Regarding instructions given to Moses and the Hebrew people as they walked up out of the dry bed of the Red Sea in their flight from Egypt into the Wilderness of Sinai, or as they stood by the raging floodwaters of the Jordan River, some of the clearest was regarding the generations to come. “Leave markers,” said Yahweh, “so that your sons will have signposts to follow.
Celebrate the Passover meal you shared in Egypt on that last night so that your children will understand God’s compassion and power to deliver them when they are held captive. Carry stones up out of the River Jordan and build an altar, a marker that will remind your children in generations to come of the faithfulness of God to keep His promises. Keep a bowl of Manna in the Ark of the Covenant as a symbol of God’s provision, alongside the stone tablets bearing the Law so they will know of His Holiness and Justice.
In Deuteronomy 6 and in Psalm 78, fathers are urged to diligently teach the precepts of the Law and the testimony of God’s faithful dealings with equal emphasis. This, so that it might go well with them in the land; they, their sons, and their son’s sons (Deut. 6); and, so that the generations not yet born might “set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.” (Psalm 78)
Some time ago, I spent a weekend in the company of some 70 young people who gathered in our area for a few hours of fellowship, worship, and strong teaching from the Word of God. It was exciting to find them gathered in a place of worship, filled with joy and a sense of safety. It was also encouraging to be in the company of young men and women who are not just willing, but eager to walk arm in arm with their spiritual fathers and to seek out the markers left by the generations who have walked before them.
By and large, we have become a generation that has failed to leave clear markers for our children. We have not left altars formed out of the rocks taken from the turbulent waters we have passed through. In fact, in many cases, we are pulling those signposts down; leaving our children with no clear direction to follow so that it may “go well with them.” Certainly in the national sense, this is true. We have become a perpetually offended society, bent upon destroying any commemoration of past victories as well as any reminders of our failures. Our children have little knowledge of the ancient proverb that admonishes us, “do not move the ancient landmark that your ancestors set in place.” (Proverbs 22:28)
We find ourselves in a season of pulling down statues and monuments, hiding flags, rejecting crosses, covering artwork, erasing our history; publishing revised historical narratives; vilifying our forefathers, obliterating their contributions to our history and naming them now, as villains. It is as if men are intent on erasing their parents and rejecting all that has gone before. Is it because as fathers we have failed to “diligently” teach our children and have outsourced that sacred task to others? We have Gibeonites among us who have come to obliterate our narrative and replace it with another. (Joshua 9)
Even in the church, the markers have begun to fall. In an effort to move away from sterile and ritualistic religion toward a rich, relational, and dynamic faith, we have destroyed many of the powerful markers that uniquely identify us as a people of God. Walk into many of our Sunday School classes and you will find children being presented with a collection of colorful and entertaining Bible stories that are not clearly tied to their proper context in the Biblical narrative. Children grow up having learned a series of stories, but missing is the great metanarrative revealed in the Scriptures. The consequence is a generation of adults who may remember the stories but have little or no ability to connect the truth of those stories in a way that will guide them in making important, moral choices in their lives.
Of late, I have lamented many churches have abandoned the catechism; a vehicle where children are systematically taught the deep truths of the record of God’s revelation of Himself so that they have a true picture of who God is and what He is like. In fact, we have re-established catechism in some of our children’s ministries here in Vermont. The fact is that without systematic teaching regarding the character of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, many are left with a caricature of God; a cartoon that overly accentuates some aspects of His divine nature while diminishing or minimizing others. The result is that we now have a generation of Christians that may know the plotline of many of the stories of the Christian faith but have no understanding of the context that surrounds those stories or the purpose for which they were recorded.
Alas, many of the markers left by our fathers have begun to come down. God’s truth and holiness are being rewritten into a narrative that exalts experience and relationship over truth. Like the culture around us, we are seeking to become less offensive and more relevant. We have failed to realize that our task is not to conform the gospel to culture, but that the culture should rightly be converted, becoming conformed to the Kingdom of Heaven. As we have sought to become more accepting, we have given birth to a generation that believes that God is not only accepting of them but also accepting of their sin. A “transformational” gospel has been replaced by a constantly morphing, socially relevant, and culturally adaptive relationship with a God who may or may not really be there at all; but if He is, He is not really concerned about my sinfulness, my rebellion, my perversion, or any of those other morally irrelevant issues.
In order to remain comfortable with this new and more accommodating gospel, we’ve had to tear down a lot of the altars left by our fathers in the faith. We now teach grace without responsibility, cleansing without confession, salvation without repentance, and atonement that has replaced the sign of the cross with a bumper sticker. Jesus didn’t really die to “pay for my sins.” His life was simply a metaphor for true friendship. There can’t be a real hell, for how could a “good God” condemn His own children to such a place? Churches are pulling down the cross because it is offensive to Muslims and putting copies of the Koran in the backs of pews alongside the Holy Scriptures because we all serve the “same god;” we just call Him by different names.
We hang banners on our churches declaring that “God is still speaking;” but this is God 2.1, who has capitulated to the wantonness of His own creation, speaking now only what we want to hear. Instead of teaching our children to form their lives around the standards of the Holy Scriptures, we sit in judgment of the Word of God and rewrite the scriptures; adapting the Holy Writ to current cultural norms.
New markers have been erected which point to a future with little or no reference to the past and because of it, our children are a generation that is wandering around in the wilderness of an uncertain world, placing markers wherever our desires, experience, or libido wants them.
I often hear men lament the rebellious, undisciplined, disrespectful, and lascivious attitude of modern young people. We must, however, be confronted with the harsh truth that this is a generation of our own making. It is a generation that has few markers left. They have all been pulled down. New markers have been erected which point to a future with little or no reference to the past and because of it, our children are a generation that is wandering around in the wilderness of an uncertain world, placing markers wherever our desires, experience, or libido wants them. They have lost their way and the signposts have been burned, the cairns have been pulled down and scattered, and a new generation is engaged in cartography with neither compass or sextant. Leadership has been reduced to a wet thumb thrust into the wind.
Who knows where we will end up?