F.F. Chong—London, U.K.
It has long been recognized within
the church that religious education (RE) is integral to the spiritual future of
the church and spiritual wellbeing of each individual believer. However, whose
responsibility is it to provide RE for the young and lifelong RE for adult
believers? What are the strategies, systems, and structures that the church
needs to deliver RE effectively?
RE IS A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY
It is widely acknowledged today
that secular learning is lifelong, and impressionable children learn from
everything and everyone around them. But God had long set this principle. In
the Old Testament, He established a testimony in Jacob and a law in Israel and
commanded the fathers to make this known to every generation (Ps 78:5–6). This
clear divine principle remains unchanged—the elders amongst God’s people are to
faithfully convey God’s law and instructions to the succeeding generations. RE
does not simply happen within the four walls of the church’s classroom. It is
not the sole responsibility of RE teachers, but is the collective
responsibility of every parent and every church worker.
God has also clearly set out the
objectives of RE: to shape a godly mindset and to warn against the dangers of
not setting one's heart aright before Him (Ps 78:7–8). Meeting these objectives
will enable His people to live a God-centered life, regardless of circumstance.
How, then, can we cultivate an environment that allows all of us to effectively
convey God’s word to His people?
BUILDING AN EFFECTIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR RE
Equip Spiritual Educators with the Truth
The primary ingredient in any
education system is the quality of the people tasked to deliver the education –
the educators. Since these spiritual educators work for a spiritual education
system, the spiritual qualities of educators are paramount.
To accomplish the mammoth task of
imparting God's word accurately and faithfully, all who teach must be
adequately equipped with the truth. They need to search the word of God with a
prayerful heart, and have a strong and constant desire to pursue deeper
knowledge of God's word. His word, His guidance and His abidance with us are inextricably
linked. The deeper our relationship with God, the more we want to study His
word and, therefore, the closer we shall draw to Him. When we are close to God,
His guidance and help in our ministry will be a natural consequence.
God's guidance is critical for RE
work. We must first teach and save ourselves before doing the same for others.
Having been freed from sin and given the capacity to teach, we must use God’s
word to explain how we should live a victorious life in the face of corruption
and deception. Saving others and ourselves will only be a reality if, and only
if, we hold on to the pattern of the truth. This pattern has been given to the
church by the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Tim 1:13–14) and it forms the foundation of
our faith. If we were to shift or change the foundation of the church, its
entire faith would collapse, much like a building falling on itself in a
demolition. Therefore, it is essential that teachers be trained and rooted in
the sound pattern of God's word. This ensures that the core precepts of our
faith are conveyed from one generation to the next. The foundation of the
church will hence be intact.
Encourage Spiritual Educators to Live What They
“Actions speak louder than words”—this
adage is critical for effective RE. RE is not just about words. It is about
imparting the life of Christ to students. God’s principles are concretely
demonstrated when teachers lead a life worthy of Christ. Those who teach God's
principles must be models for the church, particularly for the young, by living
a God-fearing life.
Understanding God's teachings and
putting them into practice is not always easy; for some, it can be abstract.
However, walking in God’s principles is well worth the effort. Not only are we
securing our own salvation, our effort to translate God's word into action will
help members, both young and old, understand how to live out a godly life. Our
conduct often has more impact on believers than mere words.
A great challenge for spiritual
educators is the perversity of the secular environment that we have to continue
to live in. There are RE teachers who try to separate their lives into two
parts—“private” and “religious”—and try to keep one away from the other. They
argue that private space and behavior are rights that ought not to be infringed
upon. For example, they feel that they are entitled to behave like their
non-Christian friends when they are not within the confines of the church.
However, if we have received a solid RE and are rooted in the faith, we will
always remain godly in every aspect of life regardless of whom we spend time
with. This means being mindful of God's principles above all else in speech,
conduct, and thoughts, no matter where we are: at home or away, in or outside
Those who impart God’s word have
to be beacons of light in this dark world. We can shine if Christ is abiding in
our lives. As we live and walk in God’s word, the Word shines forth in our
lives. This is how it works. By nature, no man can do good in God's eyes—human
nature requires constant transformation (cf. Rom 12:2). However, when we put on
the nature of God (Col 3:10), doing good will become part and parcel of our
inner selves (cf. Eph 2:10). Such ability to naturally do good will be a
shining example to all.
Return to Where God Wants Us to Be
Jesus once said that He would give
His disciples the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, to have power
over the enemy and to be unharmed by them (Lk 10:19).
This is a very reassuring promise from the Lord, but the reality is quite
different. Many of our children (and adults) have been taken captive by the
power of the wicked one. Some of them, very unfortunately, have adopted
non-Christian attitudes and behave very much like unbelievers. They live lives
completely separate from the life of Christ.
One reason for such a drastic
departure from the faith is Satan's influence on Christian families today.
Satan's strategies are cunning, subtle and sophisticated. Such strategies are
very difficult to identify without spiritual insight from God. The scripture
warns us not to draw near to places which are spiritual booby traps. However,
such has society become today that we need not even step outside our homes to
be gravely attacked or influenced. The introduction of home entertainment has
intensified the spiritual onslaught against God’s children. Films and
television serial dramas may appear to be harmless entertainment but the values
and conduct these espouse is a subtle injection of venom into our spiritual
lives. They numb our sensitivity to sin and increase our thirst for the world’s
pleasures; unchecked, these lead to spiritual feebleness and even death.
Falling away from His grace is not
just something that has happened occasionally to one or two families. It
is an unprecedented problem and its scale is unimaginable. We sometimes
experience our spiritual strength being drained away by the things of the
world, slipping into lethargies from which we can no longer easily recover. The
resulting effect is a rapid decline in faith and zeal to serve and worship
God—a critical sign of complete spiritual bankruptcy that must not be
In Revelation, the woman, who is
the church, was given two wings of an eagle to fly back to the wilderness, to
her place, where she is nourished (Rev 12:14). Satan's corrupting influence on
believers has led the church to wander away from where God first took her: the
wilderness—a place where she is nourished. In other words, the church has
shifted away from where she is supposed to be. If the church does not return to
where she was before, she will be swept away by the fearsome flood generated by
the dragon (Rev 12:15).
How Can the Church Return?
According to Elder John, the two
wings given to the woman (the church) allowed her to fly back to her proper
place. In the book of Exodus, God likened His salvation for His people to an
eagle with great wings bringing them back to Himself (Ex 19:4). Similarly, the
church today can only return through God's great mercy and power.
However, the world has a strong
grip on our believers and the Ancient Foe will not give up this grip easily.
While God offers these wings, we must respond by taking up these wings to fly
with great determination. Moses tells us specifically what returning entails: the
chosen must assemble to listen to the word of God and obediently keep the
Lord's commandments all the days of their lives (Deut 6:2–3). This will enable
them to draw distinct boundaries against corruption and allow them to keep
themselves in the Lord.
There are four main points in this
Mosaic instruction that the chosen must inscribe on their hearts and minds:
The Lord is the only true God (Deut 6:4)—there
must be no other gods, visible or invisible, besides the Lord God. The presence
of God will not abide with a believer if foreign gods are found in his/her
midst (Ps 81:9).
Love the Lord wholeheartedly (Deut 6:5)—the
chosen people are required to love the Lord with their whole being. God, being
a jealous God, will not tolerate anything less than complete loyalty and
faithfulness (Ex 20:5; Deut 4:24).
Keep God's commands in your heart (Deut 6:6)—the
chosen are to follow the Lord's commands. In order to love the Lord fully, we
must not stray from the prescribed path. God abides with us when we apply His word
fully and consistently in our lives (Jn 15:7).
Teach the chosen people completely (Deut
6:7–8)—the chosen are required to listen to and to know every aspect of God's
word. Only by knowing and understanding His commands can they go on to
carefully keep these (11:8–9; 12:1; 13:18). When we strive to know and keep His
teachings, God’s promised blessings follow (11:27).
MEETING NEW CHALLENGES
Many of us who have served as
educators would be familiar with the phenomenon of the sudden decline in faith,
e.g., the exemplary youth who suddenly stops coming to church or the student
who has attended every RE class, bible camp, and student spiritual convocation
but falls to temptation in young adulthood. The Lord reminds us that even one
lost sheep is a loss too many (cf. Lk 15:1–7).
Therefore, the church (ministers, RE teachers, and parents) should always be
alert to signs of disengagement by our students, e.g., loss of interest in
church activities, increasing skepticism about the church’s beliefs and so on. In
addition, the church must also look at what areas of modern life are
particularly harmful to our sheep.
There are perhaps two aspects that
tend to be overlooked because of its apparent innocuousness. The first is the
pervasive smartphone. From being an instrument that
merely allowed us to be contacted easily, this tiny device now occupies
virtually every facet of our life. We wake up to its alarm in the morning; it
reminds us of our appointments; ensures that we can contact and be contacted
24/7; and provides updates on the world and entertainment on demand. For some,
the world seems to just function within the cyber-world of their handsets,
rendering them oblivious to the physical world. One of the factors contributing
to this is the dominance of social media in the lives of youths in general.
The second is relaxation, which
includes holidaying in different places and watching movies. For many of us,
these are ways to find some relief from the stresses and worries of our busy
lives. But like many things, done excessively, these forms of relaxation may
absorb so much of our time and focus that they distract us from our faith.
Worse still, the activities we pursue while on holiday, as well as the values
and behavior we absorb from movies, may well make us unable to discern between
the secular and divine.
To help create an environment
where God’s word is readily available for her believers (cf. Deut 6:8), the
church (ministers, RE teachers, and local church board members) may want to
consider establishing a set of practical guidelines that will help our students
avoid an addiction to their smartphones and the pursuit of relaxation. Some
guiding questions to help us arrive at these guidelines are:
Prudent Use of Handsets
Is your devotional time to God or are prayer
sessions regularly disrupted by mobile notifications?
Has your or your children’s use of handsets at
night time affected your family’s ability to have family altar time?
Are we using our handsets to access
Appropriate Use of Social Media
Is our behavior on social media reflective of
our status as Christians?
Do we indulge in irrelevant and irreverent
chatting rather than use our social media accounts to encourage others, post
edifying stories, and invite our friends to church?
Are we spending so much time on social media
platforms that we have little time left over to deepen our relationship with
God and serve Him more?
Are the comments and posts we share and “like”
on social media harmful to the church’s image and/or our spiritual lives?
Relaxing the Right Way
Don't be drained by activities: Has sightseeing
become even more stressful than a normal work day or a day at home?
Visit True Jesus Churches appropriately: When we
visit places where there are True Jesus Churches, do we become a burden or
inconvenience to believers or the church when we visit?
Stay godly: Do we regard holidays as a license
to indulge in lusts or sinful activities? Do we still make it a point to honor
the Sabbath and keep it holy as one would do at home, e.g., seek a church in
your holidaying area or keep the Sabbath with family members or church
brethren? Do we realize that our attitudes to holidays will influence the young
people watching us? Has our behavior inadvertently caused them to fall instead?
Emphasize Prayer Continually
To ensure that we have the
strength and wisdom to meet new challenges that the world throws at us, prayer
is of utmost importance. Besides encouraging members to lead a prayerful life,
the church should create more opportunities for members to pray, e.g., having
fifteen-minute prayers before and after service or prayers between services on
the Sabbath. When the connection between ourselves and God is secure, fostered
by learning God's word and constant prayer, the church will surely stand strong
in the face of any challenge.
Imparting God's word fully and
accurately is integral to a successful RE system. But beyond this, it is just
as critical for us to help our students walk in God’s word. This will grow
increasingly challenging as we become more and more connected to the world
through technology. Therefore, the church must implement guidelines and share
them in sermons and in RE classes. This way, parents will be able to inculcate
God-fearing behaviors in their children, and both adults
and young people will be edified. Adults must first set a good example by
living disciplined lives at home, and this will, in turn, encourage young
people to follow in these good footsteps. This healthy combination of RE
education and reliance on God's mercy and power will surely build up a strong
and God-fearing church.