By Stan Cox
A few days ago our church received in the mail an invitation to a beach party for area college students, hosted by the Altamesa Church of Christ College Ministry. The brochure read:
Activities include: 3 Beach Volleyball courts (bring your own team of 6 people), Tug-of-War, Frisbee Throw, Bocce Ball, and more! Come for fellowship, Devotional, Burgers and Roast Pig! Excellent opportunity to meet new friends for the summer!
The brochure went on to mention that the singing group “The Light” from ACU would be performing, asked for an R.S.V.P. to the Church office, and informed that the church would be charging $8 per person for the event.
Most of us are familiar with such examples of the “social gospel” being propagated by such liberal churches. Even the terms used in the brochure show this mindset. The Altamesa church has a “College Minister,” whose job is to plan such events as a part of the church’s “ministry” to both college age Christians and the lost. Often the rationale is made that we need to minister to the “whole man” and that these events serve to “edify” these kids.
Our neighbors down the street, the Westworth Village church of Christ, have scheduled a “Youth Meeting” for June 9-11. Interspersed in the itinerary with singing, devotionals, and worship are the following: “Supper”; “Videos for young and old”; “Lock in at church” (a big slumber party, SC); “‘Pew Packer’ Bible Game”; “Talent Show”; “Various Games and activities”; “Breakfast”; and a “Congregational Lunch.” Of the 23 hours of activities over three days (this includes the two worship services on Sunday), 16 hours are taken up in recreation or eating, and this does not include the slumber party!
Churches that participate in these activities do so without any scriptural authority. The Bible clearly reveals the work of the church to be limited to evangelism (cf. Acts 2), edification (Eph. 4:11-ff), and some limited cases of benevolence (cf. 1 Cor. 16:1-2). Further, it is a specious argument to say that these activities fall under the auspices of church edification. (The word “specious” means “having a false look of truth or genuineness.”) While such argumentation looks good on the surface, in reality the Bible clearly establishes edification as being accomplished through spiritual rather than social means. In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul wrote, “And he gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (vv. 11-12). Notice that the offices given by God to edify Christians are: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher. Not a “Social Director” in the lot! Christians, young and old, are edified by the proclamation of truth, not through recreation. It is inappropriate for churches to be involved in such frivolity.
That is not to say that such recreation is not needed for young people. Rather, it is the work of the home, not the church. Remember the apostle Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 11:22, “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.”
A Disturbing New Trend
Recently, churches that have been known as “conservative” or “sound” have bought into this same mentality. There is concern that the church is “losing its young people” and something must be done!
A congregation in Kirkland, Washington advertised a meeting/youth fellowship in May which included, as a work of that church, not only preaching and singing, but also “Fun Social Events.” Nothing in the advertisement makes a distinction. The play is included as part of the “fellowship.”
Another congregation in Kentucky advertised a “Teen Retreat” on June 2-3. The retreat was to include discussion, devotion, dedication (by observing God in nature), as well as pizza, lunch, and outdoor activities which included among other things: “Volleyball, Hiking, Tug-of-War, and Hay Rides.” Those who were going to attend were asked to complete a Medical Release form, and mail it to the church office.
After being criticized, the elders of the congregation apologized for the misleading advertisement, and stated that the activities were not being sponsored by the church because they were being planned and paid for by individual parents and other volunteers.
This gives rise to another consideration. Just because the church is not “paying” for it, does not mean that it is not a “work of the church.” In this case, the brochures and Web Site which advertised the retreat were paid for by the church, the church name, phone number, and address were provided for contact information regarding the event, and the medical release forms were to be mailed to the church office. You can be sure that even if the elders of the congregation intended a distinction to be made, the young people who attend the “Retreat” will see no difference at all.
This is truly a disturbing trend. Congregations are willing more and more often to separate the youth from the rest of the congregation. Even if the purpose of this separation is to “minister to their special needs,” it is not valid. Those who are advocating such say, “But the church has neglected its young for too long! Perhaps some congregations have been guilty of neglecting teenagers, but this is not the answer! Some may say, “But we are losing our young people.” Then fathers, you must take seriously your charge to “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord,” rather than involving the church in a work that is not hers. God’s way is for the home to provide instruction and training, as well as social interaction, and for the church to teach and edify.
The appeal is wrong. Children like to have fun. The appeal being made in these “retreats” and “youth fellowships” is to the social activities and interaction as much as the gospel. Such is shameful for those whose heritage has always been an appeal to truth! Even the topics themselves often seek to appeal to the flesh. A recent youth lectureship in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area advertised lessons we could learn from such individuals as Michael Jordan, Princess Diana, Wayne Gretzky, and the Titanic! This particular event, too, had social events scheduled as part of the activities, though a disclaimer sought to make the individual/church distinction.
Such activities, retreats, and appeals to the flesh serve to spoil our kids. The appeal is made to their emotions and love of fun, and they return home disenchanted with what they construe to be “boring” sermons, and “lifeless” worship. Rather than being appreciative of the unadorned gospel of Christ and the decent, orderly worship of God’s people, they are disillusioned. They will grow up desiring to change things when they can, and one generation fueled by this misguided social emphasis will lead the church into apostasy.
Rather than make such an appeal to our young, we should make our appeal to God’s way. Let the home be the home, and the church the church. Congregations need to instruct their young in the ways of truth, establishing them in the glorious gospel. The word of God does not need adornment, and we do a disservice to our children if we think them unable and unwilling to accept the truth of God on his terms.
Reflections on the Scriptures, West Side Church of Christ, Ft.