One of the young people at the congregation where I attend recently asked whether she should start attending at the Baptist congregation across the street. I could have answered her on so many theological levels, but simply replied that we loved her where she was. Another teen responded that she should go where she feels the love of God the most. This conversation only showed me something I have suspected for years.
The group that calls themselves the Church of Christ has long been considered a people of the book. We can quote book, chapter, and verse for almost everything that we do, including some things where the scripture quoted only marginally applies. For a long time much of the growth of the church in the United States could be attributed to baptizing our own children. In recent years there has been a decline in membership of the church. Some attribute it, in part, to smaller families in the United States. If a couple has only one child, that growth would not even match the death rate, and therefore there is a decline in numbers. Even when you factor in the numbers of people being converted, though, the decline appears to be greater than just because of smaller families. Part of the decline has to be that we are no longer teaching our children why we do what we do, and why we believe what we believe.
I have met adults, even in my home congregation, who have been baptized, but have stated that they are no longer convinced that immersion is the point at which one is saved. That is the bedrock difference between the churches of Christ and many other groups that call themselves Christian. If our own adults no longer believe the clear teaching of the scriptures on immersion, then they are not teaching our children that, either. Although there are other fundamental differences between us and the Baptists, if one of our young people cannot see that difference then somebody has failed her. Nor can the blame be planted exclusively on the parent. When others her own age are advising her that the only difference is “where you feel the love of God,” then the fault lies in the teachers in the church as well.
If salvation were the only question, however, then one could advise this person that if she has already been saved she could attend wherever she wanted. Although I am a firm opponent of instrumental music in the worship of the church, I accept that there are circumstances in which even I could attend a congregation that used instruments. I admit I would have difficulty in many such congregations, where the singing is more like entertainment and less like worship. There are obviously a number of basic differences or we would not assemble separately. Have we, as a church, failed to teach those differences and why they are important? Apparently, in some cases we have.
I know for a fact that most congregations do not teach their youth about the differences between modern Premillennialism and the teachings of God in the Bible, even though that is probably one of the headline issues in the world today. We have stopped, in many cases, teaching a belief in God’s creation of the world as described in Genesis. We have bought into the “many roads to God” theory, in spite of Acts 4:12. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
One problem is that I suspect that doctrinal issues were not even behind the question. That congregation is larger and the “worship” is more entertaining. If that is the reason (and I am not sure it is), then we have really failed our teens. If we have not taught that what we believe is as important as how we feel, if not more important, then we have lost sight of the purpose of teaching.
We should teach love for one another. We should diminish an emphasis on attacking others. But that must not be at the expense of teaching essential truths that others do not teach. It must not be at the expense of teaching that some differences are so important that they could make all the difference in the world—this one or the next.