Concerning religious trends and surveys—especially among younger Evangelicals—continue to serve as doleful reminders that aggrieved outrage and resentful rebellion is en vogue, while faithful Christian discipleship is out of style.
It is undeniable that Evangelicals are drifting further away from the traditional Christian teachings cherished and defended by our parents and grandparents. According to a 2008 Pew Research study, Baptists have experienced the greatest net loss of childhood members within the Protestant tradition with a childhood and current religion net change of -3.7. The Catholic Church is the only other Christian tradition with a greater loss, with a net change of -7.5 in children abandoning their faith.
Numbers are important, but stories behind the data are more telling. As a Sunday school teacher, I see this young Evangelical resentment and desertion in action. Of course, the easy part of my teaching responsibilities is sharing the Gospel with middle school-aged students. The hard, heart-breaking part comes later, when I ask my students if they will make a confession of faith in Jesus Christ and their answer is, "I'm still searching."
Searching. There it is in black and white. One of the most popular answers to one of the biggest questions facing the Evangelical community. Many Millennial Evangelicals are searching for something beyond the proclaimed "outdated," "old-fashioned" and "fundamental" faith of our parents. Lured by an increasingly secular society and blinded by a self-serving human nature, Millennial Evangelicals are not stopping long enough to uncover what makes our grandpa's religion great.
Ethics and Dignity
A few months ago, Child Evangelical Fellowship (CEP), a nationally recognized organization founded in 1937 to teach children the Bible, came under fire for discussing sin. According to Christian News Network, residents in Portland, Oregon were outraged that CEP taught children in after-school Bible studies and summer camps that people are innately sinful and in need of a Savior. Local residents claimed this notion diverts away from mainstream Christianity to "hardcore evangelical fundamental."
Stigma surrounds the word sin even in our own churches. The very word "sin" makes Millennials feel uncomfortable and automatically "judgmental," which is why we are witnessing talk of sin and shame disappear from Sunday school curriculum, youth group talks, and campus ministry sermons. Sadly, this removal of the reality of sin is causing our Millennial generation to miss a very important lesson: Sin is destructive.
An inconvenient truth for the Left-leaning, so-called tolerant crowd is that the flipside of sin is morality. Our sinful behavior hurts others and ourselves. Sin breeds deception, wrecks families, ignites hate, starts conflicts, and lends to death. Human rights, equality, respect, compassion – these are all benefits of morality. All of these values secular society cherishes highly are only achieved, in large part, when a person denies their own desires and places the feelings and worth of others first.
The best part is that living according to a moral code is contagious. "Morality has this nasty habit of not staying put," wrote Alan Noble, the managing editor and co-founder of Christ and Pop Culture, for the July issue of The Atlantic. Noble explained, "Some morals affect communities more than others, but no moral is entirely contained."
America's Founding Fathers understood that morality was contagious. Though not all professed to follow Christ, the Founding Fathers intentionally looked to as parameters for our infant nation. The Bible was discovered by historian William J. Federer to have directly contributed to 34 percent of all Founding Father quotes and that 94 percent of all quotes were either directly or indirectly derived from the Bible.
American Revolutionary leader Patrick Henry is attributed with stating:
It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and the freedom of worship here.
What we Millennials must recognize and appreciate is that avoidance of sin lends to law and order, caring for the vulnerable, charities and philanthropy, stability and progress. No matter how counter-cultural or unpopular the idea might be, our generation will only achieve a peaceful and prosperous society when we resist sin.
Valor and Fortitude
Millennials who wish to sidestep the reality of sin will have real consequences. In an opinion editorial for CNN, Daniel Darling, who is Vice-president of Communications for the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote that the Millennials who do not abandon the Christian faith are opting for a "Gospel of Nice." According to Darling, this gospel looks more like "a mascot for every chic cause, except for that difficult mission to which he called his followers: cross-bearing." The dangers of this "Gospel of Nice" is that the next generation will lack the character necessary to be the next generation of Christ's "cross-bearers." I'll explain.
Close your eyes, flip open the Bible finger-point to a chapter and chances are high that you will find the story of a dedicated, courageous man or woman who stood up for their convictions no matter the counter-cultural consequences.
Doing this exercise, my finger landed on the story of Nehemiah a king's cupbearer. Upon hearing that the wall of Jerusalem lay in a heap of rubble, Nehemiah knew that God was calling him to take responsibility for a big task: reconstructing the wall. (Nehemiah 1:1-11).
Challenges, however, plagued Nehemiah's reconstruction. First he was criticized and mocked by onlookers Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab. Then he was threatened with death from enemies beyond Jerusalem. Plus Nehemiah had to employ good leadership skills over grumbling dissention among the Jews rebuilding the wall (Neh. 4:1-12). But all this did not deter Nehemiah, instead he "continued the work with greater determination" until the wall of Jerusalem was completed (Nehemiah 6:9).
It's probably impossible to convince you, fellow Millennial, that the reasons your grandma unashamedly talked about Jesus with the Wal-Mart cashier or that your mom prayerfully protested outside of abortion clinics, wasn't to humiliate you. Instead, they were displaying the bold character traits learned when we apply the Word of God to our lives. Remember that courage, passion, conviction, honor, leadership, and endurance are not learned by watching Game of Thrones or Keeping Up with the Kardashians. They are instilled and strengthened through our faith in Jesus Christ.
Truth and Love
Millennials hear me out: "Gloom and doom" might be a style some have harnessed in the name of Christianity, but it does not accurately reflect the nature of the Gospel. So beware to dismiss your grandpa's religion over misuses and abuses in the name of Christ. Love is Christianity's key component.
When the Pharisees raised the question, "which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:36-39).
Christ's model for love and respect is not reflected among groups like the Westboro Baptists folks who degrade others with cruel picket signs. Of course, Christians are called to defend righteousness and absolute truths, but our motivation must be in love. The Apostle John was clear that these expressions are not the characteristic of a Christian when he wrote, "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar." John explained, "And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also" (1 John 4:20-21).
Why search for a glitzier, trendier spirituality that cannot offer eternal love and absolute truths? Dear fellow Millennials, your grandpa and grandma aren't as naïve as you think. They knew that Christianity has a lot to offer humanity.
Editor's note: The original version of this article was published by Southern Evangelical Seminary. Visit their webpage at www.ses.edu.