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The Task of Instruction

Rev. Rodger Dale

1974 Synod Convention Essay

“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7 New International Version) This summary note illustrates the effect of the stubbornly courageous testimony of the very early Christians in Jerusalem during the days following Pentecost. Reading the first chapters of Acts you get the definite impression the Jerusalem Christians were all “wrapped up” in their faith. They had a passion for Christ. They studied and continued in the word of the Apostles. They worshiped God both in “church” and in life. They were courageous against powerful resistance, even to the point of gladly dying for their Savior. The total effect of this kind of living was a witness so powerful no one could silence or even intimidate them. “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

How many Christians do you know who are “wrapped up” in their Christianity? How many have a passion for Christ like that of the early Christians? How many have a deep understanding of their commitment to Christ and what it implies about daily living? Why doesn’t the total witness of the church today have an effect like it did in Jerusalem?

We can counter by saying it isn’t fair to compare modern Christians to those in Jerusalem. But why isn’t it fair? Why are we excused? Is it harder to be a Christian in this century? In this country?

We can counter that it isn’t fair to judge others. On the other hand, can we help but form impressions about differences we plainly see? Today the church has a credibility gap because of its flickering witness. Instead of answering, “We cannot but speak what we have heard and seen,” the average Christian is a silent Christian. To characterize this someone made a poster with the caption: “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

This suggests radical deficiencies which I personally believe are real. I believe we are in a rut. And I believe a good part of our problem is that 20th Century Christians don’t comprehend the greatness of God, the greatness of Christ’s redemption and the greatness of our Christian faith. We have the words and doctrines but not the fruits of committed witness and life. The neo-Pentecostal movement is a galloping attempt to imitate the spirit of early Christians, but it strays from its objective.

Furthermore, I believe our worship is often hollow forms and our prayer life is anemic. Not that I am pessimistic. If only we could break out of our rut, the sky’s the limit, for the Spirit of God is powerful today too.

But the reason I make these comments is that Christian education has a lot to do with the problem. Our objective in Christian education is to communicate this word of God to all people in such a way that each person, as the ELS Explanation says, “clings to Jesus with (his) whole heart, and consecrates (his) whole life to Him as a perpetual thankoffering for all His love to us.” (ELS Catechism/Explanation, Q. 382)

The purpose of this essay is to consider THE TASK OF INSTRUCTION with particular emphasis upon the situation in our day. The essay is divided into four parts:

I. The task of instruction in the light of our culture;

II. The task of instruction in the light of modern thought;

III. The task of instruction in the light of the mass media; and

IV. The task of instruction in the light of American family life.

Let us consider first:

I. The task of instruction in the light of our culture

When a baby is born in the hospital strict rules are observed to provide the best possible environment for the new baby. As a result the mortality rate among babies in America, prior to permissive abortion, was remarkably low. This shows the value of optimum environment.

The same is true of a garden. You can ensure success by planting the best seed at the right time in the best soil. The Lord usually provides suitable weather. By providing these optimum conditions you ensure success.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do the same with our cultural environment? if we could order society just as we want so our children could grow up in optimum environment? if we could avoid the temptations of the world? But since the Garden of Eden this has not been known. Since Adam and Eve obeyed Satan this world has never been a paradise.

Though culture has never been optimum “soil” for Christianity since Adam’s sin, it is plain that our culture grows even more adverse day by day. Senior citizens often express fears for the children born today. They have observed the hurried demise of Christ in our culture. As one observer put it, “Christ has been relegated to the position of an historical footnote.”

A good measuring stick of the changes in our culture is to compare the way of life of the 30’s generation with that of the 60’s; or even the 50’s with the 60’s. This great change has made possible the discovery of the generation gap.

Our culture is in a state of radical change as a result of our technology, affluence, mobility and the declining influence of Christianity. Our lives are revolutionized by technology. Former generations used to spend most of their time with the daily task of living. Now most of those tasks are done by machine or purchased as services. Ours is an “easy-come-easy-go” culture where hard work, industry and even honesty are no longer necessary virtues.

Affluence seems to make people more concerned about such important things as diet and hair style than their standing with almighty God. Instead of returning to give thanks to God, nine of the ten thoughtlessly go off to enjoy their blessings. Instead of giving thanks to God affluent man thinks he is more independent than ever. Affluence has led to hardcore covetousness. The proper stewardship of affluence is a heavy stewardship for the Christian.

Not to be underestimated is the important effect of our mobility. Our mobility contributes to the change in culture because it almost prevents us from having roots in the past. We move away physically from the influence of our parents and community where we would be likely to continue in their morals and beliefs. The traditional is not only considered outmoded; it is despised by the progressive person in our culture. To be called “traditional” about morals and beliefs is to be dismissed as irrelevant,

Thus it is only natural in these changing times for our society to part with its traditional moral values, for fornication to become acceptable and with it now also homosexuality. Our society is so totally preoccupied with sensuality we even find the sale of cow’s milk increasing when sensuality is introduced into its advertising.

Bored and rootless youth turn to drugs and new lifestyles, in search of the REAL, the Rock upon which to stand. Meanwhile the Rock of Ages is a culturally neglected possibility, This is the most regrettable development; almost all that rested upon the Rock in our former culture is being swept away. And it is doubtful such movements as the “Jesus People” will recover the Rock for our culture. It is likely the next disoriented generation will drift even farther from the only stable foundation for life, Jesus Christ.

Such culture is anything but optimum environment for children and for our task of Christian instruction. But the task is not impossible. If we ever think it is we should consider how Timothy could grow up in a Greek-Roman culture which was even more Christ-less. Or we should consider Joseph who kept his bearings in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon. Their Christian instruction had prepared them for the challenges of their culture.

A part of our culture which deserves to be considered by itself is modern thought. Modern thought makes the task of Christian instruction especially difficult because of its anti-supernatural bias. Our second objective will be to examine

II. The task of instruction in the light of modem thought.

Today, we find ourselves in a situation where our thinkers have developed a system of thought which completely excludes a supernatural God. Closely knit to this system is the theory of evolution which is employed to give a purely naturalistic explanation to all phenomena. To explain what is meant by “naturalism:” in philosophy “naturalism” is defined as “the doctrine denying that anything in reality has a supernatural significance; specifically the doctrine that scientific laws account for all phenomena, and that theological conceptions of nature are invalid…” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary)

Unfortunately, naturalism has become the unofficially accepted religion of our state. Naturalism governs society’s outlook, In the classrooms of our state schools, colleges and universities the day is begun and ended with no recognition of the presence and reality of God. God is not considered to be a factor in insights or events.

This is accepted as a neutral approach. “We are not interfering with any child’s religion because we stay away from the subject of religion,” say the educators. But the fact is that when you separate faith from learning, you separate religion from thought and the thinker from God. Let me give you an example. In an instruction class recently a college senior several times expressed amazement at the assertion that God set the laws of nature into motion. He had never thought of God as having to do with the laws of nature. And why should he? None of his teachers for 17 years had spoken of God’s part in the creation and preservation of our universe. To him God and religion were in an altogether separate class from scientific reality.

This is not an exception. It is more the rule. You cannot expect a student to have a God-centered outlook if God has been separated from his learning experience so much of the time. Instead of being pointed toward Christian goals, he is pointed only toward materialism and atheism. Since the chief duty of the Christian is to glorify God, we suffer a great burden in a system where God is not even considered.

It would be a regrettable oversight and discourtesy for us to overlook the witness of Christian teachers in non-parochial schools. Nevertheless even they are not permitted to bear full witness to Jesus Christ. They teach in an Academic prison where they are required to be almost silent about the One who means most to them.

The home and church have a formidable obstacle to overcome in modern thought which pervades our whole culture, our schools, our mass communications and the American approach to life. But it can be overcome. Moses was one who was schooled in Egypt. There was no Christ in his school. There was no Christ in his culture. But his mother’s faithful training enabled him to reject what was false and transitory. What a teacher his mother must have been!

Another obstacle facing Christian instruction today is the effect of mass media or mass communications. So we consider thirdly,

III. The task of instruction in the light of mass communications.

What is mass communications? Mass communication is defined as organized, public communication “directed toward a relatively large, heterogeneous and anonymous audience,” (Mass Communication; Charles R. Wright, Random House, p. 11-15)

In analyzing the effect of mass media Marshall McLuhan sees “society’s predominant technology of communication (as) the crucially determining force behind social changes,” (William P. Lindberry, ed., Mass Communications. H.W. Wilson Co., p. 39) He sees the invention of moveable type in the early 16th century as the beginning of a new era in which printed material shaped society. With the rise of electronic modes of communication McLuhan sees another reshaping of civilization. (Ibid., p. 39–40) Though we cannot give as much credit to forms of communication as he does, it is surely true that electronic media does have a greater impact than print. Electronic media does affect more of our senses and does speed the flow of information remarkably. But it is the effect upon our senses that concerns McLuhan so much.

Newspapers and books, then, if we accept the popular theory, have comparatively far less effect upon us than the electronic media. No one really thinks reading will be a thing of the past. The point is that we must come to recognize the revolutionary effect which electronic media has upon our civilization. This is a new problem. If it is true as McLuhan says that our whole being is changed by the electronic media, we face a frightening situation which demands some answers.

But to get to the point: while we accept the immense value of mass communications for society, we also regret that their potential is exploited for evil in pornographic books. pictures and movies. Any newsstand provides a demonstration with numerous covers featuring nudity, All the movies but those rated G are likely to include vulgarity, cursing, violence and explicit sex.

Popular songs, often an underestimated form of communication, have had a part in popularizing such things as the drug cult. But the constant confused definition of love portrayed in popular songs has wider influence, It is so predominately a self-gratification relationship. It is a “love” which does not recognize traditional morality. For example, and this is not an extreme case, one song carries the theme: “Put your head upon my pillow, Put your warm and tender body close to mine.” There is no mention of marriage as a prerequisite.

But when all is considered, television probably has far and away the greatest impact on our society of any mass communication. TV is so pervasive. Dr. John D. Haney, writing in Instructor, February 1971, says, “By the time a youth graduates from high school today, he has viewed approximately 15,000 hours of television and taken in 500 motion pictures, During the same period he has spent 11,000 hours in school… Television is their third parent and first teacher.”

The Christian Science Monitor Consumer for Monday, April 23, 1973, reports that a child watches 22,000 to 25,000 commercials a year.

Dr. Nicholas Johnson, former FCC Commissioner, in his report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence on December 19, 1968, said:

The academicians, research scientists and critics have been telling us for years of television’s impact upon the attitudes and behavior of those who watch it. They cite very persuasive statistics to indicate that television’s influence has affected, in one way or other, virtually every phenomenon in our present day society.

There are 60 million homes in the United States and over 95 percent of them are equipped with television sets. (More than 25% have two or more sets.) In the average home that set is turned on some 5 hours 45 minutes a day. The average male viewer, between his 2nd and 65th year, will watch television for over 3,000 entire days — roughly 9 full years of his life. During the average weekday winter evening, nearly half of the American people are to be found silently seated with fixed gaze upon a phosphorescent screen, experiencing the sensation of its radiation upon the retina of the eye. (Violence and the Media, Baker and Ball, p. 367–368.)

Anything so startlingly pervasive as TV has imposing potential for both good and evil. Which is the predominant effect? It is not our purpose here to give a full answer to that question, even if it is possible. In some ways TV has bettered our lives. In some ways we ire crippled by it. Family life, conversation and reading habits suffer immensely. On the other hand, we have seen and experienced much of the world through TV.

Serious concern has been expressed frequently, concern which has led to public investigations and public pressure, over the presence of so much violence in the programming. One study five years ago showed that in more than 70 percent of primetime programs on commercial TV “violence is an integral part.” (Mass Communications, p. 22) Even the protests following the many assassinations have failed to curb the violence satisfactorily. Sensuality and the vengeance motif should trouble us equally. Producers say sex and violence sell.

Less protest is leveled against the inundation of TV commercials but they deserve more scrutiny. Their phony assertions appeal to pride and selfish instincts creating a self-serving public whose underlying ambition in life is to gratify itself with some “miracle” product. Dr. Johnson is less than complimentary in his appraisal of commercials:

We learn from commercials that gainful employment is not necessary to high income. How rare it is to see a character in a commercial who appears to be employed. We learn that the single measure of happiness and personal satisfaction is consumption — conspicuous when possible. Few characters in televisionland seem to derive much pleasure from the use of finely developed skills in the pursuit of excellence, or from service to others. “Success” comes from the purchase of a product — a mouthwash or deodorant, say — not from years of rigorous study and training. How do you resolve conflicts? By force, by violence, by destroying “the enemy?” Not by being a good listener, by understanding or cooperation and compromise, by attempting to evolve a community consensus. Who are television’s leaders, its heroes, its stars? No educators, representatives or minority groups, the physically handicapped, the humble and the modest, or those who give their lives to the service of others. They are the physically attractive, glib and wealthy. What is to be derived from a relationship between man and woman? The self-gratification of sexual intercourse and little else — whatever the marital bonds may or may not be. What do you do when life throws other than roses in your hedonistic path ? You get “fast, fast, fast” relief from a pill — a headache remedy, a stomach settler, a tranquilizer, a pep pill or “the pill.” You smoke a cigarette, have a drink, or get high on pot or more potent drugs. You get a divorce or run away from home. Or you “chew your little troubles away.” But try to “work at” a solution, assume part of the fault lies with yourself, or attempt to improve your capacity to deal with life’s problems? Never. (Violence and the Media, p. 373–374.)

How many sermons and lessons on self-denial will it take to overcome a week of TV commercials? Commercials aimed at children have been out-lawed in Canada because of their predatory effect.

The TV industry disclaims the potential of their programming to produce harmful effects, But as Dr. Johnson points out this is internally self-contradictory. (Ibid., p. 371) The dramatic increase of sales resulting from TV commercials, a boast of the TV industry, contradicts their disclaimer. So does the fact that politicians usually spend half of their budget for TV.

Dr. Johnson summarized saying: “The principal thrust of my position is that television programming — commercials, entertainment, and public affairs — is one of the most important influences on all attitudes and behavior throughout our society,” (Ibid., p. 376)

Considering the pervasiveness of TV in our lives and its disproportionate preoccupation with sex, violence, and other noxious themes, we all would be wise to watch with discretion. Needless to say parents and Christian educators will want to reckon with the importance of TV and all the media. But lest we conclude we have encountered the greatest problem of Christian instruction. let us examine:

IV. The task of Christian instruction in the light of American family life.

Dr. Ner Littner, M.D. in a lecture at Northwestern University’s Television Symposium, 1969, pleads that we be careful not to make television an easy scapegoat and that where the mental health of a developing child is concerned, television “just isn’t in the same league with mother and father in (its) ability to help or harm a child’s mind and emotions.” (Television Quarterly, Vo. VIII, No. 4., p. 19)

The home is still the most important part of the child’s environment. No one has more opportunity to influence children than parents. Notice I said OPPORTUNITY to influence. This is corroborated by no less authority than Scripture itself. Dr. Howard Hendricks, chairman of the Christian Education Department, Dallas Theological Seminary, in a recent book called Heaven Help the Home, (Victor Books) says: “Columbia University spent a quarter of a million dollars in research, only to corroborate the truth of Scripture. Conclusion: there is no second force in the life of a child compared with the impact of his home. The compelling crisis today is the training and equipping of parents to do the job.” (p. 22)

The American home, by far the most important school for Christianity, is in shambles. And of all the reasons one of the foremost is that we think we are too busy to practice the basic principles of Christian living. Our lives are busy but too often we confuse self-centeredness with legitimate tasks. To have a successful home we must serve each other, not ourselves.

Children in today’s average American home suffer from what we might call “parental drain.” Their parents “drain” themselves with their own activities so that little is left of them emotionally to give to their children. Parents need the little time they have at home to relax. Children are often made to feel like intruders upon their parent’s badly needed relaxation, The obvious problem is that children are placed lower on the list of priorities than work and recreation. Results are tragic.

Parents, especially working mothers, ought to consider carefully whether they are “burning themselves out” for others and for unnecessary material benefits so that little is left for their most important possession of all, their children. The higher standard of living offers little satisfaction to a child who lacks the comfort of parental attention and guidance. The lack of understanding in teen years most surely results from lack of communication 10 years earlier, This is not to say that a mother cannot work outside the home or that the father cannot be busy. We are saying that children should not be “sacrificed” on the list of priorities because of covetousness. Children should be given the highest priority next to God himself.

But by far the most critical problem in the average American home is the lack of family worship, real, creative worship. Religion is practiced as a sideline. Too often religion is compartmentalized into the Sunday morning slot. The rest of the week God is just on call. Even in homes where there are daily devotions they are usually not as creative and effective as they should be.

The successful family in this culture must learn to know and worship God in their home, the arena of greatest influence. Children must learn in the home to know God’s Word well enough to meet the challenges to their faith. We emphasize the home because it is estimated that the average child is under the influence and instruction of the church only one percent of the time. (Heaven Help the Home, p. 21) A Christian Day School education raises the percentage considerably, but even so a masterful job of education must be performed in the home to meet the challenges of today’s culture.

Dr. Hendricks compares child raising in today’s environment to building a fire in the rain.

Inculcating Christian standards is like building a fire in the rain. It requires willful determination, against all odds, to do what seems impossible, It calls for expertise—know-how which understands the nature of the child and the nature of a hostile world. It demands a stubborn perseverance to keep fanning the flickering flame, to keep protecting the hot coals. A warm young life, glowing for Christ, is the most needed commodity in the damp, depressing chill of the marketplace today. (Heaven Help the Home. p. 63)

The church must recognize the plight of the American family home and cease to neglect the task of helping families perform their great task of instruction.

Furthermore, the church ought to consider its educational priorities. At the present time most programs are aimed at children. Teenagers, college students, adults, parents and families are neglected. Lawrence O. Richards, professor at Wheaten Graduate School, has written a book called A New Face for the Church (Zondervan), in which he speculates about the future church. To a skeptical visitor at his future church who asks why there is no VBS and Sunday School a character in the book replies:

“We care about children so much that we make sure they have a Christian home to grow up in. We go out and face adults, that’s how much we care about kids. We don’t sneak around and spend all our time with children because we’re scared to death of grown-ups!” (p. 270)

The home is the critical arena. It always will be. God meant it that way. Dr, Hendricks tells about a famous pastor Richard Baxter who for three years preached with all the passion of his heart in his parish. Finally, one day, he threw himself on the floor and said to God, “O God, you must do something with these people or I’ll die.”

He said, “It was as if God spoke to me audibly. ‘Baxter, you are working in the wrong place. You’re expecting revival to come through the church. Try the home.’”

Richard Baxter went out and called on home after home. He spent entire evenings in homes helping parents set up family worship times with their children. He moved from one home to another. Finally the Spirit of God started to light fires all over that congregation until they swept through the church and made it the great church that it became — and made Baxter a man of godly distinction. (Heaven Help The Home, p. 88)


The task of instruction in the light of modern conditions is a humbling one, Defections from the Christian faith, especially among the youth, force us to recognize our shortcomings. The haunting difference between the witness of the church in Jerusalem and today’s church indicates a lack of understanding and commitment to the Christian faith. The church today needs more than superficial modifications in its educational program. A patch here and there will only treat symptoms. The church needs revival.

Revival must begin with recognition of our failure as a church to appreciate and live the faith we hold. With sincere repentance we must seek from God the power and direction of His Holy Spirit. We must repent that we are so secular and unspiritual, so dull and so slow of heart to believe. We must surrender to Jesus Christ and renounce all that competes with him. Then our lives will more fully be controlled by Him, our witness to the world will be powerful and we will have the basis for communicating to our members, our children and to the world a living Christianity as opposed to the common variety known as “nominal Christianity.”