Thursday, July 18, 2013

Are the Nones really all that?

Are the so-called "Nones" really a force for the Church to reckon with?  This is that group of 18-29 year-olds (roughly comprising 20% of the US population) who have distanced themselves from the Church and from religion in general.  Whether they consider themselves to be believers would depend entirely upon what they are asked to believe.  Many of these consider themselves "spiritual but not religious" and thus feel justified in distancing themselves from formal worship and the fellowship of the Church.  In the political realm their electoral potency is not to be underestimated as they were a significant factor in getting President Obama reelected.  As the Church goes, however, there is much more at stake than a mere presidential election.

The Church in general, and Protestants in particular (right or wrong, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox continue to stand their doctrinal ground), have perhaps become a little too concerned with this seeming "lost generation", to that generation's general amusement and perhaps to the detriment of the Church's character and integrity.  That the Church should always be concerned with the "lost" regardless of their demographic is without question as this is precisely the mission of the Church.  That is, the Church is to consider all who are absent from the Church to be afflicted to some degree and must be willing to minister to them and with them where they are, wherever they may be.  Go to them, we must, until we are finally told to take a long walk on a short pier.  Then we "shake the dust off", as our Lord commands, not in spite but in reality.  We are being told in no uncertain terms that we have gone as far with them as we will be allowed to go.  But the Church, the Body of Christ, never really goes completely away. 

In this quest to recapture the lost youth and young adults, however, much of what the Church stands for has been lost or substantially glossed over and watered down, and the Church has made too many compromises with and initiated "magic spells" (cheap grace) within the greater secular culture in a vain effort to remain (or become) "relevant" to secularism.  By its very nature the Church can never be relevant to secularism; the Church must be relevant first to its Divine Nature, missional calling, and commitment to our Lord's Great Commission.  Lose this, and the Church has lost much more than a demographic.  She as the Divine Bride stands to lose everything, including the Bridegroom (Revelation 2:4).

I would suggest the Church has lost these "Nones" precisely by trying to play to them and their fickle demands, like the new kid in school willing to sacrifice integrity for the sake of popularity.  Make no mistake; these "Nones" are savvy and worldly enough to know when they are being played - especially when the Church claims to "know" something (doctrine) that has been known, believed, and articulated for several thousand years but is suddenly willing to rethink or play down, under the duress of membership or worship attendance loss, something that has sustained and grown the Church for 2000 years.

Clearly the "world" is going in a thousand different directions and has no clear idea of exactly where it is going or how it is going to get there.  The Church, on the other hand, is supposed to know something greater, something more enduring, simpler and much more appealing than the mantra of that chaos which is "enough is never enough".  The Church must never be comfortable or even friendly with a culture that murders its own young, mates with whomever (or whatever) will lay still, and has no concept of what "home" and the value of children or the sanctity of marriage is really about.  Try to keep up with the latest fad?  Even 15-year-old teenagers have a difficult time keeping up; how can the Church possibly think it can ... or even should?

The "Nones" are smart enough to know that sooner or later, the game of chasing one's tail can never really come to a satisfactory conclusion; they may, however, be arrogant enough to believe it will somehow be different with them.  When they tire and grow weary - and they will - and when they have finally bitten themselves in their own back sides - and they will - the Church in her faithfulness will have planted sufficient seeds within these angry and lost hearts and minds, and after they are beaten down they will eventually find their way "home" like the Prodigal.  The task falls upon the Church to make sure we are still here when they do finally come to their spiritual senses.  And like the story of the Prodigal, the Church must be ready, willing, and eager to run out to greet these who return not with an "I told you so" but with the new ring and coat and the fatted calf being made ready - for then the Feast will be upon us.  And they will know what they have known in the backs of their minds all along: "I am the Lord; I do not change".  Thank God this is so!  Now may the Church be so.      

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