You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to trustworthy people who will be able to teach others (2 Timothy 2:1-2).
Our first-grader, Emerson, reported a sad story to us this week. One of his classmates asked, “Do any of you go to church?” After Emerson replied that he went every Sunday and Wednesday, the other little boy said, “I wish I could go to church. But my parents won’t take me. They say Jesus is a bad word.” As a typical pastor’s kid who is having church involvement practically written into his genetic code (just as it was written into mine), this was a perplexing episode for Emerson—who doesn’t go to church?
Well, as we hear more and more these days, it’s increasingly the case that most of our neighbors and co-workers don’t attend church regularly. This trend isn’t likely to abate anytime soon. So what are we to do? For one thing, we can appreciate the historically-verifiable truth that Christianity often thrives under minority conditions. Just consider the way underground churches are multiplying around the globe despite contending with some of the most repressive and tyrannical governments imaginable. Remember, the Church universal is the Bride of the Lord Jesus, and he promised that even the gates of hell would never prevail against her (see Matthew 16:18).
Yet such dynamism in the face of stiff odds doesn’t come about accidentally. It can only result from a pattern we see exhibited in Paul’s instructions to his protégé, Timothy—namely, faith in Jesus must be handed on from one generation to the next. It cannot be inherited or absorbed by osmosis. While the Church is secure under Christ’s sovereign Lordship (i.e. Jesus will never cease having disciples somewhere in the world), churches that don’t pass down the faith risk extinction. Indeed, any given church is only one generation away from its demise.
That thought should provoke urgency but not fear. After all, God’s inspired Word provides the plan. If you’re a mature and growing Christian, you’ll strive to invest in the next generation somehow. No ifs, ands, or buts. You will. Through praying, teaching, giving, and serving you’ll ensure “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” is known, loved, and taught by the next generation (Jude 3).
As we do so, however, it’s vital to keep this principle in mind: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name” (Jaroslav Pelikan). The way the Christian faith is practiced from one generation to the next and from one culture to another can vary greatly. What is essential is that Jesus’ unrivaled Lordship is proclaimed with unwavering passion and tenacity.
Who is your Timothy? What younger person (whether by years or by decades!) can you pour Christ’s love into? May the Holy Spirit show you.