children

The Old, Old Story

Telling stories

Children love stories, and so I guess a good way to communicate the gospel to them is to simply tell them the old, old story of Jesus and His love. I have two lovely granddaughters, both under the age of eight, and I often wonder about when and how I should share the gospel with them. Yesterday, I downloaded a beautifully illustrated comic-book-style tract for children, and I was very interested to see if I would be able to use this approach with my ‘princesses’. So I eagerly viewed it seeking to see it both through the eyes of a child and my own theological spectacles. Here is the gist of it – see if you can spot what is missing.

The story starts with an ‘in the beginning’ account of creation from right up to when God made Adam and Eve. Then comes a series of frames depicting a very glamorous Eve interacting with the serpent and eating the forbidden fruit. A text box describes the effects of this disobedience with the words, ‘Adam and Eve had disobeyed God. Their innocence was taken away.   Now they knew the difference between good and evil.’

The next set of pictures show the forlorn couple being expelled from the Garden of Eden. The text box insert reads: ‘GOD’S PROMISE OF SALVATION:  The perfect unity between God and His beloved creation was broken. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, they were separated from God. But God already had a plan to redeem His creation. God’s plan would bring the hope of salvation to all the people of the world.’ Then comes a picture of a sin-ravished world, before moving on to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The insert text box reads: ‘God loves us. But we sin, which separates us from Him. Sin means going against what God wants for our lives. But God had a plan to fix the broken relationship’.

Then follow depictions of Jesus being baptised, teaching, interacting with children, feeding the hungry, and walking on water. Then there are some pictures of the Pharisees plotting against Jesus, His arrest in Gethsemane, trial, and crucifixion. Next, come depictions of the empty tomb and Jesus commissioning His disciples before ascending into Heaven.

The last set of pictures show the disciples praying, going out, healing the sick, and telling the story about Jesus. Then, after a depiction of persecution, comes the assurance that despite troubles and hardships the good news keeps spreading across the world. The final admonition to the reader is: ‘You can help to spread the good news too!’

The children’s tract then ends with five steps – Step 1 God loves, Step 2 We sin, step 3 Jesus died, Step 4 God forgives, and Step 5 We accept. The concluding panel starts with ‘You Are a Follower of Jesus! What Happens Next?’ and then gives four suggestions for spiritual growth.

Ok. Is this what I need to use to help my granddaughters enter into an eternal yet present-day relationship with Jesus? If not, then what is missing? Here are the things I noticed were missing:

  1. The impact of original sin is understated, but more importantly, not really applied to the reader at a personal level. There is no attempt to explain the spiritual death that came into the world from that moment onwards. Sin is simply described as ‘choosing my own ways over God’s or doing anything He does not want me to do.’
  2. There is no mention of the need to be ‘born again’, although this was the central issue that Jesus addressed in John Chapter 3. Because there is no focus on the rebirth of the dead spirit, there is no reference to a spiritual relationship with God through Christ, nor of the required response to God’s supernatural intervention in our lives.
  3. The only pointer to the work of the Holy Spirit was the picture of a chubby little dove over Jesus’ head when He was baptised. No mention of Pentecost or the need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

In my sermon ‘The Tree of Life Triptych’, I make the statement that our churches today are crowded with Christianised people who have never been born again. Therefore they have no real relationship with God, no empowerment for life and ministry, and no evidence of ‘salvation’ beyond rule-keeping, rituals, good works, and some bible knowledge. I have written on this subject before under the titles of ‘What Must we do to be Saved’, ‘The Need for New Birth’ and ‘Stillborn Souls’.

I have no doubt that the folks who produced the beautiful children’s gospel tract are dedicated men and women earnestly seeking to bring children into the Kingdom of God. However, I have serious reservations concerning this tract and other similar efforts to ‘evangelise’ without presenting the need for:

  1. The supernatural action of the Holy Spirit in miraculously bringing life to a spiritually dead human being;
  2. The clear presentation, appropriate to different age and cultural groups, of the deity and humanity of Jesus and what He achieved on our behalf through His crucifixion and the resurrection;
  3. The need to respond to this with belief in who He is and what He has done, heartfelt repentance for the sin of rebellious self-centeredness and confession of this, passionate petition to God to grant a personal rebirth of the spirit by virtue of what Jesus has done, and testimony of this reality (preferably through public water baptism).

In my considered opinion and understanding of scripture, anything less than this yields only spiritual inoculation, lifeless religiosity, frustration, and continued separation from God now and for eternity.

One of the reasons our churches are full of spiritually unregenerate ‘Christians’ is the way we present the Gospel to our children. Another reason is our neglect of preaching the full and glorious gospel to adults and often substituting a ‘while all heads are bowed and all eyes are closed’ altar call formula.

In 2 Timothy 3:5 Paul describes the ‘victims’ of impotent evangelism as ‘having a form of godliness but denying its power.’

My challenge to all of us is to examine what we believe and how we communicate this to others, not least our children.

 

 

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Halloween

It is better to wean than to hallow

Halloween is relatively new to South African society. It has no roots in our traditions or heritage yet some folk embrace it because it seems ‘fun’ and the children like it.

The purpose of this little tract is to provide parents with some background to this pagan celebration, the implications of engaging in its activities, and suggestions for alternative approaches to what is in reality a potentially ‘evil’ celebration.

Halloween has its genesis in an ancient Celtic festival to honour the ‘lord of the dead’ , Samhain. The Celtic year began on the 1st November and on the last day of their year, 31st October, the spirits of the dead were said to return to their homes. To ward off these spirits the Celts used to perform rituals, sacrifice animals and humans and light bonfires on nearby hill tops. It was also a time when practitioners of the magic arts attempted to contact the dead and to divine the future because this day was seen as a ‘conjunction’ of the dark spirit world with our material world.

The early Roman Catholic church tried to ‘Christianise’ this ancient pagan festival by proclaiming 1st November as a festival for honouring the church saints. They called it ‘All saints day’ and referred to the night preceding it as the ‘hallowed eve’; hence the name ‘hallow–een’ was applied to 31st October.

The colours associated with Halloween are orange and black. These symbolise the orange of the bonfires and the black of night. Today we call these festive fires bonfires but they were originally designated as bone-fires because the bodies of the sacrifices were burned in them. The Celts used to dance around and jump through the flames as the bodies burned. They believed that by doing this they would be purified and protected from the evil spirits abroad that night.

Another device they used for warding off evil was a candle within a hollowed out turnip or pumpkin. They called these ‘Jack-o-lanterns’ and carried them during the night of Samhain (Halloween).

Sometime in the 16th century witches and goblins were added to the mix. The witches were pictured as riding on broom sticks and the goblins were portrayed as black cats. These witches and their tiny companions were believed to move from house to house offering protection from the evil dead in return for favours. If no ‘treat’ was offered they would play a mean ‘trick’ on the house owners.

Halloween, the 31st October, is today one of the two great high days in the occult world. The first high day is April 30th and is called ‘Walpurgisnacht’, the ‘witches Sabbath’. The second high day is Halloween, the gateway between Hell and Earth! On these nights sacrifices are still made, blood is spilled and devotees walk through the glowing coals of the bone fires.

Now, tell me, do you want your children involved, in any way, with this sort of thing? Some argue that it is just a fun time for the kids and that if one doesn’t believe in it then it can’t do any harm. This, in my opinion, is a very naive view; in the spirit world colours, clothes, occasions and activities have significance and impact. Participation in any way is, by implication, association and carries with it real spiritual danger.

Of course the children put a lot of pressure on parents; “EVERYONE is going trick-or-treating so why can’t I?” You have three options – to shun, to Christianise or to sanitise. To shun is to have nothing to do with it at all; in other words, to forbid your children from participating – but don’t be surprised if they ask to sleep over with a friend on that night. To Christianise would be to try and put the events into a Christian context. For instance, have the Halloween party on the church premises and try to explain the pagan elements or put a Christian ‘spin’ on them. This is not really a good idea because in all probability you will be tacitly sanctioning Halloween and making it appear respectable. The final option is to sanitise it by removing the harmful elements. For instance, you could hold a party in your own home and control the activities. This could also be seen as embracing the spirit of Halloween.

My best advice is that you explain to your children why it is not a good idea for them to participate in Halloween and then to ensure that you have some good, non Halloween, activities planned for that night. A visit to the ice rink, dinner at a steak house, a movie, or something like that would do the trick – your children’s best friends included of course. In other words, explain it, shun it and replace it.

Deuteronomy 18:10-13 is helpful.

May God BLESS you and give you both discernment and wisdom.

 

 

 

 

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.