There’s an article that recently appeared on CharismaMagazine.com on March 9, 2015 that has me both scratching my head and frustrated. The article is titled, Here’s How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel. I went into reading the article with an open mind and hopeful that the title didn’t mean exactly what it sounded like; maybe it was one of those clever titles meant to draw you in. Within the first paragraph the writer, Chelsen Vicari, dashed those hopes. To provide some context, it might be better to read her article (link in title above) before you read mine.
I wanted to believe that Vicari was aiming her writing at those inside of Christianity that would attempt to change it into whatever is the “left” equivalent to the garbage that the Westboro Baptist have created on the “right.” I thought for a long time and had difficulty coming up with any. Maybe Rob Bell? But, that was not to be, she wasn’t just speaking to them. It seems that Vicari leveled her pen at any millennial that doesn’t attend the church their parents still do, or at least those that live out their faith in a way that doesn’t fit the right-wing, conservative, traditional evangelical church setting that their parents think it ought to. Referencing her stock photo, that also includes any young person with a face piercing, tattoo or a beanie. That means that 99.99% of Worship Leaders/Pastors of any church started in the last 10 years is twisting the Gospel. (I know, that was snarky. I’ll genuinely try to keep that to a minimum.)
In general the article was frustrating, but there were a few things about it that actually made me angry. The first is that Vicari wrongly absolves the “traditional” church from all responsibility for any gap that actually exists, with the millennials or even people in general. There’s no way that someone believes that the Church has no responsibility for the way people view us as followers of Jesus. We’ve had some major hiccups, all of them our own fault, that have hurt our credibility to be witnesses for Jesus. We, in the Church, may be Saints, but we aren’t perfect. To pretend that we don’t have responsibility for the low impression that people have of us as His followers and thus of Him, is naive at best, but more realistically idiotic. Vicari says, “They [“traditional” church] are accused of having too many rules as well as being homophobic and bigoted. Yes, we’ve heard those false claims from popular culture in its desperate attempt to keep Christianity imprisoned within the sanctuary walls.” Initially I had no idea what to even say about that, but…
I have a number of issues with this statement, here’s a few of them:
1. Evangelicalism, in the last 30 years, has done a lot to promote behavior modification as opposed to sanctification. Grant it, it may not have been intentional, but there’s traditionally been a huge focus on what a Christian should or shouldn’t do, which inadvertently created a ton of rules. That’s behavior modification, grossly legalistic and ultimately pushes those away that can’t live up to those rules.
2. As for the homophobic and bigoted title, we earned that all on our own. It’s the result of a generation of people, some that I know and are generally great people, thinking it’s ok to call people faggot or queer. It also doesn’t help when an evangelical refuses to make cake for a same gender wedding or worse when an evangelical doctor refuses to treat a same-gender couple’s baby, who by the way doesn’t have a sexual preference. Unfortunately, the many suffer for the sins of a few and the homophobe and bigot titles are ours to undo.
3. No one has done more to keep Christianity imprisoned behind the sanctuary walls than Christians. Sans a few missions trips and “community projects”, most Christians don’t generally carry their Christianity into any other part of their life. Many are content with their Sunday consumerism, careful not to intermingle their faith with their dirty office jokes, drunken benders or adulterous affairs (I’ve fallen into that category). Yes, there are many that pursue Christ daily and the world is better for it, but even still, many of those who do carry their beliefs outside the church walls are often more vocal about what we’re against rather than who we’re for. In the past there’s been far more “you’re going to HELL” evangelism than there’s been “Jesus came to die for you” evangelism. At the least, the balance is severely off. Picketing or blowing up an abortion clinic speaks far louder than a bible tract made to look like a million dollars. Again, sins of the few.
The other point that had me dumbfounded, early in the article, is that Vicari either wrongly interprets or blatantly misrepresents the difference between those millennials that are seeking a genuine marriage between proper theology and practical Jesus followership (trying to literally live our Jesus’ commands to love God, love others and make disciples) from those that are trying to creating a new avenue into Heaven and pandering to the itching ears of culture. There’s a distinct difference and Vicari somehow ignores it and lumps all millennials into one “leftist” group. It’s irresponsible and not accurate.
I really don’t want this to be a counter-attack on the “right.” It wouldn’t do us any good. I think one of the main issues inside our body is the polarization created by those in it. We already have denominations because we can’t agree on so many issues. I know that the separation between “left” and “right” has existed for some time, but it’s most recently that issues like same-gender marriage have started us down the path to greater separation. Vicar’s article does little to help bridge that gap. My hope is to not add to that chasm.
So here’s what I want to do. I want to clarify a couple points she made and then offer a few suggestions/solutions to help close the expanse between us.
1. We aren’t meant to rest in an evangelical identity.
Vicari said, “…we can no longer rest carefree in our evangelical identity—because it is changing.” Evangelicalism is NOT an identity, at least it shouldn’t be. Call it an expression of our Christian faith or what it actually started as, a movement within the Christian faith (it sprung up out of revivalist meeting in the early to mid 1700s), but to call it an identity is folly. We are called to one identity and that’s an identity in Jesus Christ. HERE is a whole list of bible verses that speak to that. We are one in Christ, not in evangelicalism. To that end, we should never be carefree in any identity, especially in Christ. Every identity comes with a responsibility. Part of the problem with Christian consumerism is that evangelicals have let themselves become carefree in that identity (I’m guilty of that). We have to stop doing that and become active and responsible in who Christ has called us to be.
2. We’re not fighting a culture war.
Unfortunately the culture will always win. Jesus was crucified and the Apostles martyred because the culture won. The Gospel isn’t meant to change the culture, it’s meant to change the hearts of man. Only then do we have a chance to effect the culture. Rather than make war on the culture, we would do well to remember Paul’s clarification about what we are to stand against. Paul reminds us that we “…stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Our war is against the heavenly places, not the culture. We are to take up arms, that is God’s word and prayer, for our communities, not against them. We are to be witnesses to people’s sinful unbelief of who Jesus is, not their sinful behavior. As far as behaviors, we take up those same arms against our own sinful behaviors and inclinations.
3. Being an evangelical doesn’t make you a good follower of Jesus.
Just because you attend church and profess the same teachings that your parents do doesn’t make you a good follower of Jesus. I know people that have attended church for 30/40 years and never actually read the bible, or don’t pray consistently, or give generously, or don’t help “the least of these”, or don’t know what it actually means to follow Jesus. Many people would call them great evangelicals, but I wonder what Jesus might say to them. Our pursuit should not be focused on being a better evangelical, but rather a better follower of Jesus.
1. Seek Unity.
We are called to be one body. We are called to be THE Church, not separate churches. Most millennials are not moving toward hearsay; they’re seeking to be better Jesus followers. There’s no reason for separation. To be fair, no one is free from responsibility for the gap that exists, so we’re all responsible for making the first move to close it.
Ephesians 4:1-6 says,
“[I] urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
2. Disciple Each Other.
One of the best things I’ve ever heard about the benefits of intergenerational ministry is that older members bring wisdom, while younger members bring passion and both benefit when they welcome the other. Maybe it’s time that millennials stop pushing away from older members because they’re too “traditional” and older members stop disregarding the younger ones because they’re too “progressive” and start cultivating relationships that encourage discipleship. After all, we’re ALL followers.
3. Be Peacemakers.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Now, I’m not an expert, but the opposite to that seems to be those who create disharmony won’t get to be called sons of God. That may not be true and I don’t know what the implication of that is, but that seems pretty serious to even consider. Acting like or assuming that you’re the one that has the corner market on God’s will is a dangerous place to be. Baking a cake for a same-gender wedding isn’t condoning the behavior. It’s providing a service. Does refusing to bake it cause peace or disharmony? Are they still going to get married without your cake? Could it be that baking that cake would show a genuine love for them as people, rather than your full acceptance of their lifestyle? Where do we have the opportunities to make peace? As much as that applies to in our communities, it applies tenfold inside the body of believers. It’s time to get it together. Be peacemakers.
Obviously there’s a million other things I could say, and I wanted to, but this post is already too long, so I’ll end with this. There is no “new” Christian left. Once a belief system travels outside of the foundational Gospel message (Christ is God incarnate, He was born of a virgin, He came to earth and performed miracles and wonders, was crucified for our sins, resurrected after three days, ascended into heaven and will return to usher in the new heaven and earth and to judge man for all time, and the only way to The Father is through Jesus), then it’s no longer Christian and thus not the “Christian left.” People loving their gay friend in hopes of introducing them to Jesus, isn’t a twisted Gospel, it’s THE Gospel.
As if you didn’t have enough to read, here’s some other posts that have to do with sin and our approach to living out the Gospel.
Do you think millennials have it twisted?
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