“You shall teach [these words] diligently to your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7, 11:19).*
Many people today talk about leaving a legacy for their children. Heirlooms, wealth, and houses usually spring to their minds. But our children need only one legacy: a testimony of faith in Jesus Christ. If we leave them anything else, they will be the poorer for it.
God told the people of Israel to love him with all their hearts, minds, and souls and to hide his words in their hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5-6). He also told them to instruct their children in his words and deeds (4:9, 6:7, 11:19). This takes intention. King David and Bathsheba instructed their son Solomon in the ways of the Lord (Proverbs 4:3-9, 31:1). Proverbs is a record of his own instruction to his children. By contrast, the priest Eli was punished for not correcting his wicked sons Hophni and Phinehas (1 Samuel 2:12, 3:13).
Natural foreshadows spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:46). Just as parents should instruct their children, so also spiritual mothers and fathers should instruct new converts in Christ. The prevailing biblical metaphor is of a woman nursing a baby. New believers in Christ drink milk, while mature believers eat meat (Isaiah 28:9, 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, Hebrews 5:12-14, 1 Peter 2:2). God’s Word is the food.
In the days of Assyria God promised Israel that, one day, Gentile kings will be their “foster fathers” and queens their “nursing mothers” (Isaiah 49:23). One day, Israel’s daughters will be nursed at her side (60:4). One day too, God will restore Jerusalem so that Israel will “feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom” (66:11). Women may forget their nursing children, but God has promised Israel that he will not forget or forsake her (49:15-16). Many Jews are turning to Jesus Christ as Messiah, but one day all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25-27).
The feature film “Tears of the Sun” (2003) depicts the religious strife of war-torn Nigeria in the early 2000s. Led by Lieutenant A. K. Waters (Bruce Willis), a small group of Navy Seals enter a Catholic mission to rescue Dr. Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci), two nuns, and a priest. They take the doctor and dozens of refugees to safety in neighboring Cameroon. Along the way, the group discovers Muslim soldiers ethnically cleansing a Christian village. One Navy Seal sees a soldier cutting off the breasts of a young woman and kills him. Another Seal tries to help the bleeding woman, but she and her baby die. When asked why the soldiers would do such a thing, a female refugee replies, “This is what they do. They cut off the breasts of nursing mothers so that they cannot feed their children.” The reason is obvious: without wet nurses, if you cut off the food supply the next generation will die.
This horror is happening spiritually on a global scale. Adverse influences both inside and outside the church are cutting off the food supply of mature Christians, who should be spiritual fathers and mothers to new converts. Christ’s enemies are metaphorically slicing breasts so that spiritual sons and daughters cannot drink “the pure milk of the Word” (1 Peter 2:2). “The tongue of the infant clings to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the young children ask for bread, but no one breaks it for them” (Lamentations 4:4). As a result, the next generation of converts (both potential and actual) is dying. In the words of a Gaither song, people aren’t “passing the faith along” to their children anymore. Some are unable to.
Communism believes it can destroy Christianity by dividing the generations, old and young. It uses secular youth programs, atheistic education, and the media to accomplish its strategy of “divide and conquer.” However, some liberal-minded Christians also want to divide the generations. They use age-specific church meetings and worship wars so that the older cannot teach the younger (Psalm 34:11, 2 Timothy 1:5, 2 Timothy 3:14-15, Titus 2:4, 1 Peter 5:5).
These people think the parents’ religion isn’t good enough for the children. They don’t want to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” or “the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). Saying “out with the old and in with the new,” they ridicule older songs, styles of music, and traditions. They want to remove hymns from church liturgy and bring rock music and contemporary drivel into weekly services instead. As a result, many young Christians today are devotional. But their faith has no substance. They don’t know how to worship, pray, or witness. When times of testing come, many die spiritually. They leave the church and God forever.
The Pharisees’ traditions added to the Word and made it a burden on the people (Matthew 15:3-6, 23:4). Modern burdens of tradition include saying “no” to Pentecost, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and holiness. Yet what is burdensome about “here I raise my Ebenezer”? This phrase is from the 18th-century hymn “Come thou fount of every blessing,” which was written by English pastor Robert Robinson as a testimony of God’s grace.
I heard a middle-aged preacher ridicule the phrase Sunday morning. Following the unbiblical advice of Lifeway president Ed Stetzer by telling his audience they needed to “update” church for young people, all this preacher did was show his biblical ignorance. At least Apologetics Press and HousetoHouse.com have explained “Ebenezer” to their readers. In the Christianity Today article “Raising Ebenezer,” Gordon-Conwell professor Gary Parrett believes we all should! He protests misguided attempts to modernize this song on artistic, biblical, and educational grounds.
This single word ushers the worshiper into both the biblical episode and the greater narrative of God’s redemptive dealings with his people. It points us, also, to Robinson’s dramatic conversion three years before he penned the hymn, inviting us to reflect upon our own stories and to remember God’s faithful dealings with us. By removing the word from the hymn, we likely remove it from believers’ vocabularies and from our treasury of spiritual resources. . . .
What we have in such revisions is the worst sort of accommodation, even contribution, to biblical illiteracy. Our faith is filled with names and terms that were unfamiliar to us when we joined the family — atonement, propitiation, Sabbath, Passover, Melchizedek. What are we to do with such terms? We teach! How difficult would it be to simply explain the reference to Ebenezer? . . .
Those who lead us in worship music could make hymns more accessible by noting the scriptural basis of a song for the congregation, by introducing unfamiliar terms and concepts, and by familiarizing worshipers with the story of a hymn’s composer. Rather than trying to rewrite these treasures or, worse, relegating them to the sea of forgetfulness, let us raise high the Ebenezers of old with humility and deep gratitude.
“Ebenezer” is Hebrew for “stone of help.” The prophet Samuel told Israel to set up a memorial stone near Mizpah, after a victory over the Philistines, as a witness: “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). They had just won back the Ark of the Covenant in battle.
If young people learn the meanings behind this biblically rich song, they might be encouraged in the Lord and set up their own stones of victory as a testimony to Christ’s help in their lives. They might also learn to keep prayer journals, as AnotherThink.com has done. [Also see the blog “Here I Raise My Ebenezer.”] Young Mormons enjoy “Come thou fount” and find it more devotional than the worship music of Hillsong or Chris Tomlin. Ridiculing such great songs of faith slices the breasts of spiritual mothers.
Pentecostal preacher Tommy Bates sees the spiritual divide between old and young and he doesn’t like it. Bates knows that when young people taste the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they don’t want anything else. So he is determined to “bridge the gap.” Who else will be like Tommy Bates? Who else will say “no” to communism and liberal Christianity? Who else will dig ancient “wells of living water” that previous generations of faith dug (Genesis 26:18, John 4:10, 7:38)?
Where are the young people who will seek spiritual mentors among the older generation, people who know and have learned to walk with God in the hard times? Where are the old people who will seek and pray for spiritual children among the younger generation, people who need to learn to walk with God? When will the church stop slicing spiritual breasts, filled with the “pure milk of the Word,” and start letting the older teach the younger the ways of God? Something must be done soon. Otherwise, God may “strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:6)!
* All Bible quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) unless otherwise noted.