My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the Law of your God, I will also forget your children.
(Hosea 4:6)

Francis Schaeffer saw it coming, but, apparently, not enough of us were paying attention. Back in the early '70s Schaeffer wrote, “We will destroy the church if we do not have the courage in a radical day like ours to hold onto the absolutes of the Word of God regardless of the cost. But also when we train children to take equally what the Bible says and what people will think, we destroy the Bible’s authority when the chips are down in the university” (Back to Freedom and Dignity, p. 57).

Schaeffer was writing at a time when parachurch campus ministries were flourishing and the echo of the '60s campus revivals was still being heard. People apparently had difficulty believing that anything like what he imagined could ever come to pass. All that has changed.

I asked Jimmy Davis if he could supply me with some facts and figures on the numbers of young people who are abandoning the faith once they leave high school. He obliged with three pages of quotes, data, charts, and references, all indicating the same distressing trend—the very one Schaeffer foresaw a generation ago. Young people are leaving the Church, and in many cases, the faith in which they were raised, in alarming numbers.

Those who have been interviewed about this trend cite many reasons—failure to connect with anyone at their church, disagreements with social or political views, peer pressure, no longer a need to please their parents, inability to see the relevance of religion in a postmodern world. Between two-thirds and three-fourths of young people raised in the church are letting their faith go to seed as they leave high school and head off to the world of work or the university.

So who lost the children of this generation? It’s easy to indict their lack of maturity or to point an accusing finger at the culture. Just as often parents are to blame, yet not because they haven’t loved their children or wanted the best for them. Parents who followed their kids’ every whim when it came to sports or fashion may have taught them that their own interests and convenience are the most important things in life. Church could always be cut short or skipped altogether if the demands of a traveling team were in conflict; and who could expect their kids to spend regular time reading and studying the Bible when their homework was just so important?

We have heard these lines of blame-laying for years, and yet the trend goes on. We’re trying to staunch the flow of life-blood out of the Church, but the drainage continues unabated. There are some encouraging signs indicating a slowdown, but no turnaround of this distressing trend is yet in sight. And there won’t be a turnaround, either, as long as pastors refuse to take up their duties in teaching the Law of God to their churches and their young people.

A Sobering Word

The word spoken by the Lord to the pastors of the people of Israel should have a sobering effect on those entrusted with the ministry of the Word. When the Law of God is neglected, it’s not just those who neglect it who suffer; their children also slide off the radar screen of divine blessing. The Law of God is a primary means for knowing God. We do not study the Law in order to earn our salvation by keeping it. Only Christ can do that for us.

Yet God calls us to the study of His Law in order that we may know how He intends for us to live (Leviticus 18:1-5). The Law of God is holy and righteous and good. If we are to improve in the holy lives we are called to pursue (2 Corinthians 7:1), and to increase in the righteousness and goodness of the Lord, we must do so through the reading and study of God’s Law. Indeed, we can’t even call ourselves followers of Christ if we do not walk the path of obedience to God’s Law He Himself followed (1 John 2:1-6). Not that we can ever keep the Law perfectly (1 John 1:8); nevertheless, we press on to know, love, and obey the Law of God because we understand this is how we may expect to improve love for God and for our neighbors (1 John 5:1-3; Matthew 22:34-40).