My Spiritual mother, the Christian Reformed Church, turns 150 this year, and I anticipate the thankful celebration. This is also the 50th anniversary of my ordination to the ministry.
Both anniversaries have led me to a lot of reflection about what it takes to pass on our faith—and about what can stop it.
This is at the heart of my concern: What if at church and at home we teach sound doctrine and the need for good conduct but fail to communicate that our faith is in a Person—that while we cannot see him, he is real and he is important, and we are fascinated with him? That we live and love in response to that Person? Our children will imitate us in all the externals of religion. They may even raise children who imitate them in all the externals of religion, but they will not have Christianity. It will not be passed on.
Fresh out of seminary, I thought my purpose in ministry was to share all that learning.
It didn’t take long to see I was wrong. Kind people in my church tried to help with their questions and comments. And the Lord led me to John 17:3. There Jesus says, “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” The Holy Spirit made it plain: It does not say “to know about you”; it says “to know you.”
If I want to be involved in passing on the faith, I must ensure that my own relationship to the Lord is fresh and awe-filled. I must convey that worship is a high privilege, that forgiveness is not commonplace, that the Lord’s way for us is wisdom filled, and that our hope is reason for profound joy. Children and young people can sense whether we are sincere about these wonders we call Christianity, whether this Jesus is real to us.
In my work I frequently refer to the CRC’s Yearbook. On page 179 you’ll find the number of inactive professing members over 18. That number is now 20,194. About 30 percent are people who no longer attend worship. The number also includes baptized members who are out of their teens but have not made profession of faith.
So we, like every other denomination, lose a significant number of our people. The matter deserves much attention, but I’m convinced the central issue is passing on our faith—having the kind of awareness of Jesus we find in Colossians, which mentions Jesus in almost every verse. It means being firm with ourselves about our prayer and devotional life. It means seeing our Christian life as relating to Jesus, the Savior to whom we look for forgiveness and the Lord for whom we are redeemed to live.
As my spiritual mother looks ahead, I trust this will be a stream of life for generations yet to come: “I have met Someone, and I am thankful that I belong to him, my faithful Savior, Jesus.”