Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Twenty-Somethings and Reality


            A statistic that probably is being discussed more than any other right now in the Church is that the age group 18-29 years old is leaving in great numbers.  Depending upon the study (and many have been done!) the numbers run anywhere from 65%-80% will be gone from the Church by age 29.  As a former minister to college students, I can attest first hand to this reality.  This is a topic that well deserves a great deal of attention, and needs to be addressed from a variety of angles.  Here is just one angle I want to explore:  that of instilling a decidedly Christian worldview into the lives of college age persons through the sacraments. 

One of the great tasks of the church, and a vital pursuit for any believing college student, is to continually come in line with a Christian world and life view. Our postmodern and post-Christian society works against becoming spiritually formed according to biblical categories. The university, as important as it is, can be the vehicle of promoting a rival worldview to Christianity. More than one professor in my undergraduate experience told me that they enjoyed shocking freshman students into thinking in more secular terms and away from their "narrow" thinking about God and the church. Although that has been a few years ago, I continually speak with students who feel like they are swimming upstream of the prevailing attitudes on reality in our society and university culture. One of the most significant means that the church can help inform students and promote a Christian worldview is through the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

             Western society, and sometimes even the church, tends to hold to a cleavage between the spiritual and the material in an inherent dualism inherited from ancient Greek categories of thought. Yet, in the sacraments these two elements are firmly united. The good news of Jesus is not just proclaimed by stating propositions of truth, but, as Frank Senn has said in his book Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical the forgiveness of sins is declared "by sentences joined to a bath, the laying on of hands, and communal eating and drinking" (p.31). God is the creator of all things, both visible and invisible (Colossians 1:16). The incarnation of Jesus is where the invisible God became a visible human. There is no dichotomous reality here between the material and the spiritual, but an essential unity. Leonard VanderZee has said that this unity makes the sacraments "a place where God meets us and where the spiritual and physical come together for our wholeness and healing" (Christ, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper, p.28). Now that the Lord Jesus has accomplished his great redemptive events of cross and resurrection, the sacraments serve as material signs to us of the now invisible Christ. John Calvin called this a "visible word" that declares God's saving work in Christ on behalf of every human being.

             There is certainly a profound place for didactic instruction in the church on a Christian worldview, and I would argue that it needs to take place. But this is insufficient. God himself has instituted baptism and the Lord's Supper as means of proclaiming forgiveness and declaring the unity of reality, and the great union we have with God because of Jesus. When we partake of this, we are doing much more than remembering; we are providing and re-enacting a view of the world that is in contradistinction from prevailing notions outside of Christendom. Here is where college students can find a place of seeing life from God's perspective.  Emphasizing the place of the sacraments in the life of the Church gives an alternate view of reality from that provided in many secular environments.  This, certainly, is not the last or only word on addressing the great slide of a whole generation of people out of the Church, but the Word proclaimed at the Table is a necessary element to help college students meaningfully connect with a Christian view of life and reality. 

So, what are some reasons you think people ages 18-29 are leaving the Church?  What are some ways that they might reconnect with their faith?  How might you build a meaningful relationship with a person in this age group?  Do you think the sacraments are important for spiritually forming people?  How about asking those in this age group who have left your church why they did so?

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