Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Second Generation Scandal

I was involved in a long conversation with a second generation Christian the other day – a man that had “grown up” in the church. During our talk, he consistently disparaged what he called, “my tradition;” a reference to the denomination of churches of which he was a part.

He spoke quite plainly as to how he considered them to be very incorrect in a matter of doctrine... and with a kind of nudge and wink told me of how he endured their condemnation of his views. In other words, he had no intention of leaving that church or denomination, even though he disagreed with a very important doctrine which they taught.

You might consider that admirable.

I thought it was pathetic.

If a man believes something to be true, then he ought to live like it is so! If my church began to assert that belief in the deity of Jesus was optional, I am duty bound to stand up and stand for the Truth: Jesus is God!

This man’s dismissal of the “uneducated” and “simple” members of his church manifested the all too frequent Second Generation Scandal. The second generation does not believe what the first generation was willing to die for, but they are too bound by familial obligation and social pressure to admit it. They will wait for the first generation to die off, then quietly move the church away from its secure foundation.

This brought to mind the words of John Reisinger as he happily pontificated (in the best sense of that word!) for a bunch of seminary students in my living room a few years ago. “You must indoctrinate the next generation of Christians, that is how the Truth passes down through the ages. And part of that indoctrination is teaching them to indoctrinate those who follow.”

Should you find that theory odd, I suggest you consult 2 Timothy 2.

It reminds me of one of my favorite poems:

A boy that is truthful and honest
And faithful and willing to work;
But we have not a place that we care to disgrace
with a boy that is ready to shirk.

Wanted--a boy you can tie to,
A boy that is trusty and true,
A boy that is good to old people,
And kind to the little ones too.

A boy that is nice to the home folks,
And pleasant to sister and brother,
A boy who will try when things go awry
To be helpful to father and mother.

These are the boys we depend on--
Our hope for the future, and then
Grave problems of state and the world's work await
Such boys when they grow to be men.


  1. Paul,

    My father (and the Bible) says pick your mountains to die on. I find the fundamentalist types pick every battle, even ones that don't matter. How do you decide when to fight and when to relax?


  2. Hey Rob,
    Would love to know where your Bible says that... and I agree that there are many types of folks (fundamentalist or not) that pick a fight wherever they can...
    I would say we fight the battles for Truth that are modeled for us in the Word.

  3. Something I have been discussing with a friend of mine who goes to seminary is that those who grow up in the church often find that the evangelical church doesn't have language for them to talk about their gradual conversion experience. In my own case, I can remember being committed to church and understanding some aspects of the faith well, yet still having a deficient view of sin and the atonement. When I went to college, I started going to a student ministry that taught the gospel clearly and often, and the pieces came together in my mind. From that point on, I know I was saved, but it is difficult to say before that.

    Others who grow up in a different kind of church are invited to "ask Jesus into their hearts" at a young age, and have this commitment to look back on, yet their subsequent life still includes a lengthy period of really becoming personally committed to Jesus for themselves, with phases of rebellion and exploration.

    Much of the way we talk about "coming to faith" centers on a singular conversion experience, where we were a pagan unbeliever before, and subsequently we are transformed and live a new life in Christ. Just a few weeks ago one of my pastors introduced the Lord's Supper by asking us to "think back to that sweet day when you asked Jesus to come into your life". My friend who goes to seminary says that this kind of language is largely a product of the revival-meeting roots of evanglicalism.

    So the question is this (after much introduction): How can we talk about this kind of second-or-more-generation experience? Our tradition has deep roots and some great preachers and theologians; what can we learn from them to place our experience in a Biblical framework so that God's mercy and grace are held high and our "testimonies" don't feel second-rate?

  4. It's hard to imagine your story of salvation sounding second-rate. It's always an amazing thing! You know, at the time the New Testament was written, there weren't a lot of people who had grown up in the church (it was new), so you don't see a lot of their stories. There were, however, lots of people who grew up under pharisaic teachings that Jesus said loaded people down with burdens they could hardly carry.

    It may be that the contrast between this extreme legalism and the grace that Jesus offered created the "Wow!" scriptural testimonies of people like Saul/Paul in Acts 9.

    It could be argued that an "event" conversion (over a short period of time) would seem more dramatic than a "process" conversion (growing up in the church/can't remember not believing). A person experiencing a "process" conversion might enjoy the benefit of truth acquired along the way, with a deeper knowledge of scripture. But in both cases, what you're talking about is a sinner being transformed by grace into a saint. That of course assumes true belief as opposed to just church attendance and tradition alone.

    1 John 2:24-25 could be a good verse: "As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life."