By Mike Willis
In the opening chapters of Judges, the Israelite historian wrote of the death of Joshua and his generation saying, “And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” (Judg. 2:10). One is alarmed that a generation of people could so soon forget God’s gracious acts.
Not many years before, God had sent Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. He sent the ten plagues to decimate and destroy Egypt, allowing the children of Israel to leave the country. As they departed, God parted the waters of the Red Sea enabling the children of Israel to cross on dry ground and then closed the waters behind them, destroying the Egyptians who tried to follow them through the Red Sea. During their journey to Mount Sinai, God sweetened the bitter waters of Marah, sent manna and quail to feed the people during the forty years they wandered in the wilderness, brought water from the rock at Rephidim, and other miracles. At Mount Sinai, God gave the children of Israel the law, in the midst of miracles. Throughout the forty years of wandering, God directly lead the people with a pillar of cloud and fire.
When time for the conquest arrived, Joshua led the children of Israel into the land, crossing the Jordan River on dry ground. By a miracle, they captured the city of Jericho. On another occasion, God made the sun stand still in order that the Israelites could thoroughly destroy the Canaanites. During the seven and one-half years required for the conquest, God was with Israel in driving out the Canaanites so that they could possesses the land.
Obligation To Pass Down The Faith
Christians have an obligation to pass the faith down from one generation to another. To Timothy, Paul wrote, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). The gospel has been given to this generation as a trust (1 Tim. 1:14). We are responsible for passing it down to the next generation intact – not distorted, perverted, revised, amended, lengthened, or shortened. How well are we doing?
Many of us are second-generation Christians and face the same danger which faced the generation which followed Joshua – the danger of rearing a generation which does not know God. Already some are observing significant indications that a generation is coming which does not know the Lord. I am alarmed at some things which are being lost in this generation. Please consider them with me:
A Loss of Knowledge of the Word of God
When I was a boy growing up in East Texas, Christians had a reputation for knowing the Bible. We were taught to learn and memorize the Bible. At the feet of my godly parents and under the direction and guidance of God-fearing preachers such as J.B. Jordan, Richard Cravy, Sr., Clyde Stricklin, Oliver Murray and others, we learned the Bible. Brother Jordan taught us the proper divisions in the Bible, to memorize the books (frontwards and backwards), the number of chapters, verses, and letters in the Bible, the apostles, the sons of Israel, and many other facts about the Book. Brother Cravy taught us to quote verses on such pertinent subjects as the plan of salvation, the oneness of the church, answers to denominational error (faith only, impossibility of apostasy, etc.), what was wrong with instrumental music, and many other subjects. This training emphasized to us the need to know the word of God and to examine what was taught to see whether or not it was in the Scriptures.
We were taught the need for learning the Bible by such verses as the following:
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so (Acts 17:11).
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee (Hos. 4:6).
We were taught that if one did not have the love for the truth, he might be deceived by a false teacher, believe a lie, and be damned (2 Thess. 2:10-12).
Brethren, I am alarmed that this spirit is vanishing from among us. Many who attend worship services make no preparation for their Bible classes. Our young people frequently cannot quote a Scripture which shows the plan of salvation and neither can their mothers and dads. A generation has arisen which has little or no interest in learning the word of God; rather, they want a short sermon which makes them feel warm inside.
If you think these are the words of an alarmist, try asking your Bible class to give you a Scripture for the following:
The necessity of faith
The necessity of repentance
The necessity of confession
The action of baptism
The subject of baptism
The purpose of baptism
The oneness of the church
Justification not by faith only
Possibility of apostasy
Work of Holy Spirit in conversion
Cessation of miracles
Those who are able to give book, chapter, and verse answers will be the exception, not the rule, in almost any congregation.
Surprisingly, some gospel preachers have responded to this lack of interest in learning the basic facts about the church, plan of salvation, and other doctrinal subjects by eliminating these subjects from their preaching. Some not only do not use many Scriptures themselves, they disparage preachers who do by condemning “proof texting.”
Loss of Moral Standards
Another area in which we appear to be rearing a generation which does not know the Lord is in the area of morals. Some are allowing the world’s standard of morality to shape what they accept as right or wrong. The Scriptures warn us about this danger.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Rom. 12:2).
As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation (1 Pet. 1:14-15).
That we are influenced by the world in which we live is unquestioned. We see its impact on the moral standards of members of the church.
Although the pulpits and classrooms are preaching against fornication, the number of illegitimate pregnancies which occur in different congregations illustrate that some are involved in the sin. In addition to this, preachers, elders, deacons, Bible class teachers and other members are sometimes exposed as being involved in sexual immorality, sometimes resulting in divorce. In an era during which fornication is so rampant, Christians need to be alerted to lascivious deeds which might lead to fornication. Instead of learning of what are lascivious deeds and avoiding them, many Christians are participating in them and some are defending them as acts of righteousness. I speak of such lascivious conduct as immodest dress (tight-fitting jeans, halter tops, shorts, etc.), mixed swimming, petting, pornography (magazines, PG-13, R, and X-rated movies, MTV, etc.), dancing and such like things.
How many teenagers in your congregation dance? When I was being reared, we were taught that dancing is lascivious behavior unbecoming of a Christian. Frankly, I have not seen any improvement in dancing in the last 25 years. The bodily movements are more suggestive than ever. The music is vulgar and sexually explicit. Despite these indisputable facts, Christian’s children are allowed to participate in dancing with their parents’ permission and approval. Brethren, if you doubt that I am telling the truth, survey your teenagers on whether or not they attended their prom. The way this is handled in the local congregation is to keep it quiet. Let the preacher preach his sermon on the subject, keep your mouth shut, and go on practicing what you are determined to do. When enough become involved in the practice to control the business meetings, the preacher is told to quit preaching on the subject or be fired. One elder told me that the pulpit was not the place to deal with these subjects.
As a young man, I was told that beach attire was immodest clothing, unbecoming of Christian people in mixed company. As a young man, I heard the locker room talk about girls in their swimsuits. In the last 25 years, I have seen nothing which indicates that swimming attire has become modest. If anything, swimming attire has gotten more immodest. Nevertheless, Christians and their children frequent the public beaches and pools. If you doubt this is so, ask your members whether or not they frequent public beaches or pools.
We are raising a generation which is so much like the world in its moral standards that we blend in with them. We attend their dances, go mixed swimming with them, watch the same kinds of movies, tell the same jokes, and such like things. We are raising a generation which does not know the Lord.
Loss of Personal Devotion and Commitment
A third area in which I am concerned that we are raising a generation which does not know the Lord is in the area of commitment. As a young man, we were taught to put Christ first in our lives, based on such Scriptures as these:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matt. 6:33).
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple (Lk. 14:26).
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind (Matt. 22:37).
We were taught that half-hearted devotion to the Lord was worthless. We were told that Christ had to be the center of one’s life and other things should be worked around one’s service to him.
I distinctly remember how service to Christ affected my involvement in sports. We had a scrimmage game one Wednesday night during my junior year in high school. I was wanting to impress the coach so that I could make the team. Nevertheless I left the scrimmage game at halftime in order to attend mid-week Bible study. This disposition is not being taught to many young people. They cannot attend mid-week Bible study and gospel meetings because of ball. games. And why should we expect them to be there? Their parents cannot attend Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, or meetings because of their bowling leagues! What are we teaching our children, to put recreational activities or Christ first?
Young people are taught to take jobs which require them to virtually forsake the Lord. Employment in fast-food restaurants require students to work such hours that they can only attend one service a week. By allowing our children to hold such jobs, what are we teaching them? Are we teaching them to put their jobs or Christ first?
A few drops of rain or a few flakes of snow causes a significant drop in congregational attendance. Generally, the decrease in attendance does not come from elderly folks who are unable to manage the weather. Where is the commitment?
Preachers need to be concerned about commitment as well. My generation of preachers has been fortunate to be able to be well-supported while we devote ourselves to preaching. This benefit causes some to become “professional” preachers. Unless they can negotiate a good salary package with a church which has no problems, some are uninterested in preaching. What a contrast with some who went before us! A century ago, many road their horses hundreds of miles, being gone from their families for weeks at a time and receiving little or no pay, in order to preach Christ. Many plowed their field by day and preached by night in order to spread the borders of God’s kingdom. Brother H.E. Phillips related that during one summer, he preached for the whole summer taking his family with him from meeting to meeting. At the end of the summer, he was paid $200 less than he spent. Yet he told me, “I didn’t care. I wanted to preach! ” Is that spirit of commitment and devotion alive and well among gospel preachers?
What will be the consequences if we allow our generation to lose these three things?
1. Loss of Bible knowledge will lead to a generation which views the Lord’s church as another denomination. A generation will arise which does not see that much wrong with the denominational churches. They will consider the Church of Christ to be a denomination just like the Baptist Church, Methodist Church, and other denominations. Their speech will reflect denominational thinking: “I am a Church of Christer.” “I go to the Church of Christ Church.”
2. Loss of Bible morality will result in the church being filled with worldly people. Congregations will become filled with those who attend dances, go mixed swimming, wear shorts and other kinds of revealing clothing, have been divorced and remarried for no scriptural reason, attend PG- 13, R, and X-rated movies, see nothing wrong with social drinking, etc.
3. Loss of commitment will result in dying churches. Worship services will become lifeless, boring exercises in religious formality. The singing and prayers will be dead. Members will want short sermons so they can hurry up and be dismissed. Members will miss for any excuse imaginable.
Yes, I am concerned that we pass the faith down in its purity to another generation. Our God will hold us responsible for doing so.
Ours is not a unique problem. Our parents before us faced the same challenge of passing the faith down to another generation. They were partially successful. Many Christians of their generation have apostatized – some to worldliness, some to indifference, and some to doctrinal apostasy. We will be no more successful than they were. Despite our efforts to preach the word, we will win some to Christ and others will turn away from him. Those whom we lose from our number must be replaced by converts from the world or the mere death of members will cause congregations to pass out of existence.
I pray that there will be young men who will look back to the days of 1987 and remember with fondness the preaching and teaching which we are doing and be committed to the moral principles, doctrinal beliefs, and personal commitment which Christ commanded in the Bible. I pray that I have been faithful in passing down the faith which was delivered to the saints to another generation.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 15, pp. 450, 468-470
August 6, 1987