By Bruce Edwards, Jr.
Many good brethren of late have expressed a concern and dismay for certain of the younger generation of Christians. When such a judgment is registered it is always regrettable, but even more so when the concern rests upon valid evidence. Undoubtedly there are those who have thrown up their hands and exclaimed, “How did it happen? How did we get where we are?” These are pointed questions that literally cry out to be answered. Indeed, we must answer them, lest we be sentenced to endure generation after generation of despair and concern. Let us consider some possible explanations of the turning of such young people to their apparently incipient liberalism.
1. Social conditions have contributed to a breakdown in authority. There is no escaping the fact that our social environment has a significant shaping effect upon our lives. The current young people have matured in a rebellious society. The now-ethic is to obtain desired ends by any means possible, whether by paralyzing strikes, arrogant Asit-ins,” or just outright violence. Such a condition has fostered a crisis in both the family and religious arenas: The “do-your-own-thing” philosophy has destroyed parental rule in the home and has seriously weakened the impact of true Biblical teaching. There is an authority crisis on every hand, political, social, economic, and religious! It is no wonder that there are young preachers denying the validity of teaching by approved example and implication! The young are so confused, they are not sure there are any absolutes!
2. Younger brethren have witnessed apathy and hypocrisy in older Christians. The first thought might be, “Who hasn’t?” And we suggest readily that this, in itself, is no excuse or rationale to embrace liberalism, but it is still a situation that should weigh heavily upon our minds. Of course, there have always been lukewarm, hypocritical Christians, but in a time such as this, when “heroes” and “absolutes” are at a minimum, it is essential that the young have good examples to emulate. No one can underestimate the impact upon an impressionable youth who sees a lifeless, unenthusiastic assembly which meets three times a week to exchange gossip, compare fashions, and talk sports. Most of the time the only “zealot” in a congregation is the preacher, and sooner or later he moves on in despair. Even more damaging is the spectacle of “evangelists” who move from place to place every few years, hardly scratching the surface of work in a community. Such a sight can only discourage the youthful Christian who expects to see a certain diligence and conscientiousness in a “gospel preacher.” Many of today’s preachers are hardly the “ensamples to those that believe,” that Paul exhorted Timothy to be.
3. Worship services have been lifeless, unedifying, and negatively motivated. This is not an indictment of assemblies which do “the same thing” each week. There must be some form of pattern and the “two songs, prayer, and another song” pattern is as good as any. But, many brethren enter not even into this arrangement with the full commitment of their hearts, minds, and souls! Current efforts among some of the young to “make the services more emotional” (wittingly or unwittingly) are superficial, contrived affairs which in time become stale themselves. The answer is not to “change the services around” but rather to exhort every brother and sister to worship in spirit and in truth, drawing attention to our Lord and Saviour. When this is done, then the services cannot help but be full of life, edifying, and Scriptural.
As far as being “negatively motivated,” many assemblies have looked upon their meetings as a drudgery, a chore to be endured. Such a feeling has been sensed by a younger generation which has been malnutritioned spiritually. The natural reaction has thus been to go the opposite route, trying to force or forge a “spiritually positive” atmosphere. Here is where .spontaneity comes into play. But the initial thrill of a “spontaneous” song soon wears off and itself becomes a “chore.” (Let’s see, who’s going to lead the next “spontaneous” song?) The only answer is, of course, full commitment to Jesus Christ. Such a commitment will not always offer an “emotional high,” but in the long run will foster something much more important, namely, a home in heaven.
4. Bible classes have been repetitive or irrelevant and the teachers have been ill-prepared or ill-suited to their task. Our young people probably know the Book of Acts better than any other comparable group of young people in the world. Fed a steady diet of “the record of conversions” from age 3 on up to adulthood, these youthful Christians can easily rattle off the “five steps to salvation.” The question is, “Will they know anything else?” Make no mistake about it, the Book of Acts can be a profitable study, but there are other books in the Bible! God’s holy word speaks to every issue that confronts man – our young people need such answers – but they will not get them unless our classes speak to their needs. This is not a call to a “social gospel,” some sort of pseudo-relevancy; rather it is a plea to return to the Book that develops the whole man, equipping him “unto every good work.” What good is the knowledge of “how to become a Christian,” if after becoming one the convert does not know what Christians do? Such knowledge does not speak to the question of how to maintain that relationship with Christ. Most younger Christians have been nurtured in what Christians oppose, but pray tell, what do Christians advocate? Some thinking must be done in this area.
There is a sore need in local assemblies for able teachers of the word. It would seem that most have taken James’ admonition to “be not many teachers” to heart! By and large, “Bible class teachers” have depended upon workbooks quite heavily; as a result the classes have suffered.. In a word, such Bible class material and the preparation of the teachers depending upon them. have been awful. Hopefully, the new Truth In Life series will remedy that situation, but the need still remains for “qualified” teachers. By “qualified” I do not refer to some with a “degree,” but to those who love the word and are willing to spend some time in class preparation. Anyone can fill out a lesson book that asks how many Samson killed or how many times the word “and” appears in a certain chapter, but is that all there is to “Bible study:””Until we begin to seriously analyze and evaluate our teaching programs, content-wise and personnel-wise, we will continue to send our young people “down the river” spiritually.
5. Prescription for a troubled generation. The foregoing discussion is not offered as a “defense” (bleeding-heart or otherwise) or “excuse” for disobedience or a liberal attitude toward the authority of Scripture. God must be obeyed, on His terms, regardless of one’s ‘predicament. “However, it is suggested as an insight into why certain conditions exist. To ignore such conditions is to sentence oneself to repeat the same mistakes. Perhaps those for whom concern is registered cannot be reclaimed; we pray that such is not the case. In any event, there is another generation on the rise, and another and another. We must take steps whereby the same situations and environments that are under our control are not allowed to arise again, choking the life out of the young.
We must reassert the absolute authority of the Scriptures; we must set examples for the young. Many are searching for the right way . . . our hypocritical behavior will certainly not influence them in that direction. We must make our assembles worth having; true edification comes only from true devotion. Finally, our teaching efforts must be relevant and truly “educational.” An honest spirit of inquiry by sincere youth cannot be hammered into submission by a “defender of the faith,” without seriously harming that youth. This is not a plea for compromise or tolerance; rather it is a call to realistically deal with a sensitive, searching heart. We must “speak the truth” but “in love,” having our speech “always with grace, seasoned with salt,” that we may know how we “ought to answer each one.” May we all seek the Lord’s blessings and guidance as we deal day-to-day with the crises of faith and obedience among brethren.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:20, pp. 10-11
March 21, 1974