Youth Movements

James P. Needham
Louisville, Kentucky

INTRODUCTION: I have been asked to comment upon certain youth movements that are prevalent among churches of Christ. I am happy to give what I believe is the Bible's teaching on this or any other matter.

Several such movements are in operation throughout the country under different names and arrangements. They are sometimes called "youth rallies," and the colored brethren have a national movement known as the "youth conference." It is my purpose to comment upon the underlying faults of the whole youth movement.

WHAT I AM NOT AGAINST: I want the issue to be clearly understood. I am not against young people getting together. I think this is wholesome and good if they get together for the right purpose. I am not against clean wholesome recreation. I think such is essential to the development of a well-rounded personality. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," has been truthfully said: I am not against young people getting together for Bible study. This is excellent under the proper circumstances.

WHAT I AM AGAINST: (1) I am against inter-congregational organizations. I am not acquainted with all the details of the "youth conference" among our colored brethren, but the word "conference" and the facts that the movement has "national advisers" and its meetings are held in church buildings indicate that this is a religious organization larger than any local church, hence, is subversive of the scriptural order. The largest and smallest and the only earthly organization the Lord's church has is the local church. Anything else becomes an apostate human society or arrangement and will eventually get out of hand and become a hierarchy over the churches that create and support it. Such organizations are not only wrong because of what they will evolve into, but have no scriptural right to exist as such. They are as unscriptural as the missionary society, or the Christian church. Should anyone think otherwise, I would be happy to receive the passage of scripture that authorizes them.

(2) I am against intra-congregational organizations. Sometimes these youth movements are organized WITHIN the local congregation with their own president, treasurer and program of work. This makes them a religious organization SMALLER than the local church, hence subversive of the New Testament order. They are thus parallel to such societies as the "ladies' aid society" and other such unscriptural movements. This is the form that some of the "youth rallies" among the white brethren have taken.

(3) I am against misusing the Lord's money. We must not only have authority for collecting the Lord's money, we must also have authority to spend it. The pattern shows that the Lord's money was collected from free-will offerings of the saints on the first day of the week (I Cor. 16:1, 2). It was spent in the doing of that which constitutes the work of the church. (a) Preaching the gospel (II Cor. 11.8), (b) edifying the saints (Acts 11:19-26) and (c) distributing to the necessity of the saints (Acts 6:1-6). In the youth movements of my acquaintance, money is taken from the treasure of this church to buy food and refreshments for these meetings. This is not benevolence; it is recreation, and entertainment. It does not fall within the pattern. Furthermore, many of the youth meetings known to me are little more than social affairs held in the building bought and paid for with the Lord's money. I ask in all sincerity, where is the scriptural authority for such?

Sometimes we hear the specious plea that the building is not sacred; well, maybe it isn't, but it is no less sacred than the money that purchased it. It is absurd to think the building can be used for something for which the Lord's money cannot be used, since the Lord's money bought the building. What is the difference between misappropriating the Lord's money in cash, and misappropriating that for which the cash was spent? The answer to this question will forever settle the question as to what the church building can be used for. That which is no part of the work of the church, should be kept out of the church building.

(4) I am against casting the Lord's church in any role that cheapens it. These youth movements cast the church in the role of a nursemaid institution, or an entertainment society. This is purely a fact of social gospel thinking, which seeks to make the church purely a social betterment institution with a "this world" mission. All Bible students know that the church of the Lord was bought with his own blood (Acts 20:28), and it is repulsive to every right thinking person for anyone to put the church into any program that would indicate that Christ shed his rich, warm blood for an entertainment society.

(5) I am against doing anything by partiality (James 2:14). All these youth movements are partial in their nature. They tend to separate the members of the church into two groups: young and old, and show partiality to the young. How does one arrive at the conclusion that the church has the obligation to supply the social and recreational needs of only certain classes? Some churches now have kindergartens for the little fellows, youth rallies and conferences for the teenagers, and old folks' homes for the oldsters! What about those of us who don't fit in any of these classes, what do they have for us? Well, for us they have the burden of paying for all of these brainstorms. If dividing the church up in this manner and showering favors upon the various classes while leaving others out is not favoritism and partiality, how could such be practiced?

(6) I am against mixing home duties and church obligations. God gave the home the responsibility to rear children in the nurture, and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:1-4), not the church. Some liberals among us argue that the church cannot function as a home when discussing the orphan home question, then turn right around and cause it to function as a home in their youth movements. If the home would accept its responsibility there would be no need for the church to baby-sit for the young people, but if the home never fulfills its duties along this line the church has no scriptural right to assume it any more than it could assume the duties of the state if it failed.

(7) I am against either luring or holding people through appeals to the lust of the flesh. People who are lured into the church with cake and ice cream will have to be held in the church with it. If the gospel doesn't bring them into the church it won't keep them in it. People (young or old) who are held in the church by social appeals with a little Bible study mixed in with it are very likely to absorb more of the social than of the spiritual, and if and when the church ceases to provide the social advantages its membership will decline. People are prone to be "lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God" anyway (II Tim. 3:4). The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and let the Lord's people not be guilty of either substituting for it or seeking to assist it with human wisdom.

DEFENSES ANSWERED: Those who promote the youth rallies and conferences have sought to defend them by arguing: (1) they are adjuncts to the home, like the "Christian schools." This would be fine if it were true. That it isn't true should become evident to every right thinking person when he considers that these youth rallies and conferences are held in church buildings, promoted through church bulletins and many times refreshments furnished for them out of the Lord's treasure. If they are "adjuncts" to the home, let them be promoted, financed, and held in and by the home and keep the church out of them. This done, and nobody can lodge a scriptural objection to them as long as they kept in harmony with scriptural principles.

(2) If the church doesn't furnish the right kind of recreation, the young people will get the wrong kind elsewhere. This is a false plea. Since when did it become the mission of the church to protect its members from wrong by providing what is right? We might argue with equal reason that the church should set up factories etc. to provide honest employment for its members, because if the church doesn't furnish them the means of making an honest living, they will make a dishonest one elsewhere. The whole argument is based upon a false premise: that if the church doesn't provide the right kind of recreation, the young people will get the wrong kind somewhere else. This doesn't follow. If the young people are properly trained at home, they will choose the proper recreation without the church being involved.

Beside all this, the whole argument is an indictment of our youth! It assumes that our youth are so void of spiritual training and good judgment that they are either incapable of choosing the proper recreation or are without the desire for it. If the former were true, it is a reflection on the teaching program of both the church and the home. If the latter were true, it is a reflection on the home, the church and the young people. Either way we go, the responsibility weighs heavily upon us.

CONCLUSION: I trust the reader will give careful consideration to what has been said. It's certainly not my desire to deprive anyone of anything they have a right to do. It should go without saying however, that nobody has the right to put the church in any program without first proving its right to be there (Col. 3:17, Eph. 5:10). If in any instance, I have in the slightest degree misrepresented the youth rallies or conferences, I would be most happy to know about it.

Truth Magazine VIII: 1, pp. 8-9, 24 October 1963