Thursday, March 8, 2012

Teaching Good Morals

“The real world is not family friendly,” says religious psychologist, Dr. Kevin Leman (17). He further observes, “…the red-throated warblesnipe is not really our most endangered species. The family is.” Dr. Leman suggests that anyone who doubts his statements needs but to look at the odds: one out of two marriages will fail; likely your kids will be approached by drug dealers; chances are one of your children may have serious behavior problems, and working mothers will probably become stressed out as she tries to “have it all.” (18).

Dr. Leman also notes that there appears to be an epidemic of dysfunctional families. As the doctor considers all the reasons for these problems, he says, “… I am just old-fashioned enough to reduce these problems to some pretty basic causes and effects…. One major reason the families of our nation are in trouble is that moms and dads are really not putting each other, or the family first”(20). Leman understands the “challenges, problems, and dangers” facing our children. He says that, “Kids growing up today are living in an absurd society that puts pressures on them that were unheard of two or three generations ago” (29).

Considering the cultural changes over the past forty or so years, Judge Robert H. Bork remarks, “A nation’s moral life is the foundation of its culture.” In his insightful book, Slouching Toward Gomorrah, he quotes from The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats, who was awarded the 1923 Nobel Prize in Literature:

“The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

Judge Bork comments upon the last line of the poem, Yeats “can hardly have foreseen that passionate intensity, uncoupled from morality, would shred the fabric of Western culture. The rough beast of decadence, a long time in gestation, having reached its maturity in the last three decades, now sends us slouching towards our new home, not Bethlehem, but Gomorrah.” Yeats himself did not do a single thing to uphold morality, being a womanizer and wanderer in cultic type thinking. But these lines certainly provoke thoughts about passive morality, and the intense propagation of immorality.

Though liberal in his theology, religious socialist Anthony Campolo is on target concerning how society shapes behavior, “Young people are influenced by the dominant values of our culture. Three of the most pervasive values are success, consumerism, and personal happiness” (15).

Charles Colson, having seen for himself the degradation of society, (cf. Charles Colson,, wrote, “The barbarians of the new dark age are pleasant and articulate men and women. They carry briefcases, not spears, but their assault on culture is every bit as devastating as the barbarian invasion…. Their ideas are persuasive and subtle, and very often they undermine the pillars upon which our civilization was founded.”

Solomon stated that there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9). Sinfulness is not a novel idea. Addressing the sin matter, the apostle John tells us, “Do not love or cherish the world or the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh [craving for sensual gratification] and the lust of the eyes [greedy longings of the mind] and the pride of life [assurance in one's own resources or in the stability of earthly things]—these do not come from the Father but are from the world [itself]” (1 John 2:15-26, Amplified New Testament).

The further from God a society becomes, the more depraved it is. Consider Paul’s letter to the Romans during the early days of the church (Rom. 1:18-32). William Barclay commented, “When we read Romans 1:26-32 it might seem that this passage is the work of some almost hysterical moralist who was exaggerating the contemporary situation and painting it in colours of rhetorical hyperbole. It describes a situation of a degeneracy of morals almost without parallel in human history… So far from exaggerating the picture Paul drew it with restraint—and it was there that Paul was eager to preach the gospel…” (23, 25).

Alfred Edersheim speaks of the Roman Empire’s culture, “It has been rightly said, that the idea of the conscience, as we understand it, was unknown to heathenism. Absolute right did not exist. Might was right. The social relations exhibited, if possible, even deeper corruption. The sanctity of marriage had ceased. … Abortion, and the exposure and murder of new-born children, were common and tolerated, unnatural vices, which even the greatest philosophers practiced, if not advocated, attained proportions which defy description” (259).

Discussion of the Roman society is pertinent to thinking about where we are today. We are in a “new dark age.” Our own culture has spiraled downward over the past several decades closely resembling that of ancient Rome. Abortion on demand, corruption in government, sadistic behavior in families, divorce, babies left in trash bins, homosexuality practiced, tolerated, and propagandized (e.g. Ellen Degeneres, lesbian spokesman for American Express and J.C. Penney, Cover Girl model) is descriptive of most places in the world today. Dark as it is, we must remember that the early church flourished in the midst of all the wickedness of the first century.

How can Bible class teachers train children to be moral in this woefully wicked world? The fact is, the home is responsible for guiding the hearts of children. The Bible school is limited in what it can do in turning the minds of children to serving God. As teachers our primary purpose is to help parents, not replace them. It is so easy to be discouraged as a teacher. Yet, many of us could recount a story of someone who as a child, without parental guidance, learned about God and his plan of redemption by attending a Bible class. So for those few, and for the encouragement of our own children who are spiritual, we can do our best to seek good teaching tools. Some suggestions follow.

Teach that God is. The importance of apologetics for children must be stressed. The constant barrage of evolutionary dogma has an influence upon students. The fruit of Darwinism is wide spread. (cf. Kyle Butt). How can we begin to teach morals if our students are harboring unspoken doubts about the existence of God? When a person voices this idea, “We need to discuss issues, rather than spend so much time on evidences,” they demonstrate an ignorance of the real world. Logic demands a reason to deny “the passing pleasures” of this world. (Heb. 11:24-26)

Teach that God is Sovereign. God’s authority, as revealed in Scripture, has to be taught. The right attitude toward the Holy Book must be ingrained into each child from the earliest years. Unless there is the disposition of respect for God, for who he is, and his word, there is little else we can do to help our students.

Teach personal accountability. Young people must learn that they have personal responsibility for their behaviors. Of course, wisdom dictates that we teach age-appropriately about the expectations of our Heavenly Father, his demands for obedience, and the consequences for ignoring his law. But these concepts must be a part of our curriculum. As we teach, we will be careful to explain the reason Jesus came, that we can be forgiven. But a cavalier attitude toward sin will not be taken lightly on the judgment day.

Teach how to determine what is wrong. The lines of morality are so blurred these days. After hearing a lesson on modesty, some teen girls were overheard making light and giggling about the fact that they were immodest! Too many people think that preaching is just preacher talk, and not required adherence. The fact is that over time the innate moral compass can be so damaged that the worst things become right in the sight of many. Fornication and homosexuality are surely examples of this. It is common to hear people talk about their live-in girl/boy friends and the children they have together. The ability to blush (Jer. 6:15) is numbed by the acceptance of sinful behavior as commonplace and nothing for which one should be ashamed. But what does the Bible say about drunkenness, fornication, homosexuality and divorce? What does the Bible say about honesty, work ethic, theft, etc? What does it say about the church and worship (and worship attendance)? We must teach what the Bible says, and that as the “oracles of God,” it is binding.

Teach Courage. Mary Flannery O’Connor, an American novelist, wrote, “You have to push as hard as the age that pushes against you” (Bennett, 15). Standing up for what is right isn’t easy, but we must "push back." Those Old Testament stories that show the bravery of women like Esther and men like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and others can help. Praise students when they share times they have been able to stand up for what is right.

Yes, we must teach about issues. No doubt about it. But a doubting heart will not care about issues. So we come full circle. Teach about God, his existence, his holiness, his omniscience, and how he deals with his human creation. Show how he wants to be worshiped and the way we ought to live according to Scripture. We must teach about the love of God for us by teaching his word, and by our lives.

We are living in dark times. The depressed philosophers/historians (Seneca, Tacitus, etc.) of decadent Rome felt there was only hopelessness. But we have hope in Christ. But it is only “one hope.” The ways of the world are not it. Young people must see the contrast between the world and God’s way. So with a sense of urgency let us press on with the goal of trying to impact our students for the sake of their eternal welfare.

Barclay, William. The Letter To The Romans. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press.1957.
Bennett, William. The Moral Compass. New York, NY:Simon and Schuster.1995.
Bork, Robert H. Slouching Toward Gomorrah. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.1996.
Butt, Kyle. The Bitter Fruits of Atheism. Montgomery, AL:Apologetics Press.
Colson, Charles. Against The Night: Living In The New Dark Ages. An Arbor, MI: Servant Publications. 1999.
Campolo, Anthony. Growing Up In America. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1989.
Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus, The Messiah, Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI:Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1947.
Jackson, Wayne. America, A Nation Out of Control. Stockton, CA:Christian Courier Publications.
Jackson, Wayne. Religion and Morality: The Connection. Stockton, CA.Christian Courier Publications.
Leman, Dr. Kevin. Keeping Your Family Together, When the World Is Falling Apart. Colorado Springs, CO: Focus On The Family Publishing. 1993.