I recently read an article written by Rachel Held Evans. (Find the article here.) The main point that Evans conveys is that the millennial generation (those born after 1982 or so…) are leaving the church in droves because they find the church to be inauthentic and performance oriented, hostile to the LGBTQ community, opposing science and rational thinking, and lacking in participation in social justice issues. She concludes by stating:
We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.
Now, I appreciate a number Evans’ thoughts. First, I agree the American Church appears to be largely “inauthentic.” By this, Evans means that the church has been editing the teachings of Jesus to only those lessons that we agree with as a culture or find to be easy. In other words, the American Church wants Jesus to fit into our lives instead of allowing Jesus to shape our lives.
Second, I hope for many of the same things that Evans hopes for as well! I hope for a truce between science and faith. In fact, the data coming from the scientific community is demonstrating how science lines up with the Christian worldview with remarkable consistency. My hope is that scientists on both sides will seek impartial data and draw conclusions that only lead to the truth.
I also hope for a day when there is no longer hostility between the LGBTQ community and the Christian community. It makes me so sad when those who claim Christ tell people that God hates them or commit acts of violence against them. This is obviously not in line with the truth of the gospel, and it makes me so sad that this has contributed to the hostility.
However, at the heart of the article is the same problem that Evans is attempting to combat. Evans says,
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 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.
These all seem like great ideas, and some of them are in line with scripture. But we must not allow our own ideas shape God or shape scripture, rather we must allow God and His Word to shape our ideas. What millennials want is irrelevant. It’s what God wants with millennials (and the rest of His church) that really matters. God’s truth will always remain constant and immovable. The poor still need to be cared for, sex outside of marriage is still a sin, and homosexuality still offends God regardless of what anyone says or does.
Each one of us, in one way or another, edit Jesus. We like the lessons that are easy for us to follow, and we ignore those that make us too uncomfortable. To bring real authenticity back to the church we have to start with this fundamental issue in each of our own lives. And what is this core issue?
Do we really trust the Lord enough to take Him at his word in every area of our life? When the teachings of Jesus are challenging, are we willing to take Him at His Word? Are we willing to lay down our belief system, our worldview, or our moral leanings in order to let those things be conformed to the teachings of Christ? Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) Let us be a people who are marked by this ethic—conformed to the image of Christ.