Sunday, August 4, 2013

Why MIllennials Are Leaving The Church: Rachael Held Evans in Light of Biblical Perspective

A recent post by Rachael Held Evans on CNN’s belief blog is causing quite a stir. Evans’s blog, titled, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church,” is one more attempt by one more author to give the Church a lesson in what she must do if she is to retain those of the younger generation, remain culturally relevant, and regain respect within a contemporary culture filled with God-haters of just about every stripe. Of course, Evans's blog is aimed at the Evangelical Church and essentially, what it comes down to is that evangelicals are scolded, yet again, for being evangelical, for being conservative bible-believing, God-fearing Christians and, well, for not being liberal Christians like the rest of the enlightened, know-it-all younger generation. For those who may have been wondering, yes, I am capable of satire now and again.

My first thought is if we should even be asking this question, this way. Perhaps it is fine to ask why the Millennial generation is not coming to Church. I really don’t have much issue with the question as it stands. What I do have a serious problem with is the reason for the question and even more importantly, what we learn from the answers to the question.

Evans says, “Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” Why do we bother with these surveys? What is it we are hoping to accomplish by asking people who don’t attend Church why they don’t attend Church? Secondly, is this the right source to help us answer this question?

Evans’s observation is that young adults think evangelical Christianity is too political, too exclusive, too old-fashioned, and even hostile to LGBT people. This is what they think about us. Is this supposed to shock us? Jesus said that the world would literally hate us (John 15:19). Jesus said the world would isolate and excommunicate us (Lu. 9:22). Jesus said the world will heap insults upon us (Lu. 9:22) Jesus also said that the world would slander our name all because of our devotion to His truth (Lu. 9:22). I have to confess that I am also confused by these “Christian” pollsters and their surveys. Why would anyone who reads Scripture be surprised that the world would really hate biblical Christianity top to bottom? This thinking seems extremely antithetical to biblical Christianity. We already know what the unchurched, the unbeliever, well, let’s call ‘em what they are, the God-haters think about biblical Christianity. The Bible, from start to finish describes them as hostile enemies of God. So why then are we shocked when they behave in exactly the way that the Bible tells to us they will?

It is obviously unbiblical to survey non-Christians about what they think the Church or the gospel of Christ should be. Who does this? Why do they do it? They do it because they have completely disregarded the biblical description of the ungodly. They do it because they reject the Bible’s teachings regarding the depraved condition of fallen humanity. They do it because they simply do NOT possess a biblical understanding of the life-changing power of the simple gospel of Jesus Christ. They think we build the church within a naturalistic framework. We attract people to the Christian Church with programs, causes, relationships, culturally relevant and timely advice for career, family, and parenting. This is NOT biblical Christianity. It is a pseudo-Christianity that seeks to deceive and empty genuine Christianity of its true power, of its gospel truth, and its life-changing reality. Face it; the unbeliever does not understand biblical conversion, Spirit-centered regeneration. The unbelievers in the visible Church think much differently about how we grow the Christian community. It is a fool who heeds their advice. The worldview of much of the visible Church is detrimental to the Christian faith. The presuppositions of this demographic are informed, to a very large degree, by the culture in which they find themselves. They are social moderates, progressives, and liberals whose ideologies are founded upon the enlightenment principles of science and autonomous human reason. Essentially, these people embrace a non-Christian worldview the most basic level.

Another quote from Evans helps us see this ungodly worldview even more clearly, “I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.” From this we see a false disjunctive between faith and intellectual integrity. How do we interpret this? Quite simply, biblical faith must be judged by human reason apart from God. If faith cannot justify its claims rationally, then we must be free to dismiss the evidence or dogma, whatever the case may be. But we should expect unbelievers to think this way about biblical faith.

For the Christian, the preaching of the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. However, for the unbeliever, the Christian message is foolishness, irrational at its most basic level (1 Cor. 1:18). Why is this shocking to us? Paul told us this was the reaction of the first-century culture, and it will be the reaction of every godless culture that encounters the Christian message.

Evans goes on, “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance. We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against. We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers. We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation. We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities. We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.”

No less than eight times, Evans informs us of what “they want” from the Church. Not one time does she ever ask the question, what does God want from Millennials? And this, ladies and gentlemen, more than anything else is the crux of the problem. We talk about man-centered churches time and time again. What Evans gives us is one more request from one more generation in one more culture that wants the Church to be what they want it to be. It is not my business to tell the church that I want “x” from it or that I want it to be “x.” My question is what does God demand from me? What does God expect from me? What does God expect me to be in His Church? How do I honor and glorify God by being what He has called me to be in the body?
What does that look like? To answer that question, we turn, not to surveys, but to sacred Scripture.

This is an unbiblical perspective on biblical eldership and Christian community. We must find a way to restore the biblical version of the Christian community. This involves humble submission to our leaders and our community in general. It involves discipleship and accountability, and confessions, and creeds and values lived out in the world for all to see. Millennials are baptized in the radical individualism of American culture and it is through that grid that they understand the Christian religion. This means they do not understand biblical Christianity at all. We must do what we can to correct this false thinking.

The most fascinating point in this conversation is that we are listening to a generation of biblically inept individuals that want to inform us on the nature of the Church without so much as investigating Scripture's teaching on the subject and this by their own admission. If I found out that my doctor had never read a medical book or that he or she rarely ever picked up such a book, I would not walk, I would run to the exit. Moreover, I would not ask that person for medical advice. So why do we ask people who never bother to pick up Scripture what the Church should look like or be doing in modern culture? The Millennials tell us they want a number of things from the Church. They seemingly are passionate about Christ, about the Christian religion, about loving God. I ask if this is true. I must confess that I am skeptical. Is there a way to see if the Millennials are sincere or if they are blowing smoke? In fact, there is.

67% of Millennials rarely read any holy book or other sacred writings. In addition, only 8% read the Bible every day. So let me get this straight: I am supposed to take you seriously about the Christian religion, a religion built upon the Text we call the Bible. In one survey you demand that you want a Church that looks like “x.” Yet in another survey, Millennials admit that about 1/3 of them barely read the Bible while less than 1 in 10 read it every day. They are so passionate about changing the world, about being the Church and they know so much about the things that the Church is doing wrong that less than 1 in 10 even bother to familiarize themselves with the one document that defines what the Church is supposed to be.

In addition, fewer than half of all Millennials believe that the Bible is the word of God. 40% of Millennials deny that Satan is a real person. 50% of Millennials believe that Jesus Christ was human and that He sinned while living on earth. In addition, another 50% of Millennials believe that Jesus Christ it NOT the only way to heaven. 31% of Millennials contend that no one really knows what will happen after we die. These are Millennial Christians folks, professing that is.

In addition, this is the only generation that supports gay marriage. And the margin is wide. In fact, from 2012 to 2013 the other generations saw a decline in the percentages of those that support gay marriage while the Millennials saw a significant uptick to about 70%. (SOURCE)

The answer for professing Millennial Christians is an encounter with a real Christian that embraces the kind of Christian theism taught in Scripture. This is an alarming situation. We must refocus on our ecclesiology, our evangelism, and our defense of the Christian worldview. That begins with Scripture. Why are Millennials leaving the Church? It is a good question and it is a useful and necessary conversation. We do have more to learn. This answer is more like a sermon on the issue. I recognize there are issues that we need to address: things like catechism, discipleship, confessions, authority, indoctrination, and so on. However, the answer we seek is spelled out for us in Scripture itself:

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. [1 John 2:19] The answer really is that simple. 

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