There is sometimes heard among workers the somewhat uncharitable criticism that a certain evangelist in his recent baptism really obtained half his number of candidates from the young people of his district, that his public effort was practically abortive. Such a criticism betrays the presence of a double fault. First, that to baptize one of our own youth is an inferior accomplishment; and second, it suggests that it is a method adopted to satisfy the numbers complex and secure one's name in the higher-bracket figure list. Gipsy Smith said: "Save an old person and you save a unit; save a young fellow or girl and you save a whole multiplication table." When the young person saved has an Adventist background, is it not true that you plant a "square root" from which can grow the best tree for strength and beauty?
In the criticism, however, lurks the suggestion of an even more dangerous possibility, which seems to be proved by the slip stream of apostasy out the church's back door. That is, that we tend to consider the work for our own young people to be largely finished once they have passed through the baptismal waters. The fact that is true about the criticism is that it is recognizably easier to baptize one of our own young people than to baptize a worldling. The peak age for conversion among Seventh-day Adventist youth is twelve. Then it is that the child's mind is impressionable and alert. The faith and virtue of one's fathers, absorbed and reflected over the earliest years, soon produce a desire for an equal footing with the father. However, this is true in any religion. The really important and vital work for our own young people is surely after they have been baptized, when their thinking becomes more independent and is more likely to be challenged.
Peter tells us to add to knowledge faith and virtue. How many of our finest young people are caught in the slip stream of apostasy in their quest for knowledge, which ofttimes develops in them a passionate but misguided enthusiasm for something other than the message for today! This is often due to the fact that we have not paralleled the other knowledge which they were pursuing, with the facts of present truth, not only theological and moral, but scientific and philosophic. When evolutionary pilots raided and defeated the church, they succeeded, not because the church had not faith or virtue, but because it had not scientific knowledge to counter the onslaught. There is a large and growing section of our high school young people who need help in this direction. We cannot satisfy their progressive passion by "come to church" slogans or by telling them just to have faith as a little child.
In the vital issues that are raised in the growing mind of today, young people must have reality and facts. We have the truth. We therefore have no need to fear facts or to discourage our youth from higher education. Let us challenge them to an investigation of the message from a scientific and philosophic point of view. Their former virtue and faith will prefer complementary knowledge of that kind to the nebulous knowledge of the cynic and the higher critic. We cannot, of course, be blind to the fact of personal sinfulness, which no education can cure. No intellectual activity can ever be a substitute for regenerating power and saving grace. Nevertheless, if we are going to offset misguided enthusiasm, we must do it with another enthusiasm based on faith, virtue, and knowledge.
An Anchor for the Probing Mind
This, I believe, is effectively done by informal, unconventional gatherings, totally different from normal church services, where open discussion can be enjoyed. There is more opportunity in home gatherings than in church gatherings for frankness and freedom of speech, and more chance of a personal contact with individual problems. Confidence in the Bible and guidance in the confusion of modern thought can very effectively be brought to our young people in the study of Revelation. It is an anchor to the straying and probing mind such as nothing else I know.
"When the books of Daniel and Revelation are better understood, believers will have an entirely different religious experience."—Testimonies to Ministers, p.
"The solemn messages that have been given in their order in the Revelation are to occupy first place in the minds of God's people."—Testimonies, Vol. VIII, p. 302.
Young people respond to such a study, because it is progressive and convincing and spiritual, as well as topical. It lends itself to varied forms of presentation in which they can take part themselves such as tabulating, symbol drawing, and films. It also makes them Seventh-day Adventists. Yet it is amazing how little our youth know about prophecy. Add to this studies in archaeology and other Bible-convincing topics, and you have the present Progressive Class courses running a good
In small churches where young people do not number half a dozen, but where are found some of our best youth, this plan is as effective as in the big churches. Take them to a home, and half a dozen seems a crowd. They are not discouraged by empty chairs.
Such a plan not only provides for and encourages deeper and higher thought but also requires something else. It demands the best education at our colleges for our young ministry, and it demands progressiveness among the leaders. The results of this plan will then be seen in our young people and will help them not to be afraid of discussing the truth or of comparing it with the threadbare theories of modern thought. One young person recently told me that after a chance encounter with a scientific unbeliever, she came away feeling empty. Let us fill that space with knowledge, truly so called.
Peter's ladder admonishes us to climb up beyond knowledge to temperance. Let us call it, preferably, balance. One of the oft-forgotten elements of youth training is the development of balance and the avoidance of extremes. Nobody loves a sour-faced, prune-wrinkled joy killer. Our Revelation-studying, faithful, and virtuous young people should be balanced. They willingly give up "questionable amusements" and crave some form of recreation. Let us see that they have it. Give them good reasons for not attending theaters, dancing, playing cards—solid, sympathetic, considerate reasons. Hands held up in holy horror add to the glamour of such pleasures.
Plan regularly to get the young people together for swimming, hiking, table tennis, outdoor tennis' etc. Progressive Class work can be made to fit in with such activities. At gatherings in homes for study, some well-selected music is a further attraction, either at the beginning or at the end. Firm leadership and a discerning eye should be able to prevent irreverence and unnecessary frivolity.
Peter's ladder noticeably begins in the heart, and like a flower opens out and away into fragrance and service toward others. Brotherly kindness and charity imply energetic, sincerely motivated service. In these days, when the unconverted are critical of churches, methods of an unconventional type are essential. This is an age of informality. It is hard to get people into the cold atmosphere of a church. By informal means must the fervor and reality of the message be made to possess them. There is, therefore, such an opportunity for service for young people as has never before been enjoyed.
Team evangelism, filmslides in the homes, literature distribution—with literature really conforming to the promises of "special" literature, well printed and right up-to-date—will, with leadership, give expression to enthusiasm and a breathing out, after all the breathing in. Brisk up-to-date training and information will strike home to the hearts of our youth, and through them to the hearts of the seekers outside.
Furthermore, there is room for our young people in our church offices. We must make them sense their responsibility and help them to apply their energy and enthusiasm to church campaigns and church routine. Older members must be tactfully- taught to relinquish their grip upon age-old methods and let youth take their places in the church and in the world, revealing a righteous and energetic Christian character.
Not till Peter's ladder has become Jack's and Jill's, and we have seen them mounting the rungs from childlike faith to mature, independent conviction, can we for one moment relinquish our hold and leave them to the tender mercies of an untrained local leader. Better to be criticized for spending too much time with them than to have our consciences burnt by the boredom of our youth.