With my brother getting more and more involved in his church plant in Maine and Shalisa and I getting more and more involved in our local church (Shelton First Baptist) I find myself becoming more and more aware of my Christianity and where I stand in it.
When I was a child I embraced my parents religion. I was taught from a very young age the power of Jesus and the cross and became a follower of Christ through my parents instruction and upbringing. It saddens me to say, but I honestly believe that my "purest" form of faith was at this time, as I think it is for many individuals. I didn't understand or argue over issues of doctrine and theology, my theology was the most basic and childish (in a good way) of theologies. It consisted of the fact that I new God loved me and in turn I loved God.
As I grew older I started asking questions about my faith (both to my pastors, my teachers, and myself) and begin to want to have a deeper understanding of God and what he had done for me and why he had done it for me. This journey, which I know will last the rest of my life is unfortunately both a blessing and a curse. As one begins to understand the larger issues in Christianity (free will, irresistibility of grace, security of salvation) one begins to encounter opposing sides in Christianity.
This portion of my Christian journey began before I left for college, but was really cultivated and explored while I attended Western Baptist college (now Corbin College. I begin to encounter individuals who had differing opinions than those of my parents, teachers who provided different perspectives than those of my Sunday school teachers. I didn't question the foundation of my faith, but I did begin to question the issues surrounding my faith. I came to a point in my life where I no longer believed what I believed because others such as my parents or teachers told me to believe, but because I had studied these thing for my own and formed my own opinions on issues from research and experience.
Now as Shalisa and I have moved out of college and are growing roots in our local church I am entering yet a third phase of my Christian walk. I am now taking my belief structure and how I perceive things to be done and applying them in my local church. This is essentially where "the rubber meets the road" in my Christian walk. I have this head knowledge and now I have to apply it to my life around me. And this is actually where I have been struggling lately. The question centers around "How do I make my religion relevant to my peers?"
My faith is based on a very firm foundation and I know where I stand, but I also realize that Christianity, for good and for bad; is steeped in tradition. As I look at the church today I see a church that meets my needs as a strong believer, and I see it meeting the needs of my parents and their parents, by how would I rate the church in respect to meeting the needs of peers? In that respect, if I am honest, I have to say the church is neglecting my peers.
Some people mistake the argument as one of presentation. They believe that if we change how church is presented we can recapture that age group. They say things like "If we offer more 'hip' music we can draw those people in." "We need to have more sermons that address the needs of this generation discussing issues like homosexuality and alternative culture." These are not bad ideas that have no merit, in fact quite opposite they are good ideas that have merit, but the problem is they are the right answer to the wrong question. The church is saying how can we keep these individuals inside the doors of the church, how can we make it so these people enjoy their worship service. The changes they want to make do indeed address those issues (there are obviously more issues and things that can be done, I was just using some examples) but unfortunately I think that is like trying to fix a flat tire on your car after you just got into a head on collision. Sure your tire is flat, but there is a MUCH bigger problem that you are turning a blind eye to.
And the question is not how do we keep these individuals in church, but instead the question that all churches should be asking is "How do we get these individuals into the church?" Often today church leadership mistakes their position inside the community, they view themselves as morally right and just and a beacon of light into their community. The problem with that view is often that is not how the community views the church. They often now view the church as bigoted and outdated. A religion for my parents but one that hasn't been modernized.
The struggle now is how to modernize Christianity so that we can appeal to our generation, without compromising the tenants of our faith. This is the struggle that is currently going on in the church and has both good points and bad. I point you to a paper my brother has written addressing some of the problems that can arise when you try to modernize the church but are willing to compromise your beliefs. You can read the paper at his website www.riverinme.com.
The church is now at a crossroads as we move into the 21st century and we are beginning to see what is classified as the emergent church. The emergent church has connotations both good and bad in today's religious culture, so for a perspective that I think best sums up the current emergent church movement I would like to point you to a recent paper written by pastor Mark Driscoll entitled "A Pastoral Perspective on the Emergent Church. I do NOT embrace such wingnuts who want to change Christianity into some Universalistic religion that is all tolerant of all beliefs. At the same time the current church is incredibly dogmatic and legalistic which causes outsiders to view us as bigoted hate mongers. The key to succesfully moving forward is balance.
For now I will work in the church however God chooses to use me, and I will be praying for my church leadership that God can guide them and direct them to his ultimate goal. Thankfully though whatever issues I may have with how the church is being run, I can rest assured in knowing that God is all powerful and ultimately it will be his will that is done.
I would like to end with a quote by Mark Driscoll that I find especiallly fitting:
Christianity is supposed to be a two-handed religion. In the closed hand of unchanging certainty are to be such things as a high view of the Bible and literalism, commitment to the Trinity, belief in original sin, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus alone, creation by God, literal hermeneutic, heaven and hell, clear gender roles, and loving humility. In the open hand of less certainty are to be issues that are of a secondary nature that we can disagree and debate over without dividing. They would include such things as age of the earth, perspectives on predestination and election, view of the rapture, worship styles, church government forms, and mode of baptism. These secondary matters are not unimportant, but simply less important than the primary matters that belong in the closed hand of certainty.