It's a few months old, but I noticed it making the rounds on social media this past week.
There's so much talk these days within the Christ's Church about "Millennials" (people born from 1980 to 2000) -- how to attract them to and how to keep them in the pews.
To read the cross-denominational commentaries on the subject, you'd undoubtedly come away thinking that the Church was just another mega-organization within Corporate America, and that it was trying to respond to the behest of its Board of Directors (a.k.a. the deacons/elders) and CEO (a.k.a. Pastor).
While there are many churches that, sadly, operate that way and view Christianity as a mere brand to be peddled and sold to the masses all the time, there remain some that still believe it's important to stay faithful and true to "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).
With all of that going on in the background for several years now, it's no surprise that we would eventually come to find out that one of those highly coveted Millennials has written a jarring Open Letter about his experiences with contemporary Christianity.
Here's a link to that letter including a sobering excerpt...
I’ve always been in church. I’ve never left, though I’ve come close several times. I would have left in high school if I’d had the option, but in my house, attendance at my cool, hip, contemporary-worshiping, youth-group-glorifying, moralism-preaching, theology-eschewing McCongregation was a non-negotiable. So I went. Through every repetition of “Shout to the Lord,” every True Love Waits commitment ceremony, every rapture-ready dispensationalist Bible study, every sermon series on how to make myself into a good, moral, well-behaved person so that I wouldn’t tick off God and bring condemnation to America. But I was always a misfit. Always a skeptic. Always a doubter. Always an outsider. Today, you’re my livelihood, and putting food on my table overcomes the gravitational pull of my mattress on a cold, rainy Sunday morning. Or a hot, dry one. Or any other one. But that pull is still there. It’s always been there. It’s never left. The truth is, my relationship with you is still love-hate. I love the theology, but I hate the expectations of pseudo piety. Love the gospel, hate the patriotic moralism. Love the Bible, hate the way it’s used. Love Jesus, but hate what we’ve done with him. Love worship, but hate Jesusy entertainment.
Honest. Raw. True.
Who hasn't felt that way at one time or another?
Yet, the Church At Large goes to one of two extremes in response. Either it simply ignores any of those legitimate concerns sweeping them all under the rug (an un-Biblical response) or it becomes hyper "Missional" and "Seeker Sensitive" at the expense of doctrine and its current members (an un-Biblical response).
The rest of that Open Letter is quite stunning though, because the writer gets it. He not only identifies and names all the things that aren't working (and never will), but he also identifies and names all the things that Christ's Church needs to remember to emphasize moving forward.
Please be sure to check it out. I don't want to ruin it for you.
So what's the right response then? How should we Christians respond to such Millennials like Jonathan? As Confessional Lutherans, how do we respond to such people when we encounter them through our various vocations?
Thankfully, Dr. Rod Rosenbladt penned a direct response to this Open Letter by letting this young man know that there is hope and that there is a denomination that actually offers all the things that he wants and needs (HINT: It's more Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!).
A quick response to your “spot-on” rant. And my thanks for taking the time to lay it all down for anyone interested to read! There is a church you’ve probably never heard of that, at least in principle, has said “No” to most of what you describe: the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Not that we don’t have a lot of pastors and congregations who have followed Barna’s “modern counsels for success.” Unfortunately, we do. But not by any means all. And the cleavage is not along the lines of age, either. We have older ministers who have “signed on” and younger ones who have not and will not. What you’d want to try is one of our congregations in which our [really pretty good] hymnal and services are followed each and every Sunday by a pastor who knows/believes in his psyche that this old liturgy is deeply “good, right, and salutary.” And we still have a lot of those. If we have a weakness, it is almost always a weakness in our pulpits. (Even our “conservatives” can be sloppy in the pulpit. Why that is, I don’t know. But it’s undeniable.)
What you should be able to expect is a worship service designed very well along the lines of a confession of sin (real sin—not “mistakes” or imaginary sins), real focus on Christ’s dying for all sinners, and real absolution. For us, in all of our training, we should—not just in the liturgy but also from the pulpit—be placarding Christ in His saving office: dying for sinners. And in every way possible telling people that Christianity is about the doctrine of justification, about free rescue (Romans 5:8) for all sinners propter Christum. I’d counsel finding one of our congregations that has these things “front-and-center” in such an obvious way that nobody could miss it. If you find one of our congregations that does not do this, “…shake the dust from your feet” and leave, look for another one. And I’d love to hear what you actually find!
There is a reason that many evangelicals see Lutherans as “one trick ponies” (said differently, “They are Unitarians of the Second Person of the Trinity”). I’ll take that critique anytime, anywhere, see it as a “badge of honor” rather than as a criticism. If we LCMS pastors are doing what we were trained to do, our Sunday service, our educational programs, our everything-in-our-congregations should be about Christ and His dying and the free forgiveness of sin. I’d hope that that would be what you found, should you try us out. We’re not good at much else (with the exception of “works of mercy”), but nobody beats our Book of Concord and pastors on the question, “What is Christianity, and how does it work?” F.W.I.W.
Under The Completely Sufficient Imputed Righteousness,
Now, that's not to say that we place our hope in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) or any other denomination for that matter!
No, but it is to point out that there are still Christians alive today whose practice is informed by its doctrine each and every week, and both are faithful to historical, orthodox Christianity.
Pastor Joseph Abrahamson wrote a thorough analysis on this topic in a piece titled "Looking In All The Wrong Places: Why Do Christians Leave Church?" that I highly recommend and Issues, Etc. featured Adriane Heins of The Lutheran Witness and Pastor Jonathan Fisk of Worldview Everlasting in a 35-minute segment titled "Millennials And Religion" that's worth a listen too.
I'm reminded of what Rev. Rodney E. Zwonitzer once wrote...
The Lutheran Confessions emphasize what causes true growth. Speaking of the Gospel and the Sacraments, the Augsburg Confession says, 'Through these, as through means, He (God) gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.' (Article V) (p. 25)
In a Lutheran layman's terms, we need to resist the urge to become anything and everything to reach the "unchurched" or to keep the Millennials and instead just preach the Word and administer the Sacraments as faithfully as possible, and let God grow Christ's Church as He pleases (John 6:44).
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Executive Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 2 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!