A Deep Concern Pt2… A Digital Conversation [jay]

My last post, A Deep Concern, generated a lot of conversation in my albeit small world of life and ministry.  For me, in my role as a teaching pastor, the post served as a summary of sorts for many of the things the congregation I serve hears from the horse’s mouth, so I sent it out over our church email list, for their convenient perusal and consideration.  That sparked a very engaging, edifying and helpful email exchange between a friend and I, wherein she seeks some clarifications and/or challenges some of the notions I presented in that post.  Having edited it down for simplicity, it is my offering to you, some of whom I am sure were asking some of the same excellent questions, as well as my engagement with those questions, and the occasional rant about related-but-possibly-unrelated topics.

This post will grossly break my 1200 word limit, and for that I say to my TheoCult editor that I am sorry.  Feel terrible about it… just awful.

Here’s her email:

Jay,

Thanks for your willingness to answer questions. Email can sound cold, so please know there’s no intention of condescension or hostility… just genuine interest in a better understanding of your meaning and what it’s founded upon. Here goes!

So let me start by saying of the things you are “tired” of, I’ve only read the Rachel Held Evans article.

You say, “Now God’s people are to recognize and shift to accommodate the whims and preferences of a bunch of American twenty-somethings?  Or whatever it is that makes American men comfortable and happy in a church setting?  Or the preferences of young people as divulged through through a surveyed cross-section of the American Church scheme, crafting for any church what is assumed that church most wants: lots of people and lots of money?”

I didn’t get that from her article at all. Not referencing our local church here, but I understand where she’s coming from when she says,

“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 [Christ, right???], not what we are against [frequently, political parties].

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.”

I don’t see where she’s advocating for churches to please Millennials so much as consider their, in my opinion, valid concerns. I don’t see where having these conversations is hating the Body. In fact, quite the opposite. Is it not loving the Body to, for example, encourage the Church to make everyone feel welcome?

Do you take issue with Millennials leaving the church because it isn’t as they want it? I get that, but I have never been in the midst of one of those church catastrophes that end with people leaving, so I can’t say for sure what my own response would be. However, I can imagine situations where the environment could become so toxic I would want to go elsewhere (just being honest). Does that qualify as hating the Body?

You say, “Young people are leaving the church.  What’s wrong with the church that young people are leaving?  We want young people in the Church, so let’s do things that make young people come to church.  Clearly, if we just ask young people, they’ll have a good read on themselves and know why they don’t like church because essentially, young people are good people who the church just needs to serve better.  Young people are now the center.”

Sure. Got it. Obviously not putting Christ in the center in this example, but is that what’s actually happening? Millennials don’t have all the answers. Christ is THE answer. BUT do churches losing young people have it right? I’d say no. None of us do. I guess I would equate talking to Millennials, or any other group, to pursuing a spouse who has fled from a marriage. You wouldn’t cave to that spouse’s every demand, but certainly hear how he/she is feeling and what led to those feelings and his/her decision to leave. I don’t know. I’m just confused about how this is hating the Body.

I completely get this: “Why we pursue social justice is as important as the work itself.  In my observation, we are engaging mission for the sake of mission.  People need help.  Christians should be helpers.  I’m a good person who sees a valid need.  Let’s go help!”

How much of mission for the sake of mission is a factor in the case of Millennials leaving? Maybe more so than I realize, but then how do we distinguish mission for the sake of mission from the work of the Spirit?

Would appreciate your thoughts.

Thanks,
Your friend

So then, I respond to her email with an initial “small” email and then switch to inserting my thoughts into the body of her email, using a different color font, which is a super-intelligent way to do things.  If you ever use that trick in your emails, I expect royalties.   Her email is in italicized text, my responses are in normal text (you can also shoot me royalties for employing that trick, too).  It went like this:

Hi [Friend],

Thanks for this email and your patience in me getting back to you.

To begin, it seems to me that a clarification around the concept of hate might be helpful.  I am thinking of this concept in a biblical fashion, not a cultural one.  In Scripture, hate is not so much about seething anger or mean-ness.  It is about disunity, particularly apathetic or disconnected disunity; a destruction of harmony; removal of presence.  To hate God is to elevate anything over His person, character or Word…a subtle asking or expectation of Him to divide Himself for our sake.  I bookmarked this page a few years ago because I thought it was a good biblical working definition of the concept.

The rest of my thoughts are contained below in the body of your text.  I welcome your further thoughts!

Blessings,
Jay

* * * * * * *

Thanks for your willingness to answer questions. Email can sound cold, so please know there’s no intention of condescension or hostility…just genuine interest in a better understanding of your meaning and what it’s founded upon. Here goes!

Thanks for your awareness about digital communication.  I really appreciate people who understand both the gift of technology and its inherent pitfalls.

So let me start by saying of the things you are “tired” of, I’ve only read the Rachel Held Evans article. You say, “Now God’s people are to recognize and shift to accommodate the whims and preferences of a bunch of American twenty-somethings?  Or whatever it is that makes American men comfortable and happy in a church setting?  Or the preferences of young people as divulged through through a surveyed cross-section of the American Church scheme, crafting for any church what is assumed that church most wants: lots of people and lots of money?” I didn’t get that from her article at all. Not referencing our local church here, but I understand where she’s coming from when she says, “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 [Christ, right???], not what we are against [frequently, political parties].

Yeah, I too can see where she’s coming from, but in my observation, what she is advocating for is not big enough, full enough, or in line with Scripture.  The bottom line is that the notion of the Church being known for what we stand for requires being known for what we stand against.  That’s the whole point of the story of God’s people in the Bible.  The kingdom of light stands against the kingdom of darkness.  A chosen and holy people oppose sin.  The Scriptures define sin and call us to separate from it, and to work against it.

I’d love a truce between science and faith too, but only if that means science bows the knee to God in worship.  I worry that there is not going to be a truce between science and faith because most contemporary science practice advocates for the absence of God, both as Creator and Sustainer.  While I agree that the Scriptures are not a science text, we shouldn’t bend on those two pieces of God’s identity as laid out in the Bible.  This is a major division and it’s one worth holding to.

We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.

Yeah, I like those kinds of questions too, and enjoy wrestling with them.  As I get older, the more I realize that many of my questions simply do have predetermined answers.  They are in the Bible, and personally, I find that I deeply lack faith to receive God’s answers to my questions.  I just don’t like the answers; so I’m asking questions that actually have answers, but my instinct is to require God to identify with my questions (usually questions of doubt, which He can’t identify with), when He wants me to engage the answers with Him, particularly as He speaks them through His given revelation (the Scriptures), submitting to them and His good heart for me.

We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.

Amen.

We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.

This depends on what “truly welcome” means.  Homosexuality is wrong.  If “welcome” means full participation in the life of the faith community including appointed church leadership callings/offices and/or ordination, then no.  We have several people who walk in/struggle with same-sex attraction.  They love our local church and call her their church home.  I’d say they feel “truly welcome”, but they understand what we think about what God’s Word thinks about homosexuality and gender identity, and they respond to it and we engage them accordingly.

The people of God aren’t to be open and affirming of anything other than the grand glory of God and His supremacy, beauty and Word in and over all things.  The Scriptures teach us to be discerning, wise, cunning, and filled with love — as God defines love — in all things.

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.”

This is the big one for me in serving/leading Millennials.  Sex.  In my opinion, this blog post gets it absolutely right.  Sex is a major, major, major issue because ultimately sex is about marriage and marriage is ultimately about Christ and His Bride, the Church.  I see Millennials — especially Millennials in the Church — almost naturally living more simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.  In my observation and experience, Millennials don’t want to to be challenged to live lives of these things as she suggests — they’re already living those lives.  They want to be given a platform to speak to and challenge the generation before them and after them to value these things too.  That is awesome.  Platforms for that to happen should be created.

But you can’t separate that from sexual holiness.  I know that the author of the article isn’t advocating for no holiness in sex, and she’s not asking to stop being challenged about her sex life, but she is speaking for the thoughts of a generation and I think she’s grossly missing the true fullness of those thoughts.  Millennials are the same as every generation that has come before them: they want to pick and choose.  Christians of the Greatest Generation (my grandparents) while holding the country together during the Great Depression and WWII, lived a cultural type of Christianity that birthed Prohibition (one of the most unholy things this country has ever legislated) and could not withstand the attacks of liberalism and higher criticism, and they approved of a country that willingly and actively embraced racism and segregation.  Christian Boomers (my parents’ generation) were willing to be sexually chaste and stick it out in marriage, but were/are horribly materialistic, superficial in relational community, and overwhelmingly racist.  Christian X-ers (my generation) while embracing innovation and creativity in evangelism and returning to a deeper concept of community, have a deep mistrust and almost-hatred for authority…any type of authority — God’s, their parents, spiritual, vocational, civil — thus living independently; and X-ers have prospered the scourge of abortion; and we’re still generationally racist.  Sex is the Millennials’ thing that they want to choose.  Christian Millennials want to be about social justice and creation care, but don’t want to be told how to act in their own private lives, especially their sex lives.  I also observe inherent racism too, though I am so excited about the fact that in this Millennial generation I see the power/ability/desire to break the generational scourge of racism.

But what all this amounts to is what I originally said in my blog, that yes, Millennials most definitely want the Church to bend to their whims and preferences of what church — or worse, God — should be.  Since her article was about Millennials, that’s what my blog post was about.  What I didn’t point out is that it’s not just a Millennial thing.  This is a generational thing.  But with the continued rise of the American consumer worldview, there has been a steady rise of this worldview in the Church and Millennials are the latest incarnation of that because now they are becoming adults, and it is getting worse.  There has to be a generation that says “no” to it.  Jesus-following Millennials could be that generation.

I don’t see where she’s advocating for churches to please Millennials so much as consider their, in my opinion, valid concerns. I don’t see where having these conversations is hating the Body. In fact, quite the opposite. Is it not loving the Body to, for example, encourage the Church to make everyone feel welcome?

Absolutely.  I don’t have any issues with those conversations at all and, as a pastor, I appreciate having them.

Do you take issue with Millennials leaving the church because it isn’t as they want it? I get that, but I have never been in the midst of one of those church catastrophes that end with people leaving, so I can’t say for sure what my own response would be. However, I can imagine situations where the environment could become so toxic I would want to go elsewhere (just being honest). Does that qualify as hating the Body?

You say, “Young people are leaving the church.  What’s wrong with the church that young people are leaving?  We want young people in the Church, so let’s do things that make young people come to church.  Clearly, if we just ask young people, they’ll have a good read on themselves and know why they don’t like church because essentially, young people are good people who the church just needs to serve better.  Young people are now the center.”

Sure. Got it. Obviously not putting Christ in the center in this example, but is that what’s actually happening? Millennials don’t have all the answers. Christ is THE answer. BUT do churches losing young people have it right? I’d say no. None of us do. I guess I would equate talking to Millennials, or any other group, to pursuing a spouse who has fled from a marriage. You wouldn’t cave to that spouse’s every demand, but certainly hear how he/she is feeling and what led to those feelings and his/her decision to leave. I don’t know. I’m just confused about how this is hating the Body.

I take issue with anyone leaving a local church because it isn’t as they want it.  I have been in the midst of those types of church catastrophes and there is nothing more damaging to that Body of Christ and its regional witness and ministry than those experiences.  It often takes decades for that church to heal and recover.

I also take issue with anyone making or manipulating a church to be what they like it to be, including the pastor(s).  Personal notions, cultural preferences, and Christian norms of what a (or the) church should be are not the point.

In my mind and heart, this issue is the crux of the matter.  The Scriptures have laid out for us what we are to be as the Church and as local churches.  The Scriptures should be the first and last word as to why we do what we do.  Methodology changes…I get that.  But foundation, doctrine and the Word do not change, and they should be — quite literally — the only voice to which we listen.  We need to listen to them together, engaging them together, discussing their meaning together, learning their ways together, applying their truths together.  This is the primary reason we have established covenant membership at our local church, to be together in our living out of these things as they work themselves out at our local church.  Other voices and conversations are extraneous and dangerous.

To your point, the Scriptures tell us what toxicity in a church is.  It is a gospel other than Christ, and from that you should separate.  The Scriptures also tell us that toxicity in a church is denying the deity or humanity of Christ, and from that you would separate.  Toxicity in a local church is a false teacher spreading false doctrine for the sake of manipulation and control of the people.  Biblically, that is something from which to separate.  I would cherish someone saying to me, “I’m leaving our local church because it is teaching a false gospel or doctrine.”  or, “Jay, you are teaching a gospel other than Christ.”  I’d engage that and listen deeply to it, fearful before God that I’ve misused His Word and misled His people.  I helped to lead our former church through some horrific pain from a church split, and people have left our current local church over the years.  Not once have I ever been engaged on this level, with this mindset.

Which is my problem with the spouse illustration.  On a local church level, it’s not biblical.  The Bible tells us that the local church is a family, a body and a temple.  Leaving it for the sake of preference, or because it is or is not becoming or behaving they way a person thinks it should, hurts it, destroys its unity, ruins its harmony, tears a vital piece of the body away.  As noted earlier, that is the biblical concept of hate.  If my brother or sister divorced us, that would be terrible.  If my hand decided to pull off of my body and join your body, that would be so painful.  If the southwest corner of my house decided to walk away from the rest of the house, it would cause significant damage.  In and through all this is the inherent idea that you can’t divorce your family, your body can’t decide to not be part of itself, and a piece of a building is so integrally tied to the rest of the building, that it can’t decide to not be part of the building.  As I read it biblically, all of these actions would be hate.

It is the lack of scriptural reference and biblical understanding in any and all of the four “I’m tired of this…” links on my blog that concern me so deeply.  We have lost our foundation and are chasing after idols, which is ourselves.

I completely get this: “Why we pursue social justice is as important as the work itself.  In my observation, we are engaging mission for the sake of mission.  People need help.  Christians should be helpers.  I’m a good person who sees a valid need.  Let’s go help!”

How much of mission for the sake of mission is a factor in the case of Millennials leaving? Maybe more so than I realize, but then how do we distinguish mission for the sake of mission from the work of the Spirit?

Good questions.  I don’t think mission for the sake of mission has much of anything to do with Millennials leaving.  Rather, I am seeing a bunch of Generation X leaders training a Millennial generation to think that mission for the sake of mission is pleasing to God because they are saying that God is all about the mission.  I do believe this is feeding the human-centric concern of which I speak and is on spiritual levels opening doors for the types of “hate for the Body” things I mention.

Would appreciate your thoughts.

Thanks,
Your Friend

* * * * * * *

So my friend then responded to this email with:

Hi Jay,

Thanks so much for your kind words, care, and thoroughness in addressing my questions. I hear what you’re saying, and I think I pretty much agree, but it’s a lot. I will need to digest.

I think this guy articulates well what I was trying to express:

millennials-church-and-a-whole-lot-of-grace
millennials-church-a-whole-lot-of-grace-part-2

Note there’s a part one and a part two.

Where there is disunity, there may be more than one note out of harmony, so to speak? I think what concerns me about the Millennial debate isn’t so much that Millennials are leaving or that they want Christ as well as premarital sex/pornography or that churches are just trying to fill pews with Millennials, but rather how we handle conflict/disunity. God’s Word should never — ever — be manipulated to suit our own selfish desires/philosophies/values/whatever. Absolutely, I agree. And try as I might not to, I’m probably as apt to fall in this way as the next guy. But I severely dislike fingerpointing, pigeonholing, and dismissing (please don’t hear that’s what I’m saying you’re advocating), and I would be sad to see one group basically say, “You’re either with us or against us. You accept what we’ve outlined as Gospel as Gospel or not,” because I see a vulnerability in that the outline can be defined by man rather than by God. To use environmental stewardship as an example (admittedly, of particular interest to me, so there I go already), I think Millennials have something to add to the conversation here, not because it’s a liberal agenda and we need to liberalize churches, but because God cares about this beautiful Earth He made and what we do on/with/to it. So all that is to say I agree: “We need to listen to [the Scriptures] together, engaging them together, discussing their meaning together, learning their ways together, applying their truths together.” Which, now that I’m thinking more about it, is kind of hard to do when one party has walked away.

Best,
Your Friend

To which I said:

Friend —

Thanks for this email.  I read those blog posts and appreciated the way he expresses his heart toward the Church and the broken people who make it up.  Was some stellar thinking/writing.

I totally get what you’re saying about not pigeonholing/labeling people and how that divides more than it helps.  I’ve been labeled and/or pigeonholed before and it’s not helpful. On the other hand, 2 Tim 3.1-9; Galatians 5.16-24; Matthew 7.13-20; even Daniel 1, seem to me to be about some pretty hardcore naming and line-drawing by God regarding who His people are, who they are becoming, who they are engaging, and how they are engaging them.  And it seems to me that there is a fair expectation from God to His people that we observe and understand who people are, where they are coming from, what marks their lives, and discern with Him how to engage them. Just sayin’…it’s definitely there.

I agree with you that I’d be very sad to draw lines around anything, but the Scriptures are really clear that the enemy is trying to divide and destroy the people of God and He uses people within the family of God to do his dirty work (Acts 20.28-30; Matt 7.15; 1 Tim 1.3-20; 2 Tim 4.10).  These are the things that as a pastor, elder, and regional leader, I wrestle with and fear, but the purity of the Gospel and God’s sheep need protecting, particularly from division (John 17; 1 Peter 5.1-10).

Blessings!
Jay

PS — By the way…if you want a platform to engage the concept of creation-care at our local church, I’d love to help create that for you.

So there you go…4200 words later.  Feel free to speak your mind in the comments section.

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3 thoughts on “A Deep Concern Pt2… A Digital Conversation [jay]

  1. There is a lot here, but my favorite line (one that I’ve been chewing on for the past week or so) was this: “As I get older, the more I realize that many of my questions simply do have predetermined answers. They are in the Bible, and personally, I find that I deeply lack faith to receive God’s answers to my questions. I just don’t like the answers…”

    Word.

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