“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4: 18-19
Demonic sycophants roam the church halls. Though few in number, these cronies have caused tremendous heartache among the multitudes. Pettiness consumes their hearts. Jesus is not their priority-self is. Rather than exude compassion, their demeanors have been consumed with bitterness. Disagree or sin differently than they do, and trouble is sure to come. Due to the actions of a few, a scarlet letter has been embroidered upon the breastplate of the Christian Church, as some believers have enshrined a pedestal of legalism and guilt upon the podium, and as a result many have walked away.
This series of Junk Christianity has fixated on the charades that many partake in. Any act which distorts our focus of authentically pursing the One Man who changed the course of humanity, Jesus Christ, can be considered a waste of time. These farces transpire in many ways. Whether the circus includes conveying perfection to impress the masses with our “holiness,” or abiding by the “powers that be” who demand everyone appears religious. Many within the church are responsible for rendering an Academy Award Winning performance for all spectators.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
Everyone outside of the Evangelical Bubble recognizes this as fubar. Fake people have caused massive destruction. Consequently, the chickens have come home to roost. Drive through any family oriented neighborhood on Sunday morning and cars will be parked. Televisions will be tuned on. Couples will be adrift walking their dogs. Bicycles will be spinning. The smoker will be smoking. And fantasy football will be prompted as the countdown to kick off is ticking. More than ever, younger parents who regularly attended church growing up as children are now making the decision to stay home with their kids. The games became too much…
Is this a newly surfacing trend with Generation X and Millennials? Or is this a new movement, period? Well, the answer is yes. According to Pew Research, this decline in church activity actually began approximately thirty years ago. Nevertheless, there are growing trends with those in their forties and younger.
In 2014, a Pew Research Survey sampled 7, 437 individuals. Between the ages of 18 to 29 years old 35% identified as unaffiliated. Within the ages of 30 to 49 years of age, 37% concurred. 44 % of the Millennials were unaffiliated, and 28% of the Generation X coincided. More than half of these people were males; moreover, nearly 70% were white.
“One thing I’ve learned is that sociologist Peter Berger is right. The reasons for both embracing and rejecting religious faith are never merely intellectual and rational. Of course, the intellectual and rational play a role, but the reasons for all moves or paradigm shifts are also partly emotional and partly relational—dependent on positive and negative experiences with believers and non-believers. It is a great mistake to think that deep religious belief cannot be largely a matter of feeling and experience rather than reason…I’ve learned a lot by processing with many people who reject religious faith because they were raised in an unusually rigid close-minded setting. Later they find that they miss what philosopher Charles Taylor calls the ‘fullness’ – an assurance that life has ultimate meaning and a hope that is strong enough to get you through suffering.” Timothy Keller, Interview with Huffington Post, “An Evangelical Pastor on Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated”
“Perhaps the most striking trend in American religion in recent years has been the growing percentage of adults who do not identify with a religious group. And the vast majority of these religious ‘nones’ (78%) say they were raised as a member of a particular religion before shedding their religious identity in adulthood.” Why America’s ‘nones’ left religion behind By: Michael Lipka
So where does this disconnection stem from? That is a complicated answer. Some people naturally gravitate away from religion as a whole. Others simply choose not to believe in Jesus. Many have chosen science over all other alternatives. And several have a grudge against Christianity, or a Christ Follower who fell from grace or acted just as they have. Though our aim should be to reach all, there are those who merely will not listen.
As such, let’s focus on those who truly love Jesus. Over the last several months, I have talked with three individuals who no longer attend church. These folks confess to personally Follow Christ and try to live a lifestyle worthy of His calling, yet on Sunday Mornings, their cars remain cold. For obvious reasons of anonymity, their names have been changed, but their testimonies are very real.
- Bobby is a 42 year old successful business man who lives in Arizona. He grew up in an extremely strict Christian home and regularly went to church, which he described as legalistic. Show up on Sunday Morning in anything except slacks and a tie, and you’d surely be reprimanded by the holiest of holies. As an adult, Bobby attended a church, which he thoroughly loved, only to discover the pastor took a fall from grace and had a sexual affair outside of his marriage. Today, he has two young children. While Bobby still identifies with Christian beliefs, church is the furthest thing from his mind because of the bad taste of legalism and the broken heart he incurred by placing all his faith in a man of God, rather than Jesus Christ Himself.
- Jen is a 35 year old female. She grew up in a Southern Baptist Church, attended mostly every Wednesday and Sunday night, and states she “Loves the Lord.” However, she can’t handle the gossip, nor can she forget how she was once treated. In the past, she made some mistakes with drugs. According to Jen, people in the church abandoned her in a time of need, and made nasty statements. As a recovering heroin addict, she chooses to do sobriety away from a congregation of believers.
- Jake is also in his mid-thirties and owns a tattoo parlor in a popular college town. As a tattoo artist, Jake obviously has a lot of ink to show. While he grew up in church and believes Jesus died for his sins, it seems once a year or so someone affiliated with “religion” condemns him to Hell because of his tats- which make him look different than most. These days Jake wants no part in that, so he chooses to only tell his son about Christ himself, rather than get involved in a church where his little boy could also be hurt one day too.
The people described above are victims of Junk Christianity, and can now be branded as Church Non’ers. They identify with Christianity or even claim to genuinely follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, yet the choice has been made to not contribute to a body of believers. These are the unaffiliated.
Again, why is this population choosing to isolate themselves? Undoubtedly, Evangelicals in the 20th Century and prior could be harsh. However, I will reserve this piece to speak specifically about the eighties and nineties. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church. For as much as I cherish my childhood memories, and relish the guidance I received from church leaders and parents, there are still moments that make me cringe.
“Above all, be loving. This ties everything together perfectly.” Colossians 3:14
Jesus never tolerated sin. Neither should the church. Though, our approach is critical. 95% of the time, Christians fail to emanate Jesus to those gone awry. Rather than authentically conveying hope, mercy, and grace as we point to Calvary, our immediate response is to whip the devil away. I too can recall the whispers of people condemning those to Hell for their tattoos or sex. When I stepped away from church in high school and throughout college, instead of receiving counsel, criticism was unloaded on me for the choices I made as a young man who thought he had it all figured out.
Furthermore, manmade rules have consumed our congregations. I chuckle when I think of the Baptist’s no dancing policy. “Getting jiggy wit it” in the SBC certainly is not an option. I joke…I joke. But some “religions” have gone as far as demanding no instruments are used in worship, no caffeine is ever consumed, or no adherent ever receive medical attention or use over the counter remedies…all in the name of God.
In reality, none of these rules accomplish a righteous faith within the heart. Wholeheartedly following Jesus begins within the galaxy between the human heart and brain. The first step is absolute surrender- submitting my universe to Christ. This collision occurs once I recognize that Only His Light will sustain me. My stars and sun have burned out. Manmade rules only become balls chained to the ankle.
In Romans 14, Paul warns all to not make spiritual maturity a requirement for fellowship. The example he gave centered on the decision to not eat meat, or to eat meat. Those who opposed the food did so for spiritual reasons: either the meat was not kosher, or was thought to be a sacrifice for pagan gods. In fact, this was a huge issue among Christians throughout this time- one which caused division and turmoil. Ironically, we are still not listening to the Apostle.
“Legalism has a way of making us think that we are strong and those who do not keep the rules the way we do are weak.” David Guzik
For instance, let’s pretend one night I chose to go sit at the bar in Chili’s and have dinner. For perception reasons, some of the pious would take issue with this- especially if I had a beer. However, for me having a Bud Light is not a temptation. Why? I can’t stand the taste of beer. Ten years ago, I walked away from casually drinking for personal reasons. Personally, I will always prefer a Coke over a cocktail eight days of the week. Yet, I should never lead another believer or brother into temptation. Many struggle with alcohol. Therefore, I choose to limit my freedoms, so that my choices do not become someone else’s folly. Should I be judged for sitting at the bar merely because I am in the ministry? Absolutely not. However, again as a minister, I do everything to ensure my character is above reproach and that my choices do not cause another to embrace their sins or demons.
Today many of these manmade rules seem silly…as they should. Legalism gone wild has bruised and battered many. Moreover, scars are suffered when the Christian’s approach to another lacks the attributes of Christ. One consequence of this lashing is the rise of the “Community Church,” which often provides a comfortable, come as you are, way to worship Jesus Christ.
The two faults discussed are not solely responsible for the rise of The Unaffiliated. There are many other issues which could be addressed as well. Moreover, personal responsibility of the Non’er must be addressed as well in another discussion. Wherever there is Light, there will always be bugs. Rather than whipping the Devil out of folks as a Church, let’s be determined to authentically follow Christ with a righteous, Jesus loving, God-fearing, grace-giving faith…not a self-righteous façade which would rather throat punch the masses. Instead of portraying a life of perfection, let’s be real as to how messed up we Christians really are without the Blood of Christ. In all actuality, those who accept Christ are both Sinners and Saints. The Church is a hospital for the broken-not a high society for the flawless. If we truly allow His love to transpire throughout our lives, hearts will be reached. Alas, let’s put the charades aside once and for all.