Passing Down the Faith to the Next Generation

May 13, 2024 Jennifer Gross

I’ve attended what seems like a lot of funerals over the past few years at my church. More and more of the names in funeral announcements are familiar, particularly as the generation ahead of me—those who welcomed us into the church community more than a dozen years ago—has aged.

My suburban church was started in the 1960s, so it’s somewhat young compared to cathedrals in Europe or the weathered churches in small-town America. Yet it already echoes with the prayers, memories, and footsteps of saints now gone to be with Jesus.

Connected through Faith

I was reminded of the long, unbroken line of our Christian foremothers and forefathers while reading Gathered by Christ: The Overlooked Gift of Church by Christa Petzold. At the beginning of each chapter, Petzold quotes a Christian from the past. The excerpt from Augustine of Hippo, along with the author’s explanation, describes the differences in faith and sight between Jesus’ first followers and present-day Christians in a way that brings us all together.

Using the biblical image of Jesus as the Head and the church as the Body, Augustine points out that the first disciples believed in Jesus through their own firsthand experience. But the Body—the worldwide church—did not yet exist, so the disciples had to believe in the future church by faith alone. Similarly, present-day believers have firsthand experience with the church but must believe in Jesus by faith alone. We trust and rely on the testimony of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that the first believers recorded in the New Testament, and they trusted and relied on the Holy Spirit and future Christians to believe, preserve, and spread the Gospel.

The disciples—those who walked with Jesus in the flesh—believed in the future church by faith just as we—those who walk with millions of Christians all over the world—must believe in Jesus by faith. It’s a beautiful picture of the communion of Saints: all believers, from the first apostles to the baby just baptized on Sunday, are interdependent across space and time.

We Heard. We Saw. We Touched

The awe and certainty of those who saw the risen Christ permeates the New Testament.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1–3)

Their excitement echoes down the ages—we heard it, we saw it, we touched the wounds of a man risen from the dead! Join us in following the risen Christ, the Son of God! The first disciples were so marked by their experiences that they spent the rest of their lives changed, going back again and again to the moment they first saw the resurrected Jesus. They told the story over and over to themselves, to each other, to anyone who would listen.

Unlike the disciples and other writers of the New Testament, we have not seen Jesus in the flesh. We believe the testimony of our ancestors in the faith. Our faith rests in the Jesus we see in the Bible and experience through the Sacraments and in our lives together in the church. Thousands of years later, thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit and the faith of generations of Christians, we still tell the story over and over. We teach it to our children. We whisper it to our souls in times of suffering, and we sing it loudly in times of joy. We recount it most tenderly when we commit a loved one’s body and soul to God. We hold on tightly to the promise that they—and we—will be raised with Jesus.

Passing On the Christian Faith

We often talk about living out our faith as a journey, a walk, or a race. Too often, I picture the Christian life as a path I walk mostly alone, empowered and accompanied by God, of course, but still more like a marathon than a team sport. The life of faith is not most like a marathon though. It is more like a relay race or even a soccer game. We pass on the faith from generation to generation in a cosmic relay race stretching back to the women who found the empty tomb. In our own generation, we tell the story of the risen Christ to each other, working together with other believers toward our common goal of growing in faith and spreading the Gospel. In the stands, cheering us on, is “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)—the communion of saints, our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers in the faith. Together, we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Go team!

Scripture: ESV®.

124649Read more about how Christ gathers His people together through the generations, read Christa Petzold’s Gathered by Christ. 

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