The Baton of Faith

The following are notes from Mr. Jim Martin’s assembly address.

I recently read a book titled The Great Dechurching. In the book, the authors look at who is leaving the local church and ask why and what it will take to bring them back.

I don’t have time this afternoon to dive into all the reasons they point out but suffice it to say that the number of those who once attended church but no longer do is rising faster than any other time in our nation’s history.

This trend is supported by a recent study done by The Pew Research Center. This is an organization that describes themselves as “a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world…” 

One of the things they look at is religious trends in America. According to their research 75% of Americans polled ten years ago identified as Christian. Two years ago, that number was down to 63% and is even lower today. Meanwhile, those who say they don’t identify with any religion has gone from about 18% to 29% in the same period.

I recognize there are things to quibble about with these kinds of studies. Just because someone identifies as Christian doesn’t mean they truly are. It’s hard to determine from these studies if the number of true believers is increasing or decreasing in America.

What isn’t too hard to prove is that there aren’t very many Christian households today that can point to more than one generation or two, perhaps three, where all those generations were solid believers.

I qualified my statement with “solid believers.” Some of us have immediate ancestors who were Christian but only nominally so. There wasn’t much about their life one would want to emulate.

I’m interested in those households where numerous generations lived, or are living, a life that earns a “well done thou good and faithful servant” from our Lord.

If my premise is true that there aren’t many family lines like I’m describing, that is very sad indeed. Why do we see one generation walking with the Lord only to find the next one barely following suit, if at all? Why is it so common that the baton of faith is dropped between one generation and the next?

For those who don’t know what I mean by “baton of faith,” the baton is the short stick that is passed from one runner to the next in a four-person relay race.

In order for a team to win, each runner has to not only run fast but they have to do so while passing the baton from one runner to the next. A lot of races are won or lost on how well they pass the baton. If the baton is dropped, a lot of time is lost picking it back up.

When I think about passing the baton of faith I am always amazed when I read in the Bible about when Joshua, who followed Moses, gave his famous “choose who you will serve” sermon and all the people said, “we will serve the Lord”, to where we read after his death, “all that generation (who knew Joshua) also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.” 

A few verses later in Judges 2:11 we read, “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals.”

That is just 120 years from when everyone declared they will serve the Lord to when everyone was serving the Baals!

Sadly, that is the pattern we see over and over in Scripture, and too often the pattern we see today.

As for myself, I am the first generation of born-again believers I can find going back two generations. There may be some further back, but I don’t know of any.

So far, all four of my adult children and their spouses are walking with the Lord and some of my young 13 grandchildren have made professions of faith. I’m praying that all of them will eventually do.

So, what does this have to do with you students? You aren’t parents yet and you certainly aren’t grandparents. How does what I’m talking about relate to you?

In the few minutes I have left I want to challenge you to consider your responsibility to take the baton of faith being passed to you and to run with it.

As young people living under your parent’s authority you don’t get to decide for yourself many things. You don’t decide where you go to school or church. You pretty much do what you are told. 

So, if you aren’t free to make your own choices, then how are you responsible for the successful passing of the faith…and you are responsible?

The answer is located in ECS’s mission statement which says, “We commend the works of the Lord to another generation with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry an advance Christ-honoring culture.

Notice in that statement there is a “we” and a “they”. The “we” is all the teachers and, by extension, your parents. Your parents have sent you to ECS because they believe in its mission statement, and they want ECS’s help in equipping you for life.

What is the job of the “we”? The “we” commend the works of the Lord. This comes directly from Psalm 145:4 which says, “One generation shall commend <the Lord’s> works to another, and shall declare <his> mighty acts.” The “we” is passing the faith to you that was entrusted to them.

Above anything and everything else you will learn at ECS, we want you to learn that Jesus is Lord. We want you to learn what that means and how it affects everything you will do for the rest of your life. You can love or hate that Jesus is Lord, but you can’t escape it. That truth will rule over all of your life. 

So then, the “we” in our mission statement is teaching you that Jesus is Lord and what that means. So, what about the “they”? That’s you. The mission statement says, “…so that they will carry and advance Christ honoring culture…”

The ”we” are responsible to teach and the “they” are responsible to receive it and live it out. The reason I’m focusing on the student’s responsibility is because many of you are fast approaching the age where most people in the research I mentioned earlier dechurch or stop living out their faith.

It is usually between the ages of 18 and 29 where people who were raised in the church give it up. Right now, most of you, I hope, would tell me there is no way you’ll stop loving Jesus or being a part of his church body, but sadly that is often the case.

Many of you come from homes where Jesus is truly Lord and faith is very real. Some of you come from homes where perhaps you don’t see the Christian faith lived out very well. Regardless, all of you are being handed the baton of faith.

There is going to come a time when the hand-off is complete. The teacher or parent is going to let go and that baton is either going to be in your hand as you continue to run, or its going to be dropped.

In a group of students this large there is invariably those of you who resent being in this faith race. You are smart enough to hold your piece and not make waves knowing that someday you’ll be able to do whatever you want without parental or teacher interference. That is true to an extent. 

What you can’t escape as I said before is that Jesus is Lord. My hope is that you’ll come to accept that reality and embrace it so that it might go well with you. I desire for you to avoid the heartbreak that is surely to come if you don’t take the baton and run with it. I know of no case where a person refused to take the baton I’m talking about, and their life ended happily.

I have worked with Christian schools for 39 years. That means I have been a part of 39 graduations. I have seen hundreds of students walk the aisle and receive their diplomas.

I have seen among those graduates both the wise and the fool. The wise learned to appreciate what they were being given, did the work, adjusted their attitudes, and went on to happy successful lives beyond school.

The fools dug into their rebellion, refused to take correction, thought they were the smart ones, shirked the hard work, and then were left wondering why their life was a mess.

Students of ECS, you are being given an amazing opportunity. Sure, it’s not all perfect. Teachers and parents are human and their handing the baton to you won’t be flawless. Nevertheless, you have a fantastic opportunity to prepare for the time when you’ll be the one carrying the baton and handing it to the next generation.

Jesus is Lord. The baton is being handed to you. Will you run the race that is set before you?

Will you be able to say along with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”?