Will Our Faith Have Children?
Will there be a church, Christ-like, faithful, and evangelistic, in the next generation? Will our faith have children?
I know… you are thinking I meant, “Will our children have faith?” It was Walter Brueggemann who turned this statement around and asked, “Will our faith have children?” This has always been the proper concern of God’s people.
The question implies the need to pass the faith from one generation to the next, a process of not only spreading the gospel geographically (to all nations) but from generation to generation. The Israelites were always conscious of teaching their children, grandchildren, and beyond.
Psalm 78:3-8 speaks of at least four generations who would be taught God’s ways. There was the first generation, “our fathers” (78:5). The first generation was given the task of teaching the second: “That they should make them known to their children” (78:5). Then we have the following generation: “That the generation to come might know them” (78:6). Following that was the fourth generation: “That they may arise and declare them to their children” (78:6). But the Psalmist’s vision plunged still deeper into the future: “The children who would be born” (78:6).
The Israelites were continually conscious of the need to pass their faith on to the next generation. At the Passover, the father was supposed to explain to his children the significance of the meal: “when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ that you shall say to him, ‘By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage’” (Exodus 13:14). To this day Jewish homes read the Haggadah at Passover, a written account of the events of the Exodus.
God’s words were to be on the parents’ hearts, and these words they were to teach “diligently” to their children, talking of them “when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). The phrase “teach them diligently” suggests that this course of study needed to be intensive, detailed, and continual. Teaching was to be formal (“teach diligently”) and informal (“in the house, on the way”). The home was to be permeated with God’s words.
In his stirring speech at the end of his life, Joshua challenged his people to choose whom they would serve: “[C]hoose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” he called out; then pointed the way himself: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Ponder what would have happened had the Israelites not served God that day! We know that Joshua would have served the Lord, even if he did so alone. The term “my household” implies his children and grandchildren would serve the Lord as well. His faith had seeped into the lives of his children and grandchildren. Generations of Israelites did not live out their faith by accident! They were taught it.
What is at stake? When I am old and no longer able to preach, will there be a faithful congregation in which I can worship? Will my grandchildren have a faithful church in which to grow up? Beloved, this is serious! It is the defining question of our generation! Will God’s ways be passed on to succeeding generations or will it die with us?
It’s easy to suffer from historical amnesia. It is not just a case of “those who do not learn the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.” It is also a case of perspective and humility. In history, we can trace out trends and fads versus eternal truths.
You can hear the urgency in Paul’s words to Timothy: “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust” (1 Timothy 6:20). Paul was the older preacher, pleading with the younger man to carry the message on to the next generation.
What is your family heirloom? A diary of the Civil War? A necklace worn by succeeding generations of women in the family? What about faith in God?
At some point, it should dawn on us that we lead not only the generation sitting before us, but generations beyond that. We must preach the gospel to every creature, not just geographically, but to the next generation, and the next, and the next.
It’s hard to think of a greater responsibility than to be the one in whose hands others have entrusted their very souls! “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
If our faith was not passed down from our generation to the next, at what point did the ball drop, and who dropped it? I see two answers: Sometimes those of us who are older have failed to teach the next generation. Sometimes the next generation meets the message of faith with youthful immaturity, derision, and mockery. They do not appreciate what others worked so hard to build and preserve.
So, as one who is now an older brother in Christ, I beg you: Please, do not reshape the churches of Christ into a community church where we get to do “what we like.” Please, continue to go back to the Bible, and the Bible alone, for our faith and practice. I am desperate for young people to develop the habit of involvement in their congregations early. If a teenager is mature enough, she should be placed in a classroom with a master teacher and learn how to teach. When she is ready, she should teach that class with the master teacher observing. Young men should be given opportunities to deliver short lessons. After all, at what age should a young person learn the habit of church involvement? Fourteen? Twenty? Thirty? Forty? Ever?
If a young person has grown up in the church, is in his twenties, and has not become involved in the church’s activities, mark this, he has already developed a habit of uninvolvement for over a decade!
Church leaders should be conscious of the need to involve younger Christians. Shoulder tap. Encourage. Challenge. The task of young Christians is to grow, study and mature, search for their talents, and then hone and develop them. They need to be aware of the presence of mature saints, and to be “coachable”—humbly receptive to guidance. Remember Rehoboam who listened to the callow advice of his young friends rather than that of wiser Israelite leaders (1 Kings 12)? It takes time and tempering to become a mature church leader. Like an oak tree, the wood becomes hard and serviceable only over time; and how profoundly the church needs such people!
Christian young people can benefit from working with someone older and wiser. I think Jesus utilized this principle when he had twelve men follow him as He travelled (Mark 3:13-14), and as He sent them out to engage in ministry (Mark 6:7). Think for a moment, how staggering it is that these men spent three years with the greatest Teacher Who ever lived! Talk about attending an elite university!
It has often been said that the church is just one generation away from disappearing. All it takes, beloved, is for one generation in a long line of generations to fail to teach the next. The most important question of our age is this: Will there be a church, Christ-like and biblical, faithful, and evangelistic, in the next generation? Will our faith have children?