The following translation was first printed under the title “Die Kinder dieser Welt sind klüger, denn die Kinder des Lichts in ihrem Geschlechte.” It is from the October 15, 1863 issue of Der Lutheraner. The author is Rev. Johann Paul Beyer. Beyer served as a long-time Missouri Synod parish pastor. He also held leadership positions such as Secretary of the Synodal Conference, President of the Eastern District, and Synod Vice President. He was also founder and editor of the Lutherisches Kinderblatt, which was a publication for Lutheran youth.
In his parable of the unjust steward, our Lord Jesus says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Beyer contends that control of the press is where we see this most manifest. We might find the old Missourians quirky in their opposition to things like dancing and theater, but one can hardly argue how easily we have let the secular press have full access to our homes and our children, and how this has been poisonous to faith in the heart. This is a problem which spans generations because it is the most effective way for the devil to spread his kingdom.
Beyer could not have envisioned the television screen and the smartphone, which have only expanded the easy access which he laments that Christians have given to the world’s press. But the problems that our more modern technology pose should not be so new and vexing to Christians. The problem has always been the same. In this world we operate on an uneven playing field. The media is unchristian at its core, and Christians at least must recognize this. Its doctrine of “tolerance” is not an enlightened discovery of a new day, but a tired mantra which has been exploited for generations.
Beyer quotes Jeremiah 23:29, which says, “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” God give us faith to take these words to heart. Christians must have determination to resist the flow of garbage information which damages the soul, and treasure the pure fountain which is God’s Word. We and our children will be better for it.
The Children of this World Are Shrewder than the Children of Light in their Generation
Unfortunately, it is true. One does not even need to take it on faith, for one can see it with the eyes and grasp it with the hands. For example, we give all the effort, dedicate power and health, spend money and goods—all in order to mitigate unbelief and lead people to God. And what do we have for success? We have this, that unbelief remains as before. It rules the masses, and on top of that it ridicules our self-sacrifice and even casts it into suspicion. We spend serious money to build churches and Christian schools, high schools, and seminaries. We do so to this end, that the devil’s kingdom is diminished and the kingdom of God should grow. But what is the fruit? From congregation to congregation throughout almost the entire country sounds a cry from the mouth of Christians concerning the frivolous, addicted, proud, if not entirely corrupted and unbelieving youth.
We have our church newspapers and in more modern times also political newspapers, which are under the leadership of men who are both Christian and gifted. But how is this going? At least now and then pastors will write for the church papers, and many Christians receive them. But as for the political papers, almost the only people who write for them are hired to do it. So many people read these papers, that they can make a living this way. Among us it takes a great deal of money and much sacrifice. Then when the year is done, little or nothing seems justified.
How then does it go for the unbelievers? They don’t spend anything for schools. If they do happen to build them, first they see to it carefully whether they will bring in what they cost. The churches in which sheer unbelief is preached do the same thing. They do this with their newspapers too, which have the goal of teaching garbage about God. They make an attempt, and if nothing comes of it, they call it quits. Even so, these churches blossom and lure the masses. How does this happen? One would like to find an explanation for this, that the heart of the natural man is always a natural companion of unbelief, and that the task of making unbelief serviceable to the devil is easy. Is it not the Word of God which is a light that penetrates the darkness, and a hammer which shatters the rock in pieces? How then? That is the question. How do the apostles of unbelief and their disciples begin, without cost or effort, to make the powerful blows of God’s Word unfelt among the masses? How do they obscure the bright light of the Gospel? Yes, this is exactly the point in which the children of this world are shrewder than the children of light. This is the point in which we Christians, in order to say it mildly, let our foolishness shine.
With our help, in any case through our negligence, the unbelievers have almost exclusively taken the press into their service. There they preach continuously: Tolerance! Love! Then throughout the year they print many books of paper about stories of Christian intolerance and lovelessness, and they offer many warnings of the same. Christians also read these things, and they finally believe them so firmly, that they regard it a right to read and support such newspapers. Conversely, they believe it an injustice not to be able to read them, and they regard it an offense when someone would warn them about these newspapers. In this way the schoolbooks of unbelief come into the house in the form of daily, weekly, and monthly papers. Young and old read these and glean wisdom (more like deadly poison) out of them. While one goes to church a few times a week in order to hear God’s Word in a rush, he spends six or seven times more with such a godless newspaper, in order to read the newspaper-sermons of unbelief at leisure. He even reads them out-loud to others and discusses them. Is it any wonder, how unbelief comes into the house and then into the heart! Such a procedure is like adding one piece of wood to the fire, and then immediately dumping seven buckets of water upon it. That ought to burn well!
But perhaps I am guilty of making an overstatement, for many will say that the political newspapers write nothing concerning religion, as they always explain at the outset. You are correct, fellow Christian. They write nothing concerning religion. If they wanted to do that, first they would have to understand something about it. The truth is that they write everything against religion, and then they discuss their own, which they understand quite masterfully. The proof is here in my hand. Here I have today’s newspaper, the Sunday edition of a “reputable newspaper” to boot. Flipping through (back to front Hebrew style, because Jews of the “Great Brotherhood” work on almost every newspaper) we find no less than 11 balls and concerts recommended to the reader, and also a theater. Fathers subscribe to these newspapers, and their sons, daughters, and workers read them. And then one wonders why the youth do not go to church anymore and do not want to be productive at home. Closer to the front prior to the police report there is reported back word concerning a court case. You know how a judge is tasked to protect the integrity of the law. Here the newspaper is battering the judge’s character. Conversely, the lawyer, who tried to intimidate the judge, is highly praised. This is certainly not in harmony with the doctrine of our most holy faith: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Closer to the front still there is a selection from a lewd novel, in which a lovesick young lady plays around in men’s clothing. Someone recognizes her, and she takes a knife in the hand to kill him in order to cover up her offense. This is certainly not in accord with God’s words, “A woman without discipline is like a …” (Proverbs 11:22) and “Beloved, never avenge yourselves” (Romans 12:19). Finally, right on the front page there are stale jokes and sayings of our “civilized time.” For example:
“Be careful, a saying of virtue to share,
even if you mean well and think you only care;
For whoever puts forth the name of virtue in a way not delicate
earns quickly for himself the title of hypocrite.”
“Give way to others in everything, and be kind;
just not in your feelings and in your mind.”
“The devil has departed this world, for he knows well;
it is men who make this place a burning hell.”
“That heartfelt devotion in God,
which burns intensely, and is spread abroad;
That sweet, ecstatic idleness
(meanwhile your whole house is a mess);
This is nothing more—I say without jesting,
than a way to get your senses tickling.”
Dear Christian, open your eyes. Say to yourself: what are these mundane verses? Are they not poisonous arrows, targeted at and printed for those people specifically, who still have a shimmer of the fear of God in them and a love for God’s Word? Christians read such telegrams from hell and even pay for them, even after they have prayed “hallowed be Thy name” and “Thy kingdom come.” Just so they invite the devil’s kingdom to come. Why do they do this? Because one time they heard or read that in the 19th century one must be tolerant in regard to the world. Meanwhile, what do the unbelievers do, who impress this doctrine upon people? Yes, they are shrewder than the children of light. They don’t pay a cent for a religious newspaper, nor would they give one hour to read one. If you would come with your religious newspaper and recommend that they subscribe, because they must be tolerant, they would regard you as a fool. They would gladly accept religious tracts for the same reason that this Sunday newspaper lies in front of me. It’s not to read them, but because one can always use old paper. And is this procedure not wise in its own way? They do not want to become Christians. They are enemies of the faith. They keep it at a distance, just as one would never ingest something bad for the body. Now I think that one should learn from the enemy. So let us finally become so shrewd that we never again pay the devil’s apostles for him. We can be well-equipped without their rag, if we truly wish. If they stick a newspaper for us in the bag or under the house doors, we want to be just as shrewd as they are with the religious tracts. “One can always use old paper.”