For All the Saints

Perhaps the most noble vocation is that of Christian parenthood. Parents are called to die to themselves for their spouse and while raising children in an increasingly hostile world. The Lord’s admonishment rings more urgently than ever to “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.” (Matthew 18:10, ESV).

Unfortunately, parents today are often sacrificing themselves for their children but not necessarily for their best interests. Activities are stressed as being important for children, such as sports, dance, music lessons, but often at the expense of church services. The cultural norm of attending church not only on Sunday morning, but also Sunday evening and Wednesday evening has dissipated (even in the so-called Bible Belt). The reality many rectors face is competing with families sending their children to soccer games on Sunday morning or the excuse that they are exhausted from Saturday’s activities.

There is a loss of Sabbath in our nation. Believers are not immune to it, and we have allowed it to permeate even our churches. Youth and children’s programs are often geared at entertainment over substance. Teaching and training are left to parents who were never formed on the foundations of faith. A generation of parents who were entertained during their formative years at church is now entertaining their children to death. Yes, to death because there is a failure to pass along the faith once delivered. It is sadly ironic that Christian parents will gladly hand their sons and daughters over to public or private schools to be taught for hours at a time yet refuse to send their children (or themselves) to sit and learn the Scriptures for an hour beyond Sunday worship. Children are thrown a cell phone or tablet and we wonder why the world captures them at younger and younger ages. Images of millstones and necks should pass through our minds and give us a holy shudder.

Should we really be surprised when studies reveal that a biblically based denomination like the Southern Baptist Church is failing to retain half of their kids? I wince at what the numbers might be within the tiny hamlet called American Anglicanism, especially when one considers the Southern Baptist numbers were determined pre-pandemic.

The future of the church is smaller. The winnowing started long before 2020 and has only accelerated since. On a similar note, a recent study demonstrated how the majority of Christian denominations are shrinking in terms of replacing themselves the good ole fashioned way, through families. This does not mean “doom and gloom” is imminent, but only strengthens the urgent need for the local parish to disciple parents so they may effectively disciple their children. The future church will be smaller and less confessional, as nondenominational churches are an outlier in numerical growth, and without a confessional anchor. But, a shallow Christianity is not one likely to last against an increasingly secularized and religiously hostile society.

Hence, Christians across confessions need to create spaces – both formal and informal – for encouraging, equipping, educating, and ensuring their children and neighbor’s children are raised in the faith. Increasingly all orthodox Christians will face pressure from culture and the magistrates to conform to society and “keep your religion to yourselves on Sunday.” Therefore, now is the time to prepare sacred spaces to cultivate Christian children so they may face the world, be in the world, but not of the world. Creating spaces for Christians to catechize and unite under common principles will likely cross denominational bounds.

There are many Christians who find themselves isolated or on an island within their particular church denomination. The churches they were raised in, married in, and hoped to raise their children in, is walking away from Biblical doctrine and headlong into the zeitgeist. We should welcome such exiles in our homes and break bread together as neighbors who can unite under the banner of “Mere Christianity.” We may soon find that “front porch ministries” not only gather in the unbelieving neighbor (praise God!) but also become a refuge for refugees whose denominations have left the Scriptures, and therefore made exiles out of many of their members.

In the words of St. Anthony the Great, we are approaching a time in which all who are in Christ will be called ‘mad’ in the eyes of the world. It would be true madness to fail to raise and prepare our children in the love of Christ and nurturing of the Holy Spirit. Combat the madness with a hearty habit of daily prayer and Scripture reading. May we start by binding ourselves together with our Christian neighbors and grounding ourselves upon the Word. Let us invite and unite with our fellow exiles over prayer, fellowship, and raising our children in the faith. The simplicity and “mere Christianity” of the shortened family offices from the Book of Common Prayer would be a wonderful place to start.

How we equip our children matters. It matters today because it has eternal implications. If we truly believe in the words of Scripture then let us start today – as clergy, as parishes, and most importantly as parents – in setting aside time to disciple our closest neighbors, our own family.

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4, ESV)

The journey starts with ourselves. We must strive to be like children and seek Christ with a child-like faith. We must model discipleship in order to disciple our own. But we are not alone. Our parish, our fellow Christians, young and old, are called to be witnesses of Christ to all covenant children, and indeed to the world. It starts at our home parish, in our local town, with our Christian neighbors. The responsibility is ours, regardless if we are parents, desire to be parents, or are well past our child-bearing years. As St. Paul wrote the Corinthians, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 4:15, ESV) There are many orphans within our parishes who may have a living father or mother but are orphans by divorce or whose parent(s) fail to attend worship and therefore fail to disciple their own. Take up the cause of these widows and orphans by serving as a father in Christ Jesus and disciple others. After all, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27, ESV) Empty-nesters and retirees, disciple and mentor the parents in raising children in Christ for “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” our Lord tells us. (Matthew 18:5, ESV).

Grandparents who are on their second round of parenting, I see you. I pray for you. So many of you are parenting your grandchildren due to absent parents. Take heart and be encouraged that the Lord sees your work and I pray the church sees it too and comes around you in support. Young parents, look after those grandparents who are raising their grandchildren and help them. Invite them over and minister to both the grandchildren and especially those grandparents who are exhausting themselves again to raise up the next generation.

Finally, take heart parents. Yes, take heart. Although the schemes of man and the roaring of Satan seeks to devour you and your children, you are covered by Christ’s blood. You belong to the beloved Son. You are not alone. The Holy Spirit is uttering prayers within your soul as you read these words. Despite the madness of this world, we can have peace – yes peace – while raising our children. The beloved disciple graciously recorded in the Spirit that the Lord Jesus promises, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV). May we walk in Christ’s peace with a child-like faith leading the next generation under Christ’s blood-stained banner.

Note:

“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying: ‘You are mad; you are not like us.’”

-St. Anthony the Great


Rev. Andrew Brashier

Rev. Andrew Brashier serves as the Rector of Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in Pelham, Alabama, and is the Archdeacon overseeing the Parish and Missions Deanery in the Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy. He writes regularly about ministry, family worship, daily prayer, book reviews, family oratories and the impact they can have in reigniting Anglicanism, and the occasional poem at www.thruamirrordarkly.wordpress.com. He recently republished Bishop John Jewel's Treatises on the Holy Scriptures and Sacraments (https://a.co/d/ikWCXG4). The second edition of his first book, A Faith for Generations, is now available at Amazon (https://a.co/d/3iVgwdJ) and focuses on family devotions and private prayer in the Anglican tradition.


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