The Millennials Are Leaving!
“Like some reverse Paul Revere, many ride through the fiber optics of the Internet and into church basements shouting, ‘The millennials are leaving! Watch out for the rise of the nones!’ Simply put, millennial anxiety—a concern shared by both mainline and evangelical churches—is the fear that those between ages 18 and 25 have little interest in the church, and that the church has failed to convince them to stay”1.
The churches in western Christendom are concerned about the millennials. That is clear from the title of the featured article in the January/February 2015 issue of Christianity Today, quoted above, “Stop Worrying about the Millennials.” The word “millennials” is a demographic term that refers to all those in the western world who were born sometime between the early 1980s and the late 1990s. The generation preceding them, known as Generation X, consists of those born from the early 1960s up to the early 1980s. Before them are the Baby Boomers, those born right after World War II, sometime between the mid-1940s and the early 1960s. Since about the year 2000, we millennials have been reaching adulthood and today there are an estimated 80 million of us in the United States. A 2012 study of the Pew Research Center concluded that “32 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 are religiously unaffiliated. This was an 11 percent increase over any other age group that year, and a 7 percent jump from the 25 percent of young people who responded this way in 2007” (34). The millennials are leaving! They are leaving both the mainline and evangelical churches! More and more of them are abandoning religion altogether and are known as “the nones”! The churches in western Christendom are anxious about this, searching for explanations, and scrambling for ways to stop it.
Of course, concern about keeping the young people has been around for a while. So-called “youth ministry in North America became full blown after a youth consumer culture emerged in the 1950s, and took shape in response to the mid-’60s youth countercultural movement” (35). Youth ministry has attempted to keep young people by accommodating to them. One thinks of the emergence of Christian contemporary music, less preaching, and more entertainment in the churches today. Apparently, these accommodations have been successful in capturing the 12 to 17-year olds. But once they reach the ages of 18 to 25, they leave.
The author does rightly put his finger on the problem: “…youth ministry today often puts theology on a back burner” (35). He quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who endeavored to reach the youth of Germany in the days when Adolph Hitler successfully wooed many of them to the Nazi cause. “It is the task of youth,” wrote Bonhoeffer, “not to reshape the church, but rather to listen to the Word of God; it is the task of the church not to capture the youth, but to teach and proclaim the Word of God” (35). The millennials are leaving because they are not being taught the Word of God. They are not being fed the rich theology of the Bible. Their churches are not giving them any solid reason to stay. But, although the author puts his finger on the problem, he is not emphatic enough about it. Theology, solid Reformed theology that is,2 must be kept on the front burner in our ministry to the young people. The millennials, and the generation to follow, will not stay in the church if we downplay or eliminate sound doctrine. But the opposite is also true: they will stay, God willing, if we show them the truth of the Word of God in all its beautiful fullness and comfort.
What about the millennials of the Protestant Reformed Churches? Being one myself, I could not help but ruminate…. So there is a growing exodus of millennials from the churches “all around us.” Are the millennials “among us” also leaving? The truth is that many of them have left the PRC. It is also a heartbreaking fact that some have utterly apostatized and joined the ranks of “the nones.” Many Protestant Reformed people can echo the words of Paul who wrote with heaviness of heart, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed…” (II Tim. 4:10). We are not unaffected by what may very well be the last great apostasy (II Thess. 2:3). But it is also true that many, if not a large majority, of the millennials are staying in the PRC. Whether their reasons are good or bad, whether as a group they are spiritually strong or weak, most seem to be staying.
One wonders why. One could argue that there are social reasons. They were born and raised in the PRC. And since, by the grace of God, we have maintained a firm stand against divorce (except for adultery) and remarriage after divorce (in all cases), most PR marriages last until death. Hence, family units become closely knit together and bonds become strong. Is this perhaps the reason our young people want to stay in the churches with their families and friends? There is nothing wrong with that, unless it is the reason for staying.
But there are more significant reasons. One of them is the existence of and zeal for good Christian schools in our midst. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (). The millennials leaving the churches of western Christendom are being trained up by and large in the public schools, which are dominated by secularism. Is it any surprise that they are leaving? The millennials in the PRC received their education by and large from Protestant Reformed schools. They were well-grounded in the Word of God, taught how to look at the world from the viewpoint of faith in Jesus Christ and the “spectacles of Scripture.” They formed friendships there with those of “like precious faith” ( ). Many have even met their future husband or wife there. The Christian school is one of the main ways God is working in our youth to keep them in the faith.
But the chief means God is using to preserve our youth is the teaching and preaching of His Word in the pulpit and catechism room. These are the means of grace whereby God works faith in us. Sound doctrine. Solid Reformed theology. Our Protestant Reformed heritage! These must never be slid to the back burner, as many churches have done and are doing in their attempt to keep the millennials. But the preaching and teaching of God’s Word must be kept on the front burner! The millennials in the PRC have been taught the Word of God. They have been shown the unity of the truth and the worldview of God’s Word. They have been warned against the lies of all would-be challengers, including secular atheism and postmodernism, which confront us daily in this information age. Systematic, antithetical instruction, which is also deeply spiritual and eminently practical, must continue among us. Then our youth will be well prepared for the spiritual assault that will confront them as they come to the age of discretion. Then they will be led to Christ and, beholding the beauty of the cross, will be moved to follow Him in every sphere of life in this world.
When this is so, and trusting in God’s blessing, we need not worry about the millennials. Or the generation that follows them, if the Lord tarries. “Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following. For this God is our God forever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death” ().
Evangelicals Are Weakening on Homosexual Marriage!
At least according to Elizabeth Dias in her January 26, 2015 Time magazine article. We cannot deny, and have known for some time, that “mainline Protestant denominations, including Episcopalians and Presbyterians,3 routinely ordain gay ministers and marry gay couples. Methodist ministers are breaking rank to celebrate gay weddings. The overall public has favored gay marriage for three years” (45). But Dias makes a claim designed to grab our attention: “…evangelical churches and their congregations typically remain opposed, though that opposition is weakening. Support for gay marriage across all age groups of white evangelicals has increased by double digits over the past decade, according to the Public Religion Research Institute…. The fastest change can be found among younger evangelicals…” (46).
The point about younger evangelicals is emphasized. One section of the article is entitled “A Youth-Led- Revolution.” The millennials, considered above, are allegedly leading the way. Dias mentions three young activists: Matthew Vines (age 24), Brandan Robertson (age 22), and Justin Lee (age 37). Does the name Matthew Vines ring a bell?4 He appears with Robertson in a prominent photograph at the beginning of the article. He is a “gay evangelical activist” behind the “Reformation Project” of Wichita, Kansas, who is seeking “to raise up LGBT-affirming voices in every evangelical church in the country…” (46, emphasis mine). Brandan Robertson is the national spokesperson of “Evangelicals for Marriage Equality” in Washington D.C. He intends to push his immoral agenda for homosexual marriage at Christian colleges this year by attempting to persuade young Christians. Justin Lee is with “The Gay Christian Network,” and is working with “The Colossian Forum” in Grand Rapids, MI “to help evangelicals warm to the gay conversation.” In addition to these three, Dias cites what she considers a large amount of evidence that evangelical churches are weakening in their stand against homosexual marriage.
But David Murray, a Free Reformed Church pastor and professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, calls her bluff. He says Dias
is attempting to pull off [a] sneaky ruse on Evangelical Christians…one of the oldest political tricks in the book. Create such an impression of momentum behind a certain candidate or policy that everyone else jumps on board to avoid being left out or left behind. It’s a deception that plays on common human weaknesses; the desire to be on the winning side, the fear of being on the “outside,” the instinct to avoid unpopularity, and the yearning for approval…. Elizabeth Dias…marshals multiple pieces of “evidence” for this revolution in Evangelical morals and ethics…. So, what’s the evidence for this unstoppable tsunami of change among evangelicals?
Murray says it amounts to
one poll, one megachurch, unnamed leaders, two congregational discussions, two meetings with LGBTQ’s, one college hire, one gay dancer, and three gay activists. That’s Dias’s strongest case for this alleged bandwagon of evangelical change. Rather unimpressive bandwagon isn’t it? I don’t buy it, and neither should you. Yes, there are some worrying signs here and there of evangelical capitulation. No doubt, some evangelical leaders will jump the shark to maintain popularity with the world. However, don’t fall for this trick of “Everybody’s doing it (or thinking it).” We don’t let our children off with such arguments, especially when the evidence is so flimsy. So let’s not allow this childish case to shake our commitment to biblical morality. Not now. Not ever.”5
Murray may be correct in his assessment. He is certainly correct that we must not let articles like this play on our human weaknesses: a desire to be on the winning side, a fear of being unpopular, or a yearning for approval. At the same time, Dias’ contention that millennials are more open to and easily influenced on homosexual marriage is likely very close to the truth.
For the winds of change are in the air. And not for the better. According to a January 16, 2015 article in The Washington Post, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case this April and make a decision by the end of June whether homosexual marriage should be legalized nationwide. 6 The highest court of our land ordered the parties involved, one of which is the State of Michigan, to face two questions: First, does the Constitution require states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples? And second, are states required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states? Remember, same-sex marriage was illegal in every state until only eleven years ago. But as of today 37 out of 50 states have legalized homosexual marriage. We who oppose homosexuality as a vile sin and an evidence of the judgment of God on a society (cf. the clear teaching of God’s Word in; ; ) are becoming a smaller and smaller minority.
But we must not look to false churches for support. This past November Pope Francis hosted a high-profile marriage conference in the Vatican at which church leaders like Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, and Anglican bishop N. T. Wright, joined hands with Roman Catholics and Mormons in the fight for traditional marriage.7 Behold, the sin of Jehoshaphat all over again ()! We must not make affinity with Rome, as Jehoshaphat did with Ahab. We must bear witness to the truth of marriage without becoming unequally yoked with or touching the unclean things of the false church ( ). How can two walk together except they be agreed? ( ).
One thing that Dias says in her article is certainly true: “For many evangelicals, the marriage debate isn’t really about marriage or families or sex—it is about the Bible itself. And that makes many evangelicals all the more uncompromising” (47).
1 Andrew Root, “Stop Worrying about the Millennials,” Christianity Today, January/February 2015, 32.
2 The author of this article is an associate professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary, one of the eight seminaries of the very liberal and apostate Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
3 That is, The Episcopal Church and The Presbyterian Church (USA). We could add The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ. These are a few of the large “mainline” Protestant denominations, the liberal and apostate ones, which have upwards of or well over a million members each.
4 If not, reread the “All Around Us” article entitled “Crept In Unawares” by Rev. Martyn McGeown in the January 1, 2014 issue of the Standard Bearer.