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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Youth Group Eclipsing Grace? Can God Compete?


"Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul." J.I. Packer

Is the Christian church training our young people in the way that they shouldn't go by not teaching them that corporate worship and the study of God is essential to living the Christian life?

Don't get me wrong. I am not against youth group (necessarily). My question is why is it that so many in the church today are preoccupied with a vibrant youth ministry yet not the least bit faithful in joining with the church in corporate prayer, the sacraments, corporate worship and fellowship, and the hearing of God's word? I am afraid that there might be too many parents raising children in the church who are looking for spirituality in all the wrong places.

Too often young people in the church are looking to meet God under rocks. What a shame that is. If for nothing else, for the sake of Christ's sheep, shouldn't the church be instructing them in the God ordained means of grace? We have children who, as Lewis said, "go on making mud pies in a slum because they cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." Some will undoubtedly say, "Oh but Ron, we must meet our children where they are!" No, I say. We must do better than that. We must no not only meet our children where they are; we must teach our children where they must meet God! Let's not do one without the other.

Is there liberty to give my children donuts for dinner? Well of course there is but how profitable would it be? Two things that must be considered are what would they be receiving in the actual meal and what would I be teaching them about good nourishment? In the like manner, is youth group lawful? Well of course it is but what can they receive in youth group as compared to corporate worship and what would we be teaching them about their need for corporate worship if we allow youth group to be a greater priority in the young person’s life than the corporate worship of God? I am against a "vibrant" youth group if such a mindset reduces to giving children dessert prior to them feasting on the main meal. Let's do both. If a church is detetermined to have a "youth group", then make it an excellent one by emphasizing the priority of corporate worship and all that it entails. I question, however, that if youth resonate with that, then will there even be any great need for youth group? Won't fellowship in various homes suffice?

"If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it."

Plain and simple from the prophet Isaiah, if the young people of the church really want to delight in the Lord, then they should not seek to find their own pleasure on Sunday but rather do those things pleasing to God, which can largely be accomplished by receiving the grace that is dispensed during the corporate worship of God. Doing the Lord's pleasure on Sunday is a sufficient condition for delighting in the Lord; so let's get back to basics, shall we? Whether or not Word and Sacrament is what people want -- it is what we desperately need. I've got an idea: let's teach about Word and Sacrament in youth group!

Jane Austen’s Mr. Bennet said to his silly daughter Kitty, "You go to Brighton!—I would not trust you so near it as East-Bourne, for fifty pounds! No, Kitty, I have at last learnt to be cautious, and you will feel the effects of it. No officer is ever to enter my house again, nor even to pass through the village. Balls will be absolutely prohibited, unless you stand up with one of your sisters. And you are never to stir out of doors till you can prove that you have spent ten minutes of every day in a rational manner."

Bennet finally got it right on behalf of his daughter Kitty but at the high cost of his youngest daughter Lydia’s dignity. He finally learned that certain privileges must be earned by a demonstration of an appreciation of what is needful. Until Kitty could prove that she could be sober minded for even ten minutes, she was not permitted to stir outdoors. Note well that the requirement was a precondition to function well in the reward that was before her. In other words, Kitty would not even be able to operate well outdoors unless she had learned to be sober minded indoors. In the like manner, is it really that unreasonable to strive to teach our Christian young people to have an appreciation and affection for the inner sanctum of the church prior to cutting them loose outdoors, to be “spiritual” in youth group? Let's not try to shortcut God's ways in an effort to know God better.

For a description of what a great youth group might look like, maybe take a peek here: http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=720&var3=searchresults&var4=Search&var5=youth_group

Ron

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4 comments:

August said...

"Some will undoubtedly say, "Oh but Ron, we must meet our children where they are!" To which I would say, "No, we must teach our children where they must meet God!""

Very true, and applicable to everyone, not only the youth. I know the focus of this post was the youth, but many of the things you mention also apply to all people.

razzendahcuben said...

Pride and Prejudice... hmmm. Maybe I could get my mom and sister to read this blog.

Good post.

Anonymous said...

Ron:

This is common in the baptistic evangelical community. It has no place in the Reformed church, does it?

Steve

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Steve,

Baptistic theology lends itself more to this sort of thing because as a general rule they have a low view of the Lord’s Supper and without question an unbiblical view of baptism and, therefore, the doctrine of the church. Moreover, typically speaking Baptists due to their tendencies toward independency and rugged individualism do not place as high a premium on the corporate aspect of grace that is imparted and received through Word, Sacrament and prayer, which are the primary ministries of the church. Indeed, the means of grace that too often take a back seat to church activities are the very necessary conditions for the church’s existence. Even with respect to the Word, Reformed confessions emphasize the preached word over and above personal devotions for reasons I won’t take time to expound upon. Let me just say that even personal devotions on a daily basis are not as essential to the Christian life as hearing good preaching every Sunday.

Too often we see people join churches based upon the quality of the choir or whether the church offers Christian Boy Scouts. There is often little or no consideration given to the doctrinal ministry of the church. Given such a low view of God’s means of appointment with respect to receiving Christ, hymn sings and pot luck dinners have replaced preaching, prayer and communion in many evangelical churches. Even Grudem places fellowship on par with the Sacraments and prayer as a means of grace.

Now to your point… Reformed standards embrace all of what is sound. It’s rather basic to Calvin and the Confessions to have a proper emphasis on the corporate means of grace. What I have in view is the general evangelical landscape but I can’t point fingers. Reformed churches struggle in this regard too. It saddens me greatly when people leave Reformed churches in order that their children can be part of a vibrant youth group. Accordingly, I think Reformed church’s must do better in this regard and offer fine youth groups where our youth can prosper in the Lord. With that in mind, let me refer you back to the link that will take you to the article first published in Modern Reformation.

Ron