Ask the average Christian of the 21 st century what the future holds and you will most likely get a bleak picture of misery.
The world, he says, is getting worse and worse. But we need not worry: we will be happily raptured from this earthly mess. There’s no need to invest too much time or effort in the affairs of this world because the world is not going well and its Christian population will not be around much longer anyway.
What are the implications of such a sour eschatology? Christians now lack the victorious vision Christ laid before His beloved church before He ascended to Heaven. The church got its marching orders from Christ, “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Mt. 28:18-20, emphasis added).
At Pentecost, the church received the power to carry out its mission, “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which you now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, ‘the Lord said unto my Lord, sit Thou on My right hand, until I make thy foes a footstool.’ Therefore, let all the House of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ”(Ac. 2:33, emphasis added).
Now, with His Spirit dwelling in us, we are to take dominion of this fallen world. We are to make disciples of all the nations. We are to teach our children diligently the law of God. We are to press the crown rights of King Jesus into all of society. The schools, the stores, the courtrooms, the airwaves, the town square; all are to submit to His lordship. Christ expects it! Why don’t we?
We’ve Lost Our Vision
The church of America has lost its vision. I say “lost” because it wasn’t always so.
Look back to the formative years of our country, observe the vital faith of our Puritan fathers. Although they were comparatively few in number, they were in leadership positions in all the colonies, and influenced all areas of society. (In fact, King George III never referred to an American Revolution, but called the events of 1776 the Presbyterian rebellion.) America was to spread the gospel by being that City on a Hill proclaiming Christ in the lives of its citizens as well as its government.
These early Americans were Calvinists. Theirs was a desire to usher in the days of which Isaiah spoke. The great Puritan preacher, Jonathan Edwards voiced the same desire when he wrote, “The world was ruined as to man as effectively as if it were reduced to a chaos again, all heavens and earth were overthrown. But the design was to restore all, as it were to create [new heavens and a new earth]. The work which was to be done was begun immediately after the Fall and so is carried on till all is finished at the end of the whole world, heaven and earth shall be restored.”1
This preaching infused its hearers with the vision of gospel prosperity. John Calvin set the Puritan heart ablaze, “So in this prayer we ask that, with all impediment removed, He may bring all mortals under His command, and lead them to consider the life of Heaven…so we pray that…the whole world may come over to Him…and now as the Kingdom of God increases, stage upon stage, to the end of the world, we must every day pray for its coming. As far as iniquity holds the world in its sway, so far is the Kingdom of God absent, for complete righteousness must come in its train.”2
It was imperative for each household to train up children in their faith. A properly ordered family was paramount to the Puritans. Thomas Cobbett wrote, “[T]he greatest love and faithfulness which parents as covenanters can show to God, and to their children, who in and with themselves are joint covenanters with God, is so to educate them, that…the conditions of the covenant may be attended by their children, and so the whole covenant fully effected.”3 A well-ordered family had even civil implications. The Reforming Synod of 1679 convening in Boston proclaimed, “Most of the evils that abound amongst us, proceed from defects as to family government.”4 As covenant head, the Puritan father was obliged to catechize his children not only grounding them in the faith but also teaching them how to be good citizens.
Cotton Mather, at the birth of his son, drew up his own catechism for the child. He also copied down Scripture verses he felt his son should memorize. If Mather thought the world was going to hell in a handcart, would he have bothered with his son’s religious training? No, but Mather was not a victim of 21st century mythology. He was a Calvinist who felt burdened by the weight of his neighbors’ (and his families’) glory.
Today one is hard pressed to find the optimistic conviction of Mather or our Puritan ancestors. To catechize our children seems punitive. Children have no idea of their Christian heritage. Do they know the history of the church, the very Bride of Christ? Do they read the precious creeds that have kept heresy at bay? Do they know of the heroes who gave their lives that this Bride might flourish? Most importantly, do they know what they believe, and can they defend it?
During a Sunday school class recently, I asked the children what they knew of Martin Luther. I got two different but equally sad answers. The children either had no idea who Martin Luther was, or they began to tell me about civil rights and Rosa Parks. In this the church and we parents are equally culpable. It’s the shame of America that our children are so ignorant. And we will not escape God’s judgment because of it.
Dumbing It Down
Evangelicalism today eschews Christian history in favor of sappy, watered down, self-help books being produced by the hundreds. These literary embarrassments are filled with tortured Scripture and humanist philosophy.
For example, Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, a book that has been on the New York Times best-seller list, scours through fifteen versions of the Bible until he finds just the right “scripture” that comports with his message. In one instance, he quotes the “New Century Bible” so he can make the point that God simply wants us to love one another with no frame of reference; we are left to our own imaginations as to what form this “love” should take. The New Century interprets 2 John 1:6: “Love means living the way God commanded us to live. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is this: live a life of love.” In light of what this passage of Scripture truly says, this is an abomination!
John is reminding believers that following the law of God is not new, but has been the same expression of love that it was from the beginning. 2 John 1:6 rightly read is thus not a verse about love, it is a verse commanding obedience to the law of God. John writes: “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.”
Such worthless fluff abounds on the shelves of America’s Christian “trinket” stores. Gems such as, The Dieter’s Prayer Book, The Bible Cure for Weight-loss and Faith Based Fitness are wildly popular.
Is it any wonder the Muslims are winning? While they train their children in the tenants of their false religion, Christians are wondering, “What Would Jesus Eat?”
Is it any wonder our churches are now havens for more tortured Scripture and humanist philosophy? Christianity is no longer the precious faith we’ve inherited from generations of heroes. It has been reduced to a warm, happy feeling. Christianity is not our body and soul, it’s our goosebumps and “hallelujahs.”
Our children do not inherit a legacy of faith. Instead, they need to fumble in the darkness of their parents’ ignorance. Instead of catechizing them, we wait with our fingers crossed, hoping they’ll make “a decision for Christ.”
As one despairing missionary reported recently, the children he works with (covenant children all) are “trying to figure out forthemselves what they believe about the Bible and Christianity.” This would have been unconscionable to Puritans. Theirs was the inheritance of a solid and living faith grounded in solid and living Scripture. A faith that animated every facet of their lives, handed down to each generation. It was the families’ greatest treasure.
Today’s church displays an effeminate, impotent faith that lasts until the last tambourine stops jingling.
A New Start
Oh, that we could remember our heritage; let us fear the Lord and awaken our memories. The Lord’s righteousness will not be known in a land of forgetfulness! (Ps. 88:12)
Oh, that we would embrace anew Christ’s own expectations for this world. “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool” (Heb. 10:12). And realizing this expectation, raise our covenant families with the wonderful assurance that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Is. 11:9, emphasis added).
As another wonderful Puritan, Isaac Watts, wrote, “He comes to make His blessings known as far as the curse is found.” The world is not going to hell in a handcart! The gospel will go forth in power!
But not by down-trodden pessimists who only cling to Christ to receive material goods and relief from their aches and pains.
Christian! You were redeemed by the blood of Christ for a purpose. Raise your children in the one, true faith so many have lived and died for. Catechize them so they’ll teach their own covenant children. Think beyond your own needs and the woes today might bring.
Pull the bow of your teaching back far enough and with strength enough that the arrow of faith will be sent flying through a thousand generations. Give your children a heritage they can hold, eyes that see the kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and a voice of victory that proclaims “He shall have dominion.” Let them take hold of the faith of their fathers.
If our children only inherit mantras, slogans and bracelets with questions on them (WWJD?), our children will only inherit the wind.
1. Jonathan Edwards, A History of the Work of Redemption (1739), Sermon 1.
2. John Calvin, Synoptics, 1:207-8. cf. Thomas Scott, Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments with Explanatory Notes, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: Lippencott, 1868); 3:28.
3. Edmund Morgan, “A Fruitful and Useful Discourse,” Puritan Family, 91.
4. Kerry Ptacek, Family and Government in Puritan New England (Birmingham, AL: The Covenant Family Fellowship, 1995).