Both from my own observations and from conversations with friends, I believe many conservative Christian families are facing a generational dead end. What I mean is that young people who have grown up "in the faith" are not translating that faith to adulthood. Either they don't know how, they don't see the point of making the effort, or they simply don't realize there's something missing.
There are several reasons I see for this situation. First, there is a set of expectations - a status quo - that exists in some Christian circles quite independent of any spiritual reality. This is dangerous. As long as you do the right things and look a certain way and speak a certain vernacular, you can fit in. The name of the game is conformity and good behavior, and it's not that hard to catch on to the charade and the accompanying lingo. What this means is a lot of chaff in the wheat, a dilution of the Gospel, and a general lukewarmedness.
Second, I think our conservative Christian circles have become altogether too isolated and clique-ish. The practical effect of this is to blur the picture of what constitutes "mere" Christianity. The Gospel is no longer stark and stunning; it begins to have all sorts of things attached to it. Certain trivial externals like wearing dresses or reading the King James or not drinking alcohol or not listening to rock music are integrated into Christianity as de facto doctrines. They don't belong there. Those are subjective personal convictions, and if you preach them as Gospel, you're working against the kingdom in two ways:
1) You're giving nonbelievers the impression that the Gospel is primarily about morality.
2) You're giving nominal Christians the impression that they are saved as long as they abide by "the list."
Both are grave distortions of what Jesus is really about.
So, we have this sub-culture that we thought was a good thing that is turning out to have some rather disturbing repercussions.
What do we do now?
I presume it's an unnecessary disclaimer to say that I don't know the answers. At most I may have some useful thoughts to contribute to the discussion. In the end, this takes all of us.
To begin remedying the first problem, it's imperative that we create in our communities the sort of atmosphere where the real thing can't be faked. What would a community like this look like? I submit it would consist of people who see the difference between trees bearing spiritual fruit and trees that merely look nice. Lots of trees look nice, but there's nothing to eat on them. "Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, whatever is born of the spirit is spirit." You can't fake that.
To address the second problem, we need a less complicated understanding of the Gospel, a broader experience of Church, and a bigger context for God. We need to see firsthand how God works in other believers of other nations and cultures and backgrounds who are very different from us. We need to rediscover a sense of the Gospel being especially for people who don't have it all together, and to recognize that that includes us. We need to acknowledge that we aren't in any way better or more holy than Christians who have tattoos and watch R-rated movies and read The Message. We're all the same. To those who think themselves superior, Jesus has this to say: "The tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you." As this realization of our common plight soaks in, we may just become more like Christ and less like little Pharisees.
For us young people, we have our own uncomfortable confessions to make. We need to repent of a spirit of apathy. We need to acknowledge that we say a lot of things that have no real meaning to us. We need to recognize that we haven't taken responsibility and instead have freeloaded on our parents' spiritual initiative. We need to admit that we really aren't any better than the so-called "worldly Church" or "institutional Church." We're messed up. We need Jesus. And we need to start at the same place as everyone else: completely bankrupt, totally dependent on the cross and the blood and the reality of the empty tomb.
This is a tough transition, and there's no formula or guide book for negotiating it. We need to strip down our rhetoric and start rebuilding a meaningful phraseology on solid and simple foundations. We need to take ownership of our own "pursuit of God" and take seriously our commission of communicating Life to the world, not to some vague group of people who are "the lost", but to our generation, right here, right now. Keith Green said each generation of Christians is responsible for that generation of people. Have we realized this task is ours? What are we doing about it?
Make no mistake: I'm asking these same questions of myself, and many days I don't know exactly where I stand. But I'm learning to rely on Him who is able to make me stand (Romans 14:4) and keep me from falling (Jude 24).
I conclude with this admonition from Galatians, and I pray that we have ears to hear.
For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.-Galatians 6:3-5
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