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Christian Freedom

Parenting and Christian Freedom Revisited

UncategorizedJared Kennedy1 Comment

Focusing on disputable matters can distract us from the weightier matters in gospel ministry.

Last year, this blog posted an article entitled "Immunizations and Christian Freedom" as part of a Parenting and Christian Freedom series. Over the past year, I’ve come to see how our focus on the controversial issue distracted the conversation from weightier matters. That article has been removed from the site, and this one appears in its place. What follows here unpacks Paul’s teaching on Christian Freedom from Romans 14.  The “vaccinations” controversy is mentioned, but it is only mentioned incidentally.  With this issue like with all matters of parenting freedom, the call to love is the main thing.

The apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans as a missionary support letter.  In the letter, he unpacks the Gospel (Rom 1-11) as an encouragement for this church to pursue self-sacrifice (Romans 12), perseverance (Rom 13), unity (Rom 14), and partnership with him in his mission to Spain (Rom 15).  Paul’s emphasis on unity in controversial matters (14:1-15:13) is particularly instructive when we see it in light of the context of the whole book.  A lack of unity within the church over “eating meat” and “celebrating days” had become a roadblock to mission.  We should not allow our own disputable matters to do the same.  When we engage in conversations about disputable trends in parenting as a church, it is important for us not to let our strong opinions distract us from love and gospel ministry.

Vaccinations are controversial.  And because they are controversial, there are members of our church that have strong opinions about them—for and against.  I won’t rehearse the reasons here.  Some will vaccinate their children and some will not. Now, the analogy with the Roman church breaks down a bit here. Jesus declared all food to be clean (Mark 7:19).  He hasn’t done that for vaccinations.  But Paul’s principles for loving one another still apply. Paul focused less on the disputable matters in these chapters (15:1-3).  Rather, he focused on the way that the Romans Christians should love one another.   This is where I allowed our earlier conversations to go astray, and it is why this revision of the earlier post is necessary.  Controversial matters should not be avoided altogether, but advocating a position as a church where the Bible is silent and believers differ is unwise. I’m certain that having done so diluted our gospel influence.

Don’t weaken your gospel influence.  If you’ve done your homework about this issue and you have come to a decision as a family, you know how tempting it is to pass judgment, “I am doing this in a right way” and because you aren’t doing the same thing I am doing, you are wrong.” But Paul says clearly, “Accept… and do not judge” (Romans 14:1-13).

Here is what “not judging” means in this passage. God accepts parents who vaccinate and those who don’t as Christians.  And he calls both his friends (John 15:15).  Why are we afraid to do the same?  Choosing to vaccinate or to not vaccinate doesn’t make a parent a more or less mature Christian.  A better test of our maturity is whether or not we choose to “bear with one another” in love.  The one who is mature in love will not be found accusing his sisters and brothers of fear and arrogance about a matter that—in light of eternity—carries very little weight. Who are we to stand in judgment over another of God’s servants?  They answer to him—not to us (Romans 14:4).

Of course I have strong opinions, but (to paraphrase Amy Fenton Lee) my opinion on this matter is irrelevant to my calling as a Christian. I care more about families coming to Christ than I do about whether or not they vaccinate.

 

Christian Freedom & Parenting Series:

Christian Freedom & Parenting Series Review

UncategorizedJared KennedyComment

Sojourn believes in Christian freedom, and our church has done a good job of staring down some of the legalistic controversies that plague many churches.  Sometimes we really do seem to “get it,” but what do we believe about Christian freedom when it comes to our children?  Is there freedom when it comes to feeding babies, school choices, spanking, and immunizations?  And what does Christian freedom look like when it comes to these kinds of issues? Over the past few weeks, we've taken a look at several of these issues.  This has been an informative series.  I've learned a lot about what it means to dive into controversial matters with an eye on the Scriptures.  Perhaps on another day we'll revisit these issues and touch on other controversial matters for kids--like spanking and what age you might allow a child to have ear rings or a tattoo.  But for now, we're going to put these matters aside.  If you missed them, here are links to the posts in the series:

Christian Freedom & Parenting, Part 5: Schooling

UncategorizedAdministratorComment

Schooling controversies for Christians were born just as Christianity was getting started .

As a young family in Jefferson County, we were overwhelmed with the school choices available to us! We have great public schools in our cluster. We have great private schools to choose from, and, of course, educating in the home is an option for a family.  With our first child we were accepted at two schools - a public magnet, and private school. I remember agonizing over the decision.  We prayed and fasted.  At that time, we believed that one of our choices was morally right and the other morally wrong, and we believed there would be severe consequences for choosing the wrong school. We made our choice, and we were happy there for several years.  After her being in the home for five years, it was agonizing to send our precious little baby-girl into someone else’s care for 7 hours every day!!!  We have since decided to do things differently, but we donʼt see our first choice as morally wrong.  Rather, a different choice is better for our family in this season.

When Christianity was born, schools were not merely secular. They were pagan.  As a teacher, you were expected to reverence all sorts of false gods in your classroom.  Faced with this system, Tatian, an early Christian writer, argued that all Christians should pull their children out of these schools, declaring, “We renounce your wisdom and we no longer concern ourselves with your tenets.  We follow God’s Word instead.”[1] Many heeded his call and followed the ancient Jewish practice of home education.  The early pastor, Tertullian, disagreed, encouraging Christians to leave their children in these schools even though most Christian teachers could not work there with a clear conscience.  A converted schoolteacher, Pantaenus, had another idea: Why not start a Christian academy to teach children a Christian perspective on all of life?  And so schooling controversies for Christians were born just as Christianity was getting started.

As Christian families, we usually take one of two routes when it comes to school choice.  We’re either lazy and uninvolved in thinking about how our children should be educated, or we are self-righteous and judge other families that have made different choices.

As a family that has done public, private, and homeschooling, we’ve come to see that school choice is a matter of Christian freedom.  There is no morally right or morally wrong answer so long as your conscience is clear.  There are preferences or styles we may esteem, but there is no one right answer.

What about you?  As a parent, do you find self-justification in where you send your children to school?  Whether you desire to send [or already send] your children to private or public school... whether you home school or “Unschool,” do not look down at your brother and sister for their choices.  There is no righteousness apart from Christ.

On the other hand, have you thought through your options?  Are you taking responsibility for your child’s education or are you being lazy?  Parents are charged in Proverbs 22:6 to “Train up a child in the way he should go.”  Psalm 78 has helped us to change and understand that we teach our children all of the time in the way we pay attention when speaking with them and through showing them what we truly value in how we spend our time.  I’ve learned that I’m educating my kids when we’re playing video games.  But considering their formal education is another important part of my leadership as a dad, and yours too.  Where or however your child receives his education, you as the parent are ultimately responsible for the educational process.  So, inform your conscience. Take your responsibility seriously and think this through.


[1] Tatian, Oratio ad Graecos, quoted in Perspectives on Your Child’s Education: 4 Views, ed. Timothy Paul Jones, (Broadman & Holman, 2009), 3.  This entire paragraph is adapted from pages 3-5 of this book.

Christian Freedom & Parenting, Part 4: From a Mother's Perspective by Karen Cheong

UncategorizedAdministrator3 Comments

It is interesting how becoming a mother really brings out “the mother bear” posture.

I have been a mother for almost 26 years and during these years, the Lord has taught me so much about myself and about Him!  I remember hearing for the first time, “You are pregnant Mrs. Cheong!”   Robert and I were so excited that we were going to be parents and at the same time, we were scared to death for many reasons.  The emotions can go from

(1) “Yes!  We are going to be great parents, we know what we are doing, we are ready!” to (2) “Pregnant?  I am scared to death!”  Regardless of your response, the fact is, Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord. (Psalm 127:3)  And yes, during those parenting years, our gracious God is at work in each one of us in many ways.  He is exposing our sinful hearts and showing us our great need for Him!

It is interesting how becoming a mother really brings out “the mother bear” posture.  We become very protective of our children.  We love them and want to take care of them in the very best way.  We want them to grow and prosper and if we were completely honest here, we would say we want others to see our children as “precious, adorable, and perfect.”  In our quest to raise our children in the very best way, we read lots of books, ask our pediatrician, ask other mothers, ask our own mother, consult the internet, etc.  Our hearts’ truly desire what is best for our children.  We agonize whether we will deliver naturally, or with a doula, or to breastfeed, to use cloth diapers (you fill in the blank), but instead of deciding what is best based on the opinions of others, we need to decide what is best for our own family.

I am afraid that in our zeal, we sometimes hurt those in our path.  The women who were not able to deliver naturally, or couldn’t breast feed, or don’t home school or whatever it is, aren’t “doing this parenting thing right.”  We have indeed allowed our pride to overtake us.  We have allowed our self-righteousness to cloud our vision.  We have allowed our decision to define us.  “I am doing this in a right way” and because you aren’t doing the same thing I am doing, you are wrong.  Okay!  So we don’t come right out and say that, but if we looked deeply in to our sinful heart, we just might see that attitude or posture.  Is this truly living a life that adorns the gospel?  Is this loving others as Christ loves us?   All that we do should be done out of love; love from the Father through us, to others.  Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14.

In Philippians 2:3-5, God tells us, Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.

As mothers, we must remember that the decisions we made about natural childbirth, breastfeeding or bottle feeding, etc. were decisions made for OUR FAMILY and our family alone.  Just because this is “how we do it” doesn’t mean that is THE WAY for everyone to “do it.”

I pray that you might take the time to see if there are any ways in which you may have hurt a sister in Christ.  Have you spoken to or inferred in your speech that the ways in which someone else “is caring for her baby” isn’t the “right way?”

Are there any opportunities that you need to take by going to a sister in Christ and confessing your sin of self-righteousness or pride and ask for her forgiveness?  The Lord is growing and teaching us more and more about ourselves in our lives as mothers.  I pray that we will all be found faithful to honoring the Lord in our attitudes and actions toward others.

Christian Freedom & Parenting, Part 2: Freedom and Feeding by Dr. Heather Lewis

UncategorizedAdministrator7 Comments

Our culture seems to be strangely schizophrenic regarding nursing. Everyone says you should do it, but no one will tell you what to do, and no one wants to be anywhere near you when you do it.

Although I am an OB/GYN, most of the things I knew about breastfeeding before I had my own children came not from my medical training but from my mother.  The way my mother described nursing sounded easy enough-- the baby is born, crawls from the womb up to your breast, latches on, and stays there for 1-2 years depending on how long you want to nurse them.  You can imagine my surprise when my healthy first child didn't want to latch on... or when I got mastitis, or cracked nipples, or had to nurse in public the first time.  Our culture seems to be strangely schizophrenic regarding nursing. Everyone says you should do it, but no one will tell you what to do, and no one wants to be anywhere near you when you do it.   I hope that at Sojourn we can have a balanced view of feeding our babies, and, in this article, I hope to give some insight into both common issues as well as how we can support the moms in our community.

Breast milk is the perfect infant food.  It is created not just for "babies" but from you for your baby, and it supplies exactly the nutrients your infant needs at that specific stage of growth.  The benefits for mom and baby are countless--suppression of various infections through passive immunity, weight loss for mom, prevention of maternal and childhood cancers, diabetes and countless other chronic health problems.

Because of all the health benefits, I encourage all my patients, "If you can give breast milk to your baby (whether by pumping or nursing) then do!"  But not all women can do this.  Some women have health conditions or are on medications that make nursing not possible, and some women simply don't produce enough milk for the proper nourishment of their children; this is more common with premature infants due to initial supply issues.

Despite all the benefits of breast milk, there are situations when I encourage women to switch to formula feeding. The most common situation is when breastfeeding affects a woman's ability to care for herself or her family.  Some women find nursing to be very anxiety producing and or associated with depressive thoughts or feelings. God instructs us against anxiety and fear and some women find the best way to conquer that is by not nursing.  I have also seen women whose infants require so much care that they are not able to ever have time or energy for their husbands. As a wife your primary responsibility at home is to your husband.  If you are not able to care for and love him due to the constant needs of your infant you need to evaluate how to best remedy that situation.  This sometimes means supplementing with formula so some of your energy can be for your husband.

It is important to remember that while nursing is a natural thing, all natural processes are forever changed because of the Fall (Genesis 3).  Our bodies and our babies fail us, mothers often work, and often there is a lack of support in the community for breast feeding.  This variety of situations and their combination can make nursing difficult if not impossible for some.  We are so blessed in this country to have easy access to infant formula that is safe and nutritious.  Ultimately, what parents choose to feed their child is a matter of freedom.  I hope as a community we can have a balanced perspective regarding feeding our infants and encourage women who are taking on the difficult task of raising children, no matter what they choose to feed their babies.

Below, I will address the three most common issues that I see related to breast feeding and offer some suggestions for help.

Early Nursing Discontinuation I often see women who are very excited and motivated to nurse who, for one reason or another, end up stopping earlier than they had planned.  God teaches us that human plans may not always be carried out, "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand" (Proverbs 19:21).  As a parent, you will set many goals for your children in regard to many different things--walking, talking, potty training, education.  But what will you do when your children don't meet the goals you have set for them?  Will you enjoy both the blessings and disappointments that come with parenting?  Will you be able to give thanks to God in every circumstance?

The Lack of a "Bonding Experience" Many women have unrealistic expectations about nursing.  Nursing is a way to feed your baby.  In some cases it is a wonderful bonding experience for mother and child, but not in every case, and certainly not every time you nurse.  If your motivation for nursing is anything other than to provide nutritious food for your baby, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.  Nursing can be painful, tiring, embarrassing, or frustrating.  It takes practice and discipline.  "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).  Again, in all things praise God who has given you the ability to feed your baby (not all women have that ability), have joy in the beautiful bonding moments and joy in the difficult ones knowing that God has promised your discipline to yield a fruit of righteousness.

Nursing Discretion I see two common issues with this:  (1) a lack of concern for discretion with nursing ("I have a right to feed my baby wherever and whenever I want"), and (2) an inability to nurse due to total focus on what others are thinking instead of what you need to do for your infant.  The Bible teaches us that women should have modest clothing--"likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness- with good works" (1 Timothy 2:9-10).  In light of the Gospel, we never have a "right" that would allow us to cause others to sin or cause them not to be welcomed.  We must be sure we are considering others to be more important than ourselves and making all attempts at modesty.  However, it is very difficult at times to keep yourself covered and dry while a squirmy infant looks for lunch, so, as nursing mothers, we need to plan ahead and practice.  Practicing at home will not only help you learn how to keep yourself covered but will get your baby used to nursing while covered.  Planning ahead also means having a cover that works for you both and the appropriate shirt and bra to make it easier on you.  It seems that a more common problem is the mother who is so afraid of making anyone uncomfortable or having anyone know what she is doing that they never nurse in public and can even be afraid to leave their house with the baby.  Remember, modesty is the goal.  It is okay for people to see you and know that you are nursing, but there is nothing immodest about nursing your baby--just revealing yourself while doing so.

Heather Lewis is a Sojourn member and an OB/GYN practicing in New Albany, IN.  She is married to Chip Lewis and the mother of two daughters.  Their third is due in June.