There is nothing new under the sun. These young adults are not saying anything we didn’t say in our time. The season of their discontent is perennial. The only difference is that we forty-somethings now find ourselves in the role of conservatives rather than reactionaries. Their vantage point is much more fun.
This is a sort of open letter to those twenty-somethings, at least those who accept scripture as the inerrant word of God. If we don’t agree on that we have no basis from which to discuss other areas of concern. If you don’t believe the Bible, or if you think the New Testament stops after the four gospels, then I would like to have another discussion with you, but not this one.
So my premise is that you believe the Bible, but you see the modern church as being an invention of man which is failing miserably at doing God’s work, or at least your problem with today’s church is something along those lines. You seek something fresh, something that is true to God’s plan without the smothering oppressiveness that comes with today’s overly institutionalized church.
Attitude of PlatitudeLet me get my requisite forty-something platitudes, which you will scoff at, out of the way. If you completely break from the traditional church scene and start something “new”, it will run for a while on its novelty and your youthful exuberance. It may last the better part of a generation. But slowly it too will institutionalize. Rules will develop. Agendas will diverge. Ad hoc leaders, in areas where none were intended, will emerge. In a shorter time than you can imagine your own kids will feel oppressed in your no-longer-new church. You will be the "youth" for only about ten more years, and that is stretching it.
That is not to say that you do not have legitimate gripes—you do. My plea to you is that you use your youthful energies to reform from within. Speak out loudly in areas where the church is falling short, or being legalistic, or not ministering to the community. At the same time listen to the older folk. Sometimes traditions stem from stubbornness, sometimes from wisdom.
Let’s look at some of the things that I am hearing you don’t like.
HeirarchyThe modern church model is almost always some variant of a pastor, elders, and deacons. Some churches (e.g., Brethren) do not have a pastor but a group of elders.
Can church hierarchy be abused? Absolutely—maybe even often. Does that mean its wrong? No it means as fallen creatures we must be diligent in watching for corruption. You can play that role in your church. Does that mean we discard it because egalitarianism sounds like a better approach? No, not if a hierarchy is Biblically mandated. Read Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3. These list the requirements for being an elder. An elder is not, as I have read in one of the threads recently, “just being older”. The Bible doesn’t have to give requirements for getting older. An elder has some authority. Not absolute power, but some authority. Can you read Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 with an open mind and conclude otherwise?
Because we don’t like someone lording over us do not make the mistake that God could never have ordained such a burden, that it is all legalism. Read the Bible. Leave your church when it steadfastly refuses to do what is biblical, not when it insists on doing so.
I think the Bible has support for the model of a professional pastor. Paul’s instruction to Timothy is a big part of that. Paul also makes it very clear in 1 Corinthians:
In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:14, NIV).There is an important qualification here: those who preach the gospel should be paid. If your pastor is not preaching the gospel, and refuses to do so, then it is time to leave that church (or fire the pastor.) Your church should be a mission to the community and even to its members, some (many?) of whom are not saved.
RulesRules are also a pain. Who makes them? Well if God makes them then they are not to be questioned, just obeyed. If man makes them then by all means feel free to challenge them. There are rules in the Bible for the worship service. Some are very difficult to understand and controversial. My point here is not to discuss, for example, the true meaning of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11, but only to point out that however they are interpreted they sure look and smell like rules, so it must be that it pleases God that the worship service is not freeform.
LegalismHere you are on very solid ground, as long as you don’t include in legalism (which we are warned about) the biblically ordained hierarchy and biblically ordained rules. Strict tithing (see the discussion in Rachel's Journal and the fascinating comments) is legalistic—the New Testament clearly teaches that God doesn’t want your offering if is given as a work rather than a cheerful sacrifice. All kinds of legalistic minutiae work their way into churches like parasites: Acceptable styles of music, clothing, food, drink, Bible translations, etc. Be vigilant against legalism but, as much as possible, identify it and work to reform from within.
Spiritual DeadnessThis is a huge problem in many churches and often you are the solution. The youth make an invaluable contribution in this area. In our church, the youth are out and about in the community witnessing in a reckless abandon than is beyond the capabilities of the older folk. Our youth evangelize in the streets and the malls (from which they get kicked out) and their testimonies invigorate and inspire the older members of the church. It is what they contribute to us. If your church is dead, work to quicken it. If a church is dying and the youth leave, they have killed the church by abandonment.
Social ActivismThis is a very challenging area. I agree that one of the great failings of the modern American church is that it has abdicated its role in feeding and caring for the needy to the government. At the same time, conservative evangelical churches are typically politically conservative as well (in the U.S.). So we love to complain about big government and bloated welfare but we are seemingly happy that we don’t have to do anything about it. We should be saying to the government, you don’t have to feed the poor because as we once took care of the problem, we will do it again. Lobby for church monies to be used to help the poor. There are many ways this can be worked, and this is a mission field that, due to its neglect, is crying for fresh leadership. You can fill that role. You may be surprised how much support you’d get from the rest of us.
Whew!I’ll probably write more on this later—but I am out of words for the moment!
UPDATE: see posts by 20-somethings Brianna Leone and Joshua Claybourn
UPDATE 2: See the post by another 20-something Mike Congrove