Recovering the Spiritual Family
Five hundred years ago, transformational revivals spread across Europe. Entire nations were reshaped by passionate believers who had returned to the truths of only Scripture, only grace, only faith, only Christ, and all for the glory of God. Churches were planted. Missionaries were sent out. The world has never been the same.
But consider the spiritual state of Europe today. It is estimated that only 1-2% of the population are born again. Islam is on the rise in Europe and radical Islamists were filling European nations simply by having many children and raising them to follow Allah. Within a few short years, France quickly followed by other european nations will become Islamic states – without a shot ever being fired. EUROPE HAS FALLEN
How could this have happened? How can an entire continent go from spiritual vitality to spiritual desolation? While many factors were involved, the final answer is simple. The believers in Europe lost the souls of their children, generation after generation. If we do not “make disciples” of our own children and grandchildren spiritual decline is inevitable.
The church in North America is following the same tragic path. Since 1900, the percentage of Bible believing Christians has been in decline. Despite what you may hear on “Christian Television” – the church in the west is loosing the battle and is in serious decline of believers who claim to follow Christ and who can give a cogent, understandable reason for their faith.
Researcher Thom Rainer gives some alarming figures in recent studies. The answer sought in his study is simple: What percentage of Americans identify themselves as Christians and understand that being a Christian means putting one’s faith in Christ alone for salvation? Here’s what he found. Among Americans born before 1946, 65 percent identified themselves as Christians and were able to articulate the basics of the gospel. For those born between 1946 and 1964, the number dropped to 35 percent. For those born between 1965 and 1976, it fell to a scant 15 percent. Finally, among Americans born between 1974 and 1994, only 4 percent of the population identified themselves as Christians and had trusted Christ alone for salvation. In other words, while many in America claim to be Christian – they no longer can tell you why they believe they are a Christian. Many no longer believe the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, or that Jesus is the only way to salvation. They no longer believe in the moral absolutes and believe that there are many viable ways to reach heaven. AMERICA IS FALLING.
Evangelism and discipleship are in dire crisis, and it is a generational crisis. There may be a few adults walking through our doors, but a generation of our children are running out the back door. One way of stating it is that our “death” rate among believers is greater than our “new birth rate”. As a result, the percentage of Bible-believing Christians in the United States is in steady decline.
But this is crazy isn’t it? This is the age of mega-churches, mega-programming, mega-budgets, mega-conferences, and mega-leadership training. We have Christian books, DVDs, and curriculum for every age group on every subject. Our outreach events, service days, retreats, and short-term mission trips are never ending. We are doing more than ever before, but we are loosing our children.
When a child is born into an Islamic family, his father leans over and whispers into his ear, “Islam was chosen for you,” and from that moment that father assumes the responsibility to “disciple” that child in the principles of Islam. In America, we leave it up to the church and the average christian parent has little or no spiritual input in that child’s life. We leave it up to the professionals. We live in the age of age-segregated, building based evangelism and discipleship. We have abandoned the biblical model of family discipleship and delegated the spiritual training of our children to “professionals” at church. I led this model at a large church for a number of years. One of the unintended consequences of my ministry approach which systematically separated children from their parents was that parents were free to remain spiritually passive regarding the spiritual training and discipleship of their children. After all, they were making sure that their son or daughter was involved in a “great youth group.”
Our new model is a dramatic departure from the approach of the early church and the reformation. It was common practice for church leaders in the 1600s to regularly visit the home of each family in the church to assess whether or not the parents were discipling their children through the regular practice of family worship. In 1647, believers in Scotland published the Directory for Family Worship in which they wrote: The assembly requires and appoints ministers to make diligent search and inquiry, whether there be among them a family or families which neglect the duty of family worship. If such a family is found, the head of the family is to be admonished privately to amend his fault; and in case of his continuing therein, he is to be gravely and sadly reproved by the session; after which reproof, if he is found still to neglect family worship, let him be, for his obstinacy in such an offense, suspended and debarred from the Lord’s supper, until he amend.
Family worship was a major issue of church discipline. Why did these churches take it so seriously? Why did they invest so much time going from home to home to encourage and ensure that family worship was taking place? Family worship was a top priority because they were passionate about the Great Commission. They knew God had spoken clearly in the Bible that parents and grandparents were to take the lead in the spiritual training of their children and grandchildren. For them, a church could not be serious about the Great Commission if it was not serious about family worship.
Charles Spurgeon was deeply concerned about the changes which were occurring in Christian culture during the late 19th Century. In his article, “The Kind of Revival We Need,” he wrote:We deeply want a revival of family religion. The Christian family was the bulwark of godliness in the days of the puritans, but in these evil times hundreds of families of so-called Christians have no family worship, no restraint upon growing sons, and no wholesome instruction or discipline. How can we hope to see the kingdom of our Lord advance when His own disciples do not teach His gospel to their own children? Oh, Christian men and women, be thorough in what you do and know and teach! Let your families be trained in the fear of God and be yourselves ‘holiness unto the Lord,’ so shall you stand like a rock amid the surging waves of error and ungodliness which rage around us.
Spurgeon’s message is desperately needed today! Godly men and women in growing churches receive the constant call to get involved in “ministry.” Often “ministry” is synonymous with “volunteering at a church program.” Spurgeon understood that “to see the kingdom of our Lord advance” ministry needed to begin at home.