J.C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels is a true classic. His Matthew Study Guide was first published in 1856, and in his first preface to the work Ryle writes, “I indulge the hope that the work may be found suitable for use at family prayers. The supply of works adapted for this purpose has never yet been equal to the demand.” To which I say a hearty “Amen!” Generations with Vision has taken up the task of producing Family Bible Study Guides for the Western English-speaking nations. Christian denominations have produced billions of dollars of resources for Sunday schools, youth groups, women’s Bible studies, and the like. But where are the resources for family worship? Where are the resources to encourage and enable families to do what God has clearly commanded in His Word? (See Eph. 6:4; Heb. 3:13; Deut. 6:7.)
Too often, the traditions of men make the law of God of none effect. It is my contention that the wholesale delegation of education and discipleship in much of the Christian world has displaced God’s original intention for the continuity of the faith. Search as you may, you will not find youth ministries and Sunday schools in Scripture. The combined effect of the disintegration of the family initiated by the Industrial Revolution, compulsory attendance laws of the last century, and age-segregated classrooms, produced the massive youth ministries of the last fifty years or so. Statisticians now tell us that only one in twenty American born-again parents actually teach their children from the Word of God on a daily basis.
This is why the faith is dying. In my careful review of the historical Christian faith, I have found that, without a daily regimen of discipleship in the Word of God, people will not be saved. There should be no wonder why 88% of children raised in Southern Baptist churches leave the church when they no longer live at home. According to recent surveys, Millennials are more than twice as likely to be “unaffiliated” with a church than their parents. The present apostasy in the western world is metastasizing right now in the younger generations.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I would suggest a thorough study of all of the data from Scripture related to the discipleship of our children (Exod. 12:26–27; Deut. 6:7–9; Proverbs 1–31; Eph. 6:4; 1 Thess. 2:11; 1 Tim. 3:4; etc.). What you will find is that God commissions parents to the job of this discipleship. Sadly, the traditions of men have eroded this commitment in the hearts and lives of millions of families over the last 200 years.
In 1893, R. L. Dabney, an old Presbyterian pastor, registered his concerns about this very issue to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. His concern was that the Sunday schools (originally intended for unbelieving families), were displacing God’s “divinely appointed means of grace.”
“Your memorialists would represent to the General Assembly, that we have seen, with anxious concern, certain perversions and abuses which have silently crept into the Sabbath schools of our Church and country. The first of these perversions is an extensive wresting of these schools from their proper and legitimate scope as missionary measures for the children of neglectful and godless parents, into a substitute for the Christian family training of the children of parents professing godliness, by their own parents in their own homes. The good Robert Raikes, of Gloucester, England, is reputed to have invented such schools in the eighteenth century. His avowed purpose was to give Christian instruction, by this means, only to children of godless parents who received no Christian teaching in their homes. He sought his pupils in the streets, among such neglected children as were straying there on the Sabbath. “Had one proposed to him to do what is now so frequently done among us, viz.: to invade the homes of them professing godliness, and withdraw to his Sabbath school such children from the domestic tuition which their parents were giving them during the private hours of the holy day (which was then the universal custom of all Christian parents of decent repute), we presume that Raikes would have drawn back in astonishment and strong refusal. His missionary schools were never designed to invade, supersede, this divinely appointed means of grace.”
No one is more equipped to apply the Word to their children than the father and mother who know them best and live with them from day to day. Indeed, the most powerful form of evangelism is God’s recommended form. There is no more effective form of discipleship than that which involves a father taking the hand of his son or daughter, and saying, “Let me show you Jesus. Let me show you how to walk in the ways of the Lord by my daily words and living example.”
Covenantal faithfulness from generation to generation is God’s intended design for His people (Gen. 17:10–12; Deut. 6:7–9, 7:9; Ps. 78:4–6; the Book of Proverbs; Is. 59:20–21; Ezek. 37:24–27; Mal. 2:15; Acts 2:38–39; 1 Thess. 2:11; Eph. 6:4), and rebellion should be the exception, not the rule. Apostasy is the norm in Europe, Canada, and America. Could it be that we have neglected God’s appointed means by which children will carry on the faith of their fathers? Our abandonment of God’s designed means, and our displacement of it with other programs devised by men, will in the end produce meager results. Maximize on the means that God has designed, and we will be truly blessed. Ignore it and the faith will languish over the generations. May God bring about a true reformation that represents a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in our own generation!
“My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring, says the Lord from now and forever.” (Isaiah 59:20–21)