The Youth of the Church; The Future of the Nation

I am writing this article to address a few trends that seem to be affecting the church, specifically those in the youth about to be adults most like Tanner. Tanner, while achieving much for his age, is young and has a future ahead of him and now is entering the phase of life where he and those like him will be making the most important decisions of their lives. I feel the church, for the most part, has directed them toward a path where they can’t succeed in the modern world and can’t fully take part in shaping and guiding it anymore. This is part of why so many are steering away from the church and why the church is steering so far from the rest of American culture, bad and good. I wrote this article to try and focus on the direction being given to these young people and perhaps direct readers of Tanner’s and my blog in how they should encourage their youth in the future.

So have you ever said to yourself something to the effect of “Politicians can’t be trusted?” Have you ever said that “All businessmen are greedy and corrupt?” Have you ever wondered why? Because they aren’t Christian anymore. For the most part, Christians have stayed away from the business and political scene for the better part of three generations. But why? Let me put it this way…

Have you ever said any of these things… around your kids?

I know it is something most of us don’t think about often, but ask yourself, what careers am I pushing my kids toward? For many of Tanner’s younger readers, ask what careers where you pushed to? I think though, we should also consider, what are you pushing from?

Many are raised with the idea that ideal Christian careers involve hard work such as construction. Carpentry seems to be popular among Christians (wonder why?) Other career paths include careers that involve some sort of service like the medical field, doctors and nurses (but not gynecologists, that is for the sinners of medicine), and education to become teachers.  Another career path widely encouraged in church circles is the military. I was a Marine and I am still a little baffled at why so many in my church were so proud of me for doing a job that on a good day killed people… But they did. My wife says it has much to do with the service and sacrifice aspect of the job, which I understand. I  still think they just haven’t really thought about it much though.

But what about big business? What is the first thing you think about me when I say I would one day like to own the next Chase bank or be the next Bill Gates? What if I said I would like to one day be a successful venture capitalist? Would you think I was greedy? What if I said I wanted to be a successful politician? That I wanted to be a Senator and work on Capitol Hill? Would you think my goals are to be corrupt, filling my pockets with kickbacks before I become a lobbyist, making millions to influence others while manipulating the democratic system? You may not think that about me in general, but if you were to meet someone on the street with these goals, you wouldn’t think very well of career business people and career politicians.

Why is that? Over the course of history some of the most important people in American history filled these roles. Politicians were once also viewed as a noble profession, public servants, stewards of the community. Businessmen once were viewed as the fiercely independent founders of the American wealth and prosperity. John Pierpont Morgan was one of the most influential business leaders in America. He built massive companies in his day. He also engineered programs and deals that helped to prevent two massive American breakdowns in the American economic system.  He was also a lifelong member of his church and one of it’s most influential leaders. His grandfather was a preacher and influenced him greatly. He could be found alone often in silent prayer for hours at his local church.

The founding fathers were also religious men as well as politicians. Benjamin Franklin is quoted to saying

“Here is my Creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by His Providence. That He ought to be worshiped…As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see.”

Seems pretty straight forward. What about Thomas Jefferson, the supposed atheist of the founders?

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God?”

So it is possible to have moral leadership, both in business and politics. Then why is it that these two fields of achievement are so shrouded in the belief that they are corrupt, Godless and without morals?

Because good Christians aren’t supposed to want to do those things.

When I was a child I remember being told that the rich are nothing but greedy and that politicians are liars. I heard that a good Christian job was physical labor, medicine, teaching or the military and that these were the only honorable things available to me. Then I joined the Marines and during that time I realized that those who affect the most change, have the greatest impact on society are not on that list, not directly, not individually. Those with the most direct and individual influence on America are those people of business and leadership, which Christianity shuns.

The problem I see is that for three generations now, young Christians have been pushed by fellow Christians away from these fields and resulted in a growing movement where Christians do not welcome them and are not welcomed by them.  And as a result of this, Christians are growing farther and farther from the socioeconomic center of America. They are losing their place as leaders in its future and are alienating themselves from its people. So while I see many posts going up about the Decline of Christianity in America and the general idea that we are becoming a Godless nation, I say to you “What did you expect? You teach your young people to join you in seclusion from the society they are part of.”

But things don’t need to be this way. In the future we need to encourage our young people to be those leaders of tomorrow. We need to encourage them with stories of great Christian businessmen and politicians, so that they can lead Americans with a Christian perspective. They can recommunicate the values of Christianity in a way society is able to understand and perhaps fix some of the problems we are seeing in society today from hatred of Christians to .

That’s why I am glad to be invited to speak on Tanner’s blog. He is an example of the future of Christianity and the future of America. In the next few years, people his age are going to be making the decisions that will put them in positions where they can have a great resounding impact on us all. I hope that you will encourage them to do something great.

Be entrepreneurs. Solve humanity’s problems with new ideas, new innovations and give people jobs. Make yourselves very wealthy and remember who blessed you with your success. Then tithe.

Be politicians. Become leaders who set a great example to all Americans of what a great person is and should be. Become directly involved in the decision-making process and therefore have greater potential to influence the aspects of society you see that can be fixed.

Don’t live a mundane life complaining about the rich, the wealthy and the powerful. Become them and set a new precedent.

***This post has been duel posted on Opinionz Matter by Tanner Brumbarger . I have been invited to guest post to Tanner’s blog and hopefully this will help drive a bit more traffic to Jon’s Deep Thoughts.

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Would Jesus Hate Religion? I Doubt It.

Have you seen the video yet? It is Jefferson Bethke’s poem about how Jesus hates religion. It went viral about a week ago and speaks a message that the country is ripe to hear. I’m not hating on it either. What he created is a good work and filled with very important ideas, ideas that strike deep to many who hear it.

If you haven’t seen it please direct yourself here before continuing on to view it. Otherwise most of this article won’t make sense. If you are up on your viral media and are now ready for my lecture please continue.

As I mentioned before, the poet Jefferson Bethke has captured some very important key points about the nature of Jesus and the church, and also what he calls religion. Before I start on the relationship between Jesus and the Church, I would like to point out another issue that many may have missed when they watched the video. This is also an important time in America’s development to be hearing this particular message. We are part of a generation that seems to be raging out against any form of authority we see unfit, and by unfit I mean anything that isn’t perfect.

We have seen decades of leaders, for many of us for as long as we have lived, fall horribly short of expectations. Many are resentful of political leaders who have let us down, like a President who had affairs in the oval office, or the one that sent us to wars we understood little about and couldn’t get us out of, or the President who didn’t give us back the jobs he said he would. Senators exposing themselves doesn’t shock us anymore, it is just time for a joke. But the failure in leadership doesn’t end there, and this where I think Bethke’s words hit most of us close to home. Our spiritual leaders have failed us too. Our generation has seen people kill thousands “In the name of God.” We also know that during the Crusades, reformation and inquisitions, Christians did much worse to far more people, even fellow Christians. Fanatics have spread hate in the name of God, like Fred Phelps who has led his cult/clan outside of fallen veteran funerals with slogans like “God Hates Fags” and “God Brought Down the Towers”. Christians have made war on science without considering the flaws in their own interpretation of the universe, leaving the enlightened members of our society with no place left to go but to feel shunned by God. Jokes about Catholic priests and alter boys don’t even get a reaction any more because we have heard it so many times. Major leaders in the Promise Keepers movement drove it to obscurity when they themselves committed adultery (a rare yet powerful blow to Christians and Politicians, thanks Mr. Ensign). Young people in the church see the older leaders acting against christian teachings. They see women gossiping and men telling dirty jokes as they frequent topless bars, all the while only a few actually still visit the widows, the orphans, the sick and the elderly. Even some of the most celebrated Christian leaders like Rev. Billy Graham are viewed by some as just a hoax dealer selling grace for as much as you can put in the bucket. How is it that, in a world of near infinite information, a young person should be expected to have such blind faith in the presence of such blatant hypocrisy?

They can’t. Young people are distancing themselves from the church. They are joining movements of self actualization in their own spirituality, making the path a solitary one. They are making statements like “I am spiritual, but not religious.”  A few years ago, a religious person would laugh at such a statement, “How could someone know and understand God by themself?” but now we can see the divide clearly. People want to know and discover meaning in their life while not being part of a church that imposes rules, regulations, dogmas and passing judgements while making some feel welcome and ostracizing others. And the whole time many seeing them not living the lives they demand of others. Do you believe you are part of a perfect church? If you think you don’t, then why do you think others would want to join it? What good can they get from a less than perfect body? The conclusion… This is not perfect, it must have nothing to do with Jesus.

And there you see it. Our generation, with its abundance of information and its command of knowledge, are striking out against the “old ways” of religion. We are having a harder and harder time dealing with the dissonance between the idea of a perfect church made from imperfect people. This is why you see the individuals forming and leading themselves in spirituality. This is why you are seeing poems about how Jesus hates Religion and why you see so many openly denying the very existence of God. Christians today are personified in the world as self-righteous and condesending, hypocrites and ignorant. The world seems to hate us, and I can’t really say I blame them. We have been bad Christians, and now our families, our communities and our world are judging their walk because of us.

Up to this point you may or may not believe in what I have said. I do want you however to consider it and use it to focus on one point. Jesus is greater than religion. Religion is a construct of people to help learn about, understand, and communicate our faith. Jesus himself doesn’t need religion. Jesus does not hate religion, because he knows we as humans need it. What the author of the poem mentioned was that he loved the church, yet hated religion. This is what religion is. A community of believers, who teach the newcomers and the young the traditions and beliefs of their faith. This is called guidance to those in a community and indoctrination to those from outside. We teach the deep theology to our members when they have studied enough to receive it, such as the fundamental differences between sects of Christianity, the true nature of God and man. These ideas took thousands of years to develop and can not be arrived at by an individual without the guidance and leadership of a strong church. For example, it took the early church more than 300 years to arrive at the conclusion of the trinity, a deep and very complex philosophy about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit that still leaves many Christians confused about their own faith. And people must practice the rituals of worship, they must repeat them over and over. This part is a mental exercise, a meditation, on why the act you are performing is practiced. Outsiders call this dogma with a self-righteous scowl, but these rituals, if done with a meditative mind, remind us of our promises, our commitments and the commitments that have been made to us. Without religion, being the acts, traditions, fellowship, and knowledge of a good church, how could a person truly come to know God? And if they do come to know God, how will their children? If this continues, what will become of our nation in the, void of religion?

I will put it to you this way. What happens when a person goes out and seeks spiritual understanding without religious guidance? I think about people who pray and don’t receive the answer they want quickly fall from faith because God either doesn’t exist or hates them. I think of people who wear a cross on their neck or get Jesus tattoos “because it brings me luck.” I also think of an episode of the popular show Glee. The episode was called “Cheesus Christ Superstar”, (don’t expect enlightenment here.) The episode grew around the students’ belief systems or lack of such, and centered on one of the characters discovering that he had grilled a sandwich into an image of Jesus. From that point on he prayed to “Grilled Cheesus” and when his prayers weren’t answered it supported the idea that God is either not there or doesn’t care. Many other topics were touched, but in general the entire episode is offensive to anyone who believes anything. My point here is that, though this is a dramatized and humorous account, it represents a real journey young people take on. They want to understand, but without good guidance in faith they are just as likely to worship a cellophane wrapped savior.

Many believers stand to idea that none of this matters because Jesus is coming back and the evil will get their come-up-ins’. If you believe this, you know it hasn’t happened in the last 2000 years, what makes you think it won’t be another 2000? Or more perhaps. Christians need to take a deep personal ownership of the religion. We need people willing to build it into something that can last another 2000 years in the way leaders like Peter, Paul, Marcus Aquinas and Martin Luther did. What religion needs is a new generation of true followers. Teachers to lead the young Christians in meditation and thought on their faith. To stop carelessly repeating the same lessons and get to the deep thoughts of the belief. End the hypocrisy that has grown rampant in the eyes of the world and be leaders of their church as they carry on the tradition that Jesus set forth.

I will close with this, I doubt Jesus hates religion. He knows it is a necessary part of the human spiritual experience. He built the early church and laid down the doctrines that would lead them after he was gone. Kevin Deyoung expounds on this idea in a similarly themed work where he said, “He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). He founded the church (Matt. 16:18). He established church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). He instituted a ritual meal (Matt. 26:26-28). He told his disciples to baptize people and to teach others to obey everything he commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). He insisted that people believe in him and believe certain things about him (John 3:16-18; 8:24). ”

Sincerely,
-Jon