The Very Thin Line…

John 17:13-18
13“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

The modern, established, mainline denominations of the Christian church are facing a catastrophe.  According to a study completed in 2006 by Perry Chang Research Services for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), “During the past five years [1999-2004]the three largest mainline Protestant denominations—the ELCA, United Methodist Church, and PC(USA), in that order—have experienced the largest numerical declines in average weekly worship attendance. After gaining slightly in average attendance in the late 1990s, United Methodists saw attendance at their congregations plunge between 1999 and 2004 (Chang 10).  In addition, “The past five years (1999-2004) have essentially seen a dead heat in attendance decline, with the ELCA, PC(USA), and United Methodist Church all down about 90,000 in attendance. Of the larger mainline denominations, three—Episcopal Church, ELCA, and PC(USA)—all experienced percentage attendance declines of 5% or more.” (12).

While the fact that the mainline denominations are struggling is well documented, the reason why is under debate.  Some have blamed the “Secularization” of society as a main cause.  Ageism is another culprit often blamed for the modern church’s decline.  In 1993 Benton Johnson, a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon mentioned that if mainline denominations did not become more socially relevant, they risked losing touch with the younger generation.  And while there are a myriad of factors that have led to the massive losses of church attendees, mainline church’s disconnect with society may be the most overwhelming factor.

This blog has been brewing for quite some time, and it was my revisiting a 2005 Relevant Magazine interview with the musician Moby that got me thinking about it again.  In the article Moby discusses how he “Loves Jesus, but not the church.”  I think that is a statement that hits home with a large number of younger Christians, and it is the church’s disconnect from society that makes many feel that way.  Part of the issue is that Christians are called to walk a very thin line.  They are instructed to “go out into the world” (Mark 16:15), but told to strive to not become of the world: Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.”

To many Christians hold more stock in the “do not conform” part of that equation.  They spurn secular things like music, television, movies and other “pop culture” concepts in an effort to keep themselves “pure.”  While this is a noble and honorable goal, the unfortunate truth is that this single-minded effort has created a separate sub-culture of Christians who are not even “in the world.”  They have worked so hard to eliminate all things worldly, that they have isolated themselves behind a wall of stereotype, preconceived notion, elitism and personal holiness.  They have succeeded (at least in part) in “not conforming” to the world, but have failed miserably in the greatest commandment: “19Therefore go [into the world] and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28: 19-20).

While isolationism is not the right answer, neither is complete submersion in the world.  A Christian submersed in everything that the world can be, is doomed to fall hard and painfully.  Today’s society is filled with temptations and abominations that are marketed as entertainment, socially acceptable and even “healthy.”  A Christian who succumbs to the temptations of the world is not an effective witness to the glory of Christ, and that is where the delicate balancing act must take place.

A “true” Christian who loves Jesus and is determined to make an impact on the world is required to keep one foot in both worlds.  He/she must keep Jesus in his heart while being familiar with the world.  He must walk through the toughest temptations the world can offer while still holding tight to the passion and drive to be like his Savior.  A Christian who can do that is relevant.  A Christian who can do that speaks to humanity.  Jesus did it.  He WALKED in the world and faced the toughest temptations.  Jesus was and IS relevant.  The issue is that much of mainline church is no longer in the world, it is no longer relevant, and it is dying as a result.   Much of mainline church has become a metaphorical Pharisee; separate, aloof, holier-than-thou…old.  And in doing so has lost its connection with the world, the very place that needs it the most.

What Christianity needs are followers of Christ who understand the inherent dichotomy of being called to discipleship, the risks that come with it and those who are willing to step out in faith anyway.   To walk with one foot in each world invites attacks from both sides.  One will say you are not “holy” enough, while the other will try to drag you down.  But to experience the pull of that division is to experience the EXACT same thing Christ experienced when he walked the Earth.  The church needs people like that.  The world needs people like that.

Can you be like that?

One Love
One God
One Way

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~ by archangel66 on July 16, 2010.

2 Responses to “The Very Thin Line…”

  1. I have that issue with Moby’s interview. I agree with what you’re saying in your article. Some specific examples from your own personal experience would be helpful, too.

    • Thanks Darren. I thought about adding some personal experience, but I hit 1k words and was worried about getting too much longer. Maybe that will be part II.

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