It may be bad form in 2015 to disagree with Rachel Held Evans too much, but perhaps the lack of Millennials in the pews will not be solved by offering an experience of a God who is somewhat tangible in bread and chrism.
In last week’s super-viral piece in the Washington Post, Ms. Evans skillfully calls out the hip Evangelical worship paradigm, but is veering towards sacramentalism the answer?
I don’t think so. I think the reason Millennials aren’t in the pews is simply because they have no Christian cultural background that makes going to church part of being an American. In a great many parts of our country, going to church is just not something you do any more. (So I can at least acknowledge their lack of hypocrisy.) And the culture has changed so completely in the past 50 years that we have jettisoned what was affirmed for the last 3,500 years.
The consequences? To give just one example, teens and 20-somethings come into churches already “knowing” that there is nothing wrong with gay marriage, to say nothing of homosexual activity. How do they know this? They know this because it’s what everyone in their world believes and knows. So when, as a young person, you go to a church and hear someone reading Romans 1 from the pulpit, you are outraged and you want to call the Human Rights Commissions. You do not cringe with disgust or cover the ears of your kids as your grandfather did in 1955.
So, with due respect to Ms. Evans, encountering God in a “sacrament” is meaningless without the content of faith (the Word) which is behind it, and giving God’s own definition to it. The baseline of the Gospel (which everyone’s flesh hates) is the call to repentance – to yield to God’s diagnosis of my condition and to yield to His prescription for my condition.
Under the wisdom of such a Physician, “culture-war sins” such as abortion and homosexuality are ills just as dangerous for the human condition as the sins that Left and Right can agree to denounce such as greed, racism, and theft. When the Church refuses to say so, Millennials – and others – will not only be missing from the pews, but they will miss their opportunity for repentance and life.