Like me, you may have heard the sobering statement that “the church is always just one generation away from apostasy.” A sort of reality check, it reminds us that every component of the gospel—every fact, every command, every inference— must be faithfully taught and passed down to the next generation, and the next after that.
Think about what happens when an aged brother or sister in the church dies, and with them, that vast store of insights, wisdom, special studies and understanding of God’s word they had accumulated over their lifetime. Did they share it with anyone? Was it preserved somehow? Will there be anyone after they are gone to teach those things to the young?
You may be thinking, “But we will always have the Bible, and future generations can go back to that anytime.” Yes, but what about all the hard work which has gone into studying and coming to recognize the thousands of intricate doctrines in God’s word, and the many fascinating ways they combine and relate to create new insights from the Bible?
I have been a Bible student for many years, but I still appreciate sitting at the feet of an older gospel preacher or teacher, or aged Christian expounding upon the word of God. It brings fresh insights and understanding. It reveals new discoveries that dawn upon me for the first time, which took great thought and study to develop. I am amazed at the many hours of study which have gone before, and paved the way for what seems so simple and obvious now.
I think about this a lot in farming and in many of the old trades. It’s fascinating to watch an old timer at work, using skills which have been developed and honed over many lifetimes, and knowledge which has been handed down for generations. I think about what will happen when that old timer is gone. Or maybe a grandmother cooking in the kitchen with recipes found nowhere but in her own mind. What will happen to those delicious dishes when she passes?
Are we doing enough to teach the entire gospel to our young people? Are we giving them the insights and accumulated understanding which we have developed over a lifetime of study? Or are we leaving them in a position to have to “reinvent the wheel” after we are gone?
These days we have so many advantages in the study and understanding of God’s word. Numerous translations are readily available, amazing Bible study aids are at our disposal, both in hardcopy and electronic media. We have Bible study tools at our fingertips which our ancestors could never imagine. But I am not convinced, and there is no assurance that this will always be the case. When I see the steady secularizing and humanizing of our culture, and begin to understand the powerful forces which are at work censoring the various web search engines and similar tools, I can imagine a time when it will be more difficult to actually find God’s word. Many of the newer translations have already deviated far away from it, and the reliable translations are often consulted less frequently.
I also think of the amazing sermons and lectures as well as other works of the past which have been lost or forgotten. As time permits, I try to listen to old recordings of sermons from pioneer preachers of days gone by, and I am amazed at their insights. I wish there was some way to preserve them for future generations. I am certain that many of them have already been lost. Recordings of sermons by N.B. Hardeman, for example, are very rare, and recorded sermons of preachers before him are basically nonexistent. There are a few written collections, but those are but a tip of the iceberg of what once was. For the most part, those magnificent lessons are lost. And I know of faithful gospel preachers who have preached 100 sermons a year for many years, which were never recorded or preserved in any known way, other than in the scattered notepads of hearers long gone. We need to be faithfully teaching the next generation everything we know of the word of God. It’s content, its beauty, its style, its implications, how to defend and contend earnestly for it, how to practice and appreciate it. We need to instill in them our respect and admiration for the word, so that they will remember how important it is. And we need to emphasize the basic doctrines of the Bible, such as the plan of salvation, the nature and organization of the church, and so many others. In some cases, it took many years of study to restore these understandings and practices back to the original. It becomes especially hard when they get so corrupted by denominational and other error. We have been entrusted with the precious word of God, and we need to remember that the church is always but one generation away from losing it.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.