Dr. David Cowan Losing our religion II: Second of a two-part feature on why the Christian churches are losing the young.
If the Christian faith is to tackle secularity it faces a choice of either capitulating to changing secular fashion or to become counter-cultural. This is a strange choice, given that many of today’s changes have occurred as a result of a counter-culture. The churches cannot be counter-cultural if there is no solid foundation of taught doctrine, nor can they succeed if they do not appeal to the young and tackle the education industry.
The last part of what Luther said on education is that “The universities only ought to turn out men who are experts in the Holy Scriptures, men who can become bishops and priests, and stand in the front line against heretics, the devil, and all the world. But where do you find that? I greatly fear that the universities, unless they teach the Holy Scriptures diligently and impress them on the young students, are wide gates to hell.”
While we are unlikely to call entering university today an entering through the gates of hell, they have certainly become places where the holy scriptures are not widely taught and usually not welcome. They used to teach Scriptures as core subjects, but even theology as a discipline is being encouraged or forced to stay in seminaries, Bible colleges or be expanded into departments of religion.
Today’s places of learning instead turn out a host of experts in many fields, ranging from sciences such as nuclear physics through to new subjects such as transgender studies. These subjects, and their funding, reflect the interest and agendas of our society. It is what people feel is important. The irony in our postmodern age is the administrators and voices against theology and Christianity in education don’t realize the bias in their own agenda.
We cannot change this, but we can make a stand. To make a stand and be counter-cultural means supporting our students in faith and understanding as they make their way through the doors of our learning institutions, and to help them see that it need not be a wide open door that leads to hell, as Luther warned.
When young people move from home to university in different towns and cities, they are welcomed by their new place of education, but the churches generally do a poor job of welcoming them. There will be many student Christian bodies to welcome them and they will get lists of local places of worship, and this helps in offering a choice. However, this makes it a choice among many new offerings at freshmen fairs and events. What has to be done better is a better handover from the community of faith young people grow up in and the new community they are joining.
Let us think of this like a parable. Students have grown up in the soil of faith, attending church and guided by family, and they move to another town, city or state to find they are suddenly in a more difficult place. They then become like cut flowers plunged into a vase and expected to continue to grow. Some will not grow, while others will have to be strong already to grow new roots to be transplanted. The role of every pastor and church person is to find ways to support this change in the lives of our young people, otherwise the churches will keep losing them to culture and disappear from society altogether.
The Christian faith loses many young people at this critical stage of life, for two reasons. First, they lose the connection as young people move from one place to another, as they become exposed to new ideas and ways in their search for a new adult identity and to manage their new feelings. Second, the churches lose the battle of ideas at a time where young people are looking for challenge and stimulation, and are seduced by other ideas, which are often little than more than a fashion.
The challenge remains twofold. These young people are the future, for they are the ones who sustain the life of the church. They will be active in the life of the church, in terms of time and money. However, and this is the bigger part of the problem, they are the next generation of people who will move into the positions where decisions get influenced and made about what society wants. Can Christianity really afford to lose out on this? The Christian faith needs to strengthen its young through doctrine, and support the young to be counter-cultural, instead of lost to culture.