On Pentecost Sunday I had the great honor of confirming fourteen young people during worship. Two of them were our sons, Joshua and Jason. It was a very meaningful time of worship and I pray that these young people remain strong and steadfast in their faith.
Bishop William Willimon noted many years ago that confirmation is the last stop on our children's way out of the church. The good bishop is unfortunately quite right. We have a difficult time as mainliners holding on to our children, and I wonder at times whether we in the leadership of the denomination and the individual churches, as well as those sitting in the pews, though well intentioned, are contributing to that decline. We can probably give more than a few reasons why our denomination is getting rather gray and why we do not seem to be attracting younger individuals. (I rather doubt that we are attracting older persons either quite frankly.)
We Christians spend much of our time attempting to avoid ridicule; we work to be acceptable and civil. We try hard just to be seen as normal. If we are viewed like everyone else, then perhaps people will pay attention to what we have to say. And it may indeed be the case that we have been successful at the acceptability project. We have worked so hard to blend in that we indeed have. In appearing to be like everyone else, we are like everyone else. There is apparently nothing unique in what we are offering. We, the church are the prop for the state and the surrounding culture. We have ceased to the alternative.
Of course, that is not the way we view ourselves. We believe we are harbingers of a radical gospel. So, we Christians choose sides, that is we embrace the categories imposed upon us by Enlightened modernity that surround us. Some of us become Republicans, others Democrats, some capitalists, others socialists. We identify ourselves as liberal or conservative, never thinking that such labels are not only inadequate in capturing what it means to be a citizen of God's kingdom, but that they distort the very nature of Christian faith. And as each side embraces its own polarizing position, each side is sure it is displaying the radical nature of the gospel and the other side has compromised their faith, when in reality, no one can claim to have captured the radical nature of the gospel because everyone around us, religious or not, has assented to the same categories. We are seen as no different from anyone else, and therefore our message is viewed as irrelevant. When it comes to critical issues of our time, the church basically sounds no different except for sprinkling into the discussion a trite understanding of the love of God mixed in with a shallow notion of inclusiveness. No one listens to us... but hey, at least we are acceptable and civil and normal.
Two thousand years ago on that first Christian Pentecost, the believers in Jerusalem that day proclaimed the word of the Lord in a way that simply could not be ignored; and they were accused of being drunk, at nine o'clock in the morning no less. How else does a world domesticated by the rulers of this age explain such divine power that cannot be contained? And throughout Acts those first disciples found themselves in prison and often their proclamation of the gospel in towns across the Roman empire started city-wide riots. Those early believers hardly found themselves to be accepted by those around them, but at least they weren't boring... at least they could not be ignored.
I like civility as much as the next person. I like being accepted as much as others. But, perhaps those of us who follow Jesus would be more faithful to Jesus if we were accused more often of being drunk; if we found our message as the cause of civil unrest instead of restful meditation. Perhaps, if the church in the twenty-first century looked more like the church in the Book of Acts, we might discover that just by being the church Jesus has called us to be, those around us could not ignore us. We might not be viewed as civil and normal, but we would be noticed. If that were the case, then maybe confirmation would not be our children's last stop on their way out of the church.
A sobering thought indeed.
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Cross-Posted at RedBlueChristian