Targeting Our Youth
Most are aware that this is the first posting of Watchman Magazine in several months. There are a number of reasons for this, and I will not bore you with them. Suffice to say that Watchman is largely a "one man" undertaking, at least from a publishing standpoint. So, if I get swamped, Watchman gets delayed. I am attempting to ensure this doesn't happen again, and look forward to resuming a monthly publishing schedule, beginning with this issue. I appreciate greatly the expressions of concern, and the encouraging comments about the magazine. We intend Watchman to be available for Christians for years to come.
Many of our readers are familiar with the sentiment that J.D. Tant made famous years ago as he ended many articles of warning with the phrase, "Brethren, we are drifting." No doubt his pronouncement was a source of irritation to many who considered him a rather cantankerous sort.
History has born out the relevant nature of his warnings. Indeed Christians were drifting from the straight and narrow paths of truth. Seeds of digression were being sown, which have since led to a full blown apostasy. The fact that many could not see the beginning of the drift does not change the fact that the warnings were needed. Those who heeded the words of brother Tant and his ilk were able to avoid the error that led to the digression of many congregations of the Lord's people.
In this article we will discuss the "social gospel", a philosophy which sound congregations have always rejected. The specific application we will address is that aspect of the "social gospel" which is seen in the targeting of young people for special emphasis and focus. We shall begin in this article by looking at certain examples of institutional churches which have long embraced the concept of utilizing the "social gospel" to appeal to the young. We shall also see that some churches which once stood against such a philosophy seem now to want to embrace it. This constitutes a "drifting", and we, as those of Tant's time, are in dire need of warning. We fully recognize that many will be unable or unwilling to see the dangers. This in no way invalidates the need for sounding the trumpets of alarm in the face of another trend toward digression.
Recently our church received in the mail an invitation to a beach party for area college students, hosted by the Altamesa Church of Christ, College Ministry. The brochure read:
The brochure went on to mention that the singing group "The Light" from ACU would be performing, asked for an R.S.V.P. to the Church office, and informed that the church would be charging $8 per person for the event.
Most of us are familiar with such examples of the "social gospel" being propagated by such liberal churches. Even the terms used in the brochure show this mindset. The Altamesa church has a "College Minister", whose job is to plan such events as a part of the church's "ministry" to both college age Christians and the lost. Often the rationale is made that we need to minister to the "whole man", and that these events serve to "edify" these kids.
When we use the term "social gospel", we refer to a movement that has had a tremendous influence on the thinking of 20th century America. The movement had its genesis near the beginning of the 20th century, as various protestant denominations sought to destroy poverty and injustice through the instrumentality of religious institutions. As often is the case, such movements eventually find themselves influencing the thinking of Christians if they are not on guard. This happened, beginning in the late 1940's and 1950's as more and more congregations began borrowing from the denominations and emphasizing a social agenda. Such an emphasis has reached a crescendo in our time. As seen by the example of the Altamesa chruch, one aspect of this movement is the desire to protect our children from the world by putting our churches in the business of entertaining them.
Our neighbors down the street, the Westworth Village church of Christ, scheduled a "Youth Meeting" for June 9-11. Interspersed in the intenerary with singing, devotionals and worship were the following:
Of the 23 hours of activities over three days (this includes the two worship services on Sunday), 16 hours were taken up in recreation or eating, and this does not include the slumber party!
Churches which participate in these activities do so without any scriptural authority. The Bible clearly reveals the work of the church to be limited to evangelism (cf. Acts 2); edification (Eph. 4:11-ff); and some limited cases of benevolence (cf. 1 Cor. 16:1-2). It is a specious argument to say that these activities fall under the auspices of church edification. (The word "specious" means 'having a false look of truth or genuineness'). While such argumentation looks good on the surface, in reality the Bible clearly establishes edification as being accomplished through spiritual rather than social means. In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul wrote, "And he gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." (vss. 11-12). Notice that the offices given by God to edify Christians are: apostle; prophet; evangelist; pastor; teacher. Not a "Social Director" in the lot! Christians, young and old, are edified by the proclamation of truth, not through recreation. It is inappropriate for churches to be involved in such frivolity.
That is not to say that such recreation is not needed for young people. Rather, it is the work of the home, not the church. Remember the apostle Paul's admonition in 1 Corinthians 11:22, "What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you."
Recently, churches that have been known as "conservative" or "sound" have bought into this same mentality. There is concern that the church is "losing its young people" and something must be done! Such sentiments are just regurgitations of what the institutional churches have been saying for years, and should be recognized as a departure from sound teaching.
A congregation in Kirkland, Washington advertised a meeting/youth fellowship in May which included, as a work of that church, not only preaching and singing, but also "Fun Social Events." Nothing in the advertisement makes a distinction. The social play is included as part of the "fellowship."
Another congregation in Kentucky advertised a "Teen Retreat" on June 2-3. The retreat was to include Discussion, Devotion, Dedication (by observing God in nature), as well as Pizza, Lunch, and outdoor activities which included among other things: "Volleyball", "Hiking", "Tug-of-War", and "Hay Rides." Those who were going to attend were asked to complete a Medical Release form, and mail it to the church office.
After being criticized, the elders of the congregation apologized for the misleading advertisement, and stated that the activities were not being sponsored by the church because they were being planned and paid for by individual parents and other volunteers.
This gives rise to another consideration. Just because the church is not "paying" for it, does not mean that it is not a "work of the church." In this case, the brochures and Web Site which advertised the retreat were paid for by the church, the church name, phone number and address were provided for contact information regarding the event, and the medical release forms were to be mailed to the church office. You can be sure that even if the elders of the congregation intended a distinction to be made, the young people who attend the "Retreat" will see no difference at all.
These examples are hardly unique. More and more churches are using such "special events" with "social activities" to appeal to the young. Congregations are willing more and more often to separate the youth from the rest of the congregation. Even if the purpose of this separation is to "minister to their special needs", it is not valid. Those who are advocating such say, "But the church has neglected its young for too long! Perhaps some congregations have! It is shameful for a church to be guilty of neglecting its teenagers, but these youth retreats are not the answer! Some may say, "But we are losing our young people." Then fathers, you must take seriously your charge to "bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord", rather than involving the church in a work that is not hers. I am reminded of a young man several years ago, immature in the faith, who argued in the same way regarding the church's involvement in human institutionas. He said that he knew it was the individual's work to care for orphans, rather than the church's work. But, since not enough Christians were doing their work, the church had to get involved. The obvious answer to such shallow argumentation is to point out that the solution is for Christians to do their duty, rather than involving the church in a work that is not hers. The same is true in this. God's way is for the home to provide instruction and training, as well as social interaction; and for the church to teach and edify.
The appeal is wrong. Children like to have fun. The appeal being made in these "retreats" and "youth fellowship" is to the social activities and interaction as much as the gospel. Such is shameful for those whose heritage has always been an appeal to truth! Sometimes, even the topics themselves seek to appeal to the flesh. A recent youth lectureship in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area advertised lessons we could learn from such individuals as Michael Jordan, Princess Diana, Wayne Gretzky and the Titanic! This particular event, too, had social events scheduled as part of the activities, though a disclaimer sought to make the individual/church distinction.
Such activities, retreats and appeals to the flesh serve to spoil our kids. The appeal is made to their emotions and love of fun, and they return home disenchanted with what they construe to be "boring" sermons, and "lifeless" worship. Rather than being appreciative of the unadorned gospel of Christ and the decent, orderly worship of God's people, they are disillusioned. They will grow up desiring to change things when they can, and one generation fueled by this misguided social emphasis will lead the church into apostasy.
Rather than make such an appeal to our young, we should make our appeal to God's way. Let the home be the home, and the church the church. Congregations need to instruct their young in the ways of truth, establishing them in the glorious gospel. The word of God does not need adornment, and we do a disservice to our children if we think them unable and unwilling to accept the truth of God on His terms.
We have documented in this article a trend that is very disturbing. It is not overstating the case to say that we are in a battle for our children. Our criticism of such efforts as mentioned above should not be misunderstood. There are those who are extremely dedicated to the welfare of the youth in our churches, and have made it their work to encourage them. This attitude is laudable, and we do not want to discourage anyone from strengthening the faith of our youth. However, some who are wanting to help our youth are misguided in their attempts, and do a disservice rather than encouraging them in their faith.
We do not want to send our young people to a college run by brethren if we can't trust that they will be taught the truth while there. We don't want to send our children to summer camps run by brethren if an appeal to emotionalism is the rule. We don't want to have our children attend youth retreats and lectureships if they get the idea that fun and frolic is the work of the church. While we want our children to know how very precious their souls are, we do not want them to think that the work of the church is to cater to their whims.
Brethren, this is what the institutional churches have done. While they have large numbers, they do not have convicted Christian youth, who know and practice the truth. Let us use the wisdom of God in teaching our young.
e-mail Stan Cox
return to Watchman front page