Friday, March 13, 2009

Analysis 0f Michael Spencer's "The Coming Evangelical Collapse" (Part 4)

Michael Spencer's second cause for the imminent collapse of evangelical Christianity-

"We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures."

Speaking very generally and based on my personal observation, it does seem as though American Christians have struggled to see their faith perpetuated from one generation to the next. I have been involved with various levels of ministry to youth since I was a teenager myself and it has been discouraging to watch the unfortunate paths many "Christian" kids have chosen. Why is this so? To Spencer's point, we (the Church) have failed to obey the clear mandate of Scripture in Deuteronomy 6 (and re-asserted in Ephesians 6)-

Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Scripture puts forth an intense, all day, every day approach to discipling our young people. This involves a thorough approach to exposing our children to God's truth and the living out of the same. Very simply and bluntly- most "evangelical" churches in America have failed to obey Scripture in this area of the spiritual formation of their young people. Frankly, most forms of "Christianity" in America have come up short on this front. I grew up Roman Catholic where particular focus on discipling youth and "passing on the faith" was practically non existent. The culture of busyness has so infiltrated our lives that discipleship has been reduced to going to church once a week Sunday morning and youth group Wednesday night. Too many expect these few activities to be some kind of fulfillment of their children's spiritual development needs while ignoring all the time given to events and activities that accomplish very little (if anything) in the area of spiritual formation. If you are sending your child to a public school, realize there will be 9000 hours of class time between kindergarten and eighth grade when they are NOT receiving biblical instruction and mentoring, and most likely worse, they are being taught an anti-Christian worldview. I know this is a sensitive subject because so many Christians send their kids to public schools, however I would be remiss to ignore one of the chief reasons our children are not growing spiritually strong and grounded. Indeed, the lack of consistent exposure to biblical truth and living is probably the main reason the Christian faith has not been successufully perpetuated from generation to generation in recent years. Every parent has to examine what strategy they are using to fulfill Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6.

A word about "youth ministry" as Spencer takes a bit of a pot shot at the money evangelicals have purportedly spent on youth ministers and the like- I see the church in it's best and most effective form as a parish. That is, the Church does her best to assist each family in the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 by creating an environment has a thorough-going, holistic discipleship culture. Personally, I came to Redeemer because the vision of the founding members was for a "parish-type" ministry as I have described. How is this accomplished? For us, we have worked to develop a Christian school and provide a youth ministry that complements the discipleship work of the family and the school. We have a youth pastor who is interested in assisting parents in discipleship, not taking over the responsibility for them. There is a trifecta, if you will, of cooperation that promotes spiritual growth and stability in our children- the family, church, and school. Members are not required to send their kids to our school or youth group events, but these ministries exist to be aids to living out Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6. There is not one way alone to be faithful to God's mandate regarding our children, but we must all realize how very labor intensive it is- it will take much more than going to a few church activities each week.

On a personal note, for what it's worth, I am very thankful for this trifecta (family,church, school) in the life of my family. It is my responsibility to oversee the spiritual training and formation of my children (while realizing only God's Holy Spirit does the work of regeneration and sanctification). However, I am in NO WAY abrogating that responsibility by allowing other members of our covenant body (the Church) have discipleship access to my children through various interactions at Sunday school, youth group meetings and events, and school. Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 contain a mandate dually exacted by the corporate body and individual families, not one or the other. The Church body and individual families are in partnership striving toward the same goal of obedience to Scripture in training our children. Leaving discipleship almost entirely to a youth pastor or youth sponsor would be a failure to obey God's Word. At the same time, ignoring the corporate gifting God has given the church body in favor of a "family only" approach also fails to utilize all the tools God has given us to grow in Christ and also tends to deny the communal nature of Christianity itself.

Spencer's underlying point is we have failed to properly indoctrinate our children so they are stable and firm in orthodox/biblical Christianity by doing more to entertain and captivate our youth. It seems that Spencer is generally right again on this point. However you choose to live out Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6, please recognize it is not an option that we may follow if we like. Failure to take this training mandate seriously is one of the main reasons evangelicalism finds itself on the verge of extinction.


Frontier Forest said...

Pretty sobering stats. We continually pray God’s hedge of protection to surround about each of our precious grandkids. But , unfortunately, all of them attend public schools. To think about “garbage in—garbage out” reality brings constant concerns.
And then on the other side, seeing the excitement of such radical spiritual growth, living large in every Westminster student is as exciting for me as it is the kids. Praise God for this Spiritual trifecta, (family, church, school) is a secure, for sure winning bet! Each family at Westminster Christian Academy can rest in the Lord, and stand firm on this fact! The investment they have pledged in their most precious gift from God, will yield stable, Biblically grounded, orthodox/biblical leaders that the Lord will use in might ways probably none of us can even imagine. What a joy to call Redeemer, Home!

Rick Calohan said...

Thank you Tony for reminding us that ‘busyness’ is a stumbling block in our Christian walk and responsibilities to our family, our spouses, and our children, I pray that God will give me ‘time management’ tools to play a more active role not only at our church but with my family.

I also praise God that one of the gifts that John received for his 1st Birthday was a pictorial Bible, and every night this week, my wife has been renewing her mind with John by reading the stories to him.

I also pray that when John becomes of school age, that we will have the financial means necessary to enroll John at Westminster. I know that there are programs to assist those with financial difficulties, but I rather those resources be put those who are truly in need. The chief reason we moved to Olathe, was to be closer to our church, and so that when John becomes of school age he too will grow in grace with his fellow classmates at Westminster.

Reepicheep said...

Rick, if you want JP to go to WCA, he will. We'll make it happen.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate much of what you said, but I'd like to raise a couple of questions. I have no doubts that the church is Christ's body, and both the extended family and the home of every believer called by Christ. I believe in the authority of that body as Christ as head. I have no doubts that the family and specifically the fathers are charged in scripture to disciple and "grow" our children constantly pointing them to Christ. My question is where is the scriptural backing and authority to delegate that discipleship to others?

The body is a body with multiple parts as scripture teaches. Being a part of an extended family has responsibilities, but I do not have authority over my brother's children. What's more, he doesn't have the liberty to not disciple his children. In both situations it falls to the higher expectations and personal responsibilities of each and every family. As you said, we are each charged in scripture to do so. But aren't we dumbing down the next generation of believer's by removing them from mature worship? Haven't we just lowered the beam for ourselves as well by sluffing off our children so we can have a quiet hour of personal worship? From what I have been able to read, Sunday schools, youth ministries, even youth pastors all started during the mid 1800's. That is the time frame of much of the dumbing of the body and weakening of the church. Many ills have come from the 1800's liberalization of the church.

But as reformed, my question still goes back to the only authority we have, that which comes from God's word. In that, where is the scriptural basis for youth groups, children's church, even nursery and youth Sunday school? Where is the scriptural directive for me to share crop the children God has given as my personal responsibility? I would counter, that scripture shows us that we should be bringing them into the mature full body for worship, teaching and maturing. The same principles as you teach for the covenant body in baptism apply here. I believe fully in the necessity of the church body, but I also see that we have fallen back to the world's standards and not those of scripture. The charge is to each of us as parents and the depth of the personal responsibility that God has placed at our feet. We can't just shrug that off on tradition.

A concerned Christian father

Reepicheep said...

Dear Concerned Father,
I appreciate your excellent points. Reformed churches constantly wrestle with such valid concerns. I am happy to respond in brief here:
The Church is given the mandate to “disciple” (see Matthew 28:19-20) her members. It is not accurate to call the Church a family of families. More accurately, and importantly, the Church is the family of God (1 Peter 4:17, 1 Timothy 3:15). For the Church as a whole, discipleship means providing solid biblical training. In turn then, member families of the church are to take the biblical teaching they receive and train their families by it. The Father is placed over this process in the home. Scripture doesn’t pit the church body as a whole against the importance of individual families, but I do think it’s important to realize that God gives the Church as a whole the gifts needed to edify each member, not simply individual families. In getting to your concern about “delegation”, keep in mind the teaching of 1Corinthians 12 where Paul reminds us that God has equipped the local church with all the spiritual gift needed for edification/discipleship. My family, made up of Shari, me, and the boys, is not equipped with all the spiritual gifts there are, thankfully my wider church is. I think this reality provides the biblical basis for allowing other church members special time with your children to assist in their spiritual formation. No, my son’s Sunday school teacher doesn’t have final authority over my son, but during that hour of SS he indeed has a reasonably limited authority. I know the curriculum and I know the man. It’s OK for me to allow this. It’s not sluffing or being lazy. In fact, it is utilizing the widespread spiritual tools God has given the church. Further, Scripturally, Ephesians 4:11-13 also outlines the specific gifts given to the church for her edification. So, I see two ways we carry out God’s instructions to train our children- in the family and in the church body. In reality, every parent delegates authority. When a family sits in church while a preacher is preaching, they are all under the authority of that preached word. Further, when I give my son a missionary biography (or any piece of literature), there is a sense in which I delegate some authority.
In reality, to be very honest, what happens during the SS, Children’s Church Hour, Youth Group, or Sun. night catechism/discipleship times makes up a small fraction of my children’s week. 45 min of SS. 30 minutes of Children’s Church (from ages 4-6) and 40 minutes Sunday night for catechism training or bible study is what we’re actually talking about here, at least how we do it at Redeemer. In my case I send my children to WCA during the week for daytime school hours, but even there we spend considerable time each day active with the their school time and quite a bit of time in homework each day. In conjunction with God specially gifting his WHOLE church, I see this as a biblical option for believers.
As for “youth pastors”, I think they are to be ordained elders who are specifically assigned to assist and encourage the growth and development of the youth and their families. In our case, we have an ordained minister who is our “youth” pastor. We, the Session of RPC, have asked him to concentrate his efforts on providing sound outlets for the discipleship of youth. We have several godly, trained, parents who help and many more are welcome. Again, however, what he does is provide another tool for a family to use in their efforts to disciple their children. We are very clear, he is not here to do your work, but rather to help you as a parent. Praise God for this kind of shepherding. I can’t speak for how other church’s define or direct “youth pastors”, but for us, we have been very thoughtful about what Pastor Brian does in the life of the Church.
Now, you mentioned a few other common reformed concerns- specifically children in worship. Please understand, the church does not mandate anyone to put their children in nursery or children’s church. It’s up to each family. I can’t speak for other churches and their practices, but for us, we have limited nursery to 6mos-3 years old. We have the option of children’s church, for half the morning worship service, for ages 4-6. Our children’s church is not nursery play time, they learn a bible lesson and elements of the worship service they are being trained to join in full at age 6. I suggest these are certainly not unbiblical options for some of the same reasons I have already mentioned. Our young ones participate in corporate worship, at least in part, quite a bit. Obviously there are differing opinions on how this should be done, but I am certainly comfortable with how we practice such things and have watched my own children transition through well. I do not think my children have any kind of disjointed view of the church because of their time in children’s church. In fact, they have never missed a baptism as they occur early in the service and it provides more instruction time at lunch about the nature of what church membership is. As for noise being the reason for not having babies- that’s not why we do it, but that does raise the issue of pragmatism that cannot be ignored completely in the life of an active church that is constantly taking in new people (disciples) at various levels of scriptural understanding and maturity. But that’s a different subject for a different post.
For me personally, I grew up RC where there was no vital focus on youth discipleship. I left, basically with my parents permission, to go to a local quasi-reformed church. My parents didn’t go there. Who was going to disciple me? I’m thankful that my youth pastor- who was indeed an ordained pastor tasked with concentrating on the discipleship of youth and their families- took up that task. There were several other youth like me. I think such cases illustrate the wisdom of God in equipping the church as a whole to help families and individuals without families (or with deficient families) disciple their children.

Thanks for your comment. Please identify yourself next time though. I want to stick to a policy of not posting anonymous comments. If we speak in Christian love (as you have), we can identify ourselves.

In the Lamb,

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your reply. I did not intend to be deceptive or malicious in my anonymity, but did want to ask a question that focused the answer on scripture and the church, rather than be tainted by the asker (if that makes sense). I am not a frequenter of blogs and have not registered with this one, therefore the "anonymous" title. But the few times I have joined in I have signed, as I will this reply. So, once again, I humbly apologize for any mistake.

You explained the responsibilities of the father in a covenant family, and that father (and family) within the church. I heartily agree. That was the root of my question originally. The challenge I see is that many of the traditions we hold seem to encourage the expectation that the church will disciple our children. We are a fallen and lazy people, especially in the west. If there is an easy way out, most of us will at minimum be tempted to take it. That includes within the church. If the example of your family's discipleship is the norm for RPC, then praise the Lord. The heart of my concern is that we, as the church, could do better. More than that, my question is, looking at scripture, are we doing it right? Or did we miss it somewhere in the past? Do we need to realign our compasses? No blame or self-righteousness, no "new revelation", just the desire to be reformed daily to God's word, often with thankfulness for our traditions, but sometimes in spite of them. We are imperfect, as much as we would like not to be. Are our hearts sensitive enough to the Holy Spirit to allow Him to correct us when needed? To adjust our course? As you said, the numbers are troubling. Have some of our programs been aiming at the good, verses the best? Or is it just another time for growth? I don't know, and with the focus in Table Talk on Galatians, it is a good balance and check for me. This could easily get into legalism and pride, but then so can the color of the carpet in the narthex. It is a walk of grace, trying to better understand God's word, but relying fully on God's sovereignty and goodness. I may be wrong. At this time I feel compelled that it is my responsibility, and my wife's for the growth and discipleship of our children. With the help and connection to the body, but first and foremost God has placed them in our care. We can't do it alone, but I believe we can do more than has been the norm in the western cultural church, and have been called to do so in scripture.

It seems that the topic of the upcoming Men's Retreat fits well into this blog. What Mark Wheathers wrote in "Men: Kingpins of the Church" is very much at the heart of this discussion. How that plays out here and today is the question.

Tony, it seems to me we are on virtually the same page, just seeing it from a slightly different vantage point. I respect you and your teaching deeply and pray that the Lord would lead each of us, teaching us daily. May the Lord greatly bless you and your family in Himself.

from a concerned Christian father,
in grace, in Him,
innodes (mike)