Longest Running Relay Race

At athletic events there is nothing as exciting as a relay race. No individual honours are won. The prize is shared. The team effort is probably considered to be more representative of a nation than the efforts of an individual.

The longest running relay race has been going on from the time our Lord walked this earth.

The first race started with Adam passing on his beliefs and values to his godly son Seth. As the baton of faith was passed from generation to generation, there were times when there was fumbling resulting in the baton being dropped.

When the baton is dropped in a relay race, the team loses time, but it can stay in the race. A team is disqualified only if runners try to compete without picking up the dropped baton or if one runner were to try to do it all.

From Adam to Noah, the runners did poorly for the most part, except for Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Noah who “walked with God” (6:10). Enoch was transported into God’s presence without experiencing death, while Noah was saved from perishing in the Flood. The Bible frequently shows that the consequences and results of godly activity can differ, because the Spirit-wind blows wherever it chooses (John 3:8).

Generation to Generation

The race picked up when Abraham was chosen the father of the faithful (Rom. 4: 11) and followed by Isaac and Jacob. God became identified as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex. 3:6; Acts 3:13).

Faith was passed from generation to generation. God instituted a ritual to pass on sacred knowledge from one generation to another. The youngest of a family would ask for the meaning of traditions, and the father would give the same answer year after year (Ex. 13: 14; Deut. 6:20).

For long periods of apostasy, the runners floundered and dropped the baton a number of times, but there was always a “remnant” that kept the race going (Gen. 43:7; 2 Kings 19:4; Ezra 9: 8, 13-15).

Then the forerunner arrived to turn people back to God (Matt. 3:1-3). Finally, Jesus Himself came to carry on the relay race. He ended up starting a new race altogether, because the first race was so badly compromised (1 Cor. 15: 45-49). The new relay race was a continuation of the old one, as if the races were in a relay.

But did Jesus Himself receive the baton of faith from previous runners?

For the most part Christians attribute all of Jesus’ scriptural knowledge to the fact that He was divine. But the Incarnation must mean that Jesus didn’t have special powers. He had to “learn obedience” (Heb. 5:8). He grew up subjecting Himself to the discipline of His human parents (Luke 2:51).

As a devout Jew, Joseph would no doubt have followed the ritual of educating his children in the traditions of the faith. Mary’s song magnifying the Lord was replete with Old Testament idioms

(Luke 1:47-55). Obviously, she knew the Scriptures. It would not be wrong therefore to infer that, in part, Mary and Joseph were the sources for Jesus’ knowledge of the Scriptures.

Since the Scriptures were not in handy-size printed Bibles, nor cheap to own individually, the chief method of learning the Scriptures was memorising passages. However, it is clear that Jesus went beyond the memorisation, because from a very young age He reflected on them and drew His own conclusions and applied them to life-situations (2:46-47).

Calling Followers

After gaining an upbringing in a godly home, Jesus gave up His training in carpentry and became an itinerant teacher, calling people to follow Him.

All teachers should have moral authority to be able to say to students, “Follow me.”

If a person taking on the task of teaching is unable to command a following, she or he is no teacher. Jesus counselled people that while some teachers were good to listen to, they should not be followed (Matt. 23:3).

The Apostle Paul could boldly say,

“Follow me, as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Setting an example is the primary method of all education, and particularly when it is Christian. If no one is following us, it should be obvious that we have not taught well.

By Authority

If we expect people to follow us, we should be able to command respect. When Jesus taught, He did so with authority. That was because what He had to say wasn’t what others were saying. His teaching had the authority of God’s Word in all its original sense. He dared to counter current opinion again and again: “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” (Matt. 5:21-22). He wasn’t contradicting God’s Word, but stood against prevailing false interpretations. He asserted that He hadn’t come to break the Law, but to fulfil it (vv. 17-18). He challenged people to go beyond the Pharisees’ observance of the Law, discerning the spirit of the Law (v. 20).

Standing in line with Jesus, the Christian educator’s authority has to come from God’s Word. She or he cannot be one who is tossed about by the winds of opinion if we serve as those the Lord has gifted to the church.

Recently, the Roman Catholic Church changed its stance on the status of active homosexuals within the church describing them as those who “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.” It was clearly pandering to pressure groups rather than speaking prophetically about a matter that the Bible is not silent about. The Bible describes such conduct as that of “children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14).

Telling Stories

No account of Christian education would be complete without noting that Jesus told stories to teach people about the Kingdom of God. Jesus told memorable stories. They were earthy—touching on life, as people knew it. Not all His stories had sacred content. Jesus told stories about ordinary activities (like sowing seed, cleaning house, caring for sheep…) and drew spiritual lessons from them. As those who follow the Master Storyteller, we need to develop the art and skill of storytelling so that what we teach makes sense.

The Bible is full of stories that must be retold and explained. The stories are there to serve God’s purpose.

Apart from biblical stories, we need to tell the stories of our own experience. Peter taught about reaching out to Gentiles, by telling of his own experience (Acts 15: 7-11). The Book of Acts records two occasions when Paul recounted the story of his conversion (22:6-21; 26: 4-23).

Creating Memories

As noted earlier, in biblical times, memorisation was the chief method of learning, because they didn’t have the luxury of owning private copies of the Scriptures. That Jesus used this method of teaching as an itinerant teacher is apparent from the way the wording is preserved in parallel passages in the Synoptic Gospels (e.g. Matt. 5: 13 with Luke 14:34-35; Matt. 5: 15 with Mark. 4:21 and Luke 8: 16; Matt. 6:9-13 with Luke 11: 2-4).

Today churches and Sunday Schools do not insist on Scripture memorisation. Only the Word that is hidden in the heart can stop people from pursuing wantonness (Psa. 119: 9, 11). The Spirit transforms people, when they allow the light of God’s Word to fall on them (2 Cor. 3:18).

The creation of memories is integral to the task of Christian education. What they store in their hearts is what will guard people facing temptations and troubles.

When the Early Church was formed, new believers devoted themselves to “apostles’ teaching”

(Acts 2:42). Clearly a body of teaching grew that was identified as apostolic. Nothing was in writing then, but there was an “oral tradition” that was handed down by the apostles and passed on from believer to believer, and congregation to congregation. Paul wrote,

“For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received…” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). What Paul was saying was that the baton he had received was what he passed on in all his preaching and teaching.

Paul charged the church at Thessalonica, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold

on to the traditions that we taught you…keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition they received from us” (2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6).

Evangelicals have a sort of gut reaction against tradition, thinking it constitutes dead beliefs and unbiblical practices. However, the word “tradition” simply means “delivering” or “handing over.” Passing on what we believe to be true is what tradition is all about, and passing the spiritual baton on is what Christian ministry is all about.

Christian Year

One tradition Evangelical educators would do well to restore is the observance of the Christian Calendar. After coming to the Lord I became involved with Youth For Christ clubs. I developed a taste for a diet of “salvation messages” (urging unbelievers to commit their lives to Christ). I also began to think that preaching for salvation i.e. getting people to make a decision to receive Jesus as Saviour was the only kind of preaching that was any good.

When I was appointed pastor at the Lalbagh Methodist Church, while I preached special sermons for Christmas and Holy Week, I never paid attention to other significant days. I got into trouble with some of the older members because I failed to change the backdrop curtains according to the colours of the seasons of the Christian Year. With great reluctance and annoyance I began to pay attention to the calendar. Slowly I started to preach on the other special days in the year: Pentecost Sunday, Trinity Sunday, etc. Of course, I didn’t observe “saints’ days” as in the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.

I came to thinking of the Christian calendar as a teaching tool. There are six basic movements of divine revelation that the calendar takes the church through:

Christmas – Jesus is born

Epiphany – Jesus is revealed

Lent-Good Friday – Jesus suffers/dies for all

Easter- Jesus Lives

Pentecost- Jesus sends the Holy Spirit

Advent- Jesus is coming

Preaching according to the Christian Calendar would prevent preachers from riding hobbyhorses. Preachers have a tendency to stick to favourite topics, stunting the growth of people they preach to.

Whole Counsel of God

The Christian Calendar covers the total range of Christian doctrines. Preachers who follow the schedule would present the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). People should hear everything that God wants them to know. Our Lord proclaimed the “Kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Paul did too (28:31). There was completeness to what was preached. The unpleasant and hard bits were not left out. Everything was proclaimed and explained.

John Wesley wrote, “I find more profit in sermons on either good tempers, or good works, than in what are vulgarly called gospel sermons…. Let but a pert, self-sufficient animal, that has neither sense or grace, bawl out something about Christ, or his blood, or justification by faith, and his hearers cry out, ‘What a fine gospel sermon!’ Surely the Methodists have not so learned Christ. We know no gospel without salvation from sin” (“Letter to Miss Bishop” [Oct. 18, 1778]). In a letter to his brother Charles, he said that this kind of preaching “naturally tends to drive holiness out of the world” (“Letter to Charles Wesley” [Nov. 4, 1772]).

Whether preaching or teaching, we must get the whole counsel of God to all the people of God. Let the baton be passed on faithfully.

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