As a father of grown children, this verse is becoming more and more meaningful to me. Most readers know of a family where one, several or all of the children have left the Christian path of their upbringing. No doubt all parents wrestle in prayer over their children’s choice of paths. But how do we, as observers, react to these situations? What are our attitudes toward these children and their parents?
I know the above paragraph is similar to the beginning of Part 1 of this series. It’s meant to be, because another problem needs to be addressed: Too many young people have left the church family and its place of worship because they’ve been driven away. Some adults may be oblivious as to why they stop attending local church gatherings, while others may blame the parents for their children’s actions. But in many cases it is the adult generation, and all too often specific individuals, who are to blame for this exodus.
There may be other reasons for their departure but in Part 2 we are going to focus on the following possibilities: hypocrisy, legalism, majoring on the minors, shooting the wounded and lukewarmness.
Young people seem to have an uncanny ability to detect hypocrisy. They often reject the values of older Christians who are not living in accordance with their professed standards. Consider just a few of the contradictions in the lives of the adult population of local churches today:
We preach that we should “love one another” and “edify” one another (Jn. 13:34; Rom. 14:19), but the younger generation observes our bickering, infighting and the putting down of other Christian groups. They witness our refusal to speak to Christians who have left our gatherings. They also hear our damaging gossip and derogatory remarks regularly made about each other.
The verse, “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together” (Heb. 10:25) is heralded but does not change those who regularly miss midweek and other meetings. Young people see that commitment in the fellowship is waning and open homes and hospitality have disappeared. What are the young to think?
We profess agreement with the scriptural principal that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6), yet adolescents see adults desiring more goods, bigger houses, better cars and leisure toys. Has the pursuit of holiness been replaced with the pursuit of materialism?
While we say that “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34), we seem to act the opposite. Young people are often criticized about their outward appearance and behavior while older members’ inappropriate behavior, adornment and business practices are overlooked. This double standard has caused some young people to lose interest in being part of a duplicitous congregation.
Where is the love, the conviction, the living out of the faith once delivered to us (Jude 3)? Where is the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3)? Where is the care for others within and outside the faith (Gal. 5:13)? Our children watch us and ask these questions. An empty profession without the reality of joyous Christian living does not attract the young, but drives them away. Have they seen the writing on the wall? “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Dan. 5:27).
Hypocrisy is even more blatant when we say that we “walk in the truth” (3 Jn. 3-4) with a higher level of commitment, learning and closeness to the Lord than other local churches and denominations. This “puffed up” holier-than-thou attitude is seen by young people as spiritual pride (1 Cor. 4:6).
Misapplying Scripture for the sake of control or for the appearance of being holier than others has hurt many young people. Often strict principles are applied to situations where more gracious application should be considered. Stubbornness and personal priorities can easily replace the divine direction of the Holy Spirit. Individual’s pet peeves cause “laws” to be made, and demands for strict adherence to unwritten codes may give a form of godliness without the power of appropriate Christian liberty (Gal. 5:1,13). These indiscretions, when observed by the younger generation, often result in disillusion and lead to departure from the church of one’s youth.
MAJORING IN THE MINORS
The principle that “every tree is known by its own fruit” (Lk. 6:44) may be misapplied to many of our young adults. We often judge their rebellious acts (tattoos, piercings, clothing, hair, etc.) as corrupt fruits and condemn them without really observing their more serious actions and true character. Are outward appearances mature fruits or just juvenile bark? Young people get turned off by older believers who won’t look past these externals and who refuse to give them the chance to bud, blossom and eventually show the true fruits of their faith.
SHOOTING THE WOUNDED
“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:19- 20). When a Christian lives in sin, that situation must be appropriately dealt with (1 Cor. 5:7,11). However, if anyone falls to a temptation, the proper action may not be excommunication and ostracization but special help to restore the one who fell (Gal. 6:1). All too often it is easier to cast someone out than it is to shepherd that stray sheep back into the fold. Young people see this harsh attitude and lack of compassion, and judge the perpetrators to be like the priest and Levite, rather than the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:33-35). The wounded and sick are not helped when they are driven away from the inn (the local church) where healing care can be provided with love (Jude 20-23).
In His message to the Laodicean church (Rev. 3:16) Jesus stated that, due to the lukewarm condition of the Christian testimony, He would spew them out of His mouth. This is a description of the general condition of the Church today, especially in the western world! Where is our commitment to the Lord? Where is our dedication to live out the Word of God (Jas. 1:22)? Have shopping, sports and other worldly pursuits replaced church attendance? Where is our zeal for the gospel? The local church is lukewarm and our young people know it.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Hypocrisy, legalism, majoring on the minors, shooting the wounded, lukewarmness and other problems have driven off many of those the Lord loves. Some have gone to other congregations or into the world and away from Christian influence. What can we do for these children?
• We can fall on our knees confessing to the Lord that, in our sad condition, we have failed (Ezra 9:6-7), and have offended and driven away those He loves. “They have driven me out this day from sharing in the inheritance of the LORD” (1 Sam. 26:19).
• We can examine ourselves using the microscope of 1 Corinthians 13. What is “my” part in the problem that has caused these young ones to be offended? “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him that a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt. 18:6).
• We can ask the Lord to change us where we need correction. “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults” (Ps. 19:12). We generally do not see where we may have been part of the problem. “Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man’” (2 Sam. 12:7).
• We can lovingly seek out those who’ve been offended or driven off, and look for ways to bring them back. “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not … go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?” (Mt. 18:12).
• In the humility of confession, we can ask the offended one(s) for forgiveness. “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed” (Jas. 5:16).
• Of greater importance, we can “pray without ceasing” (1 Th. 5:17) for those we have hurt. Pray for them and ask the Lord to bring them closer to Him for His glory and for their blessing. “He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3).
A CLOSING COMMENT
It may be appropriate to note that young people are still responsible for their own actions even though they may say they have been driven away by the flaws of the older generations. All must give an account to the Lord for their behavior.
These remarks are not written to excuse the conduct of any who have left the fold, but to encourage confession and reconciliation by both sides, wherever necessary and possible. Let’s all be encouraged to humbly open our hearts to the Lord in prayer for healing, for ourselves and those who’ve been driven away. “We have sinned … by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments” (Dan. 9:5).
By Hank Blok
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org