The Christian and the Next Generation

       In April of 1942, Westminster Theological Seminary hosted “The Christian World Order Conference,” just a few short months after the United States had officially entered World War II. It was a time of great uncertainty in the world. The goal of the conference was to contrast a biblical view of the world with fascism, communism, and nationalism, which had taken root in Europe, Asia, and beyond. It was a conference dedicated to applying the riches of the Reformed theological tradition to public societal issues.

       The conference’s success was evidence of a need for wider distribution of this content. The Presbyterian Guardian, a newspaper founded by J. Gresham Machen, and loosely affiliated with Westminster and the OPC, published nine articles in a series under the heading “The Christian in the 20th Century World” with the same goal as the conference. The content of these articles is striking and, in many ways, as relevant to the 21st Century world as it was for readers in the mid-20th century. Westminster Magazine will be republishing each article, in print and online.

       This, the eighth of the articles, is Burton L. Goddard’s “The Christian and the Next Generation.” Burton Goddard graduated from Westminster with a Bachelor of Divinity in 1937. He then went on to receive a PhD in theology from Harvard University in 1943. He served as Dean of Gordon College and Gordon Divinity School (now Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) for 17 years. He also served as professor of Biblical languages and exegesis. He was instrumental in the founding of the Evangelical Theological Society for which he served as president in 1964 and the Chinese Evangelical Literature Committee. He was Editor of The Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Missions and served as general secretary, editor, and translator of the Committee on Bible Translation which helped to produce the New International Version (NIV) Bible translation in 1978.

       In this article, Goddard details the importance of God’s people perpetuating their faith to the next generation. He lays out how creating a culture of faithfulness is both the responsibility of the Christian and is indispensable to raising covenant children. He gives specific ways to ensure this, beginning with preparation that starts as early as our own youth as we foster faithfulness and sanctification prior to starting families of our own. When we do have children, having a loving Christian home allows our families to be raised with the good habits of devotion, prayer, worship, family blessing, etc. Goddard then points out what a problem it can become if the schools we send our children to teach a message that contradicts the Christian instruction in the home. Rather, since “true education is necessarily Christian education” we ought to be both praying and providing for the establishment of Christian schools that will teach the next generation of not only Christian children, but the children of non-Christian families as well. This is all to be paired with faithful attendance and instruction in the Church itself. –Brandon Smith, Archival Editor

The hospital visitor pauses before the spacious nursery window and watches with mingled emotions the movements of tiny hands and the varied expressions of infant features. What  possibilities are wrapped in their lives! The ticket office of the neighborhood theater is to open at one o’clock. Shortly after noon a long line of children forms, extending down past the "ten-cent store" and around the corner. Children! Children! Children everywhere, it seems! What are their lives like? What will their  lives be like ten, fifteen, twenty years, from now? It is mid-afternoon. Out from the wide doorways and down the stone steps streams a mass of adolescent boys and girls. High school is over for the day. Laughter and repartee are spontaneous. Faces are bright, alert, pleasant in appearance. The Christian’s heart ought to yearn for these young people—their present; their future.  


       For some strange reason, however, there are many Christians who pass down the corridor without noticing the little baskets and the precious bundles which they contain. Others break  through the theater lines to pursue their shopping inside the stores, but their eyes are unseeing as they do so. Sometimes a Christian brings his car to a stop at the intersection by the high school. Before he can proceed he must wait for a group of students to cross the street. Yet his thoughts are miles away—on other things. These are not his children. Perhaps his home has never been graced by the sound of infant cries or the babel of youthful voices. It may be that children once  brightened the home, but now they, like fledglings, have gone out into the world. It is so easy for  the average Christian to entertain little or no responsibility for the next generation. 

       Is this a proper attitude? Perish the thought! That question was answered ages ago when a man asked God, “Am I my brother's keeper?” A mother who called herself a Christian lavishly  provided for her own son and daughter and enslaved herself to advance their interests. She had  never a care for other children. Another mother never failed to pray for "the -dear young people" of the community in which she lived. It was her thought to include them all. A Los Angeles mother has for years invited groups of children into her home and told them of the Savior. A New Hampshire mother, who has a lovely colonial home, opens it weekly for the young people to come and receive Christian instruction from the pastor. When Jesus had finished telling the story of the Good Samaritan, He said, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?” A similar question might well be proposed, “Which now  of these four, thinkest thou, discharge properly their Christian responsibility to the next generation?” 

       Does it mean anything to you that our forefathers laid Christian foundations in building our country? Are you grateful for a heritage rich in Christian culture and ideals? Do you realize  the priceless value of liberties, religious and otherwise, which were purchased for you by others? A Christian is indebted not only to God but also to men and women of bygone generations. Only  a selfish, unthinking Christian can disclaim responsibility for the next generation. Those foundations must be preserved intact. Those ideals must be perpetuated. Those liberties must be  maintained at all cost. Further benefits must be purchased. The Christian warfare against sin in  society, government, and education must be waged, not blindly, not for some narrow purpose, not for ourselves alone. It must contemplate the next generation and other generations to follow. It must be waged consciously in their behalf. 

       Most Christians, whether they discharge it or not, will admit their responsibility for the  children God has given them. Not so many, however, could give an intelligent, Biblical reason to  substantiate their conviction. What is the answer? It all has to do with the nature of God's relationship to His people. His covenant of grace is not merely with individuals. It embraces families, households, parents and their children. The covenant, as instituted with Abraham, was with him and with his seed. Old Testament parents were obligated by this covenant relationship  to circumcise their sons on the eighth day, to teach them the meaning of the Passover ceremonies, and to bring them up in the faith. Christian parents today are bound by a like  obligation. They are members of the covenant; their children are members of the covenant. They  must declare to their children the nature of the covenant, its conditions, its requirements, its  promised blessings. They are God's appointed instruments for this work. God will hold them responsible. 

“His covenant of grace is not merely with individuals. It embraces  families, households, parents and their children.”


       Preparation for the performance of his duty toward his children should begin when the Christian is himself still young. Thoughts of a future home begin to bud in the heart of a Christian youth. With them should come a consideration of the responsibility involved if God should bring them to fruition and send into the home the precious gift of little children. The life must be kept clean; The thoughts must ever be sanctified and rendered purest of the pure: Such acquaintance with the Scriptures must be gained that their truths can be, passed on simply, with clarity, effectively. Nor is it too early to begin to acquire an intimate knowledge of child thought and behavior. 

       The problems of relationship to the opposite sex should be met honestly and settled firmly according to Biblical principles. That means the exercise of discerning choice in the  establishment of intimate friendships. It necessitates the guarantee that there will be no mixed marriages, no union of believer with unbeliever. The Christian's home should be a Christian home in all its aspects. Anything less will mortgage the future of children yet unborn. Then, when dreams become realities and the envisioned home becomes an actuality, the preparation will become greatly intensified. Two lives will be yielded to the Holy Spirit in fullest  measure, that His sanctifying grace may produce in them all the fruits which the Holy Scriptures declare to be the result of His effectual working—“love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness,  goodness, faith, meekness, temperance”. These Christian virtues, together with faith in the Savior, constitute the best of cradles for a child of the next generation. To be born into such a cradle is to have a divine blessing of exceeding worth. 

The Home 

       Happy is the child thus surrounded with the love of lovely Christians. His ears hear no harsh notes of domestic discord. They know only voices of prayer and lullabies of trust in God and His providential care for the children of His covenant. His eyes may not behold material splendor; they do see countenances radiant with Christian joy. And as in the case of Timothy, the child's mind is early filled with the thoughts of God's blessed Word.

       The child acquires right habits without effort—the mealtime blessing, family devotions, bedtime prayers, clean speech, gentle manners, neighborly kindness. He is early taught concerning the covenant and its condition of faith. The story of the divine Son and His  redemption is implanted in his tender, trusting heart. Day by day, step by step, he learns the great truths of the written Word, hides them in his heart and writes them indelibly into his life experiences. It is small wonder that a child thus trained seldom renounces the covenant. 

The School 

       The formative years are hardly begun, it seems, when the child must be sent to school.  What a tragedy it is that, for the most part, our schools present a training so largely lacking in continuity and emphasis when compared with faithful Christian training in the home. Home instruction, regardless of the immediate subject, revolved about God; school instruction is now  found to be centered in man, his powers, abilities and achievements. Motivation of conduct  changes: Satisfaction of the demands of society is substituted for obedience to the revealed will of God. Pragmatism takes the place of principle. Together with humanism, it becomes the all pervading philosophy of the educative process. 

       This ought not to be! True education is necessarily Christian education. And since distinctively Christian education is barred from our public schools, it becomes the duty of Christian parents to seek Christian schools for the education of their children. That is more easily said than done, but Christians, whether with or without children of their own, need to pray, plan and work for the establishment of Christian schools. This accomplished, the Christian must sacrifice greatly, if need be, in order to have his children educated in these schools.  

       Our present-day outlook generally goes no farther but, if true education is necessarily Christian education, then our vision should not be limited to covenant children. It should be enlarged to include all children. On the mission field it has long been the practice of schools to  educate children of pagan families. Why should we not extend Christian education to children from non-christian American homes? They, too, are a part—and an important part—of the next generation! 


       The life of a twentieth century child is said to be divided three ways. Sleep, school and  play absorb almost all his time. Play is commonly left to the child's choice and initiative but,  since it claims so large a share of his time, it is imperative that the Christian interest himself in  the child's program of recreation. Selected types of recreation should be endorsed, or actually provided if necessary. Play  should be clean, wholesome and conducive to the establishing of Christian ideals and principles.  Our children should be guided in their choice of playmates. Christian supervision of group play  is also highly to be desired. 

       It is contended that provision for Christian recreation by the organized church is not in agreement with the nature and functions of the church as set forth in Scripture. The duty is rather that of Christian parents and special associations of Christian people. There is much truth in this  declaration, and it should serve to spur individual Christians to unite together in Christian  recreational enterprises for the benefit of the young. However, I feel that the abnormal situation of many of our churches today constitutes an emergency which may justify the church itself in  instituting some sort of recreational program to meet the needs of its boys and girls and those of  the community.

       Christian-sponsored recreation may even serve as an evangelizing agency. As this article is being written, a Christian college is about to open a settlement house in a near-by area in the  midst of a large and wicked city. It is the hope of the Christians concerned that the program, varied but with considerable emphasis upon recreation, will be the means of winning to Christ many lost souls of the next generation. Thousands of boys and girls roam our city streets today  and fall easy prey to sin. If a program of recreation will help to turn any of them to the Savior, or do anything to restrain the ravages of sin, is it not our Christian duty to initiate such a  program? 

The Church 

       By virtue of the covenant, the child of the covenant is automatically a member of Christ's church. Not every portion of the visible church recognizes him as such, but that does not alter the  fact. Christ is the Head of the church. The church does not belong to man, but to God, and if the children of believers are included in God's covenant, no man has a right to deny them  membership in the church. Of course, they do not at once enjoy all the privileges of full communicant members. Of the two sacraments, they are as infants entitled to but one—baptism.  Participation in the other, the Lord's Supper, is reserved for those who are able to partake  intelligently, understanding what the institution signifies, for Paul declares that one coming to the table should first examine himself lest he come "not discerning the Lord’s body", and so eat and  drink damnation to himself. 

“By virtue of the covenant, the child of the covenant is automatically a member of Christ's church.”

       The Old Testament believer faithfully kept the ceremonial law and brought his child, when but eight days old, to be circumcised. In the new dispensation, the sign of the covenant is no longer circumcision, but baptism. With like faithfulness, then, the Christian should bring his child, while still a babe, that he may be baptized in token of the fact that he is included among  the people of God and heir to the promises connected with special grace. Many Christians, well-meaning but misinformed, delay the baptism of their children until the age of adolescence, but to do so is to deny the child a blessing which is rightfully his. 

       The Christian will also take his child regularly to the house of God. From earliest years the child will learn to direct his feet habitually toward the church when the Lord's Day dawns. A young mother is said to have planted the tiny feet of her child in the soft cement of a newly-laid walk leading to the church doors so that ever afterwards the marks would be a symbol of the direction his steps should be accustomed to take. But symbols must be translated into action. The child himself needs to be taken, and that means that the parents will accompany him! 

       The Christian will take pains to explain to his child the nature of the church and the meaning of the various elements of worship. He will teach him the forms employed and the words and tunes of the great hymns. He will direct his child to attend unto the words of Christ's minister and the reading of the Scripture. In every way, he will endeavor to make church attendance both a meaningful and a pleasant experience for the child. He will want his child to have a great and abiding love for the sanctuary and its services. 

       The Christian knows that his covenant child must either come to conscious, personal faith in the Lord Jesus as his Saviour from sin or renounce the covenant and turn his back upon the household of faith. He will therefore seek with all that lies within him to ground his child in a knowledge of the gospel and to woo and win him to faith in Christ. He will diligently pray for the salvation and sanctification of the child. No stone will be left unturned which might in any way contribute to the effectual working of the Spirit in the child’s life. His highest desire is that his child may be renewed by the Holy Spirit, being washed with the washing of regeneration, and then go on in ever increasing holiness to live to the glory of the triune God. In a sense, the Christian lives in the present, but if he accepts his divinely given responsibility, he also lives to the very fullest in and through the next generation. May God grant that we may accept that responsibility and thereby enjoy our Christian heritage!

Burton L. Goddard was a graduate of the class of 1937. He went on to get his PhD from Harvard University. He was pastor of Carlisle Congregational Church in Carlisle Massachusetts.

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