I have described the process of converting a very young mind to the belief in the one true church. As I have mentioned, this process begins with an infant on it’s mother’s lap. The things I have described are not necessarily wrong, in fact all of them are good, in and of themselves. It’s good that a child is secure, sits quietly and is well-behaved. It’s good that the family is in church together. Hymns are very nice, extremely beautiful when sung together in harmony. There is nothing wrong with feeling safe and being surrounded by loved ones.
So, where is the problem? The problem arises when a child begins to feel superior and begins to exclude others. All of this creates an idolatry that is extremely subtle and difficult to root out. In the past year I paid a visit to a Catholic church with a couple of friends. I watched in amazement as the citizens of the community arrived for mass on a Saturday afternoon. The building was beautiful; breathtakingly so. The colors of the plaster, the idols in small alcoves lining the ceiling, the detail and the gold leaf were amazing. This church is old but has been so beautifully maintained that I was stunned. I took a seat well ahead of the starting time and observed the worshipers as they arrived. They walked down the aisle, and when they reached their seat, before entering their pew they paused to genuflect and make the sign of the cross. What were they bowing to? I presume the large crucifix at the front of the church. An idol depicting Christ as he hung from the cross. There were idols placed all around the sanctuary. The service was incredibly boring, as they followed the priest through the ritual, repeating, standing, sitting, kneeling, and eventually receiving the Eucharist. It was not the type of service that moves me.
The fact that the people of the town turned out for this service in great numbers on a Saturday afternoon is impressive. Islamists bow to Mecca five times a day and pray. They willingly blow themselves to bits, kill and are killed for their religion. Movie stars join the cult of Scientology. It seems to wield a tremendous power over their minds. Mennonites, Baptists, Pentecostals and denominations of all stripes commit with unrelenting zeal to their religions. Does this mean that they are right? Does the fact that a child who is reared in the Holdeman religion and loves it and follows it prove that it is right?
The country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma is an example of powerful idolatry. The country is poor and politically repressive, but the citizens are very devout in their worship. One of the major ways that they prove their devotion to their religion, which is predominantly Buddhist, is to press sheets of gold leaf to statues of the Buddha, or to large rocks which are worshiped as shrines. The people are poor, but a great deal of time and money is spent in manufacturing gold leaf, and purchasing it. Imagine someone who is in desperate poverty spending the little they have on a packet of gold leaf so that they can go press it to an idol. Some of these idols and stones are covered with a thick layer of pure gold. Would we view this sacrifice as proof that they are right?
Religion has a tremendous power to capture the minds of human beings. Add culture and family to this mix and you have an unbreakable spell. People will do many things, suffer hardship and deprivation, even martyrdom for the sake of religion. None of these things mean that the thing they are dying for is right. It might seem fairly obvious to Christians that bowing down to an idol is wrong, in direct opposition to the ten commandments. However, it is a little more difficult for them to see themselves when the idol they bow down to does not take the form of a wooden or stone image. What if the idol is invisible, only an icon embedded in the mind?
What is the veneration of a lineage and the teachings of the forefathers if it is not idolatry? Take all of that away and what do you have? Try it and see. I’m in favor of the family being the first and foremost institution in a child’s life. Not church, not the ministry, not the school, but the family. I’m in favor of the parents being so loving and involved in a child’s growth and development that peer pressure is not an issue. The parents are the child’s peer group. In other words, the parents are so dearly loved and respected that their love and approval is of the greatest importance to the child. How about a family where the father teaches the bible to his children without interruption from a minister or a church doctrine? What if he is free to say anything that he believes or has on his heart? What if the father and the mother are so fond of one another, so much in harmony, that they are able to create a place of comfort and security in their home that far surpasses anything that can be provided by the religious organization?
We all know that the father can teach nothing to his family other than what is taught by the church. If he does, the child will come into conflict and begin to doubt the ministry and the church. This will show up even further when it comes time to take a series of doctrine classes as part of the study in youth meetings, or when it is time to be baptized and the father has secretly confessed that he believes immersion is the way to do it. What if he tells his wife that as the Bible states that a headcovering is a sign of subjection to the husband, he should be the one to tell her how to wear it, and he in fact loathes the little black beanie and would prefer something different. If we let our minds wander down this avenue we can clearly see that the father is not the true authority in his own home. Something else stands between the father and his children, the father and his wife. THE CHURCH looms ever before him when he wishes to take the role of husband, father protector and spiritual leader. The wife and the children are under such a spell that if he were to say that he feels that God is impressing it upon him that the wife should homeschool the children and they should in fact withdraw them from the religious training at the church school, he will be met with opposition. His word is worth nothing if it is in opposition to that of the ministry. What is the father to do? Continue to create conflict and force his opinions? If he does this he may very well lose on a large scale. There is nothing left for him but to mash down the specter of manhood that was seeking to rise and let the preacher be the head of his home. What a terrible dilemma.
My advise to fathers and mothers is this; love one another. Speak honestly and openly to your children. Teach them to pray, and to be critical thinkers. Let them know that no matter what choices they make in life, you will support them and love them. NEVER give the slightest hint that if they leave the church, whether it be to take a spin around the world, or to seek God in a more meaningful way, that they will ever experience shunning and rejection. Let them know that if they make this choice, and the preacher tries to discipline the parents for not shunning, they will tell them to have a go at it. It is the insecurity of not knowing that the parents will be there no matter what that causes children to act out, or to become more religious and judgmental. It can go either way. The goal should be to teach them to think, to read the Bible, to love others, to do away with judgment and superiority, and to be ready to suffer. If you are not, or have not suffered, it’s a fairly good guess that you are practicing religion. That’s not to say that people don’t suffer for religion, but the truth remains that often people think that just because they are not suffering, they must be right. If it is too easy, if it requires no cost in blood or heartbreak, it is most likely a false religion. The bible tells us that “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27) It says nothing about how to dress, how to conduct a church service, what kinds of bylaws and doctrines must be held to, nothing! Just to love one another and keep oneself unspotted from the world. Being unspotted from the world might be a whole lot different from what we have been led to believe.
I hope this gives you some food for thought. We’ll talk about it some more!