Many Christians today have little appreciation of the history of the Christian church. As a result, we are unable to learn from the past and, in the process, we make a lot of mistakes which we could have avoided. The deconstruction of stable family units in our church today has adversely affected the raising up of children in many families in the church of Jesus Christ today. This is often due to both parents working to raise more income for the family, husband and wife living apart in pursuit of well-paying jobs for the economic well-being of the family, divorce and separation being on the increase, and single parents being economically pressured into placing their children in day-care centres at the mercy of nannies so that they can have more freedom to earn a living.

The result is that children are not receiving the training they desperately need from their parents. The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). This command is given to the parents and many of them have abandoned it. Children are growing up devoid of moral instruction and training. In the end, they create problems for themselves, their parents, and society at large when they grow up.

How can we successfully raise children in the church in today’s perilous circumstances? We should not overlook history. We must learn from history. We must learn how children were raised in the church and consider the impact and outcome of that work. The church has gone through different influences in the raising up of children. I would like to trace the historical impact of the church in the raising up of children in the changing world. Let us look at a selected period in history, mainly the Puritan era:

The Medieval Period

The Medieval Period was built on a system of feudal hierarchy. The Roman Catholic Church was by far the largest owner of land during the middle ages. They regulated their members’ conduct in all their activities—personal, social, religious, and economic. Roman Catholic tradition supported the idea of celibacy, saying that it was the best way of attaining holiness. This led to the establishment of monasteries and sisterhood. Consequently, they forbade marriage for priests and nuns. However, the Church of England which grew out of the Reformation Period supported marriage. One major challenge the Roman Catholic Church faced during the Medieval Period was when Martin Luther married an ex-nun Katherine von Bora. The Church of England carried forward the example began by the 16th century Reformer, Martin Luther.

The Puritan Period

We will skip the Protestant Reformation Period for now and concentrate on a group of Reformers in England known as the Puritans who followed a generation later.

The Puritans were an English Protestant sect most active in the 16th and 17th century, who sought to purify the Church of England off Roman Catholic practices. They maintained that the Church of England had not been fully reformed and needed to become more Protestant. They were well-known for their strict adherence to the Old Testament teaching and for their subsequent conservative outlook on life.

They expounded the biblical passages relating to marriage and family. They taught that marriage was not God’s second best but the very best. For instance, Thomas Gataker extolled marriage thus: “There is no society more near, more entire, more needful, more kindly, more delightful, more comfortable, more constant, more continual, than the society of husband and wife, the main root, source, and origin of all other societies.” Thomas Manton also declared, “Marriages are made in heaven before they are made on earth.”

The Puritan ethic of nurture was to train up children in the way of the Lord. The home life was based on maintaining domestic order, courtesy, and family worship. The Puritan’s intent was to influence the home, reform the church, and renew the society.

During this period, there was a rise of a new family ideology centered on the upbringing of children. Puritans stressed the importance of individual salvation and the spiritual welfare of children.

Child-rearing was rooted in the conviction that children belong to God and are entrusted to parents as stewards of God’s precious gift. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psa. 127:3). The parents are divinely appointed as the teachers, leaders, and caretakers of God’s precious gift. Thomas Watson once said, “Christian parents will endeavour that their children may be more God’s children than theirs.”

Puritans had this conviction that their children belonged to God, but this did not mean that Puritans believed that their children were saved from birth. “The wicked are estranged from the womb, they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” (Psa. 58:3). They viewed children of believers as being in covenant with God but this did not imply salvation. They believed that all children entered the world in a depraved state and that they were lost in sin until brought to faith in Christ. Children were in the covenant but not necessarily of the covenant. They lived under the promises of the covenant but still needed to be appropriate them by faith evidenced by repentance and a holy walk.

The Puritan rearing of children

Puritan families were naturally large—seven or more children—and were viewed as a nursery for church and society. Parents were expected to do everything possible to see that their children conformed to the biblical norms and precepts, especially the commandment to obey the parents.

Family Worship: Puritans believed that a family is an extension of the church. They viewed the family as a small church and as a back bone of the church. Every man in the family had the responsibility to pastor his wife and children. Jonathan Edwards, who drank deeply from Puritan wells, said, “Every family ought to be, as it were, a little church, consecrated to Christ and wholly influenced and governed by his rules.” Family worship was regarded as a vital daily duty and took place in the morning and evening. The father in the home had the responsibility of leading family worship and teaching children. George Whitefield, who also fed on Puritan works, once said, “A man ought to look upon himself as obliged to act in three capacities—as a Prophet to instruct his family, as a Priest to pray for and with his family, and as a King to govern, direct, and provide for his family.” The solitary objective for the family was to progress the beauty of the Lord through instruction in the Bible. God designed the family to be a learning and worshipping community. Therefore, the purpose of the Puritan family was to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Puritans attended church with their children and no child was allowed to miss a single service. Church service was seen as an important facet of Puritan life. (Some churches were even patrolled by men with sticks for punishing children who fell asleep or were otherwise distracted during the service!) Being a Puritan’s child was not fun. It required doing what everyone else was doing. It was frightening for the child. Perhaps this was an unfair extreme to which children were subjected. Even though at times it seemed that the Puritan parents were hard and heartless towards their children, they actually were not. For Puritans, discipline equalled love. Authority and obedience described the relationship between parents and their children.

Discipleship of a child: The Puritans considered the home as a primary place of learning the Bible. They also believed that it was the parents’ responsibility to disciple and teach their children about faith. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:7). Thomas Doolittle said, “Masters of families ought to read the Scriptures to their families and instruct their children in the doctrine of salvation.”

Child-rearing for the Puritans was not theoretical but theological. The teaching of Scripture to the children while they are still young was emphasised. For instance, the advantage of a thorough knowledge of Scripture from an early age was illustrated by the example of Matthew Henry, son of the Puritan Philip Henry, who from childhood imbibed a living and amazing knowledge of Scripture. This enabled Matthew Henry later to write his wonderful commentary on the whole Bible, which continues to be on demand today.

Disciplining of a child: Puritans considered discipline as an important aspect in the life of a child. Children were thought to be born with a certain amount of unacceptable pride and to be naturally stubborn. This stubbornness was worked on by each child’s parents. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. The rod of correction will drive it from him” (Prov. 22:15). It was the parent’s spiritual responsibility to ensure that the child received important teaching and guidance, and was enabled to distinguish right from wrong.

Puritan discipline was based on spiritual concerns. A breakdown in family rules symbolised a breakdown in God’s own order. They thought nothing was more important than the children’s obedience to their parents and to God. Order in the Puritan community was important. Children, adults, and even elders had to follow Puritan rules, which were very strict. Not following the Puritan rules usually resulted in a spanking of children. Fathers were the ones that administered discipline to the children.

Conclusion

Christian families make up the church in our day and age. Disorder in the family spills over into the church. Many parents have abandoned their responsibility of raising children. They have left it to nannies who create a daily schedule and engage them in activities to advance their mental, physical and emotional growth. This is done without the involvement of their parents and without the Bible which is the manual for raising children.

One child who grew up in the 20th century lamented about his growing up experience. He said, “My parents did not play a major role in my upbringing and education. They entrusted me in the hands of the nanny at home who spent more time with me. The nanny cared for me in an unsupervised way while both of my parents were away. They would only show up at the weekend. I had no attachment to them though they tried to bring good things for me. They also did not play a major role in my education. They trusted the school to educate me and did not bother to check what I was learning. They were too busy with their work schedules and relied on the school to properly educate me. I grew up an abandoned child and ended up being exposed to Buddhism and there was no one to neutralise it.”

The Christian family is a little church, a little government, and a little society in which to shape the child. Future generations depend on the leadership found in a home and the values they receive there.

Puritan teaching was based on Scripture and has had an impact on later generations of educators. Puritans put God first and valued everything else in relationship to him. They combined personal piety with a comprehensive Christian life of marriage, family, church, education, and the raising up of children. We must look back in history to the Puritan era and learn how children were raised up then compared to our time.

Bibliography

Hulse, Erroll. Who are the Puritans? Evangelical Press, 2000.

Packer, J. I. Among God’s Giants: The Puritan vision of the Christian life, Kingsway, 1991.

Leland, Ryken. The Puritans as they really were, Zondervan, 1986.

Gataker, Thomas. A Wife Indeed, Schnuker.

Manton, Thomas. Wedding Sermon on Genesis 2:22, Works vol. 2, Banner of Truth Trust.

www. raisinggodlychildren.org. Puritan Family lessons /2011/11/4