ESTABLISHING YOUNG CONVERTS
A CASUAL GLANCE around us reveals the fact that many of the young converts in our churches are not taught and established in the faith. If one will make a survey of our churches, one will see that as a rule the young people are not interested in spiritual things. Many go to Sunday School but leave immediately. By so doing either they show their lack of interest in the things of God, or they demonstrate the fact that they have not been taught properly in regard to the things of the Lord. The children of today are the men and women of tomorrow. The church of tomorrow will rise no higher than those who constitute it. It therefore becomes of paramount importance that the young be led to the Lord and be established in the faith from conversion onward. This position is thoroughly scriptural. To the Word let us therefore turn.
IN THE second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we read of the establishment of the church of God on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the foundation upon which His church is built. He was raised on the third day after His crucifixion. He ascended to the right hand of the throne of the Father forty days later and on the day of Pentecost sent the Holy Spirit who spoke through the Apostles the words of life. At that time Jesus Christ was laid as the foundation upon which His church is built. Three thousand people accepted the message and were baptized on that day. Under the leadership of the Apostles, we are told, "... they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). It is quite likely that the majority of those who accepted the Lord on that occasion were men and women. It is also probable that there were many young people among them. But all were new converts, whether old or young, and needed to be established in the faith. Jesus had taught the Apostles during His public ministry and prepared them to engage in the task of building up the saints in the most holy faith. Thus when the Holy Spirit came to guide them into all truth--bringing to their remembrance whatsoever things Jesus had said and revealing new things to them--they constantly taught these babes in Christ. They also practiced the teaching daily, incorporating the principles of the messages in their lives.
IN ACTS, chapters 13 and 14, we have an account of the first missionary journey of the Apostle Paul, who was accompanied by Barnabas. From Antioch in Syria they went to the island of Cyprus and evangelized certain sections of it. From there they went northward into the highlands of central Asia Minor. After an extended tour, they decided to return to and visit the various congregations that they had established while on this tour. This they did, "confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). It is very clear that Paul and Barnabas realized the importance of establishing these "babes in Christ" in the faith which they had espoused. These people were converts from both Judaism and from the Gentile world. They were still living in the midst of heathen darkness and needed all the help and assistance that they could secure. The two apostles therefore revisited them and taught them further, confirming their faith and exhorting them to continue in the true grace of God.
In the Book of Acts we read of the three great missionary journeys of Paul, which he made in the Mediterranean world. On these visits he established many churches in which, as stated above, were both Jews and Gentiles. It was his practice to go to the Jews in a community first; then he turned to the Gentiles of the same community. There were therefore converts from both classes in these congregations. Not only did he visit different ones of them to establish them in the faith, but God also met the situation adequately. These new converts, many of whom were from the heathen world, did not know the Old Testament Scriptures. It is quite likely that many of them had never heard of the Hebrew Scriptures before. Those from the synagogues, even though they had long been familiar with the Old Testament, needed additional light, as well as assistance. The New Testament was not written at that time. The time had not yet come for God to put this final revelation in written form. In order to meet the need of the hour, the Holy Spirit endowed various ones in different local churches with miraculous power for the building up of the body of Christ and the perfecting of the saints: "And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: 13 till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ ..." (Eph. 4:11-13). An examination of this context shows that Paul was speaking of the various and sundry miraculous gifts which were conferred upon different members of the local congregations in order to meet the needs of the hour, so that the saints could grow in grace and in knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus these miraculous gifts, which were for the time being--during the infancy of the church--were given in order to strengthen the new converts and to build them up in their most holy faith.
Paul labored at Ephesus two years (Acts 19:10). He continued his labors so that both Jews and Greeks throughout all the provinces of Asia heard the Word. From there he went into Macedonia and thence into Greece. As he was returning to Jerusalem he sailed to Miletus and called for the elders of the church at Ephesus and delivered one of the most marvelous discourses which ever fell from mortal lips. In this he called their attention to the fact that, when he was with them, he taught them "publicly, and from house to house ..." (Acts 20:20). Paul, as we see, daily taught publicly and from house to house. Much of this teaching, doubtless, was for the building up of the saints of God. This is a most excellent example for every true minister of the gospel today.
In the second century we read of a catechetical school in Alexandria which became a formative influence and power throughout the churches of the East. The young converts, catechumens, were taught and instructed in the way of the Lord. This effort in and of itself was a most excellent one--if it had been controlled and directed by the teachings of God's Word. Unfortunately, an asceticism arose, out of which the monastic system of Catholicism developed. We must not, however, condemn a thing because of the abuse to which it is subjected. It is a well-known fact among church historians that the converts to Christianity in the early centuries were taught the fundamentals of the faith and were on probation, in many instances, until after they had become indoctrinated in the principles of the truth.
THE TEACHING of new converts and of the young was not new, for the Jews were instructed by the Lord to teach their children when they arose in the morning and when they sat down in the evening and when they were at their meals. At the present day the Jews have their religious schools to which most of them send their children in order that they might be indoctrinated in Judaism. The Roman church likewise has a similar system of establishing the children of Catholic families. The idea of indoctrinating children and young converts is certainly splendid and praiseworthy--provided the real truth of God is given without addition or subtraction.
We evangelicals should learn from the example of these various groups and should have definite courses for the instruction of the children of Christian parents and all converts. One should not be turned loose when he has accepted Christ; but a definite course of instruction in the Word should be given him; and he should be encouraged from the first to start out in the right way and to serve the Lord.
I am not belittling the efforts that are made in the Sunday school or the daily vacation Bible schools held usually in the summer. These are good as far as they go, provided the truth of God is taught by competent teachers. In addition to that every congregation should have courses of instruction which all new converts should be encouraged to attend. When one first comes to the Lord with the glow of a newly found Saviour, his heart is yearning for spiritual things, for the better things of life. Then is the time to give the truth and to give a clear understanding of the Word. I am of the firm conviction that, if the truth, in its purity and in its simplicity, should be given to all young converts and the younger members of Christian families and if they should be encouraged by the leadership of the church to go forward in the cause of Christ, there would not be so much delinquency among young Christians. May the Lord enable us who have been given any position of leadership in the church to do what we can to encourage a systematic teaching of God's Word to these babes in Christ.
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