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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, Chapter 16: Bringing Up Children in Light and Truth

Chapter 16: Bringing Up Children in Light and Truth

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 203–14

During 2014, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith

To withstand the influence of the adversary, parents must bring up their children in light and truth.

The importance of family unity—love and consideration for one another in the family—cannot be overemphasized. Spiritual solidarity in family relationships is the sure foundation upon which the Church and society itself will flourish. This fact is well known and appreciated by the adversary, and as never before, he is using every clever device, influence, and power within his control to undermine and destroy this eternal institution. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ applied in family relationships will thwart this devilish destructiveness.

There are many great and real dangers to be reckoned with, and those which concern us more than all others combined have to do with our children. The only real protection or adequate defense can be afforded by the home and its influences.

This review will not be as lengthy as others in this series because it deals with a topic that I, generally, agree with the assessment. That is, I beleive children should be taught the faith of the family at an early age. But parents should realize that there will come a day when a child will no longer be able to borrow mommy and daddy’s faith and will need to own it for him or herself. As a Christian parent myself, my prayer is that my children—hopefully grounded in the faith of their father—will hold on to biblical Christianity because it’s true, not just because of our heritage. In my family, two children have graduated from high school, with one more to graduate in three years, so I am about to see the fruits of my labors as we see which direction they head.

Our children will have to be taught to discern between good and evil, otherwise in many respects they will not be able to understand why they are not permitted to indulge in practices that are common with their neighbors. Unless they are instructed in the doctrines of the Church, they will not, perhaps, understand why there is any harm in the Sunday concert, a Sunday theatre, picture show, ball game, or something of that kind, when their playmates, without restraint and with encouragement, indulge in these things forbidden of the Lord on his holy day. The parents are responsible for the proper teaching of their children, [and] the Lord will condemn the parents if their children grow up outside of the influence of the principles of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Out of all the things to use as an example of his point, Smith uses Sabbath-keeping. I find this interesting, as there’s so many examples of “going against the flow” that could have been used, such as how to handle oneself at a party where someone has alcohol or dealing with a boyfriend who says “If you love me, you’ll let me.” Or maybe the example of dealing with philosophical issues brought up in the classroom, such as acceptance of abortion, homosexuality, or Evolution. What it all boils down to is Sabbath-keeping is not very high on my list; I certainly would not have used this as a sole example. Certainly I want my children to understand that God gave us the example of rest, but turning this into a legalistic command is a good way to get kids turned off. While Jesus believed in the Ten Commandments and honored the Sabbath, the opposition he received from the Pharisees for not following the law by the letter is very telling.

For example, consider the story of Jesus healing on the Sabbath that is found in the first verses of Mark chapter 3:

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” 4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

Or how about Matthew 12:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Mormonism is built upon straining out the gnats and swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24). Unfortunately for the millions of sincere followers, this religion is led by modern-day Pharisees, Smith included. Unfortunately, too many children growing up in LDS households will end up becoming just as legalistic as their parents.

The Lord has commanded us, one and all, to bring our children up in light and truth. Where this spirit exists, disharmony, disobedience, and neglect of sacred duties will not, cannot, succeed.

Parents are primarily responsible for the teaching of their children.

The Father has never relinquished his claim upon the children born into this world. They are still His children. He has placed them in the care of mortal parents with the admonition that they be brought up in light and truth. The primary responsibility, and fundamentally so, is upon the parents to teach their children in light and truth.

The first duty pertaining to the training of the children of the Church belongs in the home. It is the responsibility of the parents to bring up their children in light and truth, and the Lord has declared that wherein they fail to do it, they will stand before the judgment seat to give answer.

The Lord said in a revelation given to the Church in 1831:

“And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.

“For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized.” [D&C 68:25–26.]

… The Lord requires this at our hands.

Again, I have no problem with Latter-day Saint parents raising their children in their faith. My only hope is that they are willing to allow their children to see other ways of belief as well. Too often I have seen LDS parents shielding their children (even those who are near missionary age) from any opposition, especially their faith. As I share biblical truth on the public streets and a child wants to take my information, I always try to check with the parents first. Some have appreciated this. Others run over to me and give me a scolding, even when their children first approached me. As a parent, I want my children to explore other possibilities, which provides me teachable moments to explain the side taught in biblical Christianity.

Parents will be responsible for the actions of their children, if they have failed to teach their children by example and by precept.

If parents have done all in their power to teach their children correctly by example and precept and the children then go astray, the parents will not be held responsible and the sin will be upon the children.

Proverbs 22:6 says to “teach a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Notice, this is not a bonafide 100%-tested proof, but rather it’s a general teaching. Generally, those Christian parents who teach their children biblical truths and ways of thinking will see their kids hold on to the faith. Those who don’t are more likely to see their children lose their faith. But I have seen the children of godly parents—even pastors and missionaries—stray from God, even if they had proper instruction growing up. As a parent, you can only do so much. Again, there comes a time when each child is going to have to decide what is truth and which direction to head.

One additional thought: If a child strays from what the parents think is the truth, don’t ostracize her. As parents, I think we need to love our children even when they don’t choose to do what we believe is the right thing. Of course, I don’t want to encourage my child in accepting sinful behavior–I doubt I would attend a homosexual marriage ceremony involving my child, for example, because I believe my attendance is a blessing to something that I believe is not meant to be blessed. If a child leaves Mormonism for another faith, though, I think the parents need to continue to accept the child and keep the lines of communication open. I have too many LDS friends who have been practically excommunicated because they left Mormonism for biblical Christianity.

The Church helps parents in their efforts to teach their children.

The chief responsibility to do [the] things which lead to salvation rests with each individual. All of us have been placed on earth to undergo the testing experiences of mortality. We are here to see if we will keep the commandments and overcome the world, and we must do all that we can for ourselves.

The last phrase “we must do all that we can for ourselves” in conjunction with “keep(ing) the commandments and overcome(ing) the world” stood out to me. In Mormonism, children are taught that a person’s efforts are necessary to attain eternal life. And even when you do all you can, it doesn’t mean you will ever be assured of the celestial kingdom.

I am reminded of President Spencer W. Kimball’s words on page 325 of his still-popular book The Miracle of Forgiveness when he wrote to a young man who had confessed to adulterous transgressions:

Your Heavenly Father has promised forgiveness upon total repentance and meeting all the requirements, but that forgiveness is not granted merely for the asking. There must be works—many works—and an all-out, total surrender, with a great humility and “a broken heart and contrite spirit.” It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could be weeks, it could be years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility, your sincerity, your works, your attitudes. (324-325)

Listen to more of Kimball under the section titled “Repentant Life Seeks Perfection”:

This progress toward  eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) Being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal. (208-209)

No wonder this has been called the “impossible gospel.” After all, who is able to merit forgiveness? Certainly not I, and certainly not many Latter-day Saints who admit they haven’t yet arrived.

The next responsibility for our salvation rests with our families. Parents are set to be lights and guides to their children and are commanded to bring them up in light and truth, teaching them the gospel and setting proper examples. Children are expected to obey their parents, and to honor and respect them.

The Church and its agencies constitute in effect a service organization to help the family and the individual.

“The Church and its agencies constitute in effect a service organization to help the family and the individual.”

I appeal to you, my dear brethren and sisters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, to take advantage of every opportunity the Church affords to have your children trained in the various organizations provided for them by the revelations of the Lord: the Primary, the Sunday School, the Mutual Improvement organizations [Young Men and Young Women], and the quorums of the Lesser Priesthood under the direction of our bishoprics. …

… We have throughout the Church, wherever it is possible for us to have this opportunity, seminaries and institutes. … Brethren and sisters, send your children to these seminaries. Those who are going to college will be old enough, if they have the proper training in their youth, to attend the institutes of the Church.

I have to admit that the LDS Church does a good job teaching their youth. And then, when they turn 18 (19 for females), they send them off to a mission. It’s an ingenious plan to keep their kids in the church before they have a chance to wander away from the faith, especially in college. As Christians, I think we should do a better job in teaching our children about the faith, including Bible teaching.

Parents should do all they can to help their children understand and live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Individual, personal testimony is and always will be the strength of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A testimony is best nurtured in the family setting. … The gaining and the keeping of testimonies should be a family project. Do not neglect anything that will help to strengthen the testimony of any member of your family.

We must shelter [children] from the sins and evils of the world as much as we can so they will not be led away from paths of truth and righteousness.

I agree we should help shelter our kids, but at the same time, we should provide a dose of reality and allow them to see what’s on the outside. Too much protection can end up being dangerous when kids find information on their own for the first time.

Help your children in every way you can to grow up with a knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Teach them to pray. Teach them to observe the Word of Wisdom, to walk faithfully and humbly before the Lord so that when they grow up to manhood and womanhood they can thank you for what you have done for them and look back over their lives with grateful hearts and with love for their parents for the manner in which those parents cared for them and trained them in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I would agree with teaching my kids how “to walk faithfully and humbly before the Lord,” but I certainly won’t teach them about the Word of Wisdom because this is a contrived commandment, not one commissioned by God. (See a chapter review from the George Albert Smith manual.)

Begin teaching children when they are young

No person can begin too early to serve the Lord. … Young people follow the teaching of their parents. The child who is taught in righteousness from birth will most likely follow righteousness always. Good habits are easily formed and easily followed.

There should be prayer and faith and love and obedience to God in the home. It is the duty of parents to teach their children these saving principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that they will know why they are to be baptized and that they may be impressed in their hearts with a desire to continue to keep the commandments of God after they are baptized, that they may come back into his presence. Do you, my good brethren and sisters, want your families, your children; do you want to be sealed to your fathers and to your mothers before you, do you want to have this family unit perfect when you, if you are permitted, shall enter the celestial kingdom of God? If so, then you must begin by teaching at the cradle-side.

Again, I disagree with the LDS theology shared here. Families are “forever” in the sense that the family of God will be together in heaven. But nowhere does the Bible teach that biological families will spend eternity together because they were faithful Mormons.

Hold family home evening

Children who grow up in homes where they have participated in family home evenings, where love and unity abound, build solid foundations for sound citizenship and for active Church participation. There is no greater legacy that parents can leave to their children than the memory and blessings of a happy, unified, and loving home.

Well-planned family home evenings can be a source of long-lasting joy and influence. These evenings are times for group activity, for organizing, for the expressions of love, for the bearing of testimony, for learning gospel principles, for family fun and recreation, and of all things, for family unity and solidarity.

Fathers and mothers who faithfully hold family home evenings and who build family unity in every way possible, fulfill with honor the greatest of all responsibilities—that of parenthood.

Fathers can provide no greater leadership in the kingdom of God than to lead their families in holding family home evenings. When such experiences are a part of home life there builds up a unity and family respect which influence each person toward increased righteousness and happiness.

Parents who ignore the great help of this program [family home evening] are gambling with the future of their children.

I have to say that I like the concept of the “family home evening,” which is typically held on Monday nights. Families get together to read scripture, pray, and play games. Although I have to admit that I didn’t practice a “family home evening” while raising my family, I think it could be a good addition and might have become a wonderful family routine. I have no problem with families doing activities that bind them closer together. For more information, click here.

Prepare children to be witnesses of the truth and to serve missions

Our young people are among the most blessed and favored of our Father’s children. They are the nobility of heaven, a choice and chosen generation who have a divine destiny. Their spirits have been reserved to come forth in this day when the gospel is on earth, and when the Lord needs valiant servants to carry on his great latter-day work. We must prepare [children] to be living witnesses of the truth and divinity of this great latter-day work, and particularly in the case of our sons, see that they are worthy and qualified to go on missions to preach the gospel to our Father’s other children.

The presupposition that there is a “preexistence” is not biblically sound theology. (For a look at this issue, click here.)

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