"Youth" Retreats or "Truth" Retreats?

by Tim Haile

May 29, 2000

     The word "retreat" means to "fall or draw back; withdraw or retire," yet we are seeing several "retreats" being conducted by churches today. There are youth retreats, teen retreats, men retreats, women retreats, singles retreats, marriage retreats and a host of other "retreats." I can understand why hard working individuals may want an occasional "retreat" from life's physical and mental demands. We sometimes call these "vacations." But I have difficulty understanding how churches can retreat. What would a church "retreat" from? The church is to be the "pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). If one "retreats" by "receding from a particular position or condition," what position or condition may the church recede from?

The Modern Church and the "Social" Gospel

     Years ago, religious people decided that the gospel of Christ was not sufficient within itself to attract the attention of worldly people. Never mind the fact that the gospel of Christ is "the power of God to save" and that "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (Rom. 1:16: 1 Cor. 1:21). Men ignored the simplicity and power of the gospel and invented their own methods of attracting the lost. Many enticing schemes were devised and many programs and activities were planned for the purpose of drawing the masses. Church leaders reasoned that once the food, fun and frolic drew the people into the church building, then they would be converted and kept by the gospel. This was a terrible miscalculation. What actually happened was that people became attached to the social activities and rather than their interest in these things waning, it grew. Their expectations were raised and their demands increased; the hamburgers and hot dogs may have attracted them at first, but it would take T-bone steaks to keep them!

     The same was true with regard to sports and entertainment. The basketball goals in many church parking lots have now been replaced with "church" gymnasiums! It seems that once a church starts down the social gospel path there is no turning back without the members becoming dissatisfied and eventually leaving. Thus the only way these churches can maintain their crowds is for them to continue to expand the number and kinds of social programs that are offered. When members want church day care facilities, that it what is offered. When members want secular education, that is what is offered. When members want to be taught how to dance, or how to be clowns (yes, a local church recently offered classes on "clowning"), that is what is offered. Once introduced, the social gospel mindset will force a church to maintain a constant schedule of church provided social programs and activities.

But Why So Much Emphasis Upon "Youth?"

     We regret that there are many in this world whose motives and intentions are impure, and they will ultimately be judged for their sins (Jn. 12:48), yet we acknowledge that there are good reasons why people target youths with their agenda. Whether their own agenda is right or wrong, people reach out to youths because there is a greater chance that those young minds have not yet been affected by whatever prejudices and preconceptions might otherwise prevent them from accepting their instructions. For example, all Bible believers unite upon the fact that an all-powerful God created the universe in six consecutive and literal days (Gen. 1), and we teach our young children such. However, humanists and modernists work very hard to convince people of the theory of evolution, which insists that the earth is billions of years old. How early do the evolutionists begin this work? They use books and various media to indoctrinate children at a very young age, as soon as those children are capable of learning and comprehension.

     This fact that young minds are more easily molded by one's particular agenda or worldview also explains why the homosexual community has worked so hard among youths. They hope to reach young people early and convince them of their corrupt notion that homosexual relations are as normal as heterosexual ones. Of course, the Bible forthrightly condemns homosexuality, classifying it as sinful and unnatural. And like all other sins, it will keep people out of heaven (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10; Jud. 7). Genesis 19:4 provides us with an example of where this approach was successful for the homosexuals. Among those who surrounded Lot's house there were "both young and old." Where did the young homosexuals learn this behavior? The answer is simple; they learned it from the "old" ones!

     Christians also understand the importance of teaching and training children while they are young. The Bible tells parents to "bring up" their "children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). The Jews were also told to teach the divine precepts and principles to their "children" (Deut. 6:7). Young people are told to "remember now your creator in the days of your youth" (Eccl. 12:1).

     Thus, to answer our question, churches often focus on "youths" because they hope to win their minds and hearts while they are young and before they have come under other influences. Churches also hope to attract the parents through the children. Many parents have been positively influenced by the truthful teaching and good examples of their children. Is there anything wrong with local churches reaching out to children, provided they use authorized means? No, there is nothing wrong with a church spending money to provide teachers, materials and facilities for the purpose of teaching God's word to children. As we have observed from 1 Corinthians 1:21, when the gospel is taught, God is pleased and no faithful Christian objects. However, this is not what is done in most youth camps and retreats. Herein lies the real problem.

The Problem with Church Youth Camps

     Church operated "Youth Retreats" blur the line between "church" and "individual" action. Purely "social" activities are blended with "spiritual" activities and all of these activities are done in the name of Christ. Jesus did not suffer and die on the cross in order to provide people with resources and facilities to play games and be entertained. Entertainment and recreation are not among those activities that God specifically assigned as works of the local church. Neither are social meals a work of the church. Paul said they were the work of the home (1 Cor. 11:22, 34). If individual saints wish to open their homes to young people for the purpose of social interaction, we have no objection. If they wish to provide social meals, entertainment and recreation to these youths, we have no objection. If they wish to teach these youths various arts and crafts, we have no objection. Our objection is to local churches using the social gospel with all of its trappings and allurement to attract people to the church. Such actions are unauthorized and actually adulterate the God given mission of the church.

     Youth retreats generally combine the "social" gospel with the real gospel. That is, to at least some degree, the Bible is taught, but this teaching is interspersed among the various other social events and activities. When this intertwining of social events and Bible teaching are sponsored by the church, young people are trained to view the church as a social organization that incorporates spiritual principles. They see the church as sort of a noble country club. By either sponsoring social activities, or by attaching their name to such activities, these churches brainwash youths into believing that these things are actual works of the church. The Bible says they are not.

Retreating From the Truth

     When we think of many churches' constant emphasis on food, fun and frolic, we are reminded of the spiritual adultery that was committed by the Jews of old. In their desire to please the nations around them, both houses of Israel and Judah forsook the Lord and committed spiritual adultery by joining themselves to those wicked nations (Jer. 3:1-10). The church is the "bride of Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2). However, many churches have prostituted themselves. Rather than seeking to comply with her husband's authority (Col. 3:17; Acts 3:22-23; Matt. 28:18), they have sought to satisfy the world's desires and expectations. Some churches are absolutely shameless. It appears they will do absolutely anything to draw and please the crowds. Our job is to please God, not to please the world (Gal. 1:10). "Friendship with the world is enmity against God" (Jas. 4:4). Whether the simple teaching of God's truth pleases the crowds or not, one thing is certain - God is pleased (1 Cor. 1:21; Isa. 55:11).


     The work of the local church is clearly set forth in scripture. Local churches serve as God's collectives for performing spiritual works (Eph. 4:12-16). Each local church is to serve as a "pillar and ground of the truth," and they are to "sound out the word of the Lord" (1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Thess. 1:8; Acts 13:1-3). This is vitally important, for no person can come to Christ apart from his being drawn by the teaching of the gospel (Jn. 6:44-45). "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). The gospel is God's power to save (Rom. 1:16; Jas. 1:21; 1 Cor. 15:1-2). It is a sword so sharp that it can penetrate the very conscience of a man, "discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). The church must recognize the fact that young people need the same thing that older people need - the simple, pure, and unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ. And don't underestimate these youths! There are a great many who appreciate God's will. They love the truth (2 Thess. 2:10-12), and they are offended by the notion of some that they must be offered the hoopla of social amusement and entertainment in order for them to be interested in God and His church.

     Let us teach young people to be "sensible," to be "examples of good deeds," to achieve "doctrinal purity," and to take all of this quite "seriously" (Tit. 2:7-8). Let us not train them to equate foolishness with the church. That is the only thing that is really accomplished by church operated youth retreats. Food, fun and frolic are associated with the church for which our Lord suffered and died! When incorporated into religion, these social activities become unholy. Be advised, this association of the holy with the unholy, insults our Lord. Let us leave these indignities to the denominations from where they originated.

Tim Haile
7693 Russellville Rd.
Bowling Green, KY 42101

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