I frequently hear parents complain about the way kids act these days. Even the parents of kids that grow up in the church register the same complaints. It seems ironic that there should be a decline in the character of young people, at least among church kids, for the simple fact that no self-respecting church is without a substantial, sometimes inordinately substantial, youth program. Most churches wouldn’t be caught dead with a hip youth pastor that knows how to communicate to the kids “in their own language.”
I could say a lot about this phenomenon. I could question the wisdom of teaching our young people maturity by supplying them with a pastor who behaves like one of them. I could question the entire practice of segregating young people and tailoring ministry to them (since Scripture provides no precedent). But I will restrict myself to showing what our churches used to teach their young people.
The following advice comes from a book entitled Thoughts on Religious Experience, by Archibald Alexander (1772-1851). Alexander was the first professor of Princeton Seminary, so it may be said with confidence that he knew about teaching young people.
Here is Alexander’s advice to young people:
1. Aim at consistency in your Christian character. Alexander warns about compartmentalizing one’s life, therefore being inconsistent in character – being guided by principle in some areas of life, but by custom and fashion in other areas.
2. Let your relationships with others be marked by a strict and conscientious regard to truth, honor, justice, kindness and courtesy. Here Alexander encourages young people to be guided by the Golden Rule, giving the proper respect where it is due and being forgiving of others’ shortcomings.
3. Govern your tongue. More sin is committed by the tongue than any other part of the body. If one cannot control his tongue, his “religion is in vain” (James 1:26). This includes, Alexander stresses, all profane speech, obscenity and falsehood. Scripture warns that “in the multitude of words there wanteth not sin” (Prov. 10:19). Talking too much will get you into trouble. Double entendres and sexually suggestive language anesthetizes one to the inappropriateness of such behavior among Christians and inevitably leads to temptation.
4. Keep a good conscience. It is important to have a biblically informed conscience, first of all. Our consciences only guide us according to the best standard we have been taught. But presuming we have been taught God’s Word, it is of utmost importance to never violate one’s conscience. Paul warns of one having a “seared” conscience, one that no longer feels hesitant about sin, because it has been frequently ignored.
5. Learn to bear affliction with fortitude and resignation. Here is a great lesson for our degenerate, nihilistic and narcissistic age. Christ resigned Himself to the Father’s will even under the most difficult of circumstances, saying, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” The sort of patience and strength which Scripture commends can never be developed by people who will not tolerate adversity. Christian maturity comes inevitably through hardship.
6. Cherish and diligently cultivate genuine piety. Alexander notes that “Early piety is the most beautiful spectacle in the world.” By piety we mean holiness. Our society has so conditioned us that we shrink from holiness because we actually believe that it will detract from our happiness. It is a reproach on our Creator to indulge such a thought. Holiness of life is God’s aim in saving us. Someone has said that God never justifies a man He doesn’t intend to sanctify. God intends to conform us to the image of His Son. Christian life with no living notion of holiness and continual growth in holiness, is no Christian life at all.
7. Seek Divine direction and aid by incessant fervent prayer. It used to be the hallmark of an unbeliever to pray only when he was in trouble: “God, if You get me out of this fix, I promise I’ll serve You.” But since Evangelicalism has turned God into a slightly glorified coach, most so-called “Christian” prayer is no better. Right doctrine is of little avail if we only seek God’s guidance as a last resort because we can’t solve our own problems. It is easy to be a Calvinist orthodox in theology, yet brazenly Pelagian in practice.
Alexander concludes with this final “serious and affectionate recommendation:
8. Make immediate preparation for death. Happy-go-lucky, healthy young people may not want to think about this subject. But the fact is young people die every day. Alexander also points out that nothing makes a person slow down and think twice than a grasp of the fact that death must be encountered by everyone. It can come at any time for anyone. Will we insanely close our eyes to this reality? Repentance towards God for all our sins, trust and reliance on Christ’s atoning sacrifice, regeneration of heart, and a renewed life – these are the proper preparations for death.
I wonder what our youth groups would produce if they were fed this kind of teaching?