Monday, May 4, 2015

Washington Post Editorial: “The trick isn’t to make church cool; it’s to keep worship weird.”

Lutheran Sacraments

On April 30, 2015, the Washington Post published an editorial by Episcopalian blogger and author, Rachel Held Evans, entitled Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’ This editorial points to mounting evidence of what should have been predicted by Lutherans all along, who — already knowing that the Holy Spirit works only by His appointed Means (i.e., the “Means of Grace,” the “Gospel in Word and Sacrament”), calling, gathering and enlightening His elect, and through these Means also keeps them in the faith — should have known that the Holy Spirit does NOT work by means of the false doctrines and false practices of the Church Growth Movement (CGM); thus it is no wonder that $500 billion of investment in the manipulative gimmicks of CGM, over the course of a full generation, have produced no evidence of His working, especially in terms of the one thing so ardently sought by those who practice them: numerical growth in the Christian church. Instead, among Millennials, “a solid quarter claim no religious affiliation at all, making [Millennials] more disconnected from faith than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their lives and twice as detached as baby boomers were as young adults.”

The author of this editorial cites, in a few paragraphs, recent statistics and compelling thoughts and quotations, no doubt drawn from and expounded upon in her recent book, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, which forcefully suggest that, far from drawing people to the Church, CGM is actually driving them away from the Church. Using the same recent statistics, along with elements of her own story of leaving and returning to the Church (and those of others), the author further points out that, if Church practice is any aspect of drawing the unchurched, especially Millennials, into the Church, then “what works” is simply what the Church has been doing for the past 2000 years: “What finally brought me back... was the sacraments... you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the Church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained...”

Some excerpts from this editorial follow. Headings and emphasis are all mine. Hyper-links appeared in the editorial. Readers are encouraged to read the editorial in full. Noticing, of course, how some of the political concerns of the author may have colored her judgment and influenced her choice to join the Episcopalians, notice also how (in the editorial, at least) this is separate from the influence of the sacraments.

[NOTE: And I see now that Dr. Gene Veith has picked up on this article today (5/4/2015), too: Church growth tactics don’t work with Millennials. And again, today (5/5/2015): “The sacraments are what make the church relevant”.]

Disillusionment continues to Skyrocket, Church Growth Gimmickry continues to Fail...
“Church attendance has plummeted among young adults. In the United States, 59 percent of people ages 18 to 29 with a Christian background have, at some point, dropped out. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, among those of us who came of age around the year 2000, a solid quarter claim no religious affiliation at all, making my generation significantly more disconnected from faith than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their lives and twice as detached as baby boomers were as young adults.

“In response, many churches have sought to lure millennials back by focusing on style points: cooler bands, hipper worship, edgier programming, impressive technology. Yet while these aren’t inherently bad ideas and might in some cases be effective, they are not the key to drawing millennials back to God in a lasting and meaningful way. Young people don’t simply want a better show. And trying to be cool might be making things worse... [A]ttendance among young people remains flat.”

Are Millenials leaving the Church because of Church Growth Gimmickry?
“Recent research from Barna Group and the Cornerstone Knowledge Network found that 67 percent of millennials prefer a ‘classic’ church over a ‘trendy’ one, and 77 percent would choose a ‘sanctuary’ over an ‘auditorium.’ While we have yet to warm to the word ‘traditional’ (only 40 percent favor it over ‘modern’), millennials exhibit an increasing aversion to exclusive, closed-minded religious communities masquerading as the hip new places in town. For a generation bombarded with advertising and sales pitches, and for whom the charge of ‘inauthentic’ is as cutting an insult as any, church rebranding efforts can actually backfire, especially when young people sense that there is more emphasis on marketing Jesus than actually following Him. Millennials ‘are not disillusioned with tradition; they are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion,’ argues David Kinnaman, who interviewed hundreds of them for Barna Group and compiled his research in You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church... and Rethinking Faith...”

Insightful Quotations from Millennials
“I want a service that is not sensational, flashy, or particularly ‘relevant.’ I can be entertained anywhere. At church, I do not want to be entertained. I do not want to be the target of anyone’s marketing. I want to be asked to participate in the life of an ancient-future community...” (friend of author and blogger, Amy Peterson)

“When a church tells me how I should feel (‘Clap if you’re excited about Jesus!’), it smacks of inauthenticity. Sometimes I don’t feel like clapping. Sometimes I need to worship in the midst of my brokenness and confusion — not in spite of it and certainly not in denial of it.” (millennial blogger, Ben Irwin)

“When I left church at age 29, full of doubt and disillusionment, I wasn’t looking for a better-produced Christianity. I was looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity... I felt lonely in my doubts. And, contrary to popular belief, the fog machines and light shows at those slick evangelical conferences didn’t make things better for me. They made the whole endeavor feel shallow, forced and fake.” (the author, Rachel Held Evans)

Church Growth Gimmickry: Announcing to Prospects that you Think they are Shallow.
“While no two faith stories are exactly the same, I’m not the only millennial whose faith couldn’t be saved by lacquering on a hipper veneer. According to Barna Group, among young people who don’t go to church, 87 percent say they see Christians as judgmental, and 85 percent see them as hypocritical. A similar study found that ‘only 8% say they don’t attend because church is “out of date,” undercutting the notion that all churches need to do for Millennials is to make worship “cooler”’... Our reasons for leaving have less to do with style and image and more to do with substantive questions about life, faith and community. We’re not as shallow as you might think.”

What “works” now is what has always “worked”: Authentic Christianity
“If young people are looking for congregations that authentically practice the teachings of Jesus in an open and inclusive way, then the good news is the church already knows how to do that. The trick isn’t to make church cool; it’s to keep worship weird.

“[C]hurch is the only place you can get ashes smudged on your forehead as a reminder of your mortality... [C]hurch is the only place that fills a sanctuary with candlelight and hymns on Christmas Eve... [C]hurch is the only place where you are named a beloved child of God with a cold plunge into the water... [O]nly the church teaches that a shared meal brings us into the very presence of God.

What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.

“Church attendance may be dipping, but God can survive the Internet age. After all, He knows a thing or two about resurrection.”


Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

In his second post on Evans’ editorial today (“The sacraments are what make the church relevant”), Dr. Veith comments on what many conservative Christians recognize in Evans’ negative critique of pop-church Evangelicalism (both in her book and in her editorial), and what they seem to be preoccupied with in critical way: the association of her apparently liberal politics with her choice to join a liberal mainline denomination. Indeed, conservative Anglican theologian, Michael Bird, has many questions for Ms. Evans. Yet, Dr. Veith comments on this recognition only as a means of bringing the conversation back to the importance of the sacraments. Here are some excerpts from his brief comments:

“This would seem to be good news for sacramental churches, such as confessional Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox. And yet, we learn that Millennials don’t appreciate rigorous doctrines, ‘non-inclusive’ stances to women, and ‘judgmental’ moral teachings, all of which these conservative traditions could be accused of.

“Ms. Evans would seem to be in the right place with her new Episcopalian church, which manages to be both sacramental and inclusive, letting its members believe and act pretty much however they want. But the Episcopal church isn’t doing that well either today, nor is more liberal Lutheranism... [M]ight there be a resurgence in liberal Episcopalianism, once Millennials learn what they have to offer?

“Nevertheless, there ARE Millennials discovering confessional Lutheranism, as well as these other sacramental traditions. They are finding that you really need strong theology in order to take the sacraments seriously. And they are finding the forgiveness of sins, which can only be fully realized once you agree that you have sins that need to be forgiven.”

Continued in next comment...

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

...Continued from previous comment.

That is the whole point, in my opinion. Millennials, generally, ignore the substance of words, and prefer the substance of experience. The Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion are known among confessional Lutherans as the “Visible Word.” Means through which the Holy Spirit works, the physical elements of these Sacraments are seen rather than heard, and through them one “receives the Word” by participating in their use. That is, they are “experiential” in nature. And as for their substance, once understood, they are the most substantive experiences a person can have. Indeed, of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we wrote the in our essay, Differences between Reformed and Lutheran Doctrines:

“Jesus Christ, in His human body, lived a perfect life under God’s Law. In this perfect body, He became sin for our sake, taking on the sin of the World, and suffering sin’s penalty – death and separation from God. The perfect Blood He shed in His death for our sin, was considered by God to be sufficient payment for the World’s sin, for the sin of each individual. He was found to be Just in the sight of God, and returned to life. When the Lutheran communicant receives the consecrated bread and wine in the Holy Supper, he is not merely partaking in a ‘meal of remembrance’. Rather, Christ Himself physically comes to the communicant and gives Himself to him. The Lutheran communicant is actually physically united with the perfect Body of Christ, which lived perfectly in the sight of God under His Law and continues its perfect existence in the presence of God. The Lutheran communicant is actually united with the Blood of Christ, which was declared by God to be Just payment for his sins. Thus united with Christ, the Lutheran stands united with those communicants who have likewise received Christ’s Body and Blood; and together they stand before God in the work and righteousness of Christ – their sin is atoned for and they are fully righteous in the sight of God. And this is our inheritance as sons of God, is it not? There is no more personal, more intimate assurance of our ‘remission of sins’ than this, for in the Holy Supper, the Logos, the Word of Forgiveness Himself, is physically united with us.”

Just as I have no problem with an infant being brought into the church through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism without fully understanding the rigorous doctrine that is necessary to maintain the efficacy of that Sacrament, I have no problem with wayward adults being brought back to the church from a yearning for the Sacrament of Holy Communion without a full understanding of the Scripture doctrines that stand behind it. The Holy Spirit works through them both, as He does through the Word. The course of action the Church is obligated to follow in both cases, however, is continuing catechesis – and through it the genuine Christian, even the one who is “experientially” centered, will necessarily be faced with the reality that without the “Written Word” there is no “Visible Word.” If one loves the Sacraments, he will eventually have to love Scripture Doctrine – whether he wants to at first, or not.

My Opinion.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Lindee - Glad to see this post. I was coming to ask if the last post was the last post for Intrepid Lutheran's and should be considered a swan song of sorts. Hopefully you and whichever contributors are left will continue posting the insightful pieces that have been so enjoyable to read over the years. May God Bless you and your compatriots efforts to establish a new ELDONA mission in your area.

Lee A Liermann

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

Hello Mr. Liermann, and thank you for your comment.

No, no swan song here... though contributions going forward will be sporadic and not nearly as frequent -- kind of like they have been since October of last year. If nothing else, the plan is to keep the content available for as long as possible -- as of now, at least for the next five years.

There has been some interest among several Lutheran laymen in reviving IL. We'll see where that goes.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

It does seem that we in WELS have "gone native" so to speak when it comes to our education materials. To tie into the last post and it's references to how the 6th Commandment is being taught - I was shocked this year to see what is considered appropriate materials for the 6th Commandment and societal matters along with what is considered an appropriate age. Instead of being circumspect the materials are in your face. Some matters need to be addressed, such as the 6th Commandment, but can be done so in a manner that is not crass, in your face and frankly uncouth. Most if not all of the "Societal" subject matters would be much better addressed by parents than in religion class or if raised done so in a manner which does not harden and coursen our youth. There is a definite pedagogical style to the Kuske Catechism compared to the Gausewitz Catechism - I for one vote for the Gausewitz Catechism as being more appropriate for use in instructing our youth.

Lee A Liermann

Anonymous said...

To add to my last comment especially the "going native" comment. Kuske and much of the Christ Light series vary much is couched in the language of today and the terminology of the world. I know that makes it real, relevant and relational it also affects how our children and we think about subject matters. Perhaps if we used different language, I know some will say "old outdated language" our youth would learn to think subject matters through differently and would have the tools via the language to do so. Its like an Eskimo having umpteen words to describe snow in all its variety, whereas we have - well snow. If we had the variety of words the Eskimo's have would we look at "snow" differently? Not because the snow was any different but because we had the tools (i.e. the language) to do so.

But only my opinion.

Lee A Liermann

Dr. Joseph Jewell said...

Wise words, Mr. Liermann--particularly with respect to the "stealth" watering-down of teaching and practice that seems to so frequently accompany overt efforts to insert the "language of today" into hymns, liturgy, Biblical paraphrases (also known today as "dynamically-equivalent 'translations'" and much the vogue), and creeds. I find it difficult to trust the judgment, for example, of a man who finds the NIV2011 or the CW "Nicene Creed" (which both adds to and subtracts from the substantive content of the original in the name of gender neutrality) acceptable. But these are the men who seem to hold the positions of greatest influence in WELS institutions today, who are asked to serve on commissions and committees, and given the task of instructing the young. It appears to be part of a notable weakening of both Confessional practice and scholarship, which cannot be papered over by back-patting or the repetition of the familiar bromides of inherent WELS superiority.

Anonymous said...

So the WELS Hymnal committee sent out another update. Well the report confirms (and I had not seen it before though suspected it) that the primary scriptural source will be the NIV2011. Which is also starting to be the source for the materials being used in the LDS's. The Synod conventions vote for the Eclectic approach was really a vote for the NIV2011 because that will be the primary source used going forward.

Lee Liermann

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

Mr. Liermann, do you have a link to that report? Or was it sent to you in an email?

Anonymous said...

Here is where the PDF is located.

Lee A Liermann

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