The Barna Group, a leading Christian research and resource company that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture, published the article last September entitled, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” This is the fifth in a series of articles in which I give my take on Barna’s conclusions.
Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).
Most younger Americans have been taught to embrace relativism. According to thefreedictionary.com, relativism is “a theory, especially in ethics or aesthetics, that conceptions of truth and moral values are not absolute but are relative to the persons or groups holding them.” In other words, what’s true for you may not be true for me, and we are to accept all views as equally valid. Absolute, universal truth does not exist.
First, to claim that “absolute, universal truth does not exist” is self-contradictory, because the statement itself claims to be absolute, universal truth. But, this is irrelevant to those who hold to this philosophy, because it’s true for them, even if it’s illogical for others! Relativism leads to absurdity of thought; but, relativists don’t care if it’s absurd, because it’s not absurd to them. Which is absurd, and gives me a headache.
The point is, our young people have been indoctrinated with a philosophy which holds that all religious viewpoints are equally valid. Mormonism, Hinduism, Communism, Islam, Wicca, and atheism are just as valid and “true” as Christianity, despite the fact that the claims of each of these worldviews are vastly different and mutually exclusive. All worldviews are equally valid, and all must be accepted as truth; otherwise, we are being “intolerant” and “hateful.”
This totally contradicts the Biblical view. In John 14:6, Jesus stated, ““I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus also stated in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” In Acts 4:12, Peter, speaking of Jesus, stated, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” There is no relativism in Christianity; there is only one truth, and all other viewpoints are false.
What can the church do to reach those with a relativistic worldview with the exclusive message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Almost a third of the young people surveyed stated that “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths.” This is probably true, although it shouldn’t be. Christians should not operate from fear, but from love. 1 John 4:18-19 states, “18 there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.” Rather than fearing other religions and worldviews, the church should face them head-on, in love. We should be teaching our young people what other religions believe, why these beliefs are wrong, and how to reach people with other worldviews with the love of Jesus Christ. Rather than fearing people of other faiths, we need to embrace the opportunity to share Jesus, and the church needs to teach this to our young believers.
Three out of every ten surveyed stated that they feel “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” Again, this should not be. Young believers need to be taught to defend their faith (1 Peter 3:15) and share it with their friends. Christians should not live isolated from non-Christians, but need to develop relationships with non-believers in order to have opportunities to lead them to a relationship with Christ. I do understand that there are times when young, spiritually immature Christians may need to separate themselves from the influences of non-Christians, lest they be tempted and fall away from the faith. However, if the church did a better job of discipling and equipping new Christians to grow in their faith, and to defend it, this would be far less of a problem. And yes, we are forced to choose between faith in Jesus Christ, and faith in the world. Again, the church needs to do a better job of encouraging, teaching, and equipping young Christians to grow to spiritual maturity.
The fact that 22% of those surveyed said, “church is like a country club, only for insiders,” is a serious indictment against the church. Jesus commanded us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” This isn’t a suggestion, or a recommendation – it’s a commandment. And, too many churches do not take this commandment seriously. No wonder so many young Christians see the church as hypocritical, and decide to leave. In the song “My Jesus” by Todd Agnew, there’s a part that says:
Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet would stain the carpet
But He reaches for the hurting and despised the proud
I think He’d prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd
How many of us actually reach out to the lost, hurting, “different” people around us? Or, are we afraid of them, or too arrogant to care?
The message of the Gospel is exclusive. John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Eternal life is exclusive to those who believe on Jesus Christ; those who do not believe are destined to Hell. This is the message we need to help young people to understand. There aren’t many ways to get to heaven; there is only one way, Jesus Christ. This is the message the church must teach, but more importantly, it is the message we need to learn to live.
CHRISTIAN: Does your life demonstrate the exclusive nature of your relationship with Jesus Christ, in a fearless, loving way that will attract others to the Gospel?