One of the best things about the present era of the church in the United States is that 20somethings keep writing scathing critiques of it like this one: Twelve reasons millennials are OVER the church. My dear comrade, Joshua Grace, sent this article out to the pastors the other day and here I am stirred up and writing about it in the middle of the night on Kauai (where I am doing my best to act like I am a 20something).
I felt super-defensive when I first read Sam Eaton’s critique, which struck me as someone reiterating everyone else’s critique five years after the criticisms became popular. Can we stop criticizing people as if it were righteous? Anyone dealing with an overly-critical parent or a merely critical teenager, knows just how far criticism goes toward the healing of humanity. For one thing, it makes people defensive!
So I did not feel like being critical about this super-critical summary of criticism of the church of yesteryear. But I do want to say a few things about it, since drinking poison needs an antidote. So here are a few things that I think are antidotes to Eaton’s well-meaning, passionate but unwittingly poisonous critique of the church.
So what if the church is a mess?
Like any 20something worth their salt, I shared his criticisms of the American church — but that was 40 years ago! OK already, the church is a big fat mess. The two branches most bent on creating domination systems: the Evangelicals and Catholics, are especially culpable for giving the whole enterprise a bad name, by and large. SO WHAT? Criticizing someone is easy; that’s why it is often called a “cheap shot.” It costs little to criticize someone else for what they are doing. It costs a lot to be something better in the face of what is worse.
Form the church don’t just demand it reforms
People are deserting the church as it was for good reasons. Some desert God altogether. Some cave in to autonomy and cobble together their own spirituality. But some create the next generation of the church. This poor man who wrote the article should be a part of our church. We have been responding in all the ways he dreams for over 20 years now! Stop demanding that someone else reforms and gives you what you want and go ahead and form what the world needs! It is possible. If they tell you you can’t do it, please don’t believe them. Listen to Jesus instead.
Great things are happening in the church
This rerun of criticism of the Church seems really old to me now, and not as relevant as it used to be. If you are just waking up to it, I suggest that you look around the world and see how the church has been changing. Great things are happening. CNN only reports about Christians who are sucked into the Empire’s domination project. I think too many millennials are reflections of their toxic, politicized, logoritmically-manipluated social media feed because they think it all has truth in it — instead they should look into Jesus and not forget their true face after they do. Do you REALLY want to be alternative or just critique people who aren’t (which is much easier)? There is a lot of opportunity to be so.
Most Christians are not bad
You, my reader, would probably not say this, but the article implied that it is hard to make converts these days because Christians are so bad. It is true, it is not hard to find a Christian who one wishes would give up the label. But MOST Christians are decidedly NOT bad all over the world and throughout history. My primary examples are all the leaders and covenant members of Circle of Hope. I don’t need to argue about statistics to prove my point about the work of Jesus in the world, anyone can come and see some GREAT Christians I know in Philadelphia. Christians are not all crappy. I live with hundreds who are not! What’s more, I have been privileged to travel the world and I can show you many, many more. Plus, I have done my homework and can point you toward thousands throughout history. Many of the great reforms in the church were started by 20somethings, you know. Jesus is Lord in every generation, every culture.
It’s NOT just up to you
I have done a lot of study about how systems work in the last few years, so I have to say that the author WAY underestimates the reasons the church is presently under fire. He has a big assumption: individuals and their volunteer-funded organizations are to blame for their wrongs. American Christians, by and large, see themselves as isolated individuals responsible for running their personal universe like their godless counterparts, so they feel a LOT of responsibility and impose it on others. The argument always is that people should make better individual choices; if they did, everything would get better (like if each of us eats locally grown food it will end climate change). They are wincing all the time because they think outliers keep shooting Jesus in the foot and causing a public relations nightmare.
Meanwhile, everyone writing the Bible thinks that huge, evil powers are relentlessly at work. Yes, individuals should do the right thing, but that is not going to save us. The church is up against big enemies. In our own era, prophets, faithful and not, are writing prophetic books and making prophetic movies about the huge forces arrayed against us all the time. People ignore the warnings and adapt to the evil anyway and even elect Donald Trump. The presence of powers that don’t serve Jesus may be more evident right now, but it is hardly “breaking news.” In every generation Jesus calls out a people to be the alternative and fight the evil. We named ourselves Circle of Hope to be about as obvious about our calling as possible.
In a very real sense, we deserted the church, too. The difference is, we built another one, like most other generations worth noting. The problem with the European and American church is that they rode the Empire from 400 to 2001, for the most part. Now that the empire is finally disintegrating in a massive food fight among the elites, the believers who were sucked into that are left justifying the unjustifiable – like why Republican economic policies somehow reflect Jesus, or why America itself somehow reflects Jesus. Thus 20something Christians who would like to stay a part of the church finally give up.
I say, again, don’t give up on Jesus and His church, just give up on reform. Go ahead and FORM. What prevents you from following Jesus, forming His people and completing His work? Is it some misplaced loyalty to nonsense or some weird sense of propriety? Did you get enslaved to some fear or debt or subjugated to some law or trust in law? Read John again and watch Jesus fight for you, call you, and create the alternative to what ails you. Another new day is dawning. If you can finally criticize the darkness, it is dawning just in time.