A Response to Rachel Held Evans and the Millennial Exodus from the Church

Rachel Held Evans, popular blogger and best-selling author, has an article on CNN.com that’s created quite the frenzy on the interwebs. The last time I checked, the article had been shared 163,000 times on Facebook. The piece is titled, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church,” and it’s striking more chords than a youth worship leader. Evans has also invited people to join in the conversation, hence my blog post.

In the article, Evans seeks to diagnose why so many young adults are fleeing much of America’s churches. She believes the cause of the exodus is because millennials are finding less of what they value in the church—and please don’t suggest to her that it’s found in “hipper worship bands.”

Evans states:

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 to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.
We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.
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.
You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. 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.

In short, the church needs to change or it will become obsolete.

Personally, I’m smack in the middle of millennial generation (24). I’m also pastor at a church, so I have some stakes in this game. I know my voice is just a drop in the blogosphere ocean and that there have already been some great responses to Evans herehere, and here, [and here] but I wanted to add my two cents.

WHERE EVANS IS SORT OF CORRECT

Not everything Evans has to say is incorrect. I agree that many churches do need to change but not because millennials are leaving. They need to change because they’ve wandered from the truth of the Bible.

Many churches rely on the power of politics to save them, not the Gospel. Many churches rely on emotional experiences to fuel their worship, not an intelligent faith. Many churches care more about preserving their own comfort, not the souls of those around them. Many churches believe they are without sin, not sinners saved by grace. Many churches care more about the amount in attendance, not the individual.

There are many things wrong with the churches in our country and in the churches around the world. In my own church. People sin, therefore the church is full of sinners. Sinful people will jockey for positions. Sinful people will gossip and commit adultery. When a church is full of sinful people then the church will be full of sin. But then again, that’s kind of the point. Isn’t it? Jesus didn’t marry a spotless bride. He married her to make her spotless. We are all in process of healing and the church is the hospital.

Does that excuse the sin that occurs in the church? No. Churches should continually evaluate themselves and repent of sins committed. When repentance does not happen in a church, that’s when you can tell something is really off.

When I talk to people who have left the church, millennial and all other, many times it turns out because they were never shown that church was worth it. They were always preached to about the truth but they never saw the truth actually lived out.

I have friends who have grown up every day of their lives in church, hearing that marriage is sacred. Then they get to college and find out their parents are getting divorced because the father or mother had an affair. It’s no surprise that they are repulsed by all the traditional marriage talk. All they’ve seen are empty words. In their minds, all this church talk is pointless.

Enough with empty words. The church needs to first believe that the truth does work—that the Gospel has enough power within itself to save anyone (Romans 1:16). It’s a message that has sparked revival regardless of persecution or zeitgeist. Jesus promised that if the church was built on the Gospel, then the gates of hell could not even prevail against it (Matthew 16:18-19). I think it can survive a few angst-filled twenty-somethings.

WHERE EVANS IS INCORRECT

I think one of the biggest problems with Evans’ evaluation is she doesn’t recognize that millennials are at least partially responsible for their own exodus from the church.

Yes, I know many have been hurt by people in the church. Yes, I know the church can be frustrating at times. But millennials need to stop playing the victim. Regardless of what’s happened to them in the past, they still get to make their own choices. They have the same Bible that their parents have. And millennials are willfully leaving the church.

Why are they leaving? Whenever I talk to someone who has vacated the church, they typically voice one of the reasons that Evans states in her article. But I’ve found there’s usually something deeper going on. Even if all those things Evans listed in her article were found in a church, I still don’t think a large majority would go to church. This is proven by the fact that there are whole denominations who meet her criteria and they’re actually seeing a decline in attendance across the board.

Millennials are not leaving the church because they have no other choice but to desert the sinking ship. They’re leaving because they don’t care about the church. They don’t like being under authority or having someone call them out for their sin. They want an institution that looks just like them and when they can’t have it, they huff off the basketball court, ball in hand. It’s individualism and consumerism to the core.

This is quite the pickle, if you think about it. Millennials are choosing to abandon Jesus’ bride. They’re leaving the only institution Jesus said He would build (Matthew 16:18-19), the people Jesus chose to die for (Ephesians 2:16), the family they were adopted into (Ephesians 2:19-22), the body they were called to function in (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), the pillar of truth for the whole world (1 Timothy 3:15), and the bride Jesus is coming back for (Revelation 21:1-7). Most of the New Testament is about Christ working in and through the church. Most, if not all, of the epistles were written to churches or their leaders. If you look at the New Testament, I think you’d have a hard time justifying that you can love Jesus but not the church.

Perhaps it’s the millennials who need to change.

If millennials truly love Jesus and want to please Him, they should choose to stay with His bride, not abandon her. If not at their current church, then they should dedicate themselves to find one they can at least tolerate to be in. If they see problems, instead of whining about them, they should do something about it. They should be the change they want to see (to loosely quote someone millennials love to quote). We always talk about making a difference. Here’s our chance to impact the only organization Jesus promised to build. In His mind, there is no plan B to reach the world.

One final thing I think Evans missed is all the millennials who haven’t left but are instead trying to make a difference in the church. I get to see them every day.

The overwhelming majority of the 1500 person church I serve at (named Ekklesia) is made up of millennials. And we are in Eugene, Oregon, one of the most unchurched states in the nation. Ekklesia is also a diverse crowd. Some grew up in the church but many didn’t. Many got saved through hearing the Gospel preached day after day. We are racially diverse (especially for Oregon, one of the whitest states in the Union). We are economically diverse.

And we do do just about everything society would advise against. Get this, we preach the Bible for 45-60 minutes every Sunday and Wednesday—and they’re expository sermons. We believe in the exclusivity of the gospel. We believe in traditional marriage. We believe in the inerrancy of the Word. Yet millennials come. And it really has nothing to do with us because we haven’t tried anything special—unless you count our hip, Greek, one-word name. Both our campuses meet in middle school gyms. We don’t use formal liturgy. We don’t have wine for communion. We didn’t have strategy meetings and focus groups to try and figure out how to best reach the young crowd. We just opened the Bible. They just showed up and never left.

There are churches reaching young people. I could name off more in our city and more in Portland who are doing the same thing. They are faithfully preaching the Bible and wondrously seeing people changed.

As we look at trends like the one Evans has pointed out, we also have to remember that being a Christian is not going to be considered cool. Persecution is guaranteed all throughout the Bible (John 15:18-20, 1 Peter 4:12-19). The Gospel is going to be seen as foolish to most people (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). We don’t need to freak out when these verses are realized in our lives. Instead of capitulating to the spirit of the age, we need to hold fast even stronger to the truth, trusting that Christ will see His church through.

Blockbuster Sermons

anchorman-2-sequel-image-will-ferrellMovies and sermons have always had an awkward marriage. Preachers want to look cool, but they also want to help people—and they also want to look cool.

What’s cooler and more helpful than a movie? I’ll tell you: a preacher who knows about movies.

Back in the day, “Braveheart” was co-opted by many a preacher as a picture of heroism, masculinity, and sacrifice. “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” are heralded as a parable of the cosmic battle between good and evil. And recently “Man of Steel,” starring Superman as the Christ-figure, garnered its own sermon notes from Warner Bros, aptly titled, “Jesus: The Original Superhero.” Some churches have even created multiple sermon series based off popular Hollywood films.

With a slew of big blockbusters heading our way this year, I thought I’d get a jump on it and help all the preachers gain relevancy capital by lending them a few mind-blowing sermon ideas for upcoming movies.

The Wolverine
Plot*: Wolverine makes a voyage to modern-day Japan, where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future.
Sermon: Samson, Wolverine without claws and better hair.

jOBS
Plot: The story of Steve Jobs’ ascension from college dropout into one of the most revered creative entrepreneurs of the 20th century.
Sermon: iAM: How the existence of Apple is proof God loves us.

One Direction: This Is Us
Plot (Can you call it that?): Niall, Zayn, Liam, Harry and Louis’ meteoric rise to fame, from their humble hometown beginnings and competing on the X-Factor, to world domination, and performing at London’s famed O2 Arena.
Sermon: Don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re young, undiscovered, and in a boy-band.

Paranormal Activity V
Plot: Some crazy “paranormal activity” gets caught on camera and everyone freaks out, again (these movies are legion).
Sermon: Exorcism 101. Special song by Demon Hunter.

Thor: The Dark World
Plot: When Jane Foster (Thor’s human lady-love) is targeted by the denizens of the dark world of Svartalfheim (don’t ask me to pronounce it for you), Thor sets out on a quest to protect her at all costs.
Sermon: The Hammer of God. Note to the preacher: The “hammer” can be customized to what your church needs to hear (hell, purity, vegan food—whatever you like).

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Plot: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.
Sermon: Deborah, the original Mockingjay.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Plot: The Dwarves, Bilbo, and Gandalf have successfully escaped the Misty Mountains, and Bilbo has gained the One Ring. They all continue their journey to get their gold back from the Dragon, Smaug.
Sermon: How to slay the dragons of life and take all the plunder for yourself (A 12 part series).

Anchorman: The Legend Continues
Plot: The continuing on-set adventures of San Diego’s top-rated newsman.
Sermon: As a dog returns to its vomit, so do producers with sequels.

This idea could make millions, not that it’s about the money. Don’t worry. It’ll all go towards a good cause: my petition to block Nicholas Cage’s “Left Behind” re-make.

*Plot summaries are somewhat from IMDB, peppered with my flair.

How Should We React to Persecution?

[Update: Matt Slick recently wrote on the CARM website that basically everything shown on The Daily Show segment was taken out of context and intentionally edited to make Slick look bad, even after being reassured that he would be fairly represented.]

Monday night on television, a segment was run where Boise, Idaho pastor and radio host Matt Slick made the case that Christians are victims of “bullying” by gays. Unfortunately for Slick, the segment was for the fake news program, “The Daily Show” (TDS) which runs on Comedy Central, and the comedian news anchor interviewing him was Samantha Bee. The interview was setup to mock Slick for his viewpoint and make him look unreasonable and paranoid (including a cut of him making crazy eyes).

Pastor Slick told Bee, “The Christians that I talked to are intimidated. They’ll often get intimidated, they’ll often get persecuted…for just saying that they believe that homosexuality is wrong, or that homosexuals are sinful—just like adulterers, just like pedophiles, just like liars, just like thieves.” Slick even told Bee that some Christians are getting targeted and “beat up” by gays.

For most of the interview, Bee conspicuously made sarcastic faces at Slick, who was seemingly unaware about being mocked.

The second half of the segment focused on outspoken gay, Todd Clayton (who is clearly in on the joke since he helped write the segment with the “TDS” writers). Clayton claims to be a Christian and so Bee wanted to hear his view on the issue. Clayton told Bee, “Evangelical Christians are not experiencing bullying. It’s essentially a giant temper tantrum that they don’t get to be in charge anymore and that they have to share their toys.”

The intent of the segment clearly was to show Slick as a paranoid man making wild claims. Bee asked slick, “At what point has your right to express yourself been infringed upon?” Slick replied after a long pause, “I don’t know if it’s going to happen…but I’m concerned about it.”

My first reaction to the interview was to actually feel bad for Slick. The poor guy seemed to mean well and he didn’t say anything that was antithetical to traditional Christian doctrine—Slick just seemed so naive. To his defense, the editing was dubious. Slick’s statements and even facial expressions were obviously edited to be taken out of context to gain the biggest laughs (they’re a comedy show after all, so there’s no reason for them not to). “TDS” exists to make people they disagree with look stupid, but that’s exactly why Slick is so naive. He should have known that before even getting on the show. Feeling gracious, I want to try and give him the benefit of the doubt and say he worked really hard to make a compelling case and that the show’s targeted editing was too much to overcome—although with some statements he didn’t really help himself.

My second reaction to the interview was actually some agreement with Slick. Do I believe there are Christians being persecuted for their beliefs about homosexuality? Yes I do but not necessarily with bodily harm, as it seems Slick states. Look at what happened to Louie GiglioBen Carson, or Greg Laurie and the public vitriol against them for voicing their beliefs. It doesn’t have to be bodily harm for it to be persecution. Verbal and written insults work just fine. Jesus stated, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11).

But my final reaction was actually some agreement with Clayton. While I do think some Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs, I also believe that some Christians are throwing a “giant temper tantrum” about it. I’m not negating the fact that we may be persecuted now or in the future. But that shouldn’t surprise us. Persecution is guaranteed all throughout the Bible (John 15:18-20, 1 Peter 4:12-19). If it’s not going to be over the issue of homosexuality then it is going to be over something else.

The question should not be, will Christians be persecuted but how are Christians to react in the face of persecution? You’d be hard pressed to find a verse where Christians are complaining that they’re being persecuted. Jesus didn’t utter a word in His defense. Paul sang while in prison. The apostles rejoiced after being beaten.

We are not called to complain or state our rights. It’s actually more American to complain when we’re offended than Christian.

Instead, you see verses encouraging perseverance. You see actual joy over being counted worthy to be persecuted. I understand that it could mean actual harm for people to stand for the truth. I understand that your business or reputation could be at stake. But we are called to something greater. “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed…if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Peter 4:14, 16).

If the church can learn to do this in the face of any persecution, I believe that will make a far stronger statement about the Gospel than any outcry over rights ever could.

For further reading, check out Matthew Lee Anderson’s guest post for CNN on a similar issue.

Is It OK For A Christian to Doubt?

doubtI am hearing more and more Christians say, “I am struggling with doubts. Is that sin? Is it OK for me to doubt?”

My answer is always, “It depends.”

They ask because it’s a common thing to hear in the church that doubt is forbidden. They’ve heard that the second doubt about God or the Bible pops in your head you need to crush it like a pre-teen boy hunting Whack-a-Moles. In some ways, I understand why this was taught. It’s a lot easier to tell someone to just believe than to actually have to grapple with their thoughts. Or maybe they were afraid the doubt would transform into a foaming-at-the-mouth atheism. Better to squash it now. But the problem is when a genuine question about God comes along (Why would a loving God command killing all the Canaanites in the Old Testament? If Jesus was God, how could He die on the cross? What’s a holy kiss and where can I get one?), it is construed as rebellion against the faith. Why can’t you just believe?

Forbidding doubt will kill questions. Killing questions births a faith that doesn’t know why it exists. They “just” believe. But when an intellectual argument against their faith comes, they are left in the street naked without answers. Or when a horrific tragedy strikes their lives, they have no anchor to keep them from drifting. They always just believed. Now they see their faith for what it was—hollow. This is why so many Christians go off to college, get hit with every ideology under the sun, and walk away from their faith.

We need a new way to think about doubt and questions; one that acknowledges the dangers doubt can pose but also the benefits doubt can give.

DOUBT CAN BE BENEFICIAL

Doubt that’s beneficial is one that looks for answers—looks for truth. You know an answer is out there. You’re not trying to undermine two thousand years worth of prayer, scholarship, and theology. You just want to know.

This doubt is extremely beneficial because Christians aren’t supposed to “just” believe. The Christian faith is one that’s grounded in evidence—in facts. The Gospel is not just a collection of truths but it’s a description of a historical event. Real people in real places. There’s an abundance of evidence to support our faith. We shouldn’t be horrified of doubts, as if every time a young believer asks a question on hell an angel loses its wings. Instead, we should confidently answer their questions and help them through their doubts.

If you don’t know the answers, figure them out yourself. If you’re having doubts, answer the doubts with Scripture. We should know why we believe not just that we believe. “Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter. 3:15). If someone asks you why you believe what you believe, would you be able to answer them?

Doubt can be helpful but only if you desire the truth. Don’t doubt for doubt’s sake. Wrestle with your doubt so you can know God. Doubt can be the seed of faith. If we truly want the truth, our faith will be stronger for it.

DOUBT CAN BE HARMFUL

Doubt that’s harmful is one that looks for anything but the answer. The truth was given to you but you’re unwilling to accept it. So you go looking for something else or believe there is no answer at all.

If we’re truly seeking for truth, then we should be willing to accept the answer even if we don’t like it. But we humans are fickle beings. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). They didn’t like the truth because it didn’t hit their sweet spot, so they went searching for cheap substitutes.

You don’t like the idea that people who reject Christ go to hell? We’ll work something out.

You don’t like the idea that homosexuality (or any sexual expression outside traditional marriage) is a sin? I have just the thing for you.

You don’t like the idea that being a disciple of Christ means you have to die to yourself and your desires? You can have your best life now.

This kind of doubt isn’t a wrestling for truth. It’s unbelief. A refusal to believe the truth you see before you. This kind of doubt doesn’t strengthen faith—it undermines faith.

I do believe doubt and questions should have a place in the church. I love hearing people work through the Bible and wrestle with what it says. That means our brains are working. That means we’re trying to figure out what it means to love the Lord with all our mind. But in the middle of our doubting, remember Christ is standing there waiting for us to touch the holes in His hands. We just have to be willing to see Him.

Awkward Men and Biblical Sisters

The Bible really only gives three different ways a man ought to relate to women: mothers, sisters, and a wife. Paul exhorts men to treat “older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2).

Men, you may notice that there is no category of “potentials” or “neutrals.” If they are not your wife, then they are your mother or sister in Christ, that’s it. And so for all men (especially single men), you need to treat the young women around you as you would treat your very own sister.

Normally, 1 Timothy 5:2 is used by leaders with the intent to keep men from lusting after the women in the church and from messing around with them sexually. Most of the conversations take place like this:

Youth pastor: You would never undress your sister with your eyes, right?

Young men: Gross!

Youth pastor: You would never make-out with your sister and so hinder her walk with God, right?

Young men: That’s so wrong on so many levels!

Youth pastor: That’s what happens when you lust after or commit sexual acts with your sisters in Christ.

(All the young men shudder in fear)

It is great to pursue purity and that is definitely one of the desired effects of Paul’s writing to Timothy, but too many men miss the big picture that Paul is trying to communicate.

Instead, they overcompensate.

When they interact with a woman, eyes are on the ground or sky—it’s “Hi. Bye.”—and then back to business. Heaven forbid that they have a conversation with a woman. Their fear of being smitten (or smote) by God—as opposed to being smitten with a woman—ends up manifesting itself as awkwardness and cowardice. They possess the right heart to avoid sin but the end result is a very selfish attitude.

This is not how real brothers treat real sisters.

A real brother not only treats his sister with all manner of purity but loves her at the same time. He loves her through seeking her highest good. He talks to her. He protects her. He encourages her. He builds her up. He has a friendship with her. He serves her. He sets an example for her. He points her towards Christ.

A good brother isn’t consumed with fears of sinning with or against his sister. He really doesn’t think about himself at all. He simply—and purely—finds joy in giving his sister the best.

Translate this over to the church. Christian men, both married and single, need to realize that we have been adopted into a family that in many ways is more real than even our earthly family. Because of that, we have a lot of sisters.

Yes, these sisters need us to treat them purely, but it needs to be so much more than that. A Christian man should be able to seek the best for every Christian woman he encounters. He should be able to love her as Christ loves her.

Instead of walking around thinking about baseball stats to push out impure thoughts, Christian men should focus on protecting those women. We should care for them, encourage them, have friendships with them, and serve them. No ulterior motives. No seeking anything in return.

Doesn’t mean you are the flirty guy. It doesn’t mean you become best friends with every woman in the church. What is does mean is that you are committed as a man to protecting the spiritual well-being of the women of the church.

Now, that means different things for you with different women. Sometimes, you can be close friends. Sometimes, you need to keep your distance.

But don’t be perverted, awkward, or afraid, instead ask yourself always, in every interaction, am I pointing her towards Christ?

Making Christian Music Beautiful Again

Normally, I really hate self-promotion but I’m gonna give a shameless plug to a guest-post I wrote called “Putting the Art Back in ‘How Great Thou Art’” for Trevin Wax’s blog, Kingdom People, which is part of The Gospel Coalition blogging network (If you don’t read his blog, you should!). In it, I write about Christian music and its need to proclaim truth more beautifully:

God loves music. He created it. The problem is that sometimes us Christians act like we hate the art of song. That must be the case, for how else could we justify the mass production of what attempts to pass for “Christian” radio these days?

Much like of our books, a large portion of our music is not beautiful. That is a problem, for it does not properly represent the One we adore.

In contrast, the Bible is full of beautiful songs. Here are four things they have that many of our songs today do not:

Imagery, Depth, A God-Centered Focus, and Awe.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can read the rest of the post here. It was a really great learning experience to be able to write for a crowd who is not familiar with my writing, ideas, or lame jokes. I even got my first negative blog comment ever! Pretty exciting stuff.

Many thanks to Trevin and his willingness to let a green blogger like me on his fabulous site. And thank you to the Creator whose greatest work of art was completed on Calvary.

The Christian Culture Bubble

Christians have a funny understanding of culture.

Many times when a new technology or cultural progression occurs, Christians automatically reject it. We don’t examine or investigate. We just cast off.

We liked the old way of doing church, preaching the Gospel, teaching truth. We don’t want that new stuff.

Having a preference isn’t wrong, but what happens is that in the minds of many Christians, the old ways become another truth to us—another Gospel—as if by playing an organ in church more people will be saved than by drums and lights.

What happens is that we equate the old way with righteousness. We all want to live righteously, right? And so, when we see the culture progressing from that old way, we retreat, we build walls, and create a righteous Christian culture bubble where we can be safe. And then we create our own alternatives to what the world offers so we feel like we still can have fun.

Such a mindset is sinful. Let’s call it for what it is.

THOU SHALT NOT TWEET

When we declare something “righteous” and something else “evil” without the backing of Scripture, we are doing what the Pharisees did—adding rules upon rules upon rules. I think God’s Word is sufficient enough to give us an adequate framework for morality, even in the 21st century. We don’t need to help God out by inviting ourselves to brainstorm new commands with Him.

Let’s also consider the implications of such a mindset.

We, the Church, have been commissioned to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The bubble-mindset is antithetical to this command. We cannot go if we are cloistered behind closed doors.

Take for example social networks. I know many Christians who have taken advantage of Twitter and Facebook for the glory of God. But I also know many other Christians who would criticize the other ones for being a part of social networks.

The comments vary between: “It’s all about pride on Twitter, so I’m not going to be a part of that” (translation: because I’m so humble)—”I’m a relational person, so I can only relate to people face-to-face”—”I don’t have time”—”It’s just stupid”—”It’s just a fad that will fade away.”

While I don’t have time to answer every objection (and that is not the object of my post), I would like to say this: social networks are not going anywhere. As of 2011, over 500 million people are on Facebook. That’s not a fad; that’s a cultural movement that is changing how the world is working. It may not be Facebook that’s the top dog in five years, but social networks are here to stay for a while.

If we are commanded to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” how come we are not willing to obey the “go” part? This is where the people are and so we must go.

As my lead pastor, Wesley, said the other day—gone is the day in America when a church could just open their doors and call it evangelism. Today, if your church doesn’t have a website, people may not even know it exists.

People called compact discs and digital music a fad. Now most new cars don’t even come with a tape player. Yet, I can guarantee you that there is a pastor somewhere still trying to hand out his sermons on cassette tapes.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE GOSPEL

Of course, not all technology and culture is beneficial or good. If it violates Scripture then don’t use it. But don’t forget that many things in culture are morally neutral—it’s the person who decides if it will be used for evil or God’s glory. The internet can be used for pornography or for reaching people with the Gospel who would never set foot in a church—they are hurting and don’t know what to do, so they Google “Does God love me.”

It’s easy to forget that God was willing to come into human culture to reach us. He wrote the Bible in a language. He employed authors who used figures of speech and referenced customs of the day. And then He sent His Son to live in a culture. To eat certain foods. To dress a certain way. To speak a certain language. All with the goal of saving people in the culture.

Christians can reflect God as His ambassadors and do this too.

The Apostle Paul used the newly developed postal routes to send out his letters to the churches. Paul also quoted pagan poets to illustrate certain Gospel truths (Acts 17:28). Gutenberg and Luther used the new printing press to mass produce the Word of God. Today, many people are being saved through the free and easy access to thousands of quality preaching via podcasts and YouTube.

What really matters is that we have a heart to reach the lost and are willing to do anything outside of sin to do that. Christians, we cannot idolize our methods and our comfort. It doesn’t matter if it is through Twitter or on the bus; we should always have the Gospel on our lips.

How will you burst out of your bubble and get in the game?

Is the Church Today in the Worst State It’s Ever Been in?

No.

Contrary to popular belief, the church is not sinking like the Titanic.

Why do people say such things? Maybe it’s because of things like Barna’s slightly skewed statistics that say people are fleeing the church as if it were a mutant-possum. Maybe they are alarmed at the rampant hypocrisy of many clergymen or are perturbed at the wishy-washiness of many pulpits. Or maybe they see the state of America today and assume that’s how the church is doing too—since, you know, everyone in America is a Christian, right?

The critics believe the reason why the church is so messed up is because we have drifted away from the New Testament church model. They say—the first Christians had less of this and more of that.

  • They met in homes.
  • They didn’t care about money.
  • They were more missional.
  • They wrote less books.
  • They did more social justice.
  • They didn’t focus on doctrine.
  • They gave all their possessions away.
  • They didn’t really have pastors.
  • They spoke in tongues more.
  • They loved people more.
  • They preached less.
  • They drank more.
  • They were more like Jesus.

YOU MAY KISS THE BRIDE

The doomsayers do have one thing correct: the church is full of sin. But you know what?—it always has been. Even, (gasp!) during the New Testament and the first century church.

The church has always be made up of humans, and humans are sinful. Therefore, as long as the church is full of sinners it is going to be full of sin. It doesn’t justify the sin, but it will be a reality.

Yes, the church is the bride of Christ, but she can be very ugly at times.

NEW TESTAMENT REMIX

The problem is that we forget the sin nature of the first Christians and end up idolizing the NT church. The reality is that the NT church was not as full of baby angels and bejeweled bunnies. Almost every epistle was written to address a problem or conflict in the New Testament church.

Romans– written to address racial and theological tensions between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.

1 Corinthians– written to address a church that was more full of sin than a Las Vegas casino and to quiet those who were trying to rebel against Paul’s God-given apostolic authority.

2 Corinthians– written to address more turmoil in the churches at Corinth and once again reassert Paul’s God-given authority (slow learners those Corinthians).

Galatians– written to stop a rising cult, named the Judaizers, who were ravaging the churches in Galatia.

Colossians– written to correct certain heresies that were infiltrating the church and causing many to engage in ascetic practices—thinking that would earn favor with God.

1 Thessalonians– written to correct an incorrect mindset of the after-life and Christ’s Second Coming that caused depression and hopeless grieving in the church.

2 Thessalonians– written to correct another incorrect understanding of Christ’s Second Coming. This time they thought Jesus had already come back.

1 Timothy– written to encourage Timothy, pastor of the church in Ephesus, to confront the false teachers who had infiltrated his church.

Titus– written to encourage Titus, pastor of the church in Crete, to confront the false teachers who had infiltrated his church.

James– written to Jewish Christians who had fallen into living a worldly lifestyle, resorted to infighting, and split into many factions.

2 Peter– written to combat false teachers who were teaching that sexual sin was a legitimate Christian lifestyle.

1 John– written to respond to an early form of Gnosticism, another early church heresy.

Jude– written to defend the truth against false teachers who taught a false gospel and gave license to debauchery.

So the early church was no more holy than any other period of church history. Does this mean we throw out all the epistles say about the church? By no means!

We must use what the early church did wrong as an example of what not to do. Use the good things they did as examples to follow. Obey the commands given by God through the apostles. Where the Bible is silent (example: style of worship music), do not create your own commands to fill in the blanks.

And always remember that it is Christ who will build His church, not us. As one pastor said, Jesus has been hitting straight licks with crooked sticks for a long time. We just need to be faithful to sow the seed.