In a recent post entitled Why My Generation is Leaving Christianity, I attempted to outline a number of reasons why so many of my peers are walking away from the faith. The benefit to writing this seemed quite obvious to me and has been confirmed by the feedback the post received from both believers and non-believers alike. I am not a compensated minister, I am not a tenured theologian (though I have two degrees in religious studies), and being in my mid-twenties I am extremely in touch with youth culture from the inside. Having almost walked away from Christianity completely while in high school, I can testify to the dilemmas that many of my peers are having and why they're having them. This was a chance for me to shed introspection. Instead of an older generation talking about why the younger generation is struggling with their faith and how to solve it, I thought it wise, being a part of that generation, to speak on our behalf. I am slowly exiting that generation, but for the next few years I can still lay claim to it and I hope to utilize my remaining time here well.
If I may sum up the point of the article it's this: The Church, by and large, has become irrelevant for our daily lives.
This was not always the case. The early Church, for example, saw Christianity as being exceptionally important on a daily basis. Take Paul's letters for example. They provide us with an early Church hope that Christ would return, he would enact the full Kingdom of God, bring about divine justice, and set up his rule on earth. He would, in essence, bring the Church out of physical exile in the same way that He brought them out of spiritual exile. In the midst of heavy persecution from both the religious and pagan leaders, their cry to God was direct and unambigious: Maranatha (1 Cor 16.22), "Lord Come!" The second to last verse of the Bible makes a similar statement of plea: "Come, Lord Jesus, come" (Rev 22.20). This hope and expectation guided their daily lives. It guided their ethics. It guided their evangelism. It guided their relationships. While it would be wrong to say that Paul believed that the end of the world was going to happen within his lifetime, it is certainly true that he desperately hoped for it. How many of us live our lives with this same hope and expectation? My guess is that most of us simply don't.
Like the early Church, the Majority World Church (non-Western Church) has this same desire and hope. There is something about persecution which reminds us that God's full Kingdom is not yet present and which helps to propel those same things which were important in the early church: ethics, evangelism, and relationships. Here's the simple fact of the matter. The early Church and the Majority World Church recognize the importance of these areas and this is one of the primary reasons why, as Philip Jenkins has noted, the Majority World Church will ultimately replace the Western Church. They may not have the same water-tight orthodox system of theology we often have (and neither did the early Church), but I think there is little doubt that these Christians serve God in ways which we have long forgotten. As Tim Tennent writes in his excellent book Theology in the Context of World Christianity (14),
In more recent years evangelicals have been less engaged in issues such as poverty, environmentalism, ethnic reconcilation, AIDS, prison reform, and the ethics of war. Majority World Christians often live in worlds characterized by such widespread corruption, poverty, disease, and oppression that these issues cannot be conveniently ignored as they often are in our large, seeker-driven, and entertainment-oriented middle-class churches.
Last week I watched my pastor preach in khaki shorts, sandals, and a plaid shirt. His beard was a little less than trimmed and his hair looked like somebody's mother might want to put the colic down with a wet thumb. Some would be a good bit off put by this display. I can't tell you how many times I've been told "Church is where you wear your best!" as if somehow God would otherwise be disappointed. Now, I am not at all opposed to anybody dressing up nice for Church. I don't choose to wear gym shorts and a cut off t-shirt. But isn't it a little ironic when we tell the World to "Come as you are" and then insist that they change exterior appearances which are otherwise non-issues (I am not suggesting shirtless services!)? While many may find such a pastor preaching in shorts to be unthinkable let me tell you that I have seen more homeless and more poverty ridden people attend this church and seek God there than in any other church I've ever been in. Indeed, this past week I watched as a man who was obviously in a povershed situation come in with a bandanna, an old sleeveless shirt, and dirty jeans take the front row seat. I saw my pastor embrace this man with a welcoming hug which I knew was absolutely genuine. And I didn't see anybody in this church bat an eye about who entered in. College students, seminary student, professors, children, retired elders, and the forgotten and neglected members of a small town worshipped God hand in hand. This church stands in stark contrast with a church I attended a few years ago where it was mandatory suit and tie, no music during worship, and no talking whatsoever once you entered the congregation room. Indeed, the sermon of that one was about how God expects us to hit our kids with a belt or a wooden beam when they disobey. My suspicion is that if a povershed or homeless person walked into that church they would quickly have been asked to leave. This brings me to a simple question: which of these two churches would you guess the early apostles would have been a part of? Which one do you think Jesus would have been a part of (I suspect, being a povershed man, he would have been asked to leave the same Church claiming to worship him!)
I have a deep suspicion that if we actually became involved in social issues, if we actually care about evangelism as if God is finally answering that call to return today, and if we care about the quality of the relationships we develop with this world then the Church will, indeed, become extremely and exceptionally realistic and relevant for the outside world (including our youth!). Before anybody suggests otherwise, I am not saying that there are not people who take this seriously. There are a good number of Christians dedicated towards social issues which should be commended and recognized. You may be one of them. In fact, part of the problem is the degree to which these efforts are unknown to the outside world. It's a blakently false statement, as some have implied, that Christians aren't doing anything. There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, which are. But I think it's quite obvious that if we compare what Christians in the Majority World are doing with the the Western Church is doing, we can really make a call on who is actually living in ways which make outsiders wonder what this whole Christianity thing is really about. If we started to care about AIDS victims, if we started to care about sex trafficking, if we started to care about abortion, poverty, starvation, orphans, and a million other issues in the same way that we care about tax percentages or gas prices then, indeed, we might see more change in the way that the world sees us.
Now the question is, of course, one of practicality and pragmatism. My challenge to you is to take a social issue this year. For the next 6 months learn about it, read about it, set aside donations for it, and begin to work it with your heart and strength. Know the issue well. Listen to God and let him point you to where you need to go and what you need to do and I promise you he will. The other day I approached my wife with an issue which has been on my heart for the past six months. I suggested we, as a team, start to learn about and involve ourselves in the abolition of sex trafficking. Any hesitancy that I had towards this was removed when no less than five minutes later my wife opened up a piece of mail from an organization built to free those stuck in sex trafficking. The Jews had no Hebrew word for coincidence. We don't either.