“Almost every major branch of Christianity in the United States has lost a significant number of members, Pew found, mainly because millennials are leaving the fold. More than one-third of millennials now say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 percentage points since 2007.”
Let’s talk about this.
I grew up in the Church. Both my maternal and paternal grandpas are pastors. My parents served in youth ministry my entire life and are now missionaries in Colombia. I grew up in RA’s, Awana, VBS, Sunday school, homeless ministries, church pews, youth group, small groups, men’s breakfasts, youth retreats, and bible studies. You name a church thing and I probably participated in it at some point. I’m a Millennial Christian. I was raised in a certain culture and am who I am today because of it. A ton of people were raised similarly, but are leaving the Church and the faith and the Savior that I hold so dear. A lot of you older Christians are very confused by this. You try desperately to make youth group deeper, to get us in Scripture more, to get us to go to Bible schools and study theology and pursue God. What many of you don’t realize is that much of where you’re pushing us is actually leading us away from God, but not for the reasons you might realize.
I studied theology a bit in college. I took some classes in which I ate stuff up. I love God’s Word. I love when God corrects my beliefs or teaches me new stuff. But what confused me for a while was that these classes killed the faith of many. People actually got angry at the school and reported professors for, in their minds, discrediting and destroying faith. People across campus still talk about how the UFND theology classes at SPU pushed them away from God. In my mind, this almost has to be because the faith of these students had been placed on the wrong foundation by their churches, teachers, and culture. Rather than being taught that all of this is stuff God meant for us to encounter and wrestle with and figure out, they were taught that a challenge to previously held notions or beliefs was wrong. When all of these challenges suddenly came on, there was no foundation in the critical absolutes.
“If _____ wasn’t true, then everything could be wrong. Many of us don’t even think that _____ isn’t “true” per se, but that it can just maybe mean something else than what we’ve been taught.”
A memory of mine that has firmly shaped my theology today is that of a few words from my parents when I was a kid. It was a Sunday, the pastor had preached a good message, and I was talking to them about the service and Church. I’d left my Bible at home on accident and they reminded me, “Make sure to bring your Bible. Make sure to read your Bible and double check everything that’s said and taught. Because even though Pastor is a good guy, he could still end up teaching something that isn’t sound. Anyone can. That’s why you have to be ready to check everything against what God Himself says.” Thank God for my parents. Luckily they trained me up in a way in which the reality of my faith was dictated directly by Christ and His Salvation and what God says in His Word. A lot of us weren’t taught to challenge teaching and the Church from within it. A lot of us weren’t taught that we should be questioning and finding things that seem to conflict. A lot of us were taught that Scripture is inerrant and that this means that something that seems to conflict can’t be real, rather than being taught to dig even deeper and find the proper interpretation. A lot of us tried to resolve these things and were just shot down by leadership as if we were challenging the existence of Christ Himself. Because if ____ wasn’t true, then everything could be wrong. Many of us don’t even think that ____ isn’t “true” per se, but that it can just maybe mean something else than what we’ve been taught.
What’s happening today is what happens when you have a church with a faith based not on Christ and the Gospel, but on doctrinal teachings, culture, family, music, morals, and politics. What’s happening today is what happens when we ignore Paul when he said that he “decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” What’s happening is us Millennials decided to study Scripture further than anyone before us and couldn’t reconcile Scripture with what we’d been taught was foundational. What’s happening is seminary is nicknamed cemetery because of how much people’s faith dies in it as God’s Word seems to conflict with things they’ve been taught. What’s happening is a deep confusion between pursuing and knowing God and what to do when we discover things that run counter to what some have taught us “Christianity” is. What’s happening is we’re further into Scripture than ever, with an abundance of head knowledge, but our churches are failing to emphasize heart knowledge.
As we dig and dig, we’ve found things that seem to conflict, both with what was taught to us and what Scripture seems to say. We dove headfirst into Scripture and for many of us it destroyed our faith; a faith that some of Christian culture had pushed onto the wrong foundation. The Church told them that women can’t lead in Church or society. They found Deborah in the Bible. The Church told them that homosexuality is wrong based on Leviticus (Seriously, why not base those beliefs on Romans 1?). They found that you eat shellfish and that the Law was fulfilled in Christ. The Church told them that the world had to have been created in 7 literal days. They found that Jews saw the Creation account as poetry and that chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis give different orders and accounts of Creation. We found that Jesus’ ascension happened in completely different places in different parts of Scripture. You told us to dig and dig and dig. We did. And we came to you with questions. You told us that Scripture all aligned and all meant X. Much of the Church, rather than acknowledging these tough questions and trying to figure them out with us and properly interpret them, just said they were wrong, misinformed, or even blasphemous.
So what happened?
Many millennials decided it ALL must not be true; that it all must not be real. Many millennials said that if their church wasn’t right about _____ in Scripture, it might not be right about anything. Many millennials dove into Scripture and found everything they’d been taught to be challenged and at that point just said, “What? This doesn’t make sense.” And with no foundation built on challenging and deciphering Scripture, with no foundation on the essential truth of Christ, the importance of Christian community, and how to figure out seeming paradoxes, Millennials left the Church. I’ve seen this happen right before my eyes. You’ve seen it happen. Many of you just don’t seem to get why it’s happening.
“I do not believe that I am inerrant or that my pastor is inerrant.”
I believe Scripture is the inerrant Word of God. I believe it is a tool that God gave us to figure out life, to guide our morals, and to know Him. But I believe this means that we must follow Scripture over culture. I believe this means we will find things that challenge what we’ve been taught. I believe this means we will learn we were wrong and God will grow us. I believe this means that when we see stuff that doesn’t make sense, we have to dig into the Greek and the context because there really is reason for the differences. But I do not believe that the Church is inerrant. I do not believe that Christian Culture is inerrant. I do not believe that I am inerrant or that my pastor is inerrant. It seems that we’ve mixed this stuff up here in America.
I know this has been long, but I want to leave you with this encouragement, both for you Millennials and for those of you who want to make this right or dig into this stuff yourselves. The Protestant Church exists today (and the Catholic Church is better today) completely because one man found a false teaching in his church and, rather than leave or abandon the Church, attempted to teach and reform it. Perhaps you’ve heard of this Martin Luther guy. Let’s all be a little bit more like him (minus the anti-Semitism and crazy stuff from later on) and be unafraid to dig into Scripture and continue shaping and reshaping our faith forever. Let’s not abandon the Church, but wrestle with guiding it from within. Let’s not lose faith because we find God seems to say things that “Christianity” doesn’t, but rather shape our faith to the new things God teaches us constantly. Let’s be a learning and mobile Christianity.; one Body dedicated to Christ, under His grace and salvation, and living lives of sacrifice for His creation, people, and Kingdom. Amen.