Over the last couple of weeks, I have reviewed Sam Eaton’s article, “12 Reasons Millennials are OVER Church”. Part 1 dealt with issues of church control. Part 2 addressed issues of church canon (teaching). Part 3 covered church community. Today, I will conclude this series with a look at culture, that is, the relationship between church and society.
Unlike any generation before, millennials want to be known and liked. We are the generation of social media. We go out of our way to show how we aren’t like everybody else. We tweet our 140-character bursts of insight. We Facebook things too long for that. We Instagram our breakfast. Millennials want to impress the world and be impressed by the world.
Here’s the problem: God has a different agenda. Throughout history, God’s people tend not to be the ones getting all the likes and shares. Many have suffered. Many have died. Many lost jobs, families, and friends.
We are told to expect this. In John 15:18-20, Jesus said:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”
Of His disciples, Jesus said in John 17:16:
“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”
Paul echoes this in 2 Timothy 3:12-13:
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
And this wasn’t just theoretical knowledge Paul had; he lived it.
“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
In 1 John 3:13, John adds:
“Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”
Millennials want to have a church that appeals to the outside world. But the Bible lets us know early and often that this probably won’t happen. Rather, being faithful to God often comes at the cost of, among other things, the favor of man.
And this is the problem with the final three complaints in Eaton’s article. They all, in some way, desire to make the church liked by the world, when we have been warned, nay, promised, that this is not going to happen. Let’s look at these complaints individually:
“We’re Tired of You Blaming the Culture”
Yes, churches can make culture issues the enemy while not hitting on issues that really matter. We can act like the problems are all out there, and not in here. Eaton seems to be advocating for not addressing cultural issues and instead focusing on service and dealing with issues inside the church. While those things are important, I think that approach goes too far. If we’re honest and consistent in our biblical worldview, there’s a lot of things in the culture that are problematic, and the Bible speaks plainly and clearly to them, and people need to be warned about them and called to repentance from them. We can’t ignore the problems in society, not if we’re going to proclaim the whole counsel of God. The world is forever altered and scarred from sin, and we’re doing a disservice if we don’t own this fact and take to the world its only hope for forgiveness and restoration.
“The Public Perception”
There seems to be an underlying assumption among Eaton and other church critics that if the church is doing its job, people will like it. As the verses above clearly state, acceptance by the world outside is not the priority, and in truth it is somewhere between unlikely and impossible if the church is being faithful to its message. Just look at how angry people in the world get when the church speaks out on the controversial social issues of the day. Are we speaking out because we’re mean, hateful, intolerant people? No, but the world sure likes to paint it that way. In reality, we want people to know their sin so that they may come to know their Savior. But the unregenerate will never see it that way, and we shouldn’t expect them to. Only sheep hear the voice of the shepherd.
“You’re Failing to Adapt”
This is the final point Eaton makes in his article and, appropriately, the final one I will address. It is here that he lays his cards on the table. The call from Eaton and the millennials is for the church to change what it is and what it does to suit the preferences of this generation. He thinks that if the church were to do so, it would grow and thrive and bring the millennials in.
Here’s the problem: We already know from experience that this doesn’t work. Look at recent church history. The Enlightenment tried to reconcile the church to science and philosophy. The result was compromise, with the Bible’s narratives being subjected to and altered by science and its teachings being questioned and redefined through the lens of philosophy. Look at the worship wars. It started as a desire to modernize music. Now you have churches playing secular songs and looking more like concerts than the worship of the triune God. Look at the seeker-sensitive movement. Evangelism went from something done in the streets, schools, and workplaces to something of a bait-and-switch–let’s get them in the doors of the church and let the pastor give them the gospel. Which left a generation of shallow, thoroughly-evangelized but rarely-discipled cultural Christians. And that generation had children. Those children are the millennials, who see through the (sometimes literal) smoke and mirrors to a church that is falling over itself to try to look like the world. Why do millennials need a church that tries to act like the world when they already have the world? The real problem is not a church that failed to adapt. The problem is a church that adapted too much.
But not all churches are like this. Some still stand boldly and confidently on the word of God. Some still believe that God should be made great and man should be made small. Some still worship in spirit and truth.
The Westminster Confession of Faith says it well (25.5):
The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will.
The biblical church has always been around, and it always will be, for those who dare to look. Millennials, do you want a church conformed to your own image? Or do you want the church that God established, that Christ died to save, that the Spirit seals and sanctifies? Do you want to worship God, or do you want to worship yourself?
This is the real heart of the matter. If Christ has made us new, has purchased us with His blood, and taken out our heart of stone and given us a heart of flesh, then we will desire to worship Him and be a part of the body, no matter how uncool, old-fashioned, socially-unconscious, or unentertaining the body is. Millennials, it’s time to get over being over church. ♦