What does it mean to pass down our Christian heritage to the next generation? Pastor Ong shares his thoughts.
My parents were first generation Christians who came to Jesus in their teens. Having no living experience of a Christian family, their vision of family life was anchored simply by Joshua 24:15 “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
And so I grew up literally living and breathing church life and ministry. I was already serving in the children’s ministry at 12 years old. Despite fervent denial to many who asked if I would follow in my father’s footsteps, I, actually did became a pastor. From a socio-biological standpoint, I would be a second generation Christian. My parents, some would say, did well to pass on the “Christian Heritage” to me. If they are right, the pressure is now on me to ensure the Heritage continues and at least one of my kids turns out to be a pastor!
But what is a Christian Heritage? And can it be ‘passed down’ the generations like a family inheritance? To better understand what it means to pass the Christian Heritage to the next generation, let us first secure a foundational truth.
Understanding the Work of God in Each Generation
“God has no grandchildren, only children” was a phrase I heard proclaimed often through the church pulpit. The phrase is significant because it challenges the idea that one generation can pass any ‘Christian Heritage’ to another. It conveys a singular truth that God does not leave the generation of children to some ‘fathers’ he appoints, but undertakes the work to become our Father Himself.
Regardless of religious background, each child in each generation must as it were, be ‘born again’ of the Spirit1. The Scriptures testify that God Himself is at work to ‘be our God’ and to ‘make us His people’2. Central to the Gospel of Jesus is that He has risen and is at work through His Spirit in each generation ensuring that we are not just participating in the religion of our parents, but that we are participating in a living relationship with God as our Father3.
Despite my parents’ best efforts to pass on the Christian Heritage, I myself had to meet God through Jesus Himself4. I myself by His Spirit had to respond to His question to me “who do you say that I am?”5 Without this living encounter with the risen Jesus Himself made possible by the Spirit, I would only be a product of my parents and their religious convictions. Any “Christian Heritage” that we speak about would be a God-less, man-made construction.
Let it thus always be true that God has no grandchildren, only children.
But what does this mean for us as parents? If God is devoted and responsible for making all of us His own children, what responsibility, if any, do we have as one generation to another?
Understanding How God Works in Each Generation
In God’s economy, each Generation is given the responsibility to be co-workers with Him for the next Generation. The Scriptures both Old and New testify that parents are responsible for the instruction of the children in God. Paul’s instruction to parents to “… bring them [children] in the discipline and instruction of the LORD” (Ephesians 6:4) is an echo of an earlier and more fundamental exhortation from God to Israel to pass the knowledge of God to the next generation in Deuteronomy 6:7-9.
A closer look at Deuteronomy 6:4-6 helps us understand what it means to be co-workers with Him.
Verses 4 to 5 details WHAT we are responsible to pass on—the knowledge of God that He is One and our vocation as human beings to be united in Love with this One; and Verse 6 helps us understand HOW God sees us working with Him.
In verse 6, we hear the phrase “and these words… shall be on your heart”. The priority of verse 6 ‘be on your heart’ to verse 7 ‘you shall teach’ is fundamental. We are to pass on the knowledge of God not by doing the work of teaching but by being living examples of people who live in reverent love of God. This is the paradigm by which we then read in verses 7 to 9 “You shall teach them diligently to your children… when you sit… when you walk… when you lie down and when you rise.” The truth of verse 6 is clarified by the axiom “we teach what we know, but we reproduce who we are.”
In God’s economy, it is by our daily living in relationship with God that we ‘teach’. It is by our own devotion to God as Father, through the obedience that arises from knowing His Son Jesus that we—as one Generation of God’s children, enabled and empowered by His Spirit to ‘pass our Christian Heritage’ to the next generation. For precisely this then, I am ever gratetul to God for my parents—for allowing us children the privilege of participating in their life with God in Christ, in good and bad times, in and out of season.
There is no greater privilege we have been given than to ‘pass our Christian Heritage’ to the next generation. Let me exhort us by the Spirit, to be faithful in this work God our Father has so graciously bestowed upon us through the knowledge of Jesus His Son. To God be the glory, great things He has done and continues to do from generation to generation.
1 See Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in Gospel of John 3:1-8
2 Both in Moses (eg. Deut 29:10-13, Deut 5:3), and also the Prophets (eg. Jeremiah 31:34)
3 John 1:12-13; 20:17, 20-23
4 Acts 17:24-275
5 John 6:65 cf. John 6:44
About Pastor Terence Ong
Pastor Terence is husband to Brenda-Mae and a father to four boys. He is presently holding the office of Senior Pastor at Centre of New Life. Outside of pastoral ministry, he enjoys playing with the boys and learning together with them—how to live Gospel-shaped lives fully engaged in present-day culture. He is passionate about the local church—as witnesses of God’s New Creation through their life in communion with Jesus of Nazareth, as crucified Messiah, risen Lord and coming King.