Blaming the Parents

  • Question from CM, United Kingdom

    Dear Jon the Freelance Theologian. I heard somewhere that the witness of Christian Leaders should be judged on how their children turn out. If their children grow up to be Christians then it proves that the leader was an example in his own household and it wasn’t just a front. Can leaders still be held responsible in the present? Surely, children now have more choices and have more sources of influence than used to be the case in biblical times.

    This question calls for a certain amount of common sense. Any Christian parent has undertaken a tremendous responsibility, namely to model the love of their Father in heaven to their children and also to raise their children in a relationship with their heavenly Father. However, children are no different to adults in that, at any given point, they can choose to accept or reject the gift of salvation offered to them.

    Beyond a certain age children are undoubtedly responsible for their own actions. In Deuteronomy chapter 24 verse 16 the people of Israel are given the following instruction: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers. Each is to die for his own sin.” Unfortunately the character assassination of church leaders that sometimes accompanies the rebellious behaviour of their children flies in the face of this very clear indication that no sinful human being can take responsibility for another person’s sin.

    However, there is a flipside to this. Proverbs chapter 22, verse 6 is often quoted: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” If there is trouble at home, that will be acted out in bad behaviour. Some church leaders are guilty of detached parenting, due to the demands of the job. Others sometimes present a different face to the outside world than they do to the family and that can have horrendous repercussions. The irony with this proverb is that Solomon, the king associated with the book of Proverbs, did in fact turn from the ‘proper ways’ and sacrificed to ‘other Gods’, including Ashtoreth, Molech and Chemosh (1 Kings ch11 vv5-8), in his old age.

    While children do have more choices (and leisure time) than children in Biblical times, that is not necessarily a major factor in children rejecting their upbringing. If anything the stories in the Bible are indicators that children have always been ‘rebellious’. The fact that ‘honour your father and mother’ is included in the Ten Commandments proves that! Perhaps it is the way of things that at some point children will begin to question the norms of society and their upbringing. The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke ch15 vv11-32) asks no questions of the father who raised such an ingrate son (or his bitter older brother). If we identify God as the father in the parable waiting for his lost son to come home, then would we say God was a bad father, considering how many of his children seem to be ‘far off in a foreign country’?

    For any parent, the only hope for their children is that they enter a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. ‘Respectability’ should be a secondary concern. However, at the risk of sounding controversial, the problem may lie in the prevailing philosophy of churches – to sideline young people in their own ‘youth’ stream and then expect them to make the leap into ‘adult’ church life.

    Every child lost to the church is the responsibility of the church, not just the parents. Perhaps if we, as adults, were encouraging our young people to treat the church as theirs, to take on responsibilities, were willing to mentor them and listen to their viewpoint, in fact to treat them as brothers and sisters of equal status in the Kingdom of God, then the heartache of parents waiting for their children to ‘come home’ could be prevented in future.

    Thanks for the question, CM. I hope you found this answer useful.

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