The youth of today will constitute the church of tomorrow. This often repeated phrase clearly points tip for today the importance of the work of the church in respect of its children and young people.
The prospect for the youth of the church today and in the future seems to be something less than optimistic. They are growing up in a materialistic culture which can be characterized as a society which holds to the idea of “anything for a buck.” Parents in the church are also sometimes taken up by this view of life, and their preoccupation with dollars and cents as slaves of the god of a status seeking society is an effective practical instruction in this idolatry.
The youth of the church are at once also a part of what is called by some the “post Christian” era in which every “good doctrine which is according to godliness” is called into question. Being sometimes schooled in doubt they come to the mistaken notion that to doubt even the most essential doctrines of the faith is an evidence of intellectual achievement and to deny the authority of the creed of the church is to assert an individuality which is counted by some to be a commendable virtue.
A secularist, materialistic culture which calls for a kind of sophisticated intellectualism and church-denying individualism is today taking its toll also among the youth. Parents and pastors and elders are painfully aware of this and not a little alarmed by it.
How then can the church continue to minister and to proclaim the Word effectively to its youth in such a contrary and sometimes hostile atmosphere?
It is precisely at this point that the church must face its responsibility of officially proclaiming the Word of God to its covenant youth with a view to leading them to a self-conscious spiritual maturity as members of the church of Christ. This is specifically the responsibility of the church since our Lord commanded the apostles to feed the lambs of the flock. This instruction of the church in the name of Christ is uniquely pastoral as to its purpose and method. It engages the power of the Spirit of God by which power young people and children come to know themselves, and Him, whom to know is life, together with their place in His church.
This is the nature and purpose of catechism instruction carried on by the church as church for its youth. It is the official ministry of the Word of God to the covenant youth of the church which intends by the power of the Spirit of God, working in and through this ministry of the Word, to lead them from baptism to confession of faith. (cf. De Dienst der Kerk – Dr. K. Dijk – J. H. Kok, 1952.)
To consider the catechism instruction of the church in this light is to distinguish two aspects as to its aim and purpose. The first, to bring forth by the power of God’s grace, a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. This is most basic and necessarily first in order. The formulary for baptism as well as that for confession of faith lays stress upon this necessary personal confession. The knowledge of our sin and guilt and the declaration of faith that we seek our salvation not in ourselves but only in Jesus Christ is the foundation-stone of life for the child of God. This must be known and expressed by every member of the church of Christ.
A necessary corollary to this declaration of faith in Christ Jesus, however, is the readiness to take a place in the church of Christ as it manifests itself in the midst of the earth as the congregation of Cod’s people. Everyone who truly confesses the name of Jesus is in duty bound to unite himself to the true church and to join himself to this congregation wheresoever God has established it. (Belg. Conf. Art. 28.) In the household of faith it is evidently true that no man is an island to himself.
These two aspects, the subjective personal commitment to Jesus Christ and the objective deliberate acknowledgment of a responsible place in the congregation of the people of God may be distinguished from each other but cannot be properly separated. The individual who seeks the second without the first is a hypocrite, and the one who seeks the first but rejects the second is sinfully irresponsible before the Lord whom he confesses.
In seeking the fulfillment of this high purpose nothing can quite take the place of the catechism instruction of the church. The reduction of the importance of catechism instruction and the substitution of all sorts of gimmicks will not serve the church or answer to the command of the Lord.
Today various voices, all the way from the World Council of Churches down to the misinformed and ill-advised members of the church, call for such things as youth Sundays and youth services and young people’s and children’s churches. All of these serve to create in the congregation of the people of God a division and separation which our covenant God never made or intended. Such methods create a class inside of but yet separate from or even alongside of the church. When this artificial and false division is introduced, the church is divided and children and young people are placed in a class by themselves instead of in the church where they belong, for they as well as adults are members of the covenant and church of Christ. These tactics are false. They deny in principle the unity of the church and ignore the covenantal structure of the church and the family in the church. These false methods can hardly produce a good result, for they arise out of a false premise and follow a faulty method and create the illusion that the church is a place for old people and that children and young people should have a little organization of their own alongside of it.
The high goal of responsible membership in the church as living members of Jesus Christ cannot be attained by methods which divide the church and ignore the covenantal unity of the congregation. A methodology which ignores the basic character of the church can hardly serve to enhance and strengthen the church.
The argument is sometimes advanced that in the church services the children and young people do not fully understand what is going on; that the sermon is sometimes “over their heads.” It seems that here we often “sell the Holy Spirit short.” We may be sure that by means of faithful preaching and catechism instruction coupled with parental instruction in the homes our children and young people will learn of their Lord and of their place in the congregation.
It is especially here that the catechism instruction of the church finds its fitting place. Here is the instruction of the church for the young which does not separate them from the congregation but rather leads them to the responsible acknowledgment of their place in the congregation as living members of Christ.
This being the purpose, it is here that the church must place the emphasis. An emphasis for the church not only but also for the parents. Not only for the parents but also for the elders and the minister of the Word. For this is the ministry of the Word of God to the youth of the church, by the church, in the name of the Lord. As such it is specifically the responsibility of the elders and the task of the minister of the Word. This ought surely be one of the first responsibilities of the minister of the Word. It is specifically his task in the church. It is youth work of the highest order. There should be no reduction of importance and no substitution or shifting of responsibility. To refuse this work as a minister of the Word is to refuse the very work which a minister of the Word ought to do.
No one is better suited for this task than the minister himself. His is the official responsibility to proclaim the Word of God in the name of Christ. He by his office in the church and the task of that office best stands at that point where personal commitment to Jesus Christ and responsible church membership become one in the mind of the covenant youth, even as they are one in the mind of Christ.
Sometimes the view is expressed that the teaching of fourth and fifth graders is a waste of the minister’s time. It would seem that this notion is really unworthy of serious consideration. The teaching of the lambs of the flock is precisely the work of the ministry of the Word. This can hardly then be a waste of time.
From a pedagogical point of view the faithful fulfillment of his ministerial task makes good sense. In this way children and pastors can really come to know and understand each other. Pastors who do not meet their young people in the intimate and important area of catechism instruction until they are fifteen or sixteen years old have “missed the boat” and will flood themselves at a real disadvantage.
Often the best and most effective pastoral work among young people can be done in connection with catechism instruction, since catechism work is in its very character pastoral This pastoral character can really come to its own when pastor and catechumen have come to know and respect each other.
It goes without saying that this takes time and effort but this time should be taken and this effort should be expended because the youth of today will stand as the church of tomorrow.