The Young Believer in the Assembly
Richard T. English, M. A., Larkfield
We may well be thankful, in these days when in many of the denominational gatherings there are few young folk to lie found, except where the attraction is some worldly activity which can never lead any to the Saviour, that in many assemblies there are active and eager group of young believers. They are of course, the Church of the future, and it is the duty of the elder brethren, not only to care for them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but also so to set them an example that they may say without hesitation, 'This is the Way, walk ye in it."
AIMS OF THE ELDER BRETHREN
It is unfortunate that in some assemblies the elder brethren, as regards their attitude to the young believers in their care, may be divided into two camps, neither of which can bring the results all wish to see. Firstly, there are those who are convinced that their mission is to rule the flock as despots, and who only acknowledge the presence of the tender lambs and the yearlings in occasional words of advice, addressed to the "young people." Such are they who always regard any new suggestion of ways of service with the coming generation as befog suspect, because it was not done in earlier days. Should the under twenties themselves wish to carry on some activity within the assembly, there is from band of elders much holding up of hands in would-be holy horror. 'Let them come to the gospel meeting and the Bible reading that was always good enough in our young days." On the other hand, there are those Elders — often the once who do not take kindly to advancing years (and wish still to be recognized as being youthful, if not exactly young) — who think the young people can do nothing wrong. However unsuitable the scheme they suggest, it is 'giving the young people a chance to express themselves' and the assembly promises and finances must be devoted to this cause, regardless of what others may think. Indeed, if one so much as suggests that there may be a wiser course, a middle way between their attitude and the Severity of the die-hards, he is at once condemned as not wanting to encourage the young people.
Fortunate, then, thy assembly where some at least of the elders are able to keep an even keel as they sail between the Scylla and Charybdis of despotism and indiscipline in this matter; they will be able to minister alike to old and young as their spiritual common-sense suggests may be necessary.
This ministry takes many forms, in all of which the elder should be blameless. Pad calls for him to be vigilant (1 Tim. 3. 2). This quality will not only enable him to see the lamb getting into difficulties and to help him back into the Way; it will also keep him vigilant as to the example he sets to those who respect his position, and so give them cause to esteem him highly in love for his work's sake (1 Thess. 5. 13).
It is not sufficient that the elder should be careful of his behaviour, in the spirit of 1 Cor. 8. 9, lest his liberty in some matter become a stumbling-block to them that are weak; he must also watch his behaviour in the ordinary course of assembly life. Perhaps the most sacred duty of those who recognize their priestly responsibilities is in public prayer and praise; let their words be such us express the mind of the flock. Many a young believer has been driven from the prayer meetings by the lengthy theological discourses of some of his elder brethren, which in some cases can only be distinguished from their equally unedifying ministry by the fact that when they are praying their words are interspersed with such phrases as 'Thou knowest, father,' and 'as we read in Thy Word.' Nobody, young or old, will object to a long prayer if obviously both fervent and effective, but length, without, fervour never made anyone appear a righteous man.
Again, elder brethren are, according to Paul, to be apt to teach, "Vigilance should be exercised in this question of aptness. It is presuming upon the patience of the assembly — if not downright bad-mannered — to occupy time, particularly on a Sunday morning, in talking for talking sake. The young believer is probably quicker than any to recognize the brother who must say something for what he is — a carnally-minded self-glorifier. Equally, he who has .something to say which is worth hearing quickly has the ear of the voting believer who wants to learn.
Behaviour. How dishonouring to our Lord it is when brethren, who should know better how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God (1 Tim. 3. 15, R.V.), allow a group of young people to get the upper hand, so that the assembly's place of meeting is turned into a place of turmoil. It is one of the signs of the times that disobedience and love of pleasure rather than of God (2 Tim. 3) shall rule, but this should not be so among the people of God. How frequently is "chorus-singing" allowed to degenerate into a shouting-match while the youngsters have their choice — and how little is this choice guided into the right way! The elders have a considerable responsibility in the matter of the choruses and hymns which they allow to be used in the various meetings. Many choruses today suffer from having too "swingy" a tune; the sacred words might, as well be abandoned, so little chance have they of making any impression on the jazz-soaked minds of the present generation. Some hymns suffer from a very difficult fault - they are so antiquated, their tunes so pointless and so very similar to each other that they attract no attention at all.
An elder is required to have his children in subjection with all gravity. It is a notable fact that the 'children' in the assembly enjoy far more any meeting - in which a proper standard of discipline and gravity are maintained than when the 'leader' weakly submits to the demands of some rowdy minority. To be successful, meetings for young people must be brisk and full of interest, either from subject matter or change of activity. The young believers who show aptitude for it should be asked to take a controlled share in the meeting, though usually not in its arrangement — where experience is especially valuable. If this method of leading on the younger ones is employed consistently, they will learn from the older generation mid at the same time learn for themselves how to apply their own talents. It can never be right to ask an untaught youngster to take a place of responsibility until he has both helped an older believer in the work and learned from the Scriptures how to serve in ft God-pleasing manner.
AIMS OF THE YOUNG BELIEVER
Thus far we have viewed our subject particularly from the point of view of those who are older. Let us be practical from the other approach also.
Paul's own son in the faith, Timothy, has doubtless served as an example to young believers all down the Christian age. Certain instructions are given him in chapter 4 of the first letter, with, the comment "meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all." Now it is a very certain fail that without attention to the things of God, no young believer will ever take his (or her) place in the assembly with profit, either to himself or to others. Let us then look together at the things to which Paul drew young Timothy's attention. They will teach us how to live in the company of older believers in such way that no man will 'despise our youth.'
'Be thou an example of the believers.' This, which Paul puts first, is all too often entirely forgotten in our present assembly life. The eager faith of the spiritual young believer, pure and single in purpose, as shown in the manner of his address to his elders, in his whole walk and the love which he shows to all, may often recall to some traveller in the Way his own early devotion to his Lord. How precious that the life of a young believer, sanctified by constant attention to the prime necessities of spiritual life, can be an inspiration to every member of the assembly. 'Much more those members of the "body, which seems to be more feeble, are necessary; God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked." (1 Cor. 12. 22 & 24).
There is a practical out-working of this example which all young men would do well to observe. If they do not like the manner in which their elders monopolize the prayer-meeting, let them show by short and simple petitions that men are not always heard for their much speaking. If they do not like to listen to the older ones theorizing in the conversational Bible-reading, let them ask questions which by their contact with the needs of daily life will bring their older brethren to speak on a level more easily understood and more profitable to all.
Assembly government. Paul knew well that, pride is the greatest breeder of failure in the Christian life. That is why (1 Tim. 3. 6) he forbade responsibility in the assembly government to a novice. The young believer has no experience in this field and should not try to exalt himself into it before his turn. This is one sphere in which the famous saying of a statesman of resent years, 'time is on our side', is really true. The young believer can expect his turn, in good time; for the older generation will past away. If the younger ones think they can do better in the matter of assembly rule, their profiting will appear to all in due course. This is not to say that a young brother who is well-taught in the Scriptures may not sometimes be able to point for his elders a way of obedience which they had not seen. The elders, in some assemblies, through lack of teaching, may perhaps be relatively ill-taught themselves, and therefore more liable to error. If they are spiritually minded they will hear God's word, whoever explains it to them.
Paul bids the young believer give attention to reading. Without this no progress can possibly be made. Even in the assemblies it is unwise to accept tradition as a teacher. The Word of God must provide us in all things with the reason for the hope that is in us. Unless we are thoroughly and constantly familiar with what it teaches, we shall again and again find that we fail to please God in assembly life as well as privately. "Brethren, be not children in understanding" (1 Cor. 14. 20), "Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church" (1 Cor. 14. 12).
Exportation and doctrine, referred to in 1 Tim. 4. 13, were particularly to be in the service of Timothy as he went out with the fellowship of the elders, expressed in their laying their hands, on him. A similar service will come the way of any young believer with the gift, if he given attention to reading.
How many young believers stay children spiritually, and in the assembly, because they neglect the gift that is in them? If it is wrong for an older brother to take time in the meeting in saying things which are not edifying (and it is wrong), it is equally harmful to the meeting if a younger brother fails to give his contribution when the Spirit requires it. He may say he has never taken any previous part in public worship or service, or he may feel his knowledge of God's ways is insufficient for the occasion. If it is the former, let him no longer hesitate; if it is the latter, let him give attention to reading, let him meditate upon those things and give himself wholly to them.
If a young man wilfully neglects his gift, the whole body will suffer. He will have no profiting, no increase in his talents, to appear to all when his turn comes to take the lead in assembly life, and he will then find himself for ever relegated to a spiritual back-bench, and the assembly the poorer for losing his gift. 'Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine," says Paul; “continue in them, for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee,” (1 Tim. 3. 16).
To sum up then, the young believer must by his life and pure faith be an example to the whole church; and he must, by study and diligence, fit himself to take his place in public ministry when his turn comes. If he does not, all the Church will suffer from the loss of talents which God gave him to use. It is not sufficient to say "there are others"; no other has quite the same gifts. God forbid that any young believer reading this should become a castaway because of neglecting the gift that is in him.
(Readers who are concerned about the need of pioneer evangelism in this country will be interested in a message written for American Christians by an Evangelist with 32 years' experience in the States. If we are going to pray that the Lord may raise up more pioneer evangelists we would do well to ask ourselves, first of all, if we are doing our utmost to support those whom He has already raised up. Eds.).