Dr. David Cowan First of a two-part feature on why the Christian churches are failing the young.
Martin Luther said he would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme, and wrote “Every institution that does not unceasingly pursue the study of God’s word becomes corrupt.” I think we all know today’s secular schools, colleges and universities do not count God’s Word very high in their list of priorities. Quite the reverse, they are continually pushing out God’s Word, but nor is every church institution good at upholding the teaching of faith either. The problem is also one within, not simply external.
Across America and the western world, despite its oldest foundations being founded by the church, our places of learning are often aggressive in expelling Christianity and chaplains from their midst, if they haven’t already. The logic being that they see Christianity remaining institutionalized as a privileging of one religion over others. This is the modern secular ethic of equality – all religions are equal. Frankly it is increasingly hard to argue against if the church cannot keep up the numbers. The place of teaching Christianity and the role of Christian chaplains is thus usurped by other faiths, secular counselors or what are called “happiness” coaches and classes.
Is secularity the reason for this displacement by the purity of a secular ethic in places of learning? Again, Luther is quite clear on what is the problem. He wrote of students, “we can see what kind of people they become in the universities and what they are like now. Nobody is to blame for this except the pope, the bishops, and the prelates, who are all charged with training young people.” In other words, it is the fault of the leadership and education of churches themselves, not only the society it serves.
Following this logic today this situation has come about in part because many church leaders have abdicated responsibility for teaching good doctrine, buying into the secular myth that “doctrine” is a bad word. This means the laity are often poorly catechized and unprepared to defend doctrine in their places of learning and work, which includes teachers and administrators in education. If they are strong in their catechism, they end up frustrated and seek after a church that still teaches.
The problem is that too much emphasis is being put on what people “feel” and church seeks to becomes a “feel-good” place as well, which is why it is usurped so easily by these other faiths and ideas. Having slick advertising campaigns and branding exercises is not going to solve the problem either. “I feel, therefore I believe” is the modern mantra, but of course our feelings change all the time.
The focus should be on the knowledge that the Christian faith has always been built on “I believe, therefore, I feel.” It is belief in Jesus Christ that helps the faithful through changing feelings. It is faith that forms the strong foundation that gets the faithful through their problems and challenges. Following St Paul, we daily die and rise in Christ.
By losing doctrine, the churches fail to feed and nourish the faith. The changes in church teaching on a range of issues are often not driven by changes in doctrinal thinking, but by secular feeling and thinking. What is happening as a result is the subjugation of God’s word to the passing fashion of human wisdom. Churches also become just another seller on the block, selling dreams or salves to a modern generation of ennui. So, in this respect, the faithful only have themselves to blame, and Luther is highlighting this in what he wrote.
The modern church will not win the battle of ideas if it only addresses feelings. The modern church needs to make doctrine respectable again, and teach it to the young. The Christian faith is about faith seeking understanding, and doctrine is a part of exploring the deeper reaches of belief and finding ways to connect fundamental faith to the changing challenges and needs of the modern world, while it stands solidly with Jesus Christ in a corrupted world in need of His Word and the feeling of emptiness otherwise filled by drugs, changing fashion and superficial distractions.
The young go to college and university seeking understanding, and it is in understanding this quest that we find the starting point of the solution to the problem of why the young get. In Part Two tomorrow I will discuss the solution to the problem based on today’s discussion on loss of doctrine.