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).
Where the Law of God is neglected—and it is neglected almost everywhere in churches today—all the benefits outlined above escape us. No appeal to some vaguely defined “law of love” can take the place in spiritual, moral, and ethical development that the Law of God is intended to fill. God is adamant about this. He warns us in the most severe terms that where men neglect the Law of God, the displeasure of the Lord will not be far away: “If one turns away his ear from hearing the Law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9). “So the Law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth” (Habakkuk 1:4). “And since you have forgotten the Law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:6).
To be blunt: The neglect of God’s Law, for the better part of the last two generations, is coming home to roost. Our young people are bailing out on the church, and our prayers that God will rescue them are falling on deaf divine ears.
Why the Law?
Why is the Law of God so important? Let me mention three reasons.
First, the Law of God encodes the path of holiness to which God calls us as His people. This is not an onerous path to walk when we take it up as an expression of gratitude to God for His saving favor and love to God as His adoring children. God promises that when His children walk in the ways of His Law, they will be admired by unbelievers who will defer to them in matters of morality and other kinds of public policy, and will even follow them in seeking answers to their pressing issues from the pages of God’s Law (cf. Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Psalms 81:13-16; Micah 4).
That’s not to say that living according to the Law of God won’t make us some enemies. When we are obedient to God’s Law it tends to put the sins of others into stark relief; some people will resent that enough to hate us, just as they did the Lord Jesus (John 15:20-25). There is no way to bring holiness to completion in the fear of the Lord apart from working to understand and obey the Law of God (2 Corinthians 7:1).
Second, keeping the Law of God is the primary work God’s Spirit is laboring to accomplish in us. God the Spirit is at work in those who have come to saving faith. He is laboring to help us be willing and obedient to the Lord (Philippians 2:13). He has power to enable us to walk in God’s ways with greater benefit and effect than we’ve ever dared to ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).
But we need to keep in mind that His work orders are structured according to the demands of God’s Law. God has sent His quickening Spirit into our lives in order to transform our hearts so that we can understand and obey His holy, righteous, and good Law (cf. Ezekiel 36:26-27). He is, after all, the Holy Spirit; we should expect that His every work in us would be unto the kind of holiness that He inspired as the Finger of God and that He embodies as the Spirit of holiness (cf. Matthew 12:28; Luke 10:20; Exodus 31:18).
Third, we must keep the Law of God because we cannot fulfill the demands of discipleship apart from it. Jesus calls all who would be His disciples to follow Him; John says we can only do that along the pathway marked out by the Law of God (1 John 2:1-6). Jesus says that we must prove our discipleship by loving one another. He also tells us that everything we might read or study about love is going to have its roots in the Law of God (Matthew 22:34-40).
Paul says that, of the three great Christian virtues—faith, hope, and love—the greatest of these is love. And love is the fulfilling of God’s Law (1 John 5:1-3). Jesus showed us as much in His own life and ministry. He insisted that He had come not to abolish the Law—like so many pastors and churches seem to want to do—but to fulfill it. And He also warned that those who do not follow in His path but neglect the Law of God—or worse—can expect to fall under His condemnation and discipline in some way (Matthew 5:17-20).
It’s not too late to repent of our neglect of God’s Law and begin taking up a new course. Let me suggest four steps pastors can take to begin giving a more appropriate place to the Law of God in their lives and ministries.
First, we need to repent of our neglect of the Law of God. And not just to God. I always counsel keeping expressions of repentance within the circle of the offended. Pastors who have failed to teach and preach the Law have sinned against their congregations, and, thus, a public confession and plea for forgiveness is in order.
Second, begin pleading with God to give you a heart to love and delight in His Law (Psalms 40:8; 119:97). We won’t go any further with the Law of God than our love for it will allow. The more we love the Law, and find great delight and hope in it, the more it will inform our lives and ministries. Only God can shape our hearts to do that (Psalm 119:32).
Third, take up a daily regimen of reading and meditating in God’s Law. This is just what the psalmist insists the righteous children of the Lord will do (Psalm 1:2). The kings of Israel were expected to meditate daily in God’s Law (Deuteronomy 17:18,19). We who are God’s royal priesthood today must do nothing less (1 Peter 2:9,10).
Finally, begin laying a plan of action for incorporating the Law of God into your ministry. Make it a memory project for your Sunday school classes. Teach a series on the commandments. Help your elders understand how to use the Law of God in deciding critical issues that come before the church (cf. Ruth 4). Create a study group to investigate ways your church can be more outspoken in helping to bring the benefits of God’s Law to your community. Much can be done, and there certainly is much to do if the Law of God is to recover a more appropriate place in the ministries of our churches.
God is still working with the lost children of the Church. We may have neglected His Law, precipitating this crisis; however, He is faithful to His covenant Word, and will not allow His true children to wander very far, or very long, away from Him. Pray that, as God works in us to ground us more fully in His Law, He might also work to woo His wandering children back to Himself.
Does the Law of God feature in your walk with the Lord? In what ways? How might you increase the positive benefit God’s Law can bring to your life?
T. M. Moore is dean of the Centurions Program of the Wilberforce Forum and principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He is the author or editor of 20 books, and has contributed chapters to four others. His essays, reviews, articles, papers, and poetry have appeared in dozens of national and international journals, and on a wide range of websites. His most recent books are Culture Matters (Brazos) and The Hidden Life, a handbook of poems, songs, and spiritual exercises (Waxed Tablet). Sign up at his website to receive his daily email devotional Crosfigell, reflections on Scripture and the Celtic Christian tradition. T. M. and his wife and editor, Susie, make their home in Hamilton, Va.
This article originally appeared on BreakPoint. Used with permission.
Original Crosswalk publication date: October 29, 2008