Monday 18 May 2015

Have we lost holiness in student ministry?

Can you imagine the impact upon a Reformed Christian minister, when students who are members in your church, begin to complain about worldliness among Christians on the University Campuses? You cannot deny then, that there must be some kind of problem, when people aged 18-22 years old begin to dissent at such a mixture of Christianity and worldliness. In recent years, this has been a persistent and consistent comment from student Christians in some Reformed congregations. Is that your experience in your part of the UK? That is that, among Christian Union’s and professing Christian students and young people, that there is a growing worldliness at the expense of holiness. Where does this problem originate from? Where has an emphasis on biblical holiness gone and why? Hopefully, this all too brief article will provoke some thought, stimulate prayer and motivate some action to change the status quo.

The world’s message in this generation places great emphasis upon personal satisfaction, happiness and enjoyment. This mantra affects all Christians and churches to varying degrees. It can especially impact those groups who desire to reach out to non-Christians, but in doing so, they may unwittingly capitulate to using worldly methods and pursue a subtle, yet worldly approach to reach the world. But this should not be so among the people of God. The Lord Jesus Christ, who is the alone head of the church spoke plainly: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” (Matthew 5:13).

It is my contention that there is a threefold problem among student ministry in the UK, one that is also shared by the wider evangelical church. This unwelcome situation can be exacerbated if churches seek to draw large numbers of university students without clear doctrinal and lifestyle standards. What are the root problems behind this sidelining of holiness?

Problem 1. When evangelism drives the student agenda, to such a point that little else in the teaching of Scripture is given much emphasis, not least holiness and godliness.

Problem 2. The spread of evangelical teaching that never mentions the Ten Commandments or in fact one that actually denies that the Ten Commandments are the rule for Christian living. This is found especially among the proponents of the so-called new covenant theology, but the unfortunate by-product can be the exclusion of an emphasis on holiness.

Problem 3. Perhaps the first step to problem-solving is recognising that there is a problem in the first place. This perceived problem of the absence of an emphasis on biblical holiness, may be as simple as “having dropped off the agenda”. Whatever the case, it needs putting back on the agenda for students and the wider church.

The Lord Jesus was and continues to be, the church’s model for perfect holiness. Therefore, to make disciples of students, this must include teaching on this subject, along with insightful application. Young Christian men and students share with me how prevalent internet pornography is being viewed among their peers. No doubt other age and people groups also fall prey to this sin as well. Is the church addressing the issue of internet pornography as well as many other contemporary sins? It is not uncommon for professing Christian students to frequent nightclubs and in my opinion, this is to play with sin and temptation. Jesus taught us to pray: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”. In such a student culture, I find it hard to believe that high levels of sexual purity can be maintained.

Furthermore, how would people committed to other religions perceive such forms of Christianity? Can you imagine a pious Muslim observing Christian students behaving like the world and then being told of the exclusive claims of the gospel? They may rightly object to such manifest inconsistency. Paul the apostle wrote to the younger Timothy to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22); now that will preach among young people! Paul sadly at the end of the same letter reported that “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (4:10). This stark warning should show us the incompatibility of loving this present world and the claiming to hold to the gospel, because human souls are in the balance.

What is the way forward and how can we address this situation?
Firstly, we must pray about this matter and ask our Lord to help. James 4:2 is an encouragement and a rebuke and it is memorable in the KJV: “Yet ye have not, because ye ask not”.

Secondly, we could discuss this with our ministers and elders in order that they can “weigh and test” how best to proceed, if indeed they perceive a similar problem and how they locally may recommend advancing the cause of holiness and godliness.

Thirdly, for those who have access to UCCF staff, you could contact them for a meeting to determine how they assess the situation. You could request that from within the Christian Union network, that the doctrinal subjects of holiness and godliness be included for discussion nationally, locally and at student house parties (a weekend away for Christian students).

There has been a helpful book written recently by Kevin DeYoung called “The Hole in our Holiness” and this could be further reading on this subject. In addition, Ephesians Chapters 4 to 6 and Colossians Chapters 3 and 4. DeYoung spoke at a recent Banner Youth Conference at Leicester and he said: "To obey Christ is not legalism, it is Christianity” and again he declared that "to fight against sin is to fight for your joy, not against it”. Is that your desire to obey Christ and to fight against sin? May we we take up this cause for ourselves, others and future generations. May the very words “holiness” and “godliness” become as commonplace in contemporary Christian vocabulary as “evangelism” or the much used new buzz word “missionalism”.

Rev. Dr Kevin Bidwell is the minister of Sheffield Presbyterian Church (which is part of EPCEW) and their website is

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