The ring of youth
Forgive the pun in our headline, but there is more than meets the eye in the recent High Court action brought by a teenager who was banned from wearing a chastity ring in school. As we go to press the reserved judgement has just been delivered – the action was unsuccessful. But more important than the outcome is the fact that a young person was willing to stand up and witness publicly to her Christian faith.
Lydia Playfoot (16), a pupil at Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex, told the Court that she had been discriminated against for being a Christian. Elsewhere, another girl has been threatened with expulsion if she persists in wearing an anti-abortion tee-shirt to class. Young university students are currently defending their right to worship, evangelise and debate moral issues on several campuses across the country.
It is encouraging to see a new generation of young men and women committed to Christian witness and the defence of Christian principles. They are serious about following their Lord’s teaching to be light in the world. They are endeavouring to stand for what they believe to be true, even when it means facing serious opposition.
The ring thing
Lydia wears a silver ring engraved with a verse from 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 as a sign of her commitment to abstinence from sex until marriage. Hers is an admirable principle in days when teenage abortions and sexually transmitted infections are rising relentlessly.
However, she was stopped from wearing her ring to school despite the fact that Muslim girls were allowed to wear headscarves and Sikh students to wear bangles. The school claims that the ring contravenes its uniform policy, and denies discrimination on the grounds that the ring is not an integral part of the Christian faith.
For her part, Miss Playfoot claims that her human rights have been violated. The case could lead to a legal definition of what constitutes a cultural expression of religion. She was represented by Mr Paul Diamond, who also acted for the British Airways worker banned from wearing a cross at work. Her challenge was also supported by the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship.
Contending for truth
The willingness of young people to contend for freedom to pursue and promote their faith is admirable. We don’t have to agree completely with the actions taken to welcome the fact that a new generation of youngsters are thinking for themselves and struggling to make space for their beliefs – in a society keen to remove all Christian expression from open display.
There are many other ways, of course, that young believers today can contend for the truth. In recent months Evangelical Times has provided a platform for youth in its Youth Supplements. The material is written mainly by young people for young people – though it is not only young people who enjoy the articles!
It is heartening to see the raw talent displayed – and even more encouraging that the contributors have a firm grasp of Scripture and its doctrines, and a fervent desire to share their faith in Christ. God willing, they will be effective communicators of the gospel message in years to come.
And that is important. God has been good in bestowing upon the church the gifts of pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:7-13). But pastors grow old and others must take their place. The task of preaching, leadership and service in the church must fall to a younger generation. Sooner or later Elijah’s mantle must pass.
Standing for Christ
The Bible is full of young men and women who stood for truth and godliness in the face of daunting opposition. Think of Joseph in Potiphar’s house, Daniel in Babylon, David before Saul. Consider young women like Rahab, Ruth, Esther, and Naaman’s servant girl.
In the New Testament Paul goes out of his way to instruct and encourage young men like Timothy, Titus and John Mark. Timothy had to be prompted, Titus constrained and John Mark rebuked (though later commended!)
The young men and women in our own churches also need to be nurtured and instructed. It is the duty of the church to seek out the gifts which the Lord has bestowed, and encourage them to grow and flourish for the benefit of the whole body.
Training young people is not a task to be casually handed over to youth organisations, para-church groups or even Bible colleges. It is much too important for that! It is primarily the responsibility of the church as a whole and individual church elderships in particular.
The Apostle Paul acknowledged the important role played in the life of Timothy by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5) and was conscientious in his own correspondence – directing, teaching and nurturing young pastors with solid theology and practical advice. He was also willing to commend them to other churches, calling on those churches to welcome and care for them.
For their part the young men and women described in Scripture also had responsibilities. Their courage and resolution was tested sorely but they trusted God and stood their ground regardless of the cost.
But their boldness had to be complemented with humility and subjection to the Word of God. Our need is not for ‘angry young men’ brandishing a carnal passion to change the world, but individuals moved by the Spirit of God and equipped to stand firm for truth.
Our Bible exemplars had a teachable spirit, and valued the help and encouragement of older mentors. Joshua had Moses, Elisha had Elijah, Samuel had Eli, Apollos had Aquila and Priscilla. And a host of young pastors, missionaries and others had Paul, who could write, ‘The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you’ (Philippians 4:9).
There are encouraging signs of a new generation of young people in our churches today – people who are willing to reject the prevailing materialism and ungodliness of the society in which they live and make a public stand for the truth of the gospel.
They are already a blessing to us and represent the backbone of tomorrow’s churches. We have a duty to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of these future labourers in Christ’s harvest field – and engage with them purposefully for the great good of the body of Christ.
By God’s grace the church of tomorrow is in our Sunday schools, Bible classes and youth groups today. When they demonstrate a willingness to ‘stand up and be counted’ we must help them do so.