Excerpt from George Weigel's new book Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century.
Throughout the Western world. . .we can no longer sit back and assume that decent lives lived in conformity with the prevailing cultural norms will somehow convey the faith to our children and grandchildren and invite others to consider entering the Church.
Though Mr. Weigel is directing his commentary on the state of the Roman Catholic Church, his points are well taken for Christianity in general and Lutheranism in particular. For too long we have become comfortable with a Christianity which is more like the "Y" than the Church of the New Testament and early Christianity. He is absolutely right that Christianity as a hobby, leisure time activity, or entertainment does not pass down. I well recall one of the lyrics when my kids were teenagers and listened to the group Lost and Found.
I went to my church on Sunday, just to hear good news.
And I confess it's been years more or less since I've warmed these pews.
I am looking for something stronger than my own life these days
but the church of my childhood seems like the YMCA.
Every Sunday is just like the last,
as if the church has no history and the people have no past.
We just sing the songs we like to sing and we preach about the news
and we think up some new thing just to fill up the pews.
I want palms on Palm Sunday, I want Pentecost still to be red,
I want to drink of the wine and eat of the bread.
But they strive for attendance while I starve for transcendence,
but I count among this body both the living and the dead.
The great indictment against the boomers, the great loss lamented by the children of folks my age, is that we have not passed on a Gospel of substance, a Word that has power to do what it says, Sacraments that deliver the grace they speak of, and the God who is truly present through the means of grace. Instead we have starved our children of substance, truth, meaning, and the concrete reality of Christ with us in favor of a feel good church that offers us discardable liturgy and music that fills the moment but leaves the soul empty.
This is compounded by a personal piety and lifestyle which bears little resemblance to the Gospel but fits it quite nicely with the tenor of the world. We are way too comfortable in our sins, far too uncertain about our faith to witness it to others, and far too self-absorbed to live as the people called out and set apart for the Lord and for the good works that flow from repentance and faith. Our charity has become as seasonal as the Christmas decorations and our lives hesitant to sacrifice for anyone or anything (not even for children). We discard life as if it were cheap and we indulge our passions without shame and do it all while wearing a cross around our neck, with a tattoo of a favorite Bible passage on our skin, and carrying around the latest self-help how-to book hawked by the current spiritual guru du jour.
We have built gyms and have great sports programs, we have mall-type buildings with rooms for all ages, we have big parking lots, we have fine sound systems, we embrace all the current technology, and we try very hard... but what we have failed to do is speak the mystery of the God who makes Himself known to us in Christ or steward the mysteries through which Christ is made known to us (the means of grace). God does not care how many kids are playing basketball in the church gym on Thursday evenings and, apparently, the kids playing bb are not seeing this as a slam dunk for Jesus either. What we give them and what they want and need are two very different things.
Such a Church proclaiming such a faith and such Christians confessing and living such a faith cannot continue -- not necessarily because God will end it but because it is lifeless, empty, and already passe. Our children and grandchildren are not abandoning the Church because it is too passionate for the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. They are drifting away because we have consigned them to babysitting, entertained them to death, confused fun with piety, held out unrealistic ideas of what it means to live in but not of the world, and kept them on baby food instead of feeding them the real food of the Word. They have not tried Christianity and found it wanting, they have not found true Christianity.
Am I generalizing? Of course. But the reason I am speaking in this way is that there are still people out there and folks in leadership positions in the Church who are guiding us away from a robust Christian (and Lutheran) identity in favor of church growth and transformational models rooted in the same flawed and failed ideas that we can borrow from the world instead being faithful to Christ and the Church will grow. If it does, who wants it? Not God and, apparently, not the youth who have tried it and found it too bland and tasteless to consume. And did not Jesus talk about salt that has lost its savor?