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What should we be teaching our children in Sunday School? (Marcus Honeysett)

Marcus: "I saw a Sunday school sheet. The sheet said this: In one of the four pictures below the people are obeying all the rules that God gave to Moses, colour in the picture where the people are obeying all the rules and do your very best to obey them too. What's wrong with that?

Response: "It's a false gospel... 
Response: "We're in the new covenant..." 
Response: "You could have had that in the Synagogue...."

Listen into Marcus Honeysett in a very necessary 10 minute tangent about teaching the gospel to children:

Extracted from Grace and Glory, Romans 9-11, session 3


  1. I'm a bit of a cracked record here - that we often teach law not grace to youngsters, and then wonder why they struggle with the same issues later in life. Frankly, it's easier to teach law than grace (in any setting) but this does not make it right. Very little Sunday School material seems to take account of this. E.g. 10 weeks on 10 commandments, but never tackling Galatians...

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  3. difficult. What about Rom 2:14 "the Gentiles show that the law is written on their hearts"? Romans 1-2 have traditionally been the places of presuppositional connection - the "starry hosts above and moral law within" (in Kant's words)

    I've "swung both ways" on this one, and at the moment see use in the moral law as an abstract (ie not Calvin's division of torah) thing woven into life, like a kind of moral wisdom woven through the created order which makes (~or made) proverbs work. Certainly Ravi Zac & many others have used Romans 7:15-25 as an abstract point of connection (Simon Gathercole shows the link with Rom 1 & truth suppression among the nations). Then again, one of Charlie's Angels from st Helen who led us through Romans said he now thought Romans 1,2 and 3 are all to the jews. I wonder if the key passage is 1 Timothy 1:8-10 (esp. in context of v5-7)

    [some teachers] promote controversies rather than God's work—which is by faith. 5The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

    8We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

  4. Adrian - yeh I'm sure the massive adult problems of legalism (and lack of joy in Jesus) are in part fueled by sundayschoolism - the sinful heart loves the idea of self-justification without us being educated to think that that's actually godly...

    Chris, We can speak to conscience and the law of sin - but the problem is confusing that with the OT law... and taking people to Jesus. The wider context of the session this clip is from helps on that.

  5. Hi Dave - but the argument will go that "law" in Romans/NT means "Torah", right? I'll go away and listen to the wider context but I've heard Marcus talk on this before. 1 Tim 1 was picking up Hannah's comment on the 10 min clip - law for unbelievers.

    Also, in Xn circles, doesn't "law" as opposed to "grace" tend to mean something different to torah --> gospel - (guess this is touching on NPP...)?

    so Adrian: "we often teach law not grace" - do you mean, "we often teach kids to obey the torah" or "we often teach kids/people to work hard, be good, make God pleased with them"? I'm guessing the latter (which by the way I still think is the principle that Paul rails against in Rom 4 - thinking that God owed them grace)

    If Marcus is just saying "we dont need to teach people the Old Testament before telling them the good news about Jesus", then that's not too controversial. My hunch is it's the "especially not the 10 commandments" part which is controversial. Many people have an ingrained idea that the 10 comm's are an abstract, universal moral law for all people @ all times, so when Marcus says "you don't need to teach the 10 commandments" in particular, he's heard as saying you dont need to preach moral law in the abstract, which I suspect you do. Does that make any sense?

  6. The gentiles with the law written on their hearts in Romans 2 are gentile believers (in fulfilment of Jer 31)- not 'general man'.

    Romans 2 is a whole contrast between previously sneered-at gentiles (no law, history, covenant -pah!) and the everso privileged Jews. But the point is the unbeliving gentiles now believe and are saved through faith, while the arrogant but unbeliveing Jewish people have no hope.

    So I'm totally with Dave. That Sunday school sheet is pure Pelegian muck.

  7. when Marcus says "you don't need to teach the 10 commandments" in particular, he's heard as saying you dont need to preach moral law in the abstract, which I suspect you do. Does that make any sense?

    Hopefully, Marcus will come and speak for himself here... but in the mean time...

    I guess the challenge is to teach gospel - to see that it is our rejection of Christ (the one who is the point of the whole OT) that is our chief offence above and beyond than anything else moral.. and thus what any of us needs is not to behave better but to believe in Jesus. Then what we teach is distinctively Christian - and good for children and adults alike.

  8. I would have thought that you'd have only heard that in a bad synagogue... (which may well have been most of them).

  9. It's interesting that we pick up on the theological issue more than the later issue in the mp3 which comments on the way that we often entrust our children to ill equiped novices...

    I don't want to blame sunday school teacheers for teaching "pelagian muck" but rather let's help these people who pour out their lives do it better.

  10. Never seen it that way before - that makes a lot of sense to me thanks dan. So Rom 2 is Rom 11 in action - God's kindness to gentiles should provoke Jews to jealousy and lead them to repentance; instead their stubborn hearts are storing up wrath. Small remaining question on 2v15 - "their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them"?

    ps im also against the Pelagian child abuse.

  11. Bish- agreed! Don't want to lay the smackdown too heavy incase they were unwittingly Pelegian. My apologies to Sunday school teachers the world over.

    Chris- I think 2:15-16 is looking at the last day, and especially judgement and saying that believers will have two things going on in their heads: accusation and excuse. 'I am totally rotten and deserve judgement. But there's Christ, my righteousness- I'm free.' That's why v16 we're judged by God by Christ Jesus.

    Basically his argument for the chapter is that on judgement day, nothing stands (not even law keeping) except for Christ and those in him by faith. So we'll know the reality of our sinfulness, but the grace of our Saviour at the same moment.

  12. I very often say that we can't fully appreciate where we are in Christ, unless we realize where were we were (and would be) without Him. Not understanding this leads to Cheap Grace.

    Romans 2 mentions that the law is written on the hearts of the Gentiles.

    Very thought provoking. Thank You.

  13. "It's a false gospel... We're in the new covenant... You could have had that in the Synagogue...."

    It's a little worrying if that's what we think the old covenant taught. I suspect there's a whole bunch of context here that has not been included that reveals Marcus doesn't think that, yeah?

  14. I recommend the context...

    I think we can go as far as saying that obeying the law is the old covenant... we can go further and say that thinking you have to live by that to be saved by it isn't what the old covenant was meant to do... to teach that to a Gentile as if it were the gospel is well off the mark.

  15. Thing with thi is that it's an appeal to teach about Jesus from the law, the prophets and the nt - let's win hearts to Jesus and show people that in themselves they need him, don't choose him etc. I suppose the point is that he's the end of the plot line, he's the point of all of it... vs. the conviction that we either have to tell people to behave or to show them that they can't behave... neither is really the case - let's teach them about Jesus who did it all. Which probably everyone would actually agree with but sunday school teachers think they're having to do behaviour management instead or that there some more pious reason for teaching morality.

  16. In my parents' house I'm not going to listen to the mp3 I'm afraid, until I get back to Brum. But I do find the "It's a false gospel... We're in the new covenant..." quote very unhelpful. The old covenant did not leave people with 'obey the rules'. God did not give a false gospel in the old covenant, which is where Marcus' contrast takes us unless you've completely changed his meaning in selective quotation. Paul says that was where Israel went wrong - they should've known to pursue righteousness in faith rather than as if it were based on works. Maybe Marcus was making that very point from Romans 9, but even if so, the contrast he makes in this language between old and new covenants is false. The law taught rightly in the Synagogue would have pointed to faith in the gracious, electing covenant God - specifically in Messianic hope. Which, by God's same grace, is how I was taught in Sunday School.

  17. The quote is well out of context... those are the two responses made by people to the example cited... the 10min and further 50min context clarify everything massively!

  18. Hi, I'm perhaps a little too late into the discussion, however...

    I liked the blog post and I agree that sundayschool material is often of a very poor quality its ogten no mora than moralising.

    The specific example given was a good example of bad practice, however...

    Marcus seems to confuse the issue of how the law is used in converting gentiles with how the law was used in the sunday school exerpt.

    In the sunday school exerpt it was wrong because what was being communicated was 'keep God's rules'. However when the law is used in evangelism to gentiles it is to show that all have broken the law (Galatians) and that in turn paves the way for pointing to Christ.

    To use the law to point to Christ does not contradict grace since you are pointing people to Christ. Also, to say that gentiles are not under the law is a bit dodgy. As someone has already pointed out, Romans shows that they have the law written on their hearts (consciences).

    So basicly, I think his example of the use of the law in sunday school was right in that it was an example of wrong teaching.

    However his application of it into avengelism is quite off and straying from scripture.

  19. The question is how to use the law to point to Christ I guess. Any 'obey the rules' style is off beam - but then a lot of Christian discipleship seems to run along those lines... ask many people what Christian life looks like and they say it includes stuff like keeping the law...

    ...whereas I'd have thought you'd want to say more about the Spirit and union with Christ (in his death and resurrection) etc.

    It is a slightly simplistic example - and it does sit as 10mins in the context of 200 mins of teaching over three days... I'd hope some of the nuance is there in the wider context.

  20. I think the discussion here has several layers and because of that there is some cross over and confusion regarding terms and purpose and nature of the law.

    What do we mean by 'Law'? ,my understanding is that the law given to Israel had 3 aspects

    1) Social
    3) Moral

    The N.T 'did away with' the social and ceremonial aspects, but the moral Law remains, forever.

    To say the law has 'no place' in evangelising gentiles is confusing and misleading.

    If the gospel is that 'Christ died for our sins'. How can we understand that except in the light of God's holy law?

    If we do not explain to people why they need grace then they will not truly understand grace.

    If the law is summed up by Love God and love neighbour then every person is a law breaker because we are all pretty selfish and idolaterous. the flesh loves self and worships everything but God.

    The law condems me but Christ delivers me from the consequencies of breaking the law.

    The response to grace is repentance. Repentance of what? Sin. Against who? God. How have I sinned against God? I have not walked in his ways. I have broken his commandments. I have not kept his law.

    Now that I have repented and believed what is my responsibility? Has Jesus made it easier than the law? No, he's made it harder. The law said don't commit adultry, but Jesus says I am in adultry if I lust after a women. The law said dont murder but Jesus said I'm a murderer if I'm angry with someone.

    He also said my righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and pharisees. How am I to do this?

    This is where union with Christ's death, resurection and the indwelling Spirit come into play. Through what Jesus has done, who I am in him, who he is in me, and who he is in himself I can fulfil the law.

    Positionaly I recieve his righteousness and he takes away my transgression, experientially he conforms me into His image. He leads me to walk in love, as I walk in love I will fulfill the requirements of the law. When I fail to be led by the Spirit His grace is avalaible but His correction and discipline is there to work repentence and obedience in my heart.

  21. "The N.T 'did away with' the social and ceremonial aspects, but the moral Law remains, forever."

    I'm unconvinced that you can make that case, though open to persuasion.

    "To say the law has 'no place' in evangelising gentiles is confusing and misleading."

    I don't think we're saying it has no place but that it's place is more to reveal the one who is the end of the plotline rather than to tell us we've not behaved morally. The point here is that the law can reveal the purposes, plans, character etc of God that find their fulfillment in Jesus. That said, any encounter with Jesus should then reveal our deep and obvious immorality.

  22. There's an article in the most recent EN about using the law in evangelism (to convict of sin etc.) but the problem with it is it separates this from Christ, as if showing people they are Christ-haters isn't enough of a conviction of sin.

    But it seems to me the Marcus quotage and excerpt maybe makes the same mistake of separating Christ from the law in the opposite direction. As if the content of the law has nothing to contribute to helping people understand the specific ways in which they are Christ haters. Sin and rebellion against Christ our rightful Lord has content doesn't it? The mosaic code isn't the only place where we can see elements of that (providing we do the necessary work on seeing the way the law is transformed by our differing covenantal and socio-historical context from the original recipients mind you), but it isn't irrelevant either.

    "The question is how to use the law to point to Christ I guess. Any 'obey the rules' style is off beam - but then a lot of Christian discipleship seems to run along those lines... ask many people what Christian life looks like and they say it includes stuff like keeping the law..."

    Yes, but discipleship does involve obeying the rules, for 'If you love me you will keep my commandments,' yeah?

    The question therefore then becomes 'what relationship is there between Christ's commands and the mosaic code?'

    And there is a relationship. One of fulfilment and transformation rather than direct cut n paste, for sure. But there is a relationship.

    Which means, said in the right context, in the right way, with the right connections and understanding (e.g. 'don't think this earns you anything' and 'don't try and detach this from faith and dependence' and 'don't try and do this without relying on you Spirit-forged union with Christ') it can sometimes be ok to say things to people that sound pretty much like "obey this rule" (where 'this rule' is an imperative taken from the Mosaic code).

    Otherwise, all the ethical instructions and imperatives of Jesus and the apostles are given to us for what?

  23. some good points there Pete, I had been coming to similar reflections prior to revisiting here.

    couple of things...

    1) Technically people do not become 'Christ' (messiah) rejecters until after they have heard the gospel and rejected its claims. So the starting point oif the gospel cannot be that a person is a 'Christ' (messiah) rejecter.

    2) The idea that people should be convicted of being a 'God' rejecter over and against 'breaking His rules' is a false dichotomy. What is the first commandment? To love God first and foremost. There is an intrinsic relationship between God and His ways.

    Preaching the law in the sense that we preach that all have broken the law is the essential prerequisit for preaching the grace of the cross. How have people broken the law? They have rejected God and His ways. How can they mend this? They cant. Hence grace.

    3) To say that grace, in the context of discipleship, excludes rule keeping is nonsense. The N.T is full of rules. The issue is that we do not keep them to become right with God, we keep them because we are right with God. Paul to Titus defines grace and its purpose as 'bringing us salvation and teaching us to deny ungodliness and worldly passions'.

    Grace and rules/Gods law are not mutually exclusive. However only one makes us right with God and empowers us to know Him and walkj in His ways.

  24. "Technically people do not become 'Christ' (messiah) rejecters until after they have heard the gospel and rejected its claims."

    The same argument could be used to say that people aren't law rejecters til you preach the law...

    And how can you preach law Christianly without preaching Christ who is the one the law testifies about?

    I still don't buy that Gentiles are under the law that was given to Israel... which is what most of the Sunday School kids (or indeed adults) we're talking about are.

    If we want to preach about God and his ways surely it's not "preach law to show they've broken a law they didn't know of" but rather "preach Christ they'd not heard of, who exposes their supression of the testimony of God in creation and to conscience..." and in either case call for belief in Jesus who is the Christ.

    I'm not saying there's no change of life to happen... only that it isn't rules it's grace-driven heart-change by the Holy Spirit... and that doesn't come by the law but by the gospel.

  25. I think the problem is that there are three (or perhaps more) different although interconnected arguments all being chucked in together here.

    1) The wrong use of the law (as seen in the sunday school example
    2) The use of the Law as a 'schoolmaster' to lead to Christ (Gal)(what I am arguing is the right use of law in evangelism)
    3) Discipleship, working of the Spirit, the O.T law and N.T rules. (I'm not really engaging with this one as my concern is number 2)

    that aside...

    Paul is absolutely clear that the gentiles who are not under the Jewish law have this law written on their hearts showing them what is right and wrong. It is also clear that by the law they will be condemned, since all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory.From this perspective it is not as you imply that I am calling them to reject a law which they have never heard of.

    The cross on the other hand is a different matter. Only after hearing the gospel and rejecting it can one be called a messiah rejecter.

    The cross is about grace for sins. To reduce sin, iniquity, and transgressions (O.T AND N.T words describing what Christ died for) to such a narrow definition as to reject God as a person is to not do justice to the scriptures.

    This argument is similar to that of the emmerging church who try to seperate the person of Christ from the propositions about Christ in scripture. Again this is a false dichotomy.

    The relational aspect is central to the gospel but so is the moral aspect. You cannot seperate God from His ways. By divorcing the gospel from its context regarding 'The Law' this is what you do.

  26. I'm not advocating divorcing the gospel from it's context at all, rather we need to not divorce the law from it's gospel context.

    We need to be reading the whole of scripture Christianly - with all it's truth-laden propositions fully intact!

  27. This is a thought provoking discussion.

    Last night I picked up, for the second time, John Piper's Counted Righteous in Christ. In this book he is looking at the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer. I then thought about this debate in the light of what I had been reading.

    If it is as Marcus, and yourself, say then justification by faith and the imputation of Christs righteousness as the core of the gospel make no sense.

    The very fact that the heart of the N.T gospel is the fact that God counts an innocent Jesus guilty in our place on the cross and acredits to that same believer the righteousness of Jesus.

    Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf. We are counted righteous in Him. Christ 'died for our sins' plural. Therefore it is not just that people are ourt of relationship with God but more specificly how they are out of relationship with God.

    The imputation of Christ's righteousness applies to the gentile as much as it does the Jew. Christ did not only fulfil the requitemenst of the law for the Jew and not the gentile.

    I respect that Marcus is trying to avoid legalism and promote grace but in doing so he misenterprets grace. If we begin to misenterpret grace even though we are seeking to honour it we will eventually lose it for we will no longer know it as it really is.

  28. Given I don't think I disagree with those statements I'm not quite sure where our problem is.

    I don't think what I'm saying (or Marcus) is negative against any of the things you're saying. The main thrust is that our task is to teach grace, to teach Christ to people. That doesn't mean we don't teach that people have sinned - we must, the question is certainly in what way have Gentiles sinned... all I think is being said is that they've not sinned against the OT law that was never given to them but only given as a temporary measure for Israel.

    That said there are many ways in which Gentiles sin, in Adam, in ignorance, in rebellion, against Christ etc etc. We need to address that though it seems to me we do that best by bringing people to Christ.

    {i think we're agreed on the original point of this thread that we shouldn't be teaching kids in sunday school to behave... but rather to believe the gospel)

    This is thought provoking!

  29. lol agreed :)

    Happy New Year as it arrives and all the best in God for 2009!!!


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