According to a 2015 Pew Research Center poll, the millennial generation (roughly, those between 18 and 35 years old) is the most educated generation in history. That statement is based on the fact that well over 20% of millennial men and women will have at least a bachelor’s degree by the age of 33. For comparison’s sake, in the Baby Boomer generation, only 17% of men and 14% of women had attained a bachelor’s degree by the same age. At the same time another 2015 survey revealed that while 41% of millennials claimed that religion was very important to them, only 27% of them said that they attended services on a weekly basis. Again, that compares to 38% of Baby Boomers who attended worship weekly. What does this data mean? The millennial generation, the generation that has recently graduated from college and is entering the work force, getting married, and having children is smart – too smart for religion and too smart for God.
I. The Word is the Basis for Christian Education (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Why is that? Why is the smartest generation also the least religious? At least one part of the answer involves how they were educated and the results of that education. The vast majority of millennials were educated in secular, progressive classrooms from pre-K through college. (Secular in the sense that there was no religious influence in the classroom and progressive meaning that they were indoctrinated to believe that every change is for the better.) That secular, progressive education reveals its influence in changing priorities and attitudes that are decidedly not for the better. Priorities and attitudes that don’t seem much different from those Paul warned Timothy about in the 1st century: mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power.
In contrast to the secular world raised to love and worship self, this was Paul’s advice to Timothy: as for you, continue in what you have learned and become convinced of. Christians are conservatives, not in the political sense, but in the highest sense possible. In a world where values and morals are always changing, usually not for the better – Christians stand firm in God’s unchanging truth. Paul gives two reasons for this. First, because we know who taught us. Timothy’s teachers were his mother and grandmother and Paul himself, sources who were loving and trustworthy. (2 Timothy 1:5) Sadly, we haven’t all had the same experience. Some of us have had teachers who did not teach us God’s Word but rather their own ideas. That’s why Paul offers the best reason to stand firm: because from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
We stand firm in God’s Word because three things are true about it that aren’t true of any other book. 1) Its power to create faith begins at infancy. It’s impossible to teach an infant algebra or Newton’s Laws of Physics, but the Bible can create faith in even the youngest child’s heart, as Jesus himself confesses. (Matthew 18:6) 2) It is holy. There are no errors or mistakes. Every history, mathematics, and science textbook must be regularly revised and updated – because new theories are always coming along. The Bible is perfect. It will never need to be updated. God will never issue a revision because His truth is unchanging and unmistaken. 3) Science textbooks can inform you about our world, history textbooks tell you about the past – but only this book can make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. It’s good to be informed and educated about many things in this life. It’s better to be wise for eternal life – to know and believe that Christ crucified for sinners is the only door to heaven. If we want to have the certainty of eternal life and the ability to share it, then the basis must be holy, unchanging and always applicable. The only basis for that kind of education is God’s Word.
II. The Word Must Be Taught to the Next Generation (Deuteronomy 11:1-7, 16-21)
In recent years there have been hundreds of studies, articles and books published identifying the peculiarities of the millennial generation. Millennials been called narcissistic, coddled, entitled, weak-willed and lacking in basic morality. While generalizations are dangerous because there are always exceptions, if social scientists feel comfortable describing millennials that way, who or what is to blame for it? The answer that some have arrived at is humbling. Their parents, teachers, and leaders – those who should have taught them the value of selflessness, morality, humility and hard work – didn’t. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t concern us here. What we do need to recognize is that the Word must be taught to the next generation.
The book of Deuteronomy (second law) tells us about the last years of Moses’ life. These were the years after the wandering, right before Israel entered the Promised Land. Before he left them, Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s love and his will for their lives. Did you notice where he placed the responsibility for living according to God’s will? On each individual Israelite: [you (sg)] love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. Each individual man, woman and child is responsible to love God by obeying his commandments – then and now. I can’t obey for you and you can’t obey for your children. Personal responsibility and accountability to God, characteristics that are woefully lacking in our world today, are essential to living as Christians who recognize God’s power and authority over this world and our lives.
But as Moses goes on he focusses more narrowly on who is responsible for teaching this to the next generation and why. He starts with why. Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God in Egypt and at the Red Sea. It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the desert and how he punished Dathan and Abiram for their rebellion against God’s appointed leaders. (Numbers 16) But it was your own eyes that saw all these things the Lord has done. Moses’ point? Children cannot know what they have not been taught. Infants, children, and teenagers do not receive saving faith through genetics, you can’t sprinkle it on their cereal, they will not believe in Jesus simply because they come from a long family of Christians. They must be taught to know what Christ has done for them and what his will is for their lives. And for that to happen, we, who know the unchanging truth of God’s Law and Gospel, who have personally experienced the Lord’s discipline and mercy, who confess our sinfulness and rejoice that Jesus came to save sinners – we must teach them. We are all responsible for teaching the next generation – none of us is exempt.
But that doesn’t mean that we are equally responsible. In fact, Moses assumed that most Christian education wouldn’t take place in church or a classroom. Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Who is Moses speaking to here? Who is with a child from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed? The primary responsibility for teaching children the truth of the Word rests with parents. Some social scientists argue that the main reason the millennial generation is so different is because theirs was the first generation to be sent to day care and preschool at a very young age. More than previous generations they didn’t learn how to play sports or read their abc’s, how to interact with others and their sense of morals and values from their parents but from others. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, you can judge for yourself. But the Lord has made it clear: the responsibility for teaching children the way of the Lord rests primarily with parents – it can’t be shifted to others. And the reason ought to be obvious: who spends the most time with children? Who guides their choices of television, friends, and activities? Who continues to influence their decisions even as adults? Parents. That doesn’t mean that the church and pastors and teachers aren’t responsible for teaching children God’s Word – they are. But their role is to assist and support parents – not replace them. If the next generation is to know and believe in Christ as their Savior, they must be taught. It is the responsibility of every Christian, but the special responsibility of parents.
III. Christian Education Is A Lifelong Pursuit (Ephesians 4:11-16)
One issue that has troubled Christian pastors and parents since the beginning of time is: why do those who have been baptized, raised, and confirmed in the Christian faith suddenly become apathetic toward God and neglectful of the means of grace? I’m not going to claim to have solved the problem, but one aspect that is no secret is that once a teenager has been confirmed – they think they know it all. I know that’s not unique to the things of God, but nowhere is that attitude more dangerous than when it comes to the things of God. Paul warned the Corinthians: if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12) The way of complacency leads only one place, and it’s not heaven.
In Ephesians 4, Paul outlines God’s plan for the continuing education of Christians of all ages. God has given the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Why? To babysit? To do the things no one else wants to do? To prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. The reason we offer regular Bible studies, the reason we urge and encourage parents to send their children to Christian grade schools and bring them to Sunday school, the reason God has given his church pastors and teachers is so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the full measure of the fullness of Christ. When are we done learning and studying God’s Word? When we know it as well as Jesus himself. Clearly, we have work to do. Clearly, it’s dangerous to think that confirmation is the conclusion to Christian education. Clearly, learning God’s Word needs to be a lifelong pursuit.
The result of lifelong learning is the one thing that can change the current trend of our world, the church and our families. Paul spells out the results: We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Infants are gullible. They think they disappear when playing peek-a-boo. Spiritual infants are gullible. They are easily mislead by false teachers and the godless doctrines of the world. We see that today in those who are tossed back and forth by society’s ever changing views on marriage and morality and sexuality, in those who are convinced that doing a few good deeds will get you into heaven, in people who are misled and deceived by false teachers who promise them prosperity and purpose in life. Young people, and really people of any age, fall away from Christ because when they stop building on the foundation of God’s Word they are easily swept away by waves of culture and the winds of false teaching. We know this. Sadly we see this happen with our own families and friends. What can we do about it? We can keep learning ourselves so that we are prepared to give an answer to every generation’s questions. We can encourage. We can pray. We can set an example by making God’s Word a priority in our own lives. We can warn and discipline with the Law and comfort and encourage with the Gospel and trust that God will work through those means to cause the seed he planted in Baptism to grow and produce a harvest.
The good news is that even Christian education isn’t primarily about what we do, but about what Christ has done for us. God’s Son became flesh to live the perfect life we never could – and that included a perfect record of studying and teaching the Word. Our sins of apathy toward worship and the Word, our failure to raise our children in the fear and knowledge of the Lord, our reluctance to take responsibility for our own spiritual growth – Jesus has wiped those sins from our record with his precious blood. Because of Christ, God doesn’t see us as failures – he sees us as his perfect, obedient children. Cleansed and forgiven, let us commit to making Christian education a high priority because we know the promises God gives to those who plant themselves in his Word: forgiveness of sins, new life now and the assurance of eternal life when we die. Those are the precious gifts God gives us in his Word, they are the most precious gifts we can pass on to the next generation, and, in the end, receiving and sharing the gifts of God is what Christian education is all about. Amen.