We have this crazy notion that we can just pass the Gospel on from one generation to the next. I suppose that’s true in some respects. Still, we need to realize that merely handing someone a Bible or witnessing to God’s power and love doesn’t really do the trick.
Don’t get me wrong. Giving someone the written Word and telling them your own God-story is important. We need to do those things—early and often. But what WE do is not the end game—it’s only the beginning.
Once God calls, every individual has to, by some means, appropriate the Gospel for him or herself. Regardless of your theological bent, you will probably agree that, for each believer, there comes a time of awakening to God’s truth. Until that happens, you can give them all the Bibles in the world and present them with your best perceptions to no avail.
Down the Damascus Road
Sometimes that awakening is sudden and profound—often referred to as a “Damascus Road experience.” In many others, it comes along slowly, deftly, and almost imperceptibly until that person finally realizes his or her position and posture before the Lord. Like the proverbial snowflakes, no two experiences or journeys are alike.
I can’t remove all my knowledge of God, Scripture, and personal experience, duplicate it, and pour it into someone else. Even if I could, there still would be something lacking. Every generation needs to rediscover the Gospel for themselves. The Lord will speak to them differently than he does to me. He will reveal himself in vastly distinct ways, and they will have to listen with different ears than I can.
One of the big mistakes the church makes is to think every succeeding generation should be exactly like the last. If that were true, we could be very comfortable with trying to create carbon copies of ourselves. The big problem is the mere fact that God is much bigger than all of that. If he was limited to the way we do things, we wouldn’t need him any longer. But he’s not, and we do.
A Lot of Double-Talk
We, of course, need to do what we can to impart our knowledge, experience, and whatever insight we’ve collected to the next generation of believers. The Lord has entrusted us with that task. They, on the other hand, would do well to pay attention to our collective wisdom. In the end, however, they will have to rediscover the Gospel—on their own level, right where they are.
A lot of this might sound like double-talk to many of you, but it really isn’t. Tomorrow’s church is not going to look like today’s. Sure, there will be many similarities. But the little box we attempt to squeeze ourselves into just isn’t going to contain what the Lord has in store. When people discover the reality of the Gospel for themselves, they will answer Jesus’ call to “follow” him. He will take them in directions and to places we might never imagine. God is astounding!
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]