Summary: The Christian, and especially the elder of the church, is engaged in a lifelong campaign. He must prepare the next generation to enter into the conflict.

“This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” [1]

The Faith is always but one generation from extinction. Should one generation fail to reach succeeding generations, the Faith will cease to exist. This is assuredly borne out in regional situations. At one time, the Faith had permeated North Africa, which became known for vigorous evangelism and the growth of Christian intellectualism. The Faith was vibrant in the Roman provinces of Numidia and Africa. Carthage was home to Tertullian and to Augustine, who had moved from Hippo in Numidia to that great city. Carthage became a centre of Christian thought and a primary centre for Christian ideals. Auxum, an area that is identified today with Ethiopia, was at one time more Christian than was Greece. Where is the Faith in Tunisia, Algeria and Libya today? What influence has Ethiopia on the Faith today?

Antioch was the principal city of Syria in the earliest days of the Faith. From this city, Ignatius ministered and influenced the course of the Faith in the early days of Christianity. Similarly, historians of the Faith will recall that Clement of Alexandria ministered in Egypt. Where are the churches dedicated to the Faith of the Master in Syria and Egypt today?

Of course, the Bible makes it quite plain that Galatia was evangelised by the Apostle Paul, as was the City of Ephesus and the towns lying within the sphere of influence of that city. The first council of Nicaea was in Bithynia, located within modern Turkey. Polycarp, a disciple of John the beloved disciple, served the Faithful in Smyrna, situated in modern day Turkey. Constantinople became a centre for Christianity in the centuries following the apostolic era. Where is the Faith of Christ the Lord today, in the nation we know as Turkey?

The great cathedrals of Italy, France, Spain and Germany testify to the influence of the Faith in those European lands. Great churches found in Switzerland, Holland, Belgium and the Czech Republic testify to the influence of the giants of the Reformation in those lands.

In more recent days, one need but recall the vigorous missionary advance propelled by giants from within the British Empire. George Whitfield, John and Charles Wesley, Hudson Taylor, Charles Spurgeon, Mary Slessor, George Mueller, Henry Martyn and William Carey are Christian luminaries reminding mankind of the bright glow of the Faith that once characterised the British Isles. Today, a few embers glow dimly in that nation while Islam seems prepared to displace the Faith of Christ the Lord as central to British life.

The history of the Faith is a story of advance and retreat. The Faith is the recounting of a cyclic tale. Someone has said of the history of the Faith: “The first generation is holy; the second generation is religious; and the third generation is godless.” There is more truth to this perception than we might like to acknowledge. When a movement within the Faith, or even when a church, is first raised up, it is imbued with ideals that call those about to return to the foundations of the Faith, to hold the Word as precious as did the first disciples of our Lord.

Rejected by religious leaders and adherents identified with the establishment, the saints that fight those initial battles are inured to hardship. These hardy souls stand firm against the mundane and mindless recitation of meaningless liturgies that pass for worship, longing instead to be in the presence of the True and Living God. They will not compromise with evil because they are convinced that God is holy and that He is worthy of their best service.

As this first generation passes off the scene, another generation assumes leadership; and though this newer generation superficially espouses the tenets embraced by the founders of the movement, ardor has been replaced by formality. The liturgy becomes ossified, knowledge of the Holy One fades into a dim memory and people begin to go to church rather than being the church. Services become predictable, the routine becomes comfortable and change is seen as a threat. Adherents seek respectability within the communities in which they live; rather than shining light into darkened places, they seek to confirm complacent adherents in their lethargy.

A final generation that maintains the outward symbols of religious practise will arise, but there will be nothing righteous about them. Long years past, these pretenders ceased seeking what pleases God. They will attempt to update their practise in a futile effort to attract people of this dying world to donate money to keep the church or movement alive, but the steadily dwindling congregation composed of aged members will testify to the fact that the Living God has already written “Ichabod” over the doors of the congregation.

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