Summary: Why do so many children of professing Christians fail to live up to the light received in the home?

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When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.

The first generation is holy; the second generation is religious; and the third generation is godless. This assessment provided by an adage I heard in the early days of my service to the Lord, describes the spiritual history of the people of God beginning with the Old Testament and down to this day. The cycle of success and failure is a generational phenomenon that sees the first generation marked by growth, the second generation characterised by entrenchment, and the third generation marked by decline. This pattern, observed throughout the Old Testament, is observed also among the New Testament churches. Obviously, what is true in such a broad sweep of the faithful is equally true as a more generalised phenomenon among contemporary churches.

I am unprepared to say that Canadian churches have entered into a phase I would be compelled to identify as the “third generation syndrome,” but I am quite certain that we do teeter between that and the “second generation syndrome.” I am perhaps sacrificing an opportunity to confront the “third generation syndrome,” but through study of the Word I know that the tendency of all religious institutions is toward apostasy.

It is difficult to find a religious institution more than one hundred years old that still adheres to the principles of the founding fathers. Without vigorous effort, institutions slide into mediocrity. Noel Smith, one of the founders of an influential Baptist fellowship, was asked what lay ahead for the group. Without hesitation, the crusty newspaper editor replied, “Apostasy.” He was correct. All denominations, all movements, all schools, all churches, incline toward apostasy. It is necessary for each generation to return to the standards of the founding fathers if this slide is to be avoided.

In an excellent study of the Judges of Israel, former Calgary pastor Gary Inrig penned a chapter entitled “The Second Generation Syndrome.” In that chapter he discusses the difficulty of passing on our vision and convictions to our children and grandchildren. It is a daunting and challenging task for any parent; it is rare for the untrammelled, vigorous faith of parents to be handed down to succeeding generations.

Inrig writes, “The second generation has a natural tendency to accept the status quo and to lose the vision of the first generation. Too often the second-generation experience is a second-hand experience. Church history is filled with examples of it, and sadly, so are many churches. The parent’s fervour for the Lord Jesus Christ becomes the children’s formalism and the grandchildren’s apathy.”

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