We Christians immediately tend to squirm when the word indoctrination is associated with teaching our faith. Why should we do otherwise? It is a term that instantly conjures up thoughts about such things as the Kool-Aid of Reverend Jim Jones, or David Koresh and the Branch Davidians of Waco. After all, effective indoctrination holds the power to produce historical catastrophes on the scale experienced in Nazi Germany. Why would we not shy away from using this term to describe the way in which we teach Christian precepts to our children? For one reason, we have been indoctrinated ourselves into thinking that this is not an outright requirement when it comes to teaching the word of God to our families. Let me expound with the help of a brief story.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about Christian hospitality that generated an unusually broad circulation and response. Soon after, my wife made a unique suggestion in light of the article. She suggested we have the two young Mormon men over for dinner that had come to our door a week prior. Now, keep in mind that for some reason our neighborhood is not known for this kind of traffic. In fact, I can’t remember a single time in the last ten years that we have been visited by either LDS or Jehovah’s Witnesses carrying out their door-to-door evangelism strategy. Given this rare occurrence and our recent challenge to become more hospitable, we decided to extend an invite to these two very nice young men who no doubt could use a home-cooked meal. They accepted without hesitation and we soon found ourselves around the dinner table enjoying a tasty dinner and engaging a process of mutual discovery.
My wife and I asked a number of questions regarding their faith and discussed our own in depth. I was raised in the mainstream evangelical church and it was eerie how similar their “witnessing” strategy was to what I had been so accustomed to growing up. It was a method complete with a plan of salvation, a testimony and suggested prayer for conversion. The “share your testimony” aspect to this method was always confusing to me. I was always told that “no one can argue with your testimony”. This never made much sense because I always thought that this would actually be the point at which someone could most successfully argue against another’s faith. In any case, my wife recounted her conversion and it was followed by a heart-felt testimony from one of the young men of their own conversion experience. This ultimately led to a discussion regarding God’s sovereignty.
Much like your average confessing Christian, these men touted the sovereignty of God. But, also like the mainstream protestant, when pressed a bit, God’s sovereignty was ultimately undermined by the belief that full autonomy was given to each individual to choose or reject Christ on their own. God’s sovereignty becomes in actuality a “partial-sovereignty”, wherein which God’s will bows to the will of those he created. He is in the end, at the mercy of his creation.
Digging a bit further with our Mormon friends, it became clear that not only did man possess the power to choose God, but man also was able to achieve different levels of the celestial afterlife through their good works. When this was reiterated back plainly to our new friends, we were presented with the analogy of a student at graduation. Whereas the student chose to go to school and achieved academic success on their own, the student was not the one who determined the academic standards. This was something reserved for the provost. This is all fine and well, but if you know anything about the Mormon religion, you know that the revelation of God’s word is something that continues throughout history. Essentially, where orthodox Christians believe in a closed cannon, the Mormon believes that God’s written revelation continues through time. In regards to the analogy, it is much like the students themselves determining their standards over time. A “qualified” student raises their hand and reveals a new word from God that establishes a new or evolved standard. What we find is that the creator-creature distinction is completely removed. You end up having nothing less than the deification of humanity. This is the root and fundamental point of departure between our doctrine and that of our visitors. We told them that we confess a distinct, sovereign God of Scripture and do so only through the power of his Holy Spirit who enables faith in Jesus Christ. As Calvin states,
Truly, not one syllable of Scripture can be cited contrary to this doctrine: God’s sole reason to receive man unto himself is that he sees him utterly lost if left to himself, but because he does not will him to be lost, he exercises his mercy in freeing him. Now we see how it is that this acceptance has nothing to do with man’s righteousness but is pure proof of divine goodness toward miserable sinners, utterly unworthy of so great a benefit.1
Yet, in all of this discussion these two were unshakable. As many might be aware of, the young men would have been on their two-year “mission” far from home. This is a ritual wherein Mormon youth are sent abroad to proselytize and devote themselves fully to the service of their god and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Preceding this mission, ideally, their family would have been fully devoted to their faith and in every aspect of their daily lives. As children, they are very intentionally indoctrinated and such a mission serves to harden the plaster on a well-molded Mormon faith. The lifelong process is effective in sending out soldiers equipped for not only battling amidst the culture wars, but also for ensuring their own children are fastened tightly to the church. This is the point. Indoctrination works.
The word indoctrinate is most commonly defined as inculcating or teaching one to uncritically accept specific doctrines or ideologies. Such a definition would not cause much unrest within us were it not for the term “uncritically”. Certainly with adults this should carry with it a negative connotation. Those that can be indoctrinated tend to think uncritically and this should not be characteristic of a mature adult. But what about children?
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:7 ESV)
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6 ESV)
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)
Don’t miss this. It is not an issue of will our children be indoctrinated during their developmental years. The issue is who will indoctrinate them and with what doctrine? God is the God of the means as well as the end. He has ordained that children in their developmental years are a fertile ground that is planted with seeds cultivated to produce a harvest. This harvest will eventually be one of either wheat or tares.
When we read and recite scripture day and night to our children and when we catechize them – we are indoctrinating our children. When we keep them from the latest Disney propaganda and expose them to fruitful activity – we are indoctrinating our children. When we keep them out of the public schools and keep them in church where they can commune with the saints on Sunday – this is indoctrination. We need to better understand the power of this indoctrination and our Biblical mandate to carry it out with our children. Teach logic? Yes. Critical thinking? Absolutely. Teach them that without the God of the Bible, they could neither think logically nor critically to begin with? Indispensable.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame… (Psalm 127:4-5 ESV)
Satan’s representatives are alive and well in history. As God’s covenant representatives we are called to raise up warriors who can function as offensive weapons against the enemy. When it comes to using the term indoctrination there is no need to squirm. There is every reason to boldly engage in the practice for the sake of the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
- John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; 2 vols.; LCC; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), Book 3, Chapter 17, Section 4.(↩)