Friday, September 15, 2006

"Jesus Camp" and Lessons from the 13th Century

A friend from church alerted me of this movie being released today. It's entitled, Jesus Camp. It is a documentary that won awards and created quite a buzz at the Tribeca Film Festival last Spring in New York City. Though I have not seen the movie, I have watched several trailers and read interviews with the producers and the woman who is the primary subject of the film, "Pastor" Becky Fischer.

She strikes me as a very sincere woman who is seriously misguided in her understanding of the Gospel and Christianity. Through her Kids in Ministry organization she is encouraging children to come to faith in Christ--as she understands it--and to become fully involved in every aspect of Christian ministry, including preaching, teaching and prophesying. Thus she highlights "Peewee Prophets" on her website.

Obviously, I disagree with Fischer's Pentecostalism, but that is not what I find so disconcerting about her efforts to train the rising generation of children. Rather, what I find alarming is the muddled understanding of the Gospel, the church and the kingdom of God that comes through in the reports and information from her website. Forget the claims of raising a baby from the dead at the "2006 Extreme Prophetic Conference for Kids." What I find to be of greater concern is the spiritual harm being done to children in the name of Christian teaching.

They are being taught that experience trumps truth and that the proper goal of their generation is to take America back for Christ. Charges that Fischer's camps for children are little different than the terrorist training centers sponsored by militant Muslims are unfair and reveal the ignorance or left-wing ideological agenda of those making such claims.

However, I do find some frightening parallels between the attitudes of children featured in the Jesus Camp promos and those who were instrumental in the 13th century children's crusades. Stephen, the French pre-teen shepherd and Nicholas, the boy from the Rhineland village of Cologne, each led thousands of children in quests to convert the infidels and recapture the holy city of Jerusalem from the Muslims. Spurred on by ignorant adults, untold thousands lost their lives to treacherous travel and traitorous merchants. Full of zeal and bereft of knowledge, they gave themselves to a fool's errand and it cost them dearly.

Becky Fischer is certainly right in her concern. Christians must take seriously our responsibility to train our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Merely exposing them for an hour or two a week to religious instruction will not adequately prepare them for a life of true discipleship. We must teach them, love them, show them and blaze a trail in front of them that enables us to say, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ " (1 Corinthians 11:1). Parents and pastors must learn to labor as a woman in birth pangs until Christ is formed in the children under our care (Galatians 4:19). This means that we will guard against encouraging superficial decisions to give mental assent to certain facts and call such decisions conversion.

All of this will require a mentality significantly different from that which too often prevails in evangelical children's ministries where fun is featured more than faith. Catechetical instruction as well as doctrinal and ethical training should be reclaimed as useful tools in the effort to ground our children in the Word of God. We must not hesitate teaching them the whole counsel of God and speaking plainly to them about the cost of discipleship.

Richard Wurmbrand, who suffered for the faith in Romania during the last half of the 20th century, describes his farewell to children in the church before he left his troubled homeland.
I remember my last Sunday School class before I left Romania. I took a group of ten to fifteen boys and girls on a Sunday morning, not to a church, but to the zoo. Before the cage of lions I told them, "Your forefathers in faith were thrown before such wild beasts for their faith. Know that you also will have to suffer. You will not be thrown before lions, but you will have to suffer at the hands of men who would be much worse than lions. Decide here and now if you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ." They had tears in their eyes when they said, "Yes."
This is a far cry from whipping children into an emotional frenzy and then asking them, "How many of you want to be those who will give up their lives for Jesus?" Maybe we should hold more Sunday School classes in front of caged lions.

Psalm 78:1-8 provides a challenge that we need to take to heart as we think about helping the next generation launch into our troubled world:
1 Listen, O my people, to my instruction; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, 3 Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. 4 We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. 5 For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should teach them to their children, 6 That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children, 7 That they should put their confidence in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments, 8 And not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not prepare its heart, And whose spirit was not faithful to God.

8 comments:

GUNNY said...

"Christians must take seriously our responsibility to train our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Merely exposing them for an hour or two a week to religious instruction will not adequately prepare them for a life of true discipleship. We must teach them, love them, show them and blaze a trail in front of them that enables us to say, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ " (1 Corinthians 11:1). Parents and pastors must learn to labor as a woman in birth pangs until Christ is formed in the children under our care (Galatians 4:19). This means that we will guard against encouraging superficial decisions to give mental assent to certain facts and call such decisions conversion."

Very well said, Tom.

So many times the parents forget the weight of the responsibility they have as those entrusted with the spiritual development of their children.

The church can supplement, but will find it hard to overcome contrary messages the rest of the week. May we never tire of molding and shaping this next generation to know and serve Christ rightly.

Andrew said...

I've got a buddy who brought up the following passage in his blog: "1 Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ -- who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you. 2 But I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with that confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh. 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled." 2 Corinthians 10:1-6"

It's a passage that Miss Fischer (and all of us) would do well to remember.

scripturesearcher said...

So-called "cheap grace" and the contemporary practice of "easy believism" is the curse of our culture and we are paying the price for such false teaching.

Sacrifice and suffering are seldom found in Christian circles in the USA. But things will change!

Matthew 5:10-12, 2 Timothy 3:12-17

solus Christus said...

My hope is that God does indeed raise up children who are sensitive to His Spirit and can be used as instruments in His hands for revival in the future. God has certainly done this in the past. But let us be soberly reminded with Jonathan Edwards as our example, that these children were children who were saturated in Scripture in the home and had a pervasive godly heritage passed on to them. God then used them mightily as young adults and adults. I fear that in our age of entertainment, our culture is way too undisciplined to raise up children who know the Scriptures, and ultimately know the God of the Scriptures. Instead our culture gets children all excited during camp, yet there is little if any Scriptural instruction in the home.
If our culture raises up peewee prophets who do not know the Bible, we going to continue to remain in the great theological shallowness we are currently in, and it is only going to get worse. Any so called movement of revival from these pee wee prophets will be open to a false gospel.
May God give us grace to raise up children who have a deep understanding of the Scriptures and have a great heart for God, and hope that God does use them mightily in the future for revival. We need it in America!

GUNNY said...

"So-called "cheap grace" and the contemporary practice of "easy believism" is the curse of our culture and we are paying the price for such false teaching." -scripturesearcher

AMEN!

I think this problem is epidemic and it so coincides and fuels the consumerism rampant in that which is called Christianity.

Expectations are pitched very low with regard to what it means to be a Christian and people rise to the level of expectations, or stoop as the case is with "free love" (cheap grace as you call it).

I remember a sign on a wall to inspire, "if you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time."

Well, if you point these folks in the direction of laziness due to a faulty gospel, you can't be surprised by the results.

Andrew said...

Tom, your post is very correct and Biblical, and the comments previously posted supplement these same truths. I just want to thank you for the ministry that you are faithfully serving in. I was so happy to find your site from a post from another site about Biblically pure SBC churches. I was unaware that you even existed until a few hours ago and I am so thankful to God that you are laboring for the kingdom. Praise the Lord and God bless you!

Hugh Williams said...

Thanks for the thoughtful and winsome response; I'll take it as a model for my responses to such things in the future.

I tend to get quite exercised -- indeed, to a fault -- over the folly the American evangelical church tends to engage in. I think such folly only makes the gospel even more offensive and dismissible to the world that needs to hear it. If someone's going to reject the gospel, I'd rather it be because they found the gospel offensive -- not the evangelist.

I just can't stand the fact that, whatever else you might say, well-meaning people like Ms. Fischer are "poisoning the well," after a fashion: they are, in fact, inoculating much of the culture against the gospel.

B and B said...

Thanks, Tom. I enjoyed hearing you at a Founders Conference two years ago, and this blog is a blessing. You are in my prayers. I appreciate the rebuke and admonition on training children. I quoted you at length in our post here.