The end of one year and the beginning of another is a regular time of reflection. As time ticks on, we grow more aware of how quickly it does so. That awareness has a way of making us soberly assess what’s important and what’s not. Often, when we identify what is eternally important, we are content to let many other things go undone without any sense of guilt. Those things don’t matter like they used to.
People often remark that the church is always one generation away from decimation. While that may be true of any local congregation, we can rest assured that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church of Christ.
There is, however, some truth to the sentiment. Institutions of all stripes destroy themselves when they fail to communicate their core values and concepts to the next generation. Why are many churches hemorrhaging membership, especially among the generations under 55?
I offer that we (meaning many in the American church) have misidentified our core values and concepts for too long. While many churches have focused on building good relationships and therapeutic preaching and teaching, there are many concepts that have collected dust. Some have grown a little mildew, and others could gag a maggot.
I was talking just this morning to a friend about the importance of writing things down. Sometimes writing or journaling is like talking to someone else (in the non-schizophrenic sense). You get a lot of clarity, as if you’re playing Plinko with your thoughts. You're throwing all of them down from your brain and funneling your thoughts down through your fingers. By the time they settle on the screen or paper, they're neat and orderly. The following reflection is a result of trying to think myself clear. What values and concepts do I need to both live by myself and make sure I pass on to the next generation?
What about you? Do the following values and concepts seem familiar to you, or do you need to commit to establishing these in your life in the coming year?
Do I believe in justification by grace through faith? That we are declared righteous based on the merits of Christ? That his righteousness is imputed to us only by the good pleasure of God the Father? That our sins were imputed to the crucified Christ as he substituted himself on behalf of God’s people in every age?
Do I believe in the necessity of the new birth? That Christ calls us to faith and repentance? That salvation is entirely of God’s mercy? That good works are evidence of saving faith? That the Christian will fight sin and temptation throughout all of his or her life? That spiritual warfare begins at conversion? That no one but God alone—not the state, the family, or even the church—can do the work of conversion?
Do I believe historic theology proper? That God is three persons of one substance? That the Trinity is the bedrock of our faith? That each person of the Godhead participates in creation and redemption? That the Father decrees redemption, the Son purchased redemption, and the Spirit applies redemption? That the Father and the Son agreed in eternity past that the Father would send the Son to redeem a people for the Father and the Son would receive a kingdom in return for his faithfulness?
Do I believe in the glory of God? That God is perfectly good without any defect or imperfection? That we must be hidden from his glory or perish in his presence? That he is beautiful beyond comparison? That heaven and earth teach us that God is glorious? That God will not share his glory but is jealous for it above all else? That everything we do should be done in order to glorify him?
Do I believe in the authority of Scripture? That Scripture dictates not only the way of salvation but also the law of God? That the law of God is good for teaching us the righteous demands of holiness? That God is the ultimate author of Scripture? That it speaks with one voice? That every word is necessary and true? That the Bible is the highest authority for the Christian and is to interpret itself?
Do I believe that worship is not a service to me but to God? That God determines what happens in worship? That it’s not about entertaining the lost but calling them to repentance and faith and edifying the believers? That anything that distracts from blessing God through hearing and obeying his word should be eliminated, no matter how precious it is to us?
Do I believe biblical anthropology, or what the Bible teaches about mankind? That man is not inherently good but is by nature an enemy of God? That the heart deceives itself and is not to be trusted? That every individual is accountable for his or her life before a righteous, transcendent God? That every part of us—mind, body, and soul—is affected by sin? That God gives rebellious mankind over to the sins we love so much as his judgment upon us?
Do I believe that Jesus is coming again? That he will exhibit his dominion over creation and every man and woman who’s ever lived? That every knee will bow to him as king? That he will separate the righteous and the reprobate and send them to their eternal destinies, whether it be with him in the new Jerusalem or in the lake of fire? That everyone will stand before him and give an accounting of their deeds, whether their own deeds performed in sin or the righteous deeds of Christ performed on their behalf? That judgment day determines an unchangeable sentence?
Do I believe in a grace and mercy that is beyond finite, human comprehension? That God loves his enemies? That Christ died for us while we hated him? That he reconciled us to the Father and took the initiative in salvation when we were without the strength or desire to do so? That God has spared us from an eternal demand of justice and instead poured out his mercy with such liberality that we will never grasp the height, depth, width, and length of it? That he is responsible for salvation from beginning to end? That he rejoices when a sinner repents and adopts us into his family? That he accepts such meager, laughable good works with the joy of a loving father toward his child? That he withholds nothing from us that is for our good and his glory?
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if people don’t find the church-at-large compelling, especially if the church looks like the world and has nothing to say to the culture. Maybe a little clarity about our core values and convictions is just what we need, no matter if people like it…at first. Nobody is glad to hear that they’re diabetic or have cancer or can’t button those jeans anymore.
But a little courage and a commitment to the truth pays dividends in this generation and the next. Let’s commit to passing on core values and convictions to those coming after us. That starts with you and me believing these things and holding to them firmly.