Parents upset over no religious symbols policy. Why?


list of “gods” from Google image search

I read this more and more – parents are upset over some policy, this time federal, restricting religious symbols / words / books in schools.  But why?  I truly don’t think we should be so upset over this.

The more it happens, the more I wonder if it isn’t an abdication of responsibility.
Or maybe an argument of convenience.
Or maybe a total lack of understanding about Christianity.
Or maybe even a total lack of knowledge about the God of Abraham.
Dare I say – in some cases – that the parents just don’t care?

The article that prompted this post is from WSB-TV in Atlanta.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the parents –

Sims believes a teacher ought to be allowed to display a Bible verse. But in this case, the government calls the shots.

“I understand that’s what they do. But I think this country needs God,” Sims said.

OK – I agree – the country needs God.
However – is this the way to do it?

But, especially in this day and age, why would anyone think that – if the government was going to promote any religion or “god”, it would be the God of Christianity that these parents are allegedly hoping for?  
I say allegedly, because I question whether they truly understand or care about the God they claim to believe in.
I ask why, because I don’t understand why the government should be in the business of promoting any “god”.  Look at the middle east – where the religion often promoted is Islam.  Look at areas in European countries and maybe coming soon to a neighborhood near you (even in the U. S.) where Sharia law is the one in practice.  Look at the image at the top.  Those are just some of the names of various “gods” that show up when doing a Google image search on the word “gods”.  Jesus was first – likely because of my personalized view from Google.  For another person, or in another country, it’s highly likely that something else would have been first.  In some countries, where they have agreements with Google, Cisco and others to prevent certain things from being found – it’s likely that Jesus wouldn’t show up anywhere on the list.

People have different views of “god”.

People have conceptions of any “god”.  Right or wrong, they think what they do, based on various factors in their lives.  It’s always been that way – and government isn’t about to change it.
Worse – when government does decide on an official religion with an official god – it does absolutely nothing for that god.  It’s forced.   It’s not that the people really change – they’re just afraid and often go along with whatever they need to do to stay alive and safe.  
Any true worship of the God of Christianity goes underground.  Witness the early church from the Bible.  Witness Communist Europe before it collapsed.  Witness China today – where the official government “Christianity” isn’t Christianity at all – but the true church in China operates underground in people’s houses.

Problem #1 – God doesn’t want to be one “god” of many

In case you’ve forgotten about this – here’s a few reminders about how the God of the Bible feels about being one of many gods that people follow –

The Ten Commandments

Ex 20:1 And God spoke all these words:

Ex 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Ex 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
Ex 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Right at the top of the ten commandments – that a good sign that God considers this important.  And look at the difference in the way God looks at those who bow down or worship other gods.  Further, in this verse, it doesn’t matter whether they worship God or the “other god” first.  God clearly wants to be first in our hearts and minds – and wants no other god / idol / entity to be worshiped by us.

 

Ex 34:10 Then the LORD said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you. 11 Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 12 Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. 13 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. 14 Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

In the previous passage, we saw – showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments – for those who love God and keep His commandments.  In this passage, we see an example of what that means in their lives – for them it was delivery from slavery under Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and a new life in the Promised Land.  That is, as long as they have no other god.

 

Idolatry Forbidden

Dt 4:15 You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, 16 so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, 17 or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, 18 or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. 19 And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven. 20 But as for you, the LORD took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are.
Dt 4:21 The LORD was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the LORD your God is giving you as your inheritance. 22 I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land. 23 Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden. 24 For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

This is Moses, with a warning to the people about not having other gods.  He says –

The LORD was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the LORD your God is giving you as your inheritance. 22 I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land.

If you don’t remember why God was angry with Moses, it’s because Moses elevated himself to being a “god” of sorts, as we see in these passages –

Ex 17:5 The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.

…  later …

Nu 20:2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! 4 Why did you bring the LORD’S community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”
Nu 20:6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”
Nu 20:9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD’S presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
Nu 20:12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

What we see from this is that a perceived need for another god / idol / Etc – is a trust issue.  It indicates that we don’t trust God enough to take care of us.  Because of that lack of trust, we turn to someone / something else.  In Moses’ case – he even turned to himself.  Rather than just speak, as God instructed him – Moses struck the rock, as he had done the first time. 

There are more examples, if you need them to be convinced.  Feel to search the Bible for yourself to find them.

Freedom of / from religion

The first amendment to the U S Constitution says –

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

Depending on the person interpreting this clause. especially the various judges involved in deciding court cases, this could come out as being either freedom from religion (one or more specific religions) or freedom of religion (again, one or more specific religions).

At this stage in our history, knowing full well – or at least we should know – that our government isn’t going to support one “god”, and especially not the true God of Christianity – why would we want to go against verses like these?  Because when we insist that the government allow Christian symbols – and I’m not talking about Christmas trees – this is exactly what’s going to happen.  By insisting that real Christian symbols are allowed in school – and insisting that Christian principles are taught in school – we are also insisting that any other “religion” also be taught in those same schools.  It can appear to start innocently enough.  However,  God won’t look at it that way – since He wants us to look only to Himself.  

But it won’t stop there.  Just think about when the first one comes along that wants to teach that sacrificing cats or dogs is part of their religion.  Or when someone realizes Islam teaches that Jesus is not the Son of God. What about sacrificing children?  God tells us to have no other god – and for good reason.  But just how long will it take, and how far will we go, before we actually realize that He is right?

If you’re thinking that many “gods” for the country are OK – what are you thinking?

Problem #2 – abdication of responsibility

The third set of verses I have above is very interesting.  It was from Moses talking to the people – and began with this –

Obedience Commanded

Dt 4:1 Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.

Yes – listen and follow

And – Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it 

That’s something for us to do – or more properly, to not do.  
Us.  Ourselves.  Me. You.  All of us.

It was always up to the family to teach their children about God.
Those who wanted to learn more would attach themselves to a rabbi.

But the basics were always meant to be taught by the parents to the children.

But too often,  we don’t do that anymore.

We’ve given away that responsibility to others.
To schools.
To the government.

Notice what I left out –
We don’t even give that responsibility to churches very often anymore.

Why not?

Because that would require us to go to church!!
Then we’d lose out on Sunday football games.  NASCAR Cup races. Baseball.  Basketball. Etc.
Or Sunday outings.
Or sports tournaments for our kids.

It’s just to darned inconvenient to go to church!

So we don’t. 

And the kids don’t go either.

And the schools get the responsibility of teaching our kids about everything – including “god” and “religion”.

And then we have the nerve to complain when they do it.  Not the way we want it to be.  But the way they want it to be.  There’s a good chance they’ll talk about all sorts of religions and gods.  There’s also a good chance they won’t talk about Christianity at all – except for maybe things like the crusades, where the Christians are the bad guys.    
We think we know better.
But too often, the reality is that we don’t know any better than they do.
We just want to complain so it feel like we’re doing something and hopefully God will see it and think we’re doing something.

But all we really do is create an environment where God becomes just a god among “gods”.

What were we thinking?

But what about God being in control?

Yes – we convince ourselves that God’s in control – and therefore everything’s going to be OK.

Well – yes and no.

Yes – ultimately God is in control.  And ultimately things will play out as He said.

But – notice what Jesus said –

First – let’s look at –

Jn 14:28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 31 but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”

Yes – Jesus is talking about Satan, the prince of this world.  And while it’s true that God puts limits on what Satan can do, and God can use the results of what Satan does to accomplish a good ending – it’s also true that God does not initiate Satan’s requests.  What that means is that God is “in control” – but sometimes to the extent of allowing or not allowing Satan to do something, as opposed to God actually doing everything.  There is a difference, and while it’s subtle – it’s also huge.

We’re talking about some things in the world are initiated by God – some are requested by Satan and may or may not be allowed – and some things just happen.  In all cases, God will provide a path for us to follow that will allow good to ultimately come out of every single “apparently bad” thing that happens.  However – whether or not we actually follow that path for good that God makes available to us – is entirely up to us.

The thought of that reality – our choices – continues in the next passage –

The Sheep and the Goats

Mt 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Mt 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Mt 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
Mt 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Mt 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
Mt 25:44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
Mt 25:45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Mt 25:46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

All the events we looked at above – regardless of how they came about – bring us to make choices.  Lots and lots of choices.  Things like whether to wear a white shirt or a green one – almost certainly no big deal, although I can’t rule out the possibility that the choice was made to annoy someone else, in which case it may very well be a big deal.  But so many of those choices will be things that fall into the categories of things Jesus talked about the in the parable of the sheep and the goats.  While it may not be obvious that Jesus is involved in those choices – from everything we’ve looked at so far, hopefully you can see where He really is.  And those choices will determine which line we go in from the parable.

And there’s the problem – some will go to eternal life with God – others will go the the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

That’s God in control – ultimately.

How do we learn about what God wants for us?

When Jesus gave the was is known as The Great Commission – it wasn’t just for strangers –

The Great Commission

Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

No – that commission included our own family.

Giving the responsibility to schools and / or the government isn’t what Jesus was talking about.

It was us.

It was me and you.

So – who are you relying on to teach your family?
You – or the schools – or the government?

If not yourself, what were you thinking?

But first – do you even know enough to guide your family?

Judging Others

Mt 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Mt 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Ouch!

How many people realize that this same set of verses on judging also applies to judging the government and the schools regarding the way they “teach” our kids about god and religion?  After all, that government and those schools – they both are made up of people.  It’s not like governments and schools are inanimate objects and things just “happen”.  No – there are real people involved in governments and schools, and those people are the ones that make things happen.  Therefore, if we judge the governments and the schools – it’s actually the people within them that we judge – not a building or a “thing”.

So be leaving it up to someone else – the government, schools, whatever – to teach our kids about God, and then complaining about the way they did it – have we not messed up twice?
First, by not fulfilling the Great Commission – even for our own family.
Second, by judging the quality of the teaching we left for someone else to do when we think it doesn’t measure up.

What are we thinking?

So – what should we do?

That’s a whole lot of stuff to not do.  Too often, people think the Bible is like that as well – don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t, don’t, and more don’ts.

Well – here’s a “do” – as in this is what we should do.  This is Moses talking to the people at the end of the Exodus and before they cross over into the Promised Land.

Dt 4:9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. 10 Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.”

Yes – we teach our children – they teach their children – and on and on.  It wasn’t sending them someplace else to learn – it was teach them yourself.  This way, not only do we learn and come to know about God – so will our children and their children.  

It’s totally up to us whether or not we do this. But it is what we’re taught to do.

Just in case you think that’s on Old Testament passage and therefore doesn’t apply anymore, don’t forget about the Great Commission passage.  

go and make disciples of all nations

The Greek word that’s translated as “nations” is this –

1484 ἔθνος [ethnos /eth·nos/] n n. Probably from 1486; TDNT 2:364; TDNTA 201; GK 1620; 164 occurrences; AV translates as “Gentiles” 93 times, “nation” 64 times, “heathen” five times, and “people” twice. 1 a multitude (whether of men or of beasts) associated or living together. 1A a company, troop, swarm. 2 a multitude of individuals of the same nature or genus. 2A the human race. 3 a race, nation, people group. 4 in the OT, foreign nations not worshipping the true God, pagans, Gentiles. 5 Paul uses the term for Gentile Christians.  1)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

While several Greek words are translated as “nations” in the English NIV, the one used here is meant to convey individual people – not a nation-state as an entity.  For example, in the United States, it would be a reference not to the the country as a whole, whether it be the land, the government, the population as a single entity – but it would be a reference to each individual person within the country.
In other words, the task here is to take the Gospel and teach it to every single person in all the nations – every single person in the world.

What is a disciple?

In general, a disciple is –

DISCIPLE A student, pupil, or learner. In the New Testament it is used for Jesus’ followers. Often references “the Twelve” but also indicates a wider group of followers.  2)Nässelqvist, D. (2016). Disciple. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

So a disciple is someone who learns from someone else.  While the most frequent / best known examples from the New Testament relate to Jesus’ inner circle – the twelve – there were larger groups of followers also known as disciples.

specifically as it relates to the Great Commission, a disciple is –

Toward the World: The Great Commission. Through his Great Commission Jesus focuses his followers on the ongoing importance of discipleship through the ages, and declares the responsibility of disciples toward the world: they are to make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:16–20). To “make disciples” is to proclaim the gospel message among those who have not yet received forgiveness of sins. The command finds verbal fulfillment in the activities of the early church, as they went from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth proclaiming the message of Jesus and making disciples. In the early church, to believe in the gospel message was to become a disciple (cf. Acts 4:32 with 6:2). To “make disciples of all the nations” is to make more of what Jesus made of them.  <fn>Wilkins, M. J. (1996). Disciple, Discipleship. In Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed., p. 177). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Now, with full context, we see “disciple”, from the Great Commission, as an ongoing process.  Jesus teaches the first group of followers – disciples.  They are given the task of making more disciples, literally, of making disciples of everyone who isn’t already a disciple.  By extension then, that next group of disciples also has the same task – to make disciples of everyone who isn’t already a disciple.  And the process continues until Jesus returns to earth.

To put each of us in that chain of disciples –

  • someone talked to us about Jesus.
  • we were baptized.
  • we became disciples.
  • our task is now to “make more disciples” by talking to other people who aren’t already disciples.

Let me ask you – if our task, from Jesus, is to make more disciples, why would we not want to make disciples of our own family?  Why would we leave that task to someone else?  If we’re out there making disciples – how can we possibly ignore our own children?  It’s really hard to believe Jesus had in mind that we would teach others, but not our own family.

And it’s not like we need to be experts.  Chances are, the person who first talked to you wasn’t an expert.  Neither was the second.  Or the third.  Etc., Etc.

Getting baptized – becoming a disciple – that’s a starting point for the journey, not the ending.

Conclusion

After everything we’ve seen so far, do you still want the government to teach your kids about God?
Do you still want a public school to teach your kids about God?
Are you OK if the people you pass off the task of teaching your kids teaches them about other “gods” – and maybe not about the Christian God at all?

Maybe you think forcing symbols to be displayed isn’t teaching.  I promise – when people see the symbols, they will be curious, and want to know what they are for – what they mean.  And then questions will come up.  Questions like –

“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Enough said?

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References   [ + ]

1. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
2. Nässelqvist, D. (2016). Disciple. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

So a disciple is someone who learns from someone else.  While the most frequent / best known examples from the New Testament relate to Jesus’ inner circle – the twelve – there were larger groups of followers also known as disciples.

specifically as it relates to the Great Commission, a disciple is –

Toward the World: The Great Commission. Through his Great Commission Jesus focuses his followers on the ongoing importance of discipleship through the ages, and declares the responsibility of disciples toward the world: they are to make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:16–20). To “make disciples” is to proclaim the gospel message among those who have not yet received forgiveness of sins. The command finds verbal fulfillment in the activities of the early church, as they went from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth proclaiming the message of Jesus and making disciples. In the early church, to believe in the gospel message was to become a disciple (cf. Acts 4:32 with 6:2). To “make disciples of all the nations” is to make more of what Jesus made of them.  <fn>Wilkins, M. J. (1996). Disciple, Discipleship. In Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed., p. 177). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

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