Choosing Your Children's Heroes
by Mark Znidericz
This talk was given during a conference of the National Christian College for Home Education.
The importance of choosing heroes
Oliver Cromwell was known to be a soldier of great courage and self-discipline. He was admired by his men. He led his soldiers personally into battle. His Cavalry received the nickname Ironsides because they could not be broken through. In fact, Cromwell never lost a battle and it is said that when Cromwell came into the field "every man became a hero then." A hero makes heroes. One of the dictionary definitions of hero is: "[a] man of extraordinary bravery, fortitude, or greatness of soul." In other words, a hero is someone who is regarded as worthy of admiration and therefore of imitation.
A little over one hundred years ago, John Ryle, the first Bishop of Liverpool, said: "We are all creatures of imitation: precept may teach us, but it is example that draws us." Bishop Ryle was merely echoing what the Lord tells us in Proverbs 13:20; "He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed." This is why the subject is so important - the power of example for good or for evil. This principle clearly applies to the question of who our children have as their personal friends. But it also applies to our children's heroes. Those whom our children admire, they will imitate. If our children are to be heroes and heroines of the Christian faith, they need to get to know, to admire and to imitate men and women and chidren who are truly worthy of admiration and so of imitation; those of extraordinary bravery, fortitude, and greatness of soul, whether famous or unknown; those who, in different ways and in different callings and in different circumstances, embody the virtues of Philippians 4:8: "Whatever things are noble, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - meditate on these things." It is significant that Paul writes in verse 9, "The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you." Paul is an embodiment of the things that he has been talking about. Look at Paul - live like Paul (Philippians 3:17). This is no contradiction of our calling to imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1) - true heroes should point us to Christ.
For this reason, choosing our childrens's heroes is, I believe, a vital subject. Training our children to admire and to imitate those who exemplify godly characteristics is a vital part of the great privilege and responsibility God has given us to "bring up our children in the training and admonition of the Lord." (Eph. 6:4)
Heroes from Biblical history
Consider Hebrews 11, the honour roll of faith; then Hebrews 12:1. The heroes of Hebrews 11 surround us as a "great cloud of witnesses." This does not mean that they are spectators of what goes on here on earth. Rather, they witness to us by their lives of faith and endurance and set a high standard for us. They don't look at us. We look at them - for encouragement. "That you may be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Hebrews 6:12).
And so we train our children to know and admire and to want to be like a Daniel. As the children's hymn says it; "Dare to be a Daniel! Dare to stand alone! Dare to have a purpose firm! Dare to make it known!" It gives moral strength to realise that when you stand alone, you are in good company.
Above all, consider the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), the greatest hero that the world has ever known. Remember that He was a true man - humanity in its perfection - and walk in the same manner as our Saviour (1 John 2:6).
Heroes from non-Biblical history
Do you want to know about spiritual courage? Look at the Reformers - Martin Luther, for example. On account of his teaching, he was called to be accused before the Emperor Charles V in the town of Worms. Very likely he was going to his death like John Hus before him if he did not recant. After debate Luther's accuser "Eck" finally threw down the gauntlet: "I ask you, Martin - answer candidly and without horns - do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?" And Martin Luther gave the answer for which he is best remembered, the answer that gives courage to every Christian who feels under pressure to compromise: "Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason, I cannot accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other. My conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen." And one of Luther's biographers records: "Luther had spoken in German. He was asked to repeat it in Latin. He was sweating. A friend called out, 'If you can't do it, Doctor, you have done enough.' But Luther again made his affirmation in Latin, threw up his arms in the gesture of a victorious knight, and slipped out of the darkened hall, amid the hisses of the Spaniards, and went to his lodging."
Ultimately the Edict of Worms was issued which gave Luther 21 days to recant, and after that, said the Edict, "no-one is to harbour him. His followers also are to be condemned. His books are to be eradicated from the memory of man." But see the faithfulness of God! The edict of Worms was issued when Luther was 39. He died in peace 25 years later.
Do you want to know about ordinary people trusting God? Look at the Pilgrims who crossed the Atlantic in the Mayflower to go to an unknown land to build a new life.
Do you want to see what difference a faithful woman can make? Take Elizabeth Bunyan who uncomplainingly brought up her family while her husband languished for many years in prison simply because he would not say the seven words: "I will not preach again in England." He would have said them if she had asked him to. But she never did.
Do you want to know about the consecration of artistic talent to the glory of God? Look at Johann Sebastian Bach. Do you want to know about diligence and perseverence? Look at Booker T Washington and his yankee grit! "Up from Slavery" is about a real hero!
Of course there are also the missionary biographies. Spending time with David Brainerd, Adoniram Judson or Isobel Kuhn is a great way to end the Lord's Day!
And there are a host of lesser-known men and women and children of Hebrews 11 quality to inspire us in our "ordinary" lives.
The point is not just to inform our children about these men and women and many, many others. We are trying to bring our children to admire them, to identify with them. To be friends with them. So that I can say to my son, "Clean your room like Booker T Washington would have done!"
Good heroes and bad
Should we commend to our children only those who were clearly Christians? If someone was obviously living without the fear of God, we cannot commend them completely. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 1:7). The definition of a fool is someone who does not fear God. We should not commend to our children as heroes those who are least esteemed by the church (see 1 Corinthians 6:4).
We must remember that in past generations in the western world there was more true fear of God than today, and at least a more widespead respect for the things of God. If someone's life and character did not openly contradict God's Word, and they evidenced many qualities that are worthy of imitation, it may be legitimate to focus on the positive qualities without making a final judgment on their eternal state.
It may also be legitimate to isolate just one good character trait exemplified in the life of an individual who was clearly not a Christian. However, we would have to give a strong caution regarding the total impact of this person's life and thinking.
In dubious cases, we need to ask the question: What is the likely total impact of what this character is famous for? If it is positive then we could with care present them to our children as a hero. For example, war heroes or leaders, explorers, nurses. Our Lord used characters to illustrate one particular character trait, for example "the Good Samaritan."
But obviously the most suitable heroes are those who are the most clearly godly - whom we would have valued as personal friends of our children. We should steer our children to admiring such people the most.
Heroes from fiction
Consider that great classic, The Pilgrim's Progress, and those depicted such as Christian, Faithful, Christiana, Mercy, Greatheart. Let us not become cynical. There is great pressure in our culture to reject heroes based on virtue. It is not foolish idealism to believe that it is possible to be a man, woman, boy or girl of integrity; the work of the Holy Spirit makes such people. Never allow this culture to destroy your vision of the nobility of living for the glory of God, otherwise you will have no vision to pass on.
We need to be particularly discerning in our choice of fictional reading, and in our viewing if we decide to watch television or films. Why does fiction exist? Its purpose is to grip the imagination; it is exciting, it immerses you in the world of the characters. But that world is not the world of reality; it is the world produced in the mind of the author. Let us particularly seek out fictional heroes and heroines who are the product of a mind which represents God's view of the world. We look for enjoyment, strong moral character-forming lessons, high ideals (the family portrayed positively), good morals (diligence, obedience), spiritual values, Christian character, wholesome reading. It is not enough to have a purely negative test ("it does not have this and that and so must be all right"). What "worldview" is it promoting?
A surfeit of "junk fiction" is to be avoided, where the heroes are just fun, interesting, exciting, but have little or no positive character-building influence. We must ensure that our children develop an interest in more profitable material as well.
Fictional heroes who manifest ungodly character traits are dangerous and should be avoided like poison. Skilled authors and producers can make the vilest characters look attractive and godliness seem ridiculous.
We have so little time in this world; let us train our children to go for the best. Redeem the time, especially in the sphere of fiction. We must keep before us 1 Cor. 6:12: "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable."
Consider 2 Timothy 1:5, 3:14,15. Timothy's earliest influences included his mother and grandmother. The godly character of those who had taught Timothy the truth had a grip on his conscience. He knew them at close quarters and he knew their religion was genuine. Their lives were a demonstration of the truth of the things they said.
John G Paton was a Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides around the turn of the century. His godly home life in a small cottage in Dumfries made a deep impression on him. He describes the room in which his father used to pray and he says:
This was the Sanctuary of that cottage home. [There] daily, and oftentimes a day, generally after each meal, we saw our father retire, and shut...the door; and we children got to understand by a sort of spiritual instinct (for the thing was too sacred to be talked about) that prayers were being poured out there for us, as of old by the High Priest within the veil in the Most Holy Place. We occasionally heard the...echoes of a trembling voice pleading as if for life, and we learned to slip out and in past that door on tiptoe, not to disturb the holy colloquy. The outside world might not know, but we knew, whence came that happy light as of a new-born smile that always was dawning on my father's face: it was a reflection from the Divine Presence, in the consciousness of which he lived. Never, in temple, or cathedral, on mountain or in glen, can I hope to feel that the Lord God is more near, more visibly walking and talking with men, than under that humble cottage roof....Though everything else in religion were by some unthinkable catastrophe to be swept out of memory, or blotted from my understanding, my soul would wander back to those early scenes, and shut itself up once again in that Sanctuary Closet, and, hearing still the echoes of those cries to God, would hurl back all doubt with the victorious appeal, 'He walked with God, why may not I?'
Parents ought to be the primary formative influence on their children. But consider Christian friends, those in other countries, church leaders, missionaries, and godly men and women in other walks of life. When we bad-mouth living Christians around the dinner table, we are robbing our children of the opportunity to have them as heroes.
Why choose heroes?
Spiritually, it helps our children to see the nobility of the Christian life.
Morally, it helps them to be independent of their contemporary peer group Our children can make friends with the godliest - the communion of the saints!
Intellectually, it helps them to gain knowledge of the Bible, of history, and of the world in which they live.
Remember the sinful nature of our children; we cannot rely on them to automatically love good heroes. Careful and consistent training is vital.
We may be hampered by the lack of suitable material; books, videos, cassette tapes.
We may also be hampered by our own failure to cultivate heroes in our own lives, and by our own failure to guard against heroes imported into our homes from popular culture.
"Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits" (1 Cor. 15:33)
The following resources may be of use to parents wishing to provide examples of positive role models for their children.
Trinity Book Service, PO Box 395, Montville, NJ, 07045, USA. Carries a wide range of children's literature and bible materials, from the publishers listed below.
Christian Educational Resources, "Hananeel", Otterhill Farm, Rowtown, Addlestone, Surrey KT15 1HD. Useful selection of readers for fictional reading.
Library and Educational Services, 8784 Valley View Dr., PO Box 146, Berrien Springs, MI 49103, USA. Audio cassettes, videos and biographies of historical heroes.
Metropolitan Tabernacle Bookshop, Elephant & Castle, London SE1 6SD. Carries a number of children's titles.
Christian Focus Publications Ltd, Geanies House, Fearn, Tain, Ross-shire IV20 1TW. Good range of Bible stories.
Gospel Mission, Box 318, Choteau, MT 59422, USA. Specialises in reprints of children's literature from the last century.
Gospel Tidings Publications, 21 Queen Street, Ossett, W. Yorks WF5 8AS. Produces collections of reprints of short, true stories showing the power of the gospel.
Rod and Staff Publishers Inc., Crockett, KY 41413, USA. Mennonite publishers whose goal is "to publish books that have high ideals, teach good morals, are Biblically sound, build strong Christian character, and provide wholesome, interesting reading for your children."
Triangle Press, 23 5th Ave., S. E., Conrad, MT 59425, USA. Reprints character-building children's literature from the last century.
The following titles are a selection which our family has found particularly profitable. They would be suitable for younger children. The suppliers and publishers listed would be able to give recommendations for older children.
Heroes from the Bible
Bible Time Series from Christian Focus; stories of Esther, Gideon, Nehemiah, Ruth, Hannah, Jonah, Simon Peter, Mary and Martha, and John.
The Child's Story Bible by Catherine Vos (three volumes, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, available from Trinity Book Service).
Heroes from History
Heroes from Fiction
Copyright © Family Matters 1998