which others have already taken part and are now finished. Jesus Himself finished His race, and His was the supreme one of continuing to the cross in spite of the shame and suffering of it all, to finally sit down at the right hand of God. Had Jesus not completed His race, none of us would be in it at all, neither those who looked forward to the Messiah, nor those who have accepted Him as Saviour since He came in the flesh. However, others have also run and have finished — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Jonah, Joel, Amos, Peter, Paul, John and the people in the generations of the last two thousand years. These are the “cloud of witnesses” who are watching to see what will happen as new generations “pick up the flag” and run on, as some fall and get up and rub their knees, keeping ahead in spite of an ankle swelling out of all proportion to its normal size, running in spite of pain and difficulty, even when nasty people throw stones from the sidelines. There are clouds of witnesses who have gone ahead and are waiting for the final results, and Jesus is among them. Jesus intercedes, prays for the ones now running, one by one, hour by hour. We are told that He is praying and cares about anyone coming along in the race.

Second, in the understanding of these verses, we need to recognize the fact that we have special help ready for the asking. Not only is Jesus watching and already interceding for us, but we are to “look unto Jesus,” not with eyes that see His physical form, but with the reality of communication by reading His Word in the Bible. There is this help to be had in the race in a very practical area.

Third, I think we can see the whole race as one in which true truth is to be handed over like the flag in a relay race, from generation to generation. The cloud of witnesses is concerned not just with us as individuals (although we are significant as individuals — to others, as well as to the Lord Himself), but with the next in line. We are responsible for “handing on the flag” and for being very careful not to drop it — or to drop out — because of our responsibility to the next generation.

The primary place for the flag of truth to be handed on is in the family. The truth was meant to be given from generation to generation. If those who knew God and who had so very much to tell about Him had always been faithful, and had always stuck to the commands or the rules of the relay, there would have been no gaps. Each generation would have learned from the one before. Fathers and mothers were to tell sons and daughters. There was supposed to be a perpetual relay of truth without a break. The gaps in the world’s history and in geographic generations of families came because of the refusal to pass on the truth — as a flag in the race. The first family which suffered was Cain’s family, as he belligerently brought his destructive piece of creative art and called it the right manner of worshiping God. What Cain handed to his children was false! You can picture Cain as the one who first dropped the flag and opted out of the true race, picking up something false to pass on, running away from, rather than toward the goal! And a long line of children followed him. We live not unto ourselves; we affect other people. Cain did. Rebellious Israelites did, when they followed the gods of the Canaanites. Other people did when they spit at Jesus and screamed against Him just when He was finishing His race — or when they threw the early Christians to the lions. The people who did the throwing had children, too, but they were passing the wrong flag and leading their children in the wrong direction. Jesus cautions against false prophets, telling us that even some who do miracles in “the name of the Lord” are not true but false (see Matthew 7:22; 24: 11), just as were those who put “the name of Jehovah” on the golden calf and brought their children out to dance around in an orgy of false worship. Just the name God, or the name Jesus is not enough. The name can be printed on a false flag, and the race can be running off at an angle, completely in the wrong direction.

Foolish fathers and mothers! Cruel families — who did not hand down true truth, but who handed down the opposite and led their children away from God. Look in your imaginations at the long lines waiting for their turn to run, grabbing the wrong flag, speeding in the wrong direction — in country after country and generation after generation. Listen to what God says to the children of Israel:

Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ Sons when the Lord said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children. (Deuteronomy 4:9, 10)

How clear it is. The truth of the existence and the character of God is to be made known to the children and the children’s children. We are responsible for our children and for our grandchildren, for our nieces and nephews and our grandnieces and grandnephews. That they may know what? The wonder of who God is, what God has done, what God has said, and what He has meant to those doing the telling. There must be some reality to relate, some true understanding of God to pass down. But does it mean that the first thing to teach is fear? Oh, don’t let anyone make that ignorant mistake. The “fear of the Lord” is a thing that makes it possible for us never to be afraid of Him. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever” (Psalms 111:10). It is clear that whatever the “fear of the Lord” is, it is something to be understood and taught and which will bring praise as a result. But this same Psalm says; “He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the Lord is gracious and full of compassion” (v. 4). This One is marvelous and He is compassionate. This is the God of love, and “love suffereth long and is kind.” This God is perfect in His gentleness, and is the One who says He will never fail His children nor forsake them. To fear Him means to fall flat on our faces in adoration. His greatness and love are beyond anything a human being can really understand, and we need to have for Him a feeling beyond that which we have for any human being, a feeling that makes us want to worship and be respectful. This One who is the Creator is to be marveled at, and as we walk and talk with our children, the wonders of His Creation should be pointed out.

“Look, dear, at that wonderful magnolia tree coming out with creamy, perfect blossoms. Only God could make such a growing thing. Just imagine; it once was a tiny little tree, and it grew into a big one. God can make things that grow, and then seeds that start new trees of the same kind. Isn’t He wonderful?”

“Did you hear that bird’s song? Listen to it! Imagine God’s creating birds that could sing like that! He would have those sounds in His mind first, just like a music composer has sounds go through his head when he is writing music for a violin or a whole orchestra. How great God is.”

“I see the first star; can you find it? Did you know that there are so many stars that no one can count them? But God knows, because He made them and He made all the complicated things of the whole universe to fit together perfectly. You’ll never get to the end of discovering the amazing things of God’s Creation.”

“Let’s play a game about who made what!” — “I see Patty’s dress. Mommy made it.” — “Good for Mommy. She chose the stuff out of lots of material, and chose a pattern and imagined in her head what it would look like on Patty. Good choice, don’t you think?”

“I see a building; an architect made it.” — “Well, actually a lot of men did different parts of it, didn’t they, Mommy? I saw it when it was all orange steel in funny shapes. It looks better now.” — “I wonder how many people had ideas and put them together in that building? Just think: every single tiny part was in somebody’s head as an idea first. Wow!”

“Ohhhh, I see lights coming on along the bay. What a sight. Some man thought up how to use electricity, didn’t he? And another designed those shapes for the lamps?” — “Amazing! You can see the sunset in the water at the same time. Imagine people thinking there was no person there to design the sun and the water and the reflection on all those ripples!”

Come back to Deuteronomy:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)

These are parents being spoken to, and family life and family conversation are being underlined as basically important in teaching true truth. In other words, “Ye [the parents] shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you” (v. 14). You see, it is a handing down of truth from generation to generation, and people are being warned of their responsibility for the next generation.

When are you to “talk and teach” day after day? Well, there is no fuzziness about the words. It is ridiculous to say you can’t understand the ancient English. It is clear that you are to talk and teach when you are sitting down in the house, walking together, about to go to sleep, and when you get up. You can’t talk if you aren’t together at some of these times, and you can’t discuss if you aren’t together. What does talk mean? It is a verbalized communication which gives some amount of understanding to the person listening. Is it only a speech or a lecture? I think it is a two-way communication of questions and answers. Is that just an opinion? No, continue in Deuteronomy: “And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments which the Lord our God hath commanded you?” (v. 20). That is an honest question asking for information. Is the father or mother to reply, “Never mind, just obey the statutes and believe the testimonies and don’t ask any questions”? No, the reply which God’s Word gives is that the parent is to be fair and give an intelligent answer: “Then thou shalt say unto thy son, We were Pharaoh’s bondmen in Egypt; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand: And the Lord shewed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household before our eyes: And he brought us out from thence, that he might bring us in, to give us the land which he sware unto our fathers” (vv. 21-25).

The answer was to be one going back in history and telling what God did. It was to show the marvel of God’s work, but also the fact that He kept His promises to His people. We are to answer our children’s questions from the history of the Bible, but should also have something real to say concerning the wonder of God’s work in history since the first-century church, and even in our own lives. We should have some answered prayer, some experience of His strength in our weakness, His grace having been sufficient for us in a time of terrible disappointment.

“Look, Steve, the great Paul had so many troubles you can’t imagine how terrible they were; let’s read them in Second Corinthians 11:22-30. Then turn to chapter 12:4-10, and let’s read that together, Steve. Isn’t that amazing? Paul says he has all those troubles, and then he felt the absolute last straw was the thorn in the flesh, but when he prayed for God to take it away . . . .”

“What was it?”

“We’re not told, but apparently it was something physical. Anyway, his prayer was not answered, but God said that His grace was sufficient for Paul, and that His strength was made perfect in weakness. I just want to tell you that when Mommy broke her leg, and you got measles at the same time, and I had to get a leave of absence, and I was afraid our money wasn’t going to cover it all — I had a very real experience of His grace being sufficient for me. No, the measles didn’t get healed any faster, and the broken leg went into a cast, but day by day I discovered that God brought little things, just enough to go on for that day, and in the end we had enough for the doctor bills, even some flowers for Mom on top of the groceries. Nothing spectacular, maybe, but it seemed spectacular to me — because I know I am just not like that. I am a worrier, really. It is hard for me to be quiet and to trust. I know it was something God gave me, just as He gave Paul.”

“Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9).


“Yes, Steve.”

“What’s it mean to keep His commandments? We can’t be perfect, and Jesus says that if you get really angry it is already killing in your heart.”

“Well, Steve, in the Old Testament times they had to come bringing a little lamb to sacrifice, to atone for their sins and look forward to the Messiah. We now can know that we have forgiveness through Christ the Messiah, the One who died as a lamb, the Lamb, in our place, so that we can come to God. Jesus kept the commandments in our place, as well as dying for us.”

“When did you really believe, Dad? Did you ever have doubts?”

Questions, answers, conversations while walking, natural discussions about great varieties of things, an atmosphere of reality, an atmosphere of honesty. The family — a place where true truth is to be discussed, taught, lived, and passed down. Taught? How? By example, as well as by stating facts or rules. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet He said, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14, 15). Who is washing whose feet as an example? Jesus, King of kings, and Lord of lords, Master of the universe, is washing the feet of created human beings — finite, sinful, limited, imperfect in every way. He is washing their feet, He who is the Bridegroom. What? The people whose feet He is washing are likened to the feminine; these are to be the bride of Christ, as all believers are. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. . . . So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies . . .” (Ephesians 5:25, 28): Jesus the Bridegroom, giving Christian husbands an example of what it means to be in the place of the husband loving his wife — it means, among other things, washing her feet. What an example!

Are wives not to obey their husbands? Yes, this is also there and full of reality, but it is in the same way as we are to be subject to the Lord as we follow His plan and will in our lives. Does He force His will upon us? Is it not a matter of our willingness to do His will, and His unfolding it before us, and our having minute-by-minute communication with Him? Yet, He is perfect, and in our human relationships this perfection is missing. Admonition has to be given, so that the parents — in handing down the “flag of true truth” to the children — do not hand down a flag which is a travesty of the truth.

“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you (Ephesians 4:31, 32). Here is another example given to us. Jesus does not need to be forgiven as the Heavenly Bridegroom, but in our families, as we give examples of what is to be right, we are to forgive one another. Father is to forgive Mother, and she is to forgive Father; Steve is to forgive his parents when they ask forgiveness for having done something wrong to him; Father and Mother are to forgive Jessica when she has done something wrong to them. The forgiveness is to be real and not just something mumbled the way some people mumble the Lord’s Prayer — as if it were some sort of set of magic words. It is an impossible thing we are asked to do — to forgive one another “as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” God forgives perfectly and “will remember their sin no more” (see Jeremiah 31:34). “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalms 103:12). That is the extent of His forgiveness. But that admonition is not to be kicked under the rug just because it is impossible to follow perfectly. We are to be an example to our children, and in our relationship with them, of what God’s forgiveness means — in some small way. We also are to be kind and tenderhearted. These are things to teach by example, so that children can understand something of the meaning and truth of the Bible. The word father is meant to have some of the content of faithfulness, gentleness, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, longsuffering, which will make the very word a sound that brings comfort and security.

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. [Oh, my dear daughter and son, if God treated us as we deserved, we would be really consumed. But He is compassionate.] They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)

As a father, as a mother, as a parent, what lovely things do you have in mind to make the mornings and the days full of expectancy? How is your faithfulness being demonstrated; how is your example of faithfulness being shown? Have you ever spent time and imagination thinking up ways to show this? A little child is meant to be able to have some understanding of this description of God the Father, because of what that child has experienced in an earthly relationship. “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him” (Lamentations 3:24). Thus when your child waits expectantly, sitting on the step, feet kicking the dirt, looking up the street — what sort of a response does he or she get? How much reality is there in the goodness you demonstrate? And when the little one patiently climbs the stairs, dragging a toy behind him or her, seeking you, really seeking you, wanting communication of some sort — what is the reception? What kind of an example are you of God’s promise that “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (see John 6:37).

“Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not. O Lord, thou has pleaded the causes of my soul; thou has redeemed my life” (Lamentations 3:57). How do you teach the love of God, the tenderness of God, the compassion of God? We can’t begin to do it perfectly, but we need to be conscious of our responsibility to try. Where do people get their warped and twisted ideas of God? From someone who has gotten hold of a wrong “flag” and is running off at an angle. In this relay race, the race that is the true one, the flag handed down from generation to generation is to be the truth of the original complete Word of God. Thank God that He did not only leave the handing down of truth to people by word of mouth. (None of us would have it straight by this time!) He had it written in verbalized form, so that the truth could be preserved, and people who had parents with wrong ideas of God could still seek and find Him — whom to know is life eternal!

“I love you, Daddy; I love you, Mommy. You are so kind to plan this lovely day off together so we could have a picnic, and even go to the zoo. Thank you for explaining about the animals, and wasn’t it fun to read about Noah’s Ark while we were in the zoo after our picnic? Oh, I love you.”

“Do you know, Billy and Jane, that the Lord is so good to us that we can’t possibly imagine the things He has planned for us. He says that eyes have not seen, nor ears heard, nor the heart of man imagined the things He is preparing for us in the future. We’re going to see things much more astonishing than this zoo — fantastic beauty — as well as find out a lot of answers we don’t know yet. What a terrific God we do have. Daddy and Mommy make so many mistakes, but I’m glad we do understand each other and love each other so that we can know something of God’s love.”

Stilted conversation? Perhaps you’ll think I’ve made it so, but it isn’t so far off. You’ll have your own ideas of weaving in truth. While we are walking through the zoo, putting children to bed, sitting and eating meals on the grass, in the kitchen, or by the fireplace, conversation is meant to have some connection with the reality of day-by-day life. Explaining the things of the Bible, of God’s love, and of future prophecy is not meant to be something separated into a cubby-hole of “religious instruction” or “family prayer.” As children grow older there is to be a flowing unity in talking about history, present world news, science, which has its seeds in the beginning days of the first understanding of sentences, the first questions. Children’s questions must be taken seriously at the ages of two and three, or they won’t be continuing to ask you at twelve and twenty-three. The importance of being given answers and being treated as a significant human being begins as soon as answers are asked for. An honest answer must be given, or you must say, “I’ll try to find out.”

In a Christian family there is a real discussion of when the first most important question might be asked. It would be a very different time in different families and in different children’s lives, but I can remember being as worried about my children’s doubts, and answering them as carefully at five years of age or even four or three, as I would be over the questions of a teenager. One never knows which answer, which explanation, which attitude, which time of treating the child as a person (as important as anyone else being talked to) is going to be the most important time. It is a great mistake to put off an answer, unless you say something like, “I’m so sorry, but right now I really have to finish cooking this meal, because everyone needs it on time tonight — but just as soon as I can, we’ll go to your room and talk.” Then keep the promise, as faithfully as a date with an adult.

The Book of Psalms is so very strong in emphasizing exactly what I have tried to illustrate with the example of the relay race. The admonition to the parents to “hand down the right flag” all those centuries ago should be really titanic to us in this century, when some people are saying that they think not only the family but Christianity is about to become extinct.

I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments. (Psalms 78:2-7)

Then the Psalm goes on and tells of all the amazing things God did in dividing the Red Sea, bringing water out of a rock, sending the manna down daily for food, and sending meat in the form of edible fowl.

The plea of God is to keep handing down the true truth — don’t miss a generation. He wants people to know; it is to continue to be known. In Psalms 81:13, 16 we have the compassionate Words of God which remind us of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem because the people turned away: “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways . . . . He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.”

God’s direct Word comes to us — consider your place in the family as central, not just in this moment of history, but as part of the “relay.” Don’t let a gap come because of you. Don’t take the beauty of the family life — and the reality of being able to hand down true truth to one more generation — as a light thing. It is one of the central commands of God. It is direct disobedience to God to not make known His truth, to not make known the truth of Himself, and to not make known the wonderful works that He has done. It is not a responsibility to be handed over to the church and Sunday school. In fact, in many churches and Sunday schools there is a false flag being handed to the children, and a wrong path being pointed out. The Word of God has been ignored by some, and so the blind are leading the blind. Yes, finding a true church for your family is important, but it can’t take the place of the teaching by example and speaking, when going to bed, getting up, eating meals, and walking together. This is a family task and pleasure, and one of the basic “togethernesses” commanded by God since the beginning.

We live in a day of real desolation as far as breakdown goes. In many universities, high schools, primary schools, and even kindergartens, such a thing as the existence of truth is laughed at. If a child writes CREATION as the way the world began, the answer is marked wrong, because according to many textbooks and teachers there is no Creator-God. The teaching is of an impersonal, chance universe, in which there not only is no God, but no real meaning to human personalities and therefore no real significance to an individual human being and no reason to have any morals. What a black outlook! No wonder our children are handed drugs by people who couldn’t care less how many lives they destroy — because they don’t really believe life has any value. “What difference does it make,” thinks some intellectual, “whether we live or die. There is no meaning to life.” It follows naturally that someone else thinks he might as well earn a living smuggling drugs as selling milk — what difference does it make? We are told that God sent word to Joel: “Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation” (Joel 1:3). Tell them what? That a desolate time is upon them, and that they need to do something about it. How is the time described? “The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men” (v. 12).

Joy withered away! What a description of much of today. The experiments in drugs, free living, open marriages, multiple divorces, and bisexual life have brought a withered joy. Man without God is truly like withered fruit, and “withered joy” is a great description of it. But a further verse calls for a time of prayer: “Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly together, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord” (v. 14). There is something to do about the devastating problem of living in a time when not only is joy withering away, but papers are full of horrors and fresh stories of man’s cruelties to man, of twisted views of families and human relationships and their results. The “something to do” is made vivid in the next chapter of Joel: “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful . . .“ (2:13). It is a picture of the reality of coming to God, seeking Him and seeking His truth with a desire to repent of having not been close to Him, of having turned to run away with a false flag on another path — but it is also a picture of prayer. This prayer portrays a seriousness which puts aside food for time to concentrate on the prayer and includes whole families, children, and babies in arms coming to the Lord (v. 16). The answer coming in the future is going to affect the children and the babies in arms. It is their future. Whether or not the adults of families lead in a true seeking of God and true prayer is going to affect the history of not only their own lives but of future generations. What did God have Joel write of the future answer?

And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you. And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed. And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed. (Joel 2:25-27)

The prophecies of the Bible will come true literally in the future, even as the prophecies of the First Coming of Jesus came true literally two thousand years ago. There will indeed be famines and pestilences and wars and rumors of wars — until Jesus comes back again — but the families that truly seek the Living God now and hand the correct flag of truth to their children now, do not need to be a part of the spiritual famine that is spreading across the earth. The casting away of the Bible continues to take place in subtle and open ways. The placing of biblical truth into the boiling pot of relativity, and watching it melt and merge into all the other relative teachings, is what is happening in the very middle of religious teachings on every side. How is the next generation going to have any possibility of making a choice as to what true truth is? The responsibility of teaching by words and by example is in the family as much as it has ever been. God meant the relay of true truth to continue throughout all the generations until the return of Jesus and the “time of the end.”

And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever. (Joshua 4:21-24)

God meant each generation to have honest answers and explanations, so that they could know what He had done to make it clear that He is the Living God indeed. It was to be made known to sons who trusted their fathers to be speaking truth in all earnestness. Before Joshua died there was already a turning away to false gods. How quickly people shirk their day-by-day responsibilities, and how quickly their eyes turn away from the path where the true race is being run. Zen Buddhism, Yoga, Transcendental Meditation — “Let’s try this a bit; what difference will it make?” Shortcuts to some kind of “spiritual feeling” can be a snare on every side in a variety of forms. In Joshua’s day it was no different, and people turned to the shortcuts of what was around them in false religions and handed the wrong flag to their children and their children’s children. Joshua spoke to them in the midst of their turning to false religions: “Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (24: 14, 15; italics added).

Perhaps your own parents turned away from God into atheism, agnosticism, coldness of a neutral sort, or some false religion. The people Joshua talked to that day were a mixture, some of whom had faithful fathers and mothers and some of whom did not. The reality of God’s readiness to accept us, as we come to Him through what Christ did in His death in our place, is a continual thing. A new family grasping the right flag, so to speak, and determining that from “this generation on” the children are going to have a continuity of true knowledge of God’s Word to hand down, will have God’s help in being faithful as long as they ask Him. They could say it centuries ago and we can say it now, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

And if you haven’t any new family, and your father and mother have split, and there isn’t any continuity that you can see? Then there is a promise which David knew to be true as he sang, “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up” (Psalms 27:10). The Lord is family indeed and in the midst of writing about the relay it is important to include the importance of the closeness to the Lord of a single person who is cut off from human family. The Lord puts it this way: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee” (Isaiah 49:15). But one who is alone with the Lord as his family needs to be aware that there are children who have no one to hand them the flag, and needs to spend time communicating with his Father in heaven about whom to hand it to!

There is no easy, push-button method of teaching your children the truth about God, and there is no romantic, smooth, undisturbed section of time in which to do it! Just as life is not made up of neat little packages of time for other things, so this matter of having good intentions, but always being disturbed in scheduling the “right time” for Bible reading, prayer, discussion, reading Bible storybooks, or answering questions, can go on so long that the precious years are gone! What God put in Deuteronomy cannot be improved upon as to “when” — and that is when you are together eating, getting ready for bed, walking, and so on. This means time is meant to be spent together. Something is wrong if a person, even a pastor and his wife, have so many meetings to attend that the family, the children, can never have time for questions or the togetherness which brings natural questions and answers.

A child must know that time spent together for answering his or her questions and for explaining the Bible, reading Bible stories, or studying in some way together is considered by you as important as any of the other things you do. “Sorry, Mrs. Jones, but we can’t come over this evening; this is the evening that we read Everybody Can Know with the children, around the fireplace right after dinner. We eat dessert in there by the fire, or rather they do while I read, and I get the things ready for us to do together during the reading. It is our unbreakable date of the week, every Tuesday night.”

“Sorry, Bill, I can’t do that from six to seven because that is the hour that I keep, five days a week, for the kids. We are reading an adventure story together and we give a block of time for that. Then we’re doing a study of a book of the Bible, and the kids each bring a question — you ought to see the six-year-old’s wobbly writing in her notebook. She’s got some stumpers sometimes; keeps me thinking. After seven, maybe.”

“No, I can’t come to the phone right now; this is Natasha’s story time. I read her a story — we’re doing Treasures in the Snow right now, then a few poems out of her Flower Fairy book, and then she reads the Bible. She can read it without asking help on many of the words. Usually some questions come out of that, and then we pray together. Tell whoever it is to call back in about an hour.”

If you have family prayers at the table, the reading should be fairly short, and the prayer time very real. If it is to be prayer, it should not be superficial, but actual praying for needs of the family, for people the children ask prayer for — or whose needs you share with them. When children pray at night, they shouldn’t be forced to pray, but you should pray with them if they don’t want to pray. “Oh, you don’t want to pray tonight? That’s all right. You can talk to God alone after I’ve left the room, if you want to. He doesn’t go out, but He’s always here with you, and always has time to listen. I’ll pray, though, for Fiona and Margaret and Kirsty and Ranald.” And you pray for cousins or playmates, people the child knows, and you don’t make it some sort of a pattern for them to follow, but real for you. Many a time my children have fallen to sleep as I’ve knelt by their beds praying for the very real needs of the moment.

A little child should be sung to before he or she is old enough to know the words — but gradually such words as “Jesus loves me! this I know — “ and “When He cometh, when He cometh to make up His jewels, All His jewels, precious jewels, His loved and His own — “ will be familiar, happy words, connected with his mother’s and daddy’s certainty that the words are true. It is also a special incentive to the mother to keep on praying for Johnny after his first “following along” takes place and the sweet soprano chimes in — “Like the stars of the morning, His bright crown adorning, Jesus loves little children] His loved and His own.” The singing of hymns, choruses, and psalms, songs with hand motions should be joyous times, around a piano if you have one, banging on triangles for little ones — and by recorders or violins if you have budding musicians. Music played on your record player should be taking place along with the reading of the words, so that there can be discussion about the great words based on the Bible’s truth. Marching around while banging on little drums or cymbals, little children should be singing, “Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone!” They will be enjoying it like mad, but also, as time goes on, learning that standing alone like Daniel can be very real in their own lives, and the life of the family.

Do you have a rocking chair? A sleepy child, a feverish child, a sad child, a child full of fears? A child needing some special closeness can’t have anything quite like a parent rocking him or her with a quilt thrown around both people, rock-rock, rock-rock, and the song — never mind the voice or the ability to keep a tune —

      Great is thy faithfulness,
      Great is thy faithfulness,
      Morning by morning new mercies I see;
      All I have needed thy hand hath provided —
      Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

There is something you can give your child in hearing the marvelous words of God’s promises sung along with your faithfulness and love being demonstrated — rock-rock, rock-rock. You are handing the flag to the next generation. You are doing what God told you to do in Deuteronomy!

What should the Scripture-centered home — trying to hand the flag to the next generation in the relay of truth — do about discipline? What does the Bible have to say? The first thing to be said is that the Bible is the Word of God, and God’s Word is fantastically balanced. Human beings are very unbalanced and prone to go off on tangents in every area of life — with too great emphasis on one thing, leaving out another important thing altogether. None of us will ever be perfectly balanced in our spiritual lives, our intellectual lives, our emotional lives, our family lives, in relationship with other human beings, or in our business lives. But we are challenged to try, with the help of God. We are meant to live in the Scriptures. Parents who want to follow what God teaches need to have blazoned in their minds, if not tacked up on a bulletin board: “This book of the law [the Scriptures as a whole] shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8).

It is impossible to meditate on the whole Bible if it is not being read privately as well as being taught to the children. As we come up against: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), we gasp, “How can I be perfect as a wife, husband, father, mother — in my discipline and in my love and obedience as a wife — in my loving as Christ loves, as a husband. How can I be perfect?” And then we read on and find that this verse (which is what we would need to do if we were to get to heaven by our own goodness) is balanced by: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10). Our wonderful God, who has told us that He remembers that we are but dust and that He knows our weaknesses, reminds us over and over again that we cannot be perfect — until Jesus comes back again — but that there is forgiveness in the blood of Christ and there is day-by-day help as we ask Him.

With this as a start, yes, the Bible does say that there is to be a balanced structure in the family. The Book of Proverbs says, “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother” (1:8) and, “My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother” (6:20). Both parents are involved and both parents are to have some very firm rules and regulations. There must be some way of teaching that although there is a difference between the absolute unchangeable law of God and the rules of your household, there have to be firm rules which you agree upon. The headship of the father means that there are not to be two divergent, confusing sets of rules, but it does not mean that the mother is a non-person with no intelligent ideas in the area of good firm rules for children to obey. We can see this confirmed in Proverbs. What are the punishments to be? This needs imagination and an understanding of the individual. You will never have two children alike. A child who may respond to a spanking may have a brother who needs to be sat in a chair and told to keep still for a half hour. One kind of offense which calls for something like the removal of a dessert is quite different from another which needs an even number of whacks on the bottom. There should be an attempt to be fair and to have the child know why he or she is being punished. There should also be times when the parent says, “I was angry when I hit you, and I was wrong. I’m sorry. You were being very annoying, but it wasn’t really that bad.” A child is happier within the firm walls of some regular discipline, rather than living with permissiveness, but every child is not alike, and every parent is not alike. Therefore, it would be impossible to make a how-to-do-it list that would fit every situation and every person.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise: That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. [This is quickly followed by just as strong a command in the next verse:] And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4)

In Colossians 3:21 are added these words: “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” So the punishment by fathers and mothers is something for which God is going to hold them responsible in this direction, too — whether they are being so unfair in their treatment of the children that it is not helping to bring them up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” In other words, it is discouraging them in many ways. It seems to me that the way indicated here would be “turning them off” as far as Christianity goes.

Timothy was very obviously not “turned off” from the loving of the Lord and from following truth in His early training. Paul writes with deep feeling, “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Terrific statement. Both the grandmother and mother had an influence on little Timothy — which produced the man Timothy. What a responsibility grandmothers and mothers have in handing the flag of truth to the next generation, and what a well-commended job these two did! Yes, fathers are warned not to discourage with what God calls “provoking your children to wrath” — and this must not be disregarded. It is well for us as fathers and mothers to remember that we are imperfect, and we are not God. We need constantly to pray for help in our treatment of our children, and to tell the Lord as we pray that we are glad we have Him as our Father (and not ourselves as our “father”), because He is so forgiving and gentle as to say that when we confess our sins He immediately forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. In the balance in our training — firm rules, punishing, forgiving, teaching — would it be possible for Paul to say to our children (as God gave Paul the words) what he said to Timothy? — “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14, 15).

At this point I literally stopped to telephone Priscilla and was told that when asked, “What would you say makes a happy family?” five-year-old Giandy, rolling his blue eyes angelically, said, “Tell them to spank them enough when they are bad, ‘cause then you don’t fight, and that is happier.” So you have the evidence that I’m not putting forth a romantic picture of all sweetness and light and no need for spankings!

For children to grow up with a respect for Scripture, we feel strongly that it must be consistently treated with respect and reverenced as God’s Word, different from all other books. Meaning what? Meaning that if a passage is used in a Sunday-school lesson or at family prayers or preached about at one time — and then the same passage is paraphrased another time as a joke at a party or a dinner — it is impossible to feel that the joking, laughing people really feel this is seriously the Word of the Creator of the universe, the Holy God. Jokes using Bible passages, jokes about heaven or about baptism, misuse of verses to make puns giving double meaning to try to be funny — all of these dishonor God’s Word and disregard His holiness, both while they are going on and in the growing question which forms in children’s minds if they are thinking, sensitive people. There are enough other books to quote from if one wants to make puns or be funny. The Bible should be protected as truly the Word of God, to be used with deep respect, excitement, joy, hope, searching, and wonder. Listen to Paul as he continues in Second Timothy: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (3:16, 17). All Scripture — read it over again — has its specific purpose, is inspired by God, and will bring about a result in the man of God who will come forth as Timothy did, having been brought up not only knowing it, but having it given to him consistently in its true meaning.

Another area which is important in passing the flag of truth to the next generation is being careful to always tell the truth (in as far as you are able) about everything you are asked. “Let’s pretend!” should be a wonderful development of imagination, and “pretend” fairies, “pretend” people who live under the furniture, “pretend” animals that talk, can be encouraged, and talked about. Fairy stories are a wonderful part of childhood, but with the understanding that “this is just pretend.” When it comes to “Santa Claus bringing the gifts,” it is important that this not be given in a confusing way: “Oh, yes, it is true,” when you are later going to say, “No, it wasn’t really true all those years.” We’ll talk about special traditions in another chapter, but right here there is the need to realize that a child needs to be able to really depend upon you to tell the truth and to differentiate between pretending, kidding for a short moment, and declaring something is true, only to say later that it is not. A child should be able to be sure that when Mother or Daddy say, “We’re going out and we’ll be back at ten,” that this will actually take place, or that you will call up to say it is going to be longer. To disappear and say nothing (unless it is a small baby who is asleep) can start a lack of trust. It is confusing to say, “Santa Claus is real — Jonah really was a true man — And Jesus was born as a little baby in a stable; but He had lived forever and forever before, as the Second Person of the Trinity — An Easter Bunny put this on the table for you — Jesus rose from the dead in a real body, and ate fish with His disciples by the seaside.” It can sow the seeds of doubt in a dismal way to later “unmix the mix” and say, “This was true truth, and that was just for fun,” when you have gone on for years mixing it all up in one dish. Truth must be given in answers about sex, about how babies are born — and about how steel is made! As much as is possible you must give correct answers and understanding answers about Creation and the true truth of Genesis!

One final thing about Christian families which is different from any other kind of family — as soon as a child is born into the Lord’s Family, whether at five or fifteen, twenty or forty, a double relationship commences. There is still a father-child, mother-child relationship, but there is immediately a brother-and-sister-in-Christ relationship! Husband and wife are also brother and sister in the Lord, in the Lord’s Family. Child and parent have the brother-and-sister-in-the-Lord relationship, and the whole family is “one in the Lord.” This is very exciting and a special thing, but it brings with it some specific realities of choices which face each individual at times in life. The small child, of course, is told to obey parents. The parents are to be careful to ask the Lord for guidance. The child is also to be taught that “prayer changes history,” and that they do have access directly to the Lord in all kinds of things. Prayer with and for a child, prayer as a family together, should not take the place of the child feeling that he or she can come privately to the Lord and talk to Him and bring problems to Him and ask Him about things. A child should be able to feel, for example, that God could bring about a change of the school he or she is attending, by putting it into Daddy’s mind that another school would be better. Even at an early age, a child should not feel that there is no direct appeal to the Lord in the area of problems, even with the need to obey the parent.

The hard choices come when parents (as a child grows to adulthood) come between the leading of the Lord to the child and give opposite commands. Matthew 10:37 says, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” And in Luke the admonition is made very strong by saying, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (14:26). What does it all mean? Aren’t we to love one another? This is not contradiction, but simply strong, forceful language showing that our love for the Lord, our consideration of Him first is to be so great, that any other love would seem like hate by contrast. It is telling us that we are to really put the Lord — our love for Him, our doing of His will — before all else, even before our own lives. This speaks not only to those facing martyrdom right now in many parts of the world, but it speaks to people who are in the dilemma of whether to put parents’ commands first, or the clear leading of the Lord first. A parent (when that parent is a Christian) should declare to the Lord, “This child is Yours, and I will never hinder him or her from doing Your will, even if it is against my desires or my ambitions or my hopes for his or her life.” This is what the parent is meant to do, and if this is adhered to there should be no great tearing, searing breaks in a Christian family — simply much praying on the part of parents that the children will really want God’s will and recognize His day-by-day leading. The decision of a child to do the Lord’s will should be a joy to the parents. Unhappily, this is not always the case, and when a choice has to be made between the two, the Bible is clear —each individual’s responsibility before the Lord is to obey Him and Him only!

In a case where only one parent is Christian (or when only one person — a child in the family — is a believer), then great division can result. Jesus has specifically said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). He is talking about this very thing as He continues in Matthew — it can be that “a man’s foes are those of his own household” (see v. 36). This has happened time after time in history, as family members have become “spies” and handed’ over someone to be burned at the stake, eaten by lions, or buried alive, and it is taking place today in certain countries.

Martyrdom is not the result in all families who are “split” by Christianity, as often it simply means that a wife or a daughter or a father or a son is to show great love and patience and to demonstrate the reality of the truth in very mundane, everyday, unglamorous, undramatic ways. It may mean a lonely walk within an unchanging circumstance, and part of “putting the Lord first” may mean much “foot washing” or doing the hardest dirty work there is around the farm or house.

One person in one family in one village in one county in one nation can, even alone, be the one to start the beginning of a new line of believers, as that one begins to really pray for specific individuals, to talk when the moment opens up, and to lead a few others one by one to know true truth. Suddenly a nation which has seemed completely shut off by the laws of a religion such as Islam can have springing up in it a beginning “line” in the relay of truth. Truth will be relayed — in every period of history — by some. This we know from the Word of God.

Can’t you imagine them now? Throughout all centuries, all geographic locations — some from every tribe and nation and kindred and tongue and people — being faithful, handing the flag of true truth, not dropping out, starting new family lines — right up to the moment when Jesus comes back again! Let’s say with Joshua with a shout (inside our heads if we don’t want anyone else to think we’re being too dramatic), “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” in this twentieth century.


Edith Schaeffer's life was a remarkable one, from her early childhood years in China onward, as wife of one of the foremost Christian thinkers of the day, Dr. Francis Schaeffer. Along with her family, Mrs. Schaeffer founded L’Abri, the world-famous Christian community in Switzerland. A well-known Christian speaker, counsellor and author in her own right, she has written a number of popular books, among them LAbri, Hidden Art and Everybody can know.


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