March 31, 2014

Should The Church Pander to Millennials?

Should The Church cater/pander to the reputed majority views of young people, i.e. the much mythologized Millennials, in pursuit of their allegiance? There’re ongoing insistent demands from liberal church voices that Christianity, especially the Evangelical world, will crumble unless key teachings at odds with purported Millennial preferences are amended or abandoned.

The larger issue is should The Church accommodate sociological trends or cleave to historic teachings.

One anecdote comes to mind. A recent biography of southern writer and aristocrat William Alexander Percy recalls his students days at Harvard University Law School. In 1906 he and his fellow law students, mostly Yankees, were much impressed by a new article in the prestigious and widely read journal Century Magazine called “Reflex Light from Africa” by Charles Francis Adams, Jr., grandson of John Quincy Adams.

Adams had just visited Africa, where he observed “ineradicable and insurmountable race difference” that persuaded him that black people were intrinsically subordinate to white people. He admitted his “scientific” observation struck at the “very root of our American polity, the idea of equality of man before the law. We cannot conform to it.” Adams claimed Reconstruction in America had failed because of this “ethnographic fact.” So the best to expect was to accept the black person as a “ward and dependent, firmly but in a spirit of kindness and absolute justice.”

Percy wrote his prominent father, a future senator from Mississippi who famously opposed the Ku Klux Klan, that Adams’ article had created “much astonishment” at Harvard. Adams was a Boston Brahmin and Civil War veteran whose family had for generations opposed slavery and racial injustice. Percy, who would later manage hundreds of sharecroppers, himself had racial views that were condescending but relatively enlightened for a Mississippi planter of that time. He was also a humanitarian who assisted with relief efforts during WWI and the Great Flood of 1927.

Adams’ claim of a natural racial hierarchy that Percy embraced was commonplace at the time, when even and perhaps especially progressives believed that white Europeans, especially Nordics and Anglo-Saxons, were superior persons duty bound to rule the world. Percy’s gushing letter to his father confirms that Adams’ views were affirmed among young elites at Harvard.

Would Christian ministry in 1906 have been correct, in appealing to the prestigious Millennials of that day, to abandon historic Christian teaching in favor of the “scientific” fad about white racial superiority? What if preaching against that fad persuaded Millennials of that time to reject the Gospel? Which is more important, fidelity to historic Christian teaching or temporary political popularity? Which belief system has aged better, Adams’ discovery of racial hierarchy or the biblical claim that all are equal before God?

Adams was Unitarian and Percy rejected his childhood Catholicism to become a stoic. Maybe liberal Evangelicals of today, if transported to their time, would urge adopting their racial views so the Gospel would appeal to such accomplished persons. In contrast with the scene at Harvard and in Boston, early Pentecostalism at that time was attracting whites and blacks to common worship, which had little precedent. But neither fashionable nor educated people were attracted to Pentecostalism.

One hundred years from now, which views are likely to have weathered the vicissitudes of time better, the 2014 political preferences of today’s 25 year olds, or The Church’s classic theology?

St. Paul’s words come to mind: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,…”

This week and beyond, Millennials on IRD’s staff will be addressing this issue in their own blogs as part of a series. They merit hearing. Here’s the first one, from Brian Miller, himself a law student. Look forward to more from others!

IRD Symposium on Millennials in the Church: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.


11 Responses to Should The Church Pander to Millennials?

  1. TexanGirlLovesGod says:

    We must please God rather than man!

  2. Philip says:

    Your opening question is loaded. Here’s one for you: Should churches continue the habit of pandering to white conservative older adults that caused many younger generations to see it as little more than a tool to the status quo? Should it continue to be dominated by “well-to-do” suburban pastors appealing to the tastes of their economic peers rather than going into the places and among the people Jesus chose to spend his time with? Should they continue to defend the American capitalism from their pulpits and dismiss all those who claim the country’s current economic policies are not Biblical as “socialist”? Should they continue to wait until their members are “settled” and “married with children” before they invite them take any leadership and (even then make them wait until the GI’s or Boomers are all tired) or should they welcome people of all life situations in and encourage them to begin their deeper spiritual development now?

    • Joe says:

      You had better hope that ministers continue to back capitalism. Simply, it’s the only hope short of the second coming for equity for all in this world. Does it have abuses? Yes as all manmade systems do, but done right, as it has been for the most part in this country, it has created a level of freedom from want for most that no other economic system has even approached. Looking at even the “poor” in America you will find riches beyond almost all of the world. The most important part however is the freedom and opportunity that it provides. No other system does that!

      God is not a capitalist or socialist, but I believe he wants the best for us. That’s why we think and that’s why society progresses – some more than others because of what some do and other don’t.

    • John Smith says:

      So you say yes, change to attract new members? Or are you just trying to get a response without taking a stand?

      Is the purpose of the church to foster “deeper spiritual development” or to aid and care for its members while undergoing sanctification into the image of Christ and God’s kingdom?

      I pick the latter.

  3. Andrew Orlovsky says:

    Why does everybody assume every Millenial who has a negative view of church is a liberal feminist? Google terms such as “manosphere”, “mens rights activists”, “men going their own way”, “red pill”, “beta male”, “white knighting”, “pick-up artist” and “game”. Those views are actually very mainstream among young men. Many young men are rejecting Christianity because the see the culture as being too anti-male while placing women on pedestals. Do the Rachel Held Evanses of the world believe the church should pander to these guys.

    • Donnie says:

      Mostly those guys are punchlines to millennials, especially female ones.

      At the same time, feminism, especially more and more militant forms, are becoming more popular with millennials. Unfortunately they’re not punchlines, because they’re the real jokers in the whole thing.

  4. david runnion-bareford says:

    Another helpful historic illustration is that the “millennial” generation of 1800, flush with the intellectual superiority of the “enlightenment” widely embraced Unitarianism at the elite colleges (Harvard, Yale) and was so dismissive of the trinity, sin, the atonement, repentance, the resurrection of Christ and other core truths that the New England church was seduced into the “half way covenant”. How did that turn out? Shall we be hopeful for another ” great awakening?”

  5. Jim Marek says:

    I think what the millennials are really seeking deep down, at least those who are born again, is the same thing we all are seeking, fellowship and the power of God, just like in the early church. We are so wrapped up in our intelligence that we dismiss God working among us and totally miss the Spiritual connection and operation God intended. In 1 Cor 2:4-5, Paul said “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” What the church needs is to seek God and strive to be more like Jesus entering into a much deeper level of spiritual fellowship with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit in order to walk in the Spirit more than in the flesh and the mind. When we do, we will begin to see Gods power operating more, confirming the truth of His Word which we will also be speaking if we are fellowshipping closely with Him and speaking only what He says. I am convinced that this is a state of spiritual communion that the vast majority of the body of Christ is not entering into or even seeking. I think once we do, the “real” and the “truth” will outweigh the “false” and the “lies” and the millennials as well as many others in the body and outside will be drawn through Gods love, fellowship, and demonstrations. We need to quit pretending Gods power “passed away” or being afraid of lying wonders and look to our born again spirits for the truth on which are right and which are wrong and enter into that which was prophesied in Joel and spoken by Peter as recorded in Acts. God WANTS to fellowship intimately with and move among His people and demonstrate His power to a hurting world many of whom don’t even realize that God through His son Jesus is really what they are seeking.

  6. Barbara Sowell says:

    Here’s a message to my fellow Evangelicals. If your church is not prominently displaying the 10 Commandments and teaching the 10 Commandments, it’s missing the boat. I enjoy the many self-help sermons and the brief discussions of undefined sin, and the many references to the fact that we are all “sinners.” But if the church is are not teaching the 10 Commandments then our new Christians have no idea what sin is!

    • Jim Marek says:

      I certainly understand your point here and do agree that our relativism based society has lost touch with right and wrong and absolute truth. But we must not forget that Jesus taught of 2 commandments. I think if we can get people to receive Christ and what he did on the cross and follow these 2 commandments, the others will be fulfilled. People without Christ will never be able to fulfill the 10 let alone the 2. One problem may be that we Christians often fail to acknowledge when we are not fulfilling the 2 that Christ gave us. Of course, although sinners and saved both can and do commit sins, I believe there is a fundamental difference between a sinner and a saved person, so I don’t believe we are all sinners once we are saved. I think it is about the nature of the person as in, are you living with the “old” man on the inside whose father is the devil or are you recreated in Christ. The church needs to get people saved and then grow them up by teaching them who they are “In Christ”, what they can do “In Christ”, and “what they have “In Christ”. As we fully identify with Christ and become more like Him, we will draw unbelievers into the body of Christ and grow them up as well which I think is our fundamental role.

      • John Smith says:

        The two Christ gave us? He was quoting the Old Testament. I will accept he gave us the commandments in that He is God and God gave the commandents-all of them.

        The two commandments line also fails as the question was What is the greatest… not which are the only ones we need to pay attention to.

        Further, it is obvious the two is a compression for a quick lesson otherwise the question to the rich young ruler: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” is a direct contradiction of the two commandment teaching.

        I’ll assume you are leading into Wesley’s perfectionism but I must ask what is your definition of a sinner. Right now you have people who commit sins, but are saved, are not sinners. I always thought a sinner was someone who committed sins.

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