You may have seen movies where parents were portrayed as forceful, church-going people who shoved their noisy kids down in the pew while smooshing their index finger into the child’s lips whispering, “be quiet!” Throughout the late 1800s and nearly the entirety of the 20th century, parents often struggled taking their children to church. In fact, they still do. Kids can be a pain when it comes to getting up on a Sunday morning, getting dressed, and running off to church with a wrenched-open smile for all to see.
But the tide is turning.
The movies which portray the constant dismay of children in church are becoming, well, irrelevant. As the church recovers the rich theology of the Protestant Reformation, and thus a theology of the church, children are learning not only that Christians are supposed to go to church, but they are learning the biblical-theological significance of the church. Below, I propose three elements contributing to why the youth will be the ones waking the older, religiously indifferent, generations up for church.
1. Reformation Resurgence
It’s no mystery, even within mainstream Evangelicalism, that there is a resurgence of Reformational theology and practice. Some traditionalists don’t like this, but I think it’s the greatest thing that God has blessed the church with since Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses upon the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. Calvinism, more specifically the Doctrines of Grace, have become highly popularized over the last 10 years or so.
However, the Reformation Resurgence hasn’t stopped at the soteriological Doctrines of Grace alone. With an interest in Calvinistic theology has come a love for the old Calvinistic library. You can’t fall in love with the theology of the Reformation (what I call biblical theology) without also reading the words of those who God used to turn the church upside down. In John Calvin and Luther, for instance, we not only read about their respective views concerning God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, but we also see discussions on doctrines such as the Lord’s Supper.
The doctrines the Reformation authors focused on—doctrines like sacramentology, Trinitarian theology, justification, etc.—cause one to ask the questions like, “Why did they see these doctrines as being so important? Why hasn’t my church provided much teaching on these things in Sunday school or small groups? If they did teach on these things, where was the depth?” These questions, asked by my generation because of a lack of answers and in light of Reformational literature, has fueled a massive recovery of the way things ought to be within the body of Christ.
2. True Believers Know There’s More to This Thing
There are a lot of youth who sit through church, yet have never made a valid profession of faith. But there are many young people who love Jesus, who have been born again, while at the same time sensing the theological and spiritual deficiency within their local church. There are youngsters who know there’s more. By God’s grace, some of these young people are restless and inquisitive. They begin to ask questions and receive unconvincing answers. They dig, dig, and do some more digging. They, perhaps, talk to other Christians, read books, commentaries—they read the Bible front to back—and they discover that there truly is more!
Meanwhile parents and grandparents witness their children and grandchildren going through something they don’t quite know how to deal with. The depth of godly knowledge and spiritual maturity God has wrought in some of these young people is truly astonishing. This is a depth achieved by the Spirit of God working in the lives of these young Christians. The previous generations see a new, unfamiliar, attitude toward the faith. But this is simply the fruit of God’s theological truth in practice. It’s not a new posture whatsoever. From Paul in the New Testament, to Augustine in the 5th century, to Wycliffe or Tyndale during the dawn of the Reformation, this zeal has been quite common in the church.
In fact, the previous generations, from about the 19th and 20th centuries are the ecclesiological oddities. They are the strangers in the land of church history. But this is because these generations have been afflicted by deep wounds inflicted by theological liberalism and seeker sensitivity. With these two things working together (and more than just these), a general lack of interest in God’s Word has made itself at home in the Western church. God is doing a great and wondrous thing by bringing His people up out of that mess. Like God drew the Israelites from the grip of Pharaoh, God is again pulling His sheep from the hole of theological indifference and legalistic religious milieu.
3. God Made a Promise
Jesus once told His disciples, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).” This is a job as good as done in the eyes of the Lord. He will not fail in preserving His church or growing His kingdom. That said, when the church falls into a slump, as it cyclically does from time to time, the reformation (in this case the re-Reformation), has to start within some generation. We are used to seeing painted portraits of the Reformers after they’re already 50-55 years old. But many of them were not that old when they began their life’s work. John Calvin, for example, was probably about 27 years old when he produced the first edition of one of the most influential theological works in history, The Institutes of the Christian Religion.
Luther would have been 34 when he nailed the 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. He began his work as an attorney and then as a Roman Catholic priest much longer before his grand stand. George Whitefield, the post-Puritan proclaimer of God’s Word, began his vibrant ministry at the age of 24. God has generally used people, not during their later years in life, but rather throughout their entire lives. Those whom God has used most often found themselves in a lifetime of laborious ministry.
I think this generation is finding that out. And I’m excited to see what God does.
The Christian religion is not one of partiality, it’s holistic. Christ demands the whole man and the whole man’s time. But this demand is not without a God-wrought desire within the hearts of Christ’s people, to be made into the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29). The recovery of Reformation theology is the recovery of doctrines which have always awaited the reader within the pages of the Bible. Sadly, however, as the world moved away from God, God’s people moved away from His Word.
The Lord, in His kind providence, is making corrections upon His wandering flock. It is a glorious thing to see truth proclaimed from the mouths of the youth, and the generations before us, led astray by worldly thought, drawn back to Christ in the most befuddling way imaginable. If you are older than me and you’re reading this (I’m 26), please do not take me in a condescending tone. I truly believe the recovery of Reformational theology and practice is not due to the adeptness of the millennial generation (I mean, just visit our Facebook profiles!). Rather, it is only by the grace of God the young are being fortified in the faith. And this is not a clear-cut generational divide either, lest I be accused of an oversimplification. There are sound theologians and dedicated laypeople who proceed me by many, many years (I’m not naming names here). I’m not writing to blanket the entirety of previous generations with accusations of lukewarmness. But I do think the church has been spiritually wounded by the enemy (much like many other times throughout history), and I also think God is putting to death the worldly virus, which has infiltrated His church, by means of a Reformation recovery.
We have no one to thank for this but God alone, the sole Preserver of His people.