Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Gates of Hell

This will be an extension of a facebook thought I put up the other day that got quite a bit of attention. I asked and answered the question - How do we remain faithful? The fact of the matter is, the church is losing kids like crazy as they come out of highschool and go into college. This is something that I think about quite a bit. The first reason that I do is because I am a youth minister, it's on my mind. The second reason is because I have seen a good number of friends leave the church. Great people that I grew up with, going to various church camps and what not, just vanishing. Some come back after a bit of hiatus, and some still seem to be on the fringe. 

The other day I had about 18-20 friends share the link to the movie "God's Not Dead" which seems to be the next Facing the Giants, Fireproof type of movie. All but one person were like "Yeah! I can't wait! This looks so good!" and there is not a thing in the world wrong with that. One of my friends and fellow youth ministers actually dared to ask the question of how the atheist crowd was going to receive such a movie. Would this movie do anything to reach out to others or would it simply be an apologetics type of movie for our Christian youth and young adults? 

If you haven't seen the trailer, it essentially focuses around a young male who goes to college and is confronted in freshman philosophy class with a professor who is extremely atheistic and has the entire class write down the words "God is Dead" on a piece of paper (playing on the coined phrase of Nietzsche that "God is dead" because we have killed him. An interesting read if you never have). Now, I have to admit, this is a little dramatic. The freshman of course says he can't do so because he's a Christian and then is put on the spot to come up with an answer to why he refuses to write such a thing down. And so the movie is centered around the young man making the argument that God's not dead and asking questions to get at why the professor has such a bad taste in his mouth with God.

Now, I'm not saying anything against standing up for what you believe in. I agree that if one is presented with such a task that is denying God before fellow humankind, they must proudly be able to say that they believe in God, and be able to give a reason for the faith that they possess as Peter would commend them to do. 

However, there seems to be a premise behind the movie that tries to answer the original question: how are we to remain faithful? The movie seems to put forward the idea of defense. In the movie, the young protagonist Christian is attacked by the antagonist atheist professor and thus must defend the faith that he has. The actual tactic is to put God on trial, thus literally, the plotline is God (or this young man) defending the faith possessed by Christians.

There is nothing inherently wrong in this. However, I think it is the wrong tactic when it comes to living out our faith. Remember when Jesus said to Peter that He would build his church and the gates of hell would not stand against the church? It was then this same Peter who writes that you should be able to give an answer concerning why you have the faith that you have. However, I think there is something we tend to misinterpret. When you think about gates, what is their purpose? They keep things out. They are defensive structures. Now, if the gates of hell will not prevail against the church...that puts us on the offense. I always got this mixed around. Somehow I made the image of gates beating on the doors of our churches trying to get in work in my mind, but that's not what we're talking about here.

In general, we teach people (and especially our kids) to go on the defense. We tell them not to drink, not to smoke, don't dance, don't cuss, don't have premarital sex, don't watch this or that tv show, and most certainly be able to stand up against the classmate or professor that will try tell you about evolution or Nietzsche. Now, there is some merit to some of these things. Our stance on these, even if it is moderation is what makes us the separate and holy entity that the church should be, embracing being Light and Salt, vastly different than what they invade and make different. However, sometimes this is all we teach. We teach what not to do. And just so I don't have angry parents hitting me up in the comments, you should teach about these things...maybe some less than others or in moderation and appropriateness (My mama taught me how to dance, but appropriately). 

This point is important. I know many people who have been burned because of this in one or both of two ways. Firstly, people get burned out of church when we make doctrine out of opinion. If the Bible doesn't address it, even secondarily through some sort of standard or topic not directly involved in the issue, why do we make that a rule? The Bible doesn't have anything to say about carpet color. It doesn't have anything to say about a good deal of things. So, we have to have opinion in order to structure our lives and church, but there is freedom in that. We do this in church, and in parenting. Fact is, "treat your body as a holy temple" has nothing to do with smoking cigarettes and tattoos. Now, perhaps there are issues of health or addiction that may be guiding issues here that we can assess the goodness of these things, but the Bible just doesn't address it. Now, you might be thinking "yeah, but the Bible does address tattoos" - and you would be right (kinda). However, in context, there are very specific things said. The same could be said about other things that we come down very prohibitively on. The Bible simply doesn't prohibit some things, and so it is the humble opinion of this theologian that respect and moderation are preferred ways of teaching. Learning about change in graduate school makes me even more so aware that prohibition can actually encourage negative behavior, whereas respect leads to healthy treatment. Example: sex education. Sometimes we in the church make sex seem bad or dirty. This comes from the prohibition mindset but also just not wanting to deal with the subject. Respect is explaining how sex is supposed to rock, but in specific contexts.  

HOWEVER. All of that should not be our focus in teaching. Those are very elementary teachings. Spiritual milk if you will. When a toddler is learning how to walk, most commands are NO. Because they could get hurt. The problem is...we sometimes don't grow out of that stage with our adolescents. All they are taught is what they shouldn't do once they get to college. Now, once they're there, they get bored and decide to go ahead and see what it's like. This is by no means a post on what is appropriate and what is not, for I want to draw your attention elsewhere.

Instead of teaching our youth to go on the defense, I want to show them offense. I don't want to spend even HALF of the time telling them what NOT to do, I would SO much rather talk to them about what TO do. Sometimes in the church, we get so caught up in defending the faith that we forget to spread it. The Gospel of Love is what we offer, not creationism versus evolution. We offer Sensational Sex set within the parameters of the One who made it, whereas we generally either shy away from the subject or pound abstinence into the ground. We offer not a rule book by which they are going to have to cut things out of their life as much as we offer a Book of Life that offers a way of living that is so abundant that it fills even the most stubborn holes in our lives.

We aren't teaching our youth how to live our Christ-like, loving offense, so no wonder they rebel against a rigid defense in which they feel no relationship with the Savior and no community with fellow believers. Mother Teresa was invited to an anti-war rally to which she replied that she would not be able to attend, but the next time they had a pro-peace rally, count her in. Being anti is unfortunately what we're known for. When asked "What is the church about?"...the most common answer from a random selection of unchurched people was that the church is anti-gay. Somehow pro-love didn't make it into our description as much. Positives outweigh negatives.

Have you ever stopped to think about how you go about battling sin? We focus so much on fighting the bad, but I think we may have more luck if we spent more time filling ourselves with good things, "whatever is true, whatever is noble...think on these things." It's a whole lot harder for the bad to sneak in when we are filled up with the good.

So, we need a paradigm shift in Christianity. It's something that many are attempting within various religious movements and church leaderships. However, if when asked, the most common thing about the church from the world's perspective is us being AGAINST something...we have some serious work to do.

I genuinely believe with all my heart that if we spend more time focusing on our non-offensive offense of Christian love, we will create an environment where our youth do not want to leave the church. A proper offense almost replaces our need for a defense at all.

Let's show a dying world what it looks like to be Salt and Light. Let's show them what kind of gatebreakers we can be. It's an almost violent image, bursting down the gates of hell and releasing those ensnared by them, but it is our love that we show as the body of Christ that truly has such conquering power. 

Let that love radiate from us and let them say of those Christians, "Man, they're weird, but they really do love everybody."