Wednesday, February 4, 2015

An Open Letter to All of Those Who Were Raised In the Christian Church

Dear Friends,

This post is addressed to a certain group of people, namely, to all of us who were raised in certain denominations in Christendom here in the West.

I'm talking to all of us who were baptized or christened, usually as infants. I have witnessed many of these baptisms in many different worship services all my life.

I'm addressing all of us who were confirmed, who underwent confirmation instruction.

Like so many of you, I grew up and was led to believe that, because I was baptized as an infant (even out of human tradition), that I was "saved" and on my way to Heaven. Yes, I was confirmed, though I do not even remember that. Interestingly, my mom remembers it. She remembers how I had to recite the entire Luther's Small Catechism in front of the entire congregation.

Soon, after I was confirmed, like so many young people, I reduced my worship service attendance if not quitting it altogether. I was told, "You have had enough religion."

Soon after that, I was visiting my great-grandmother's house. I read the Bible and the Jesus I read of in the Gospels was much different from the Jesus that I learned about in my local church and even in some of the hymns that we sang. I came to believe that He was the "gentle Jesus, meek and mild." My Bible also showed Him to be confrontational, direct, bold, and unafraid to challenge the traditions of His day and Who stood up to phony religious leaders. He was assertive for God. I read the very hard-hitting material in Matthew 23.

No, I'm not posting this to knock centuries long, cherished Church traditions. I'm just making observations and I have done much research on what happens to many who were raised in congregations who use infant baptism and, later, confirmation, to introduce people to Jesus and the Christian faith. According to this research and my own experience and observation, I must cite a disturbing trend. It is this: Well over 70 percent of young people leave the Church sometime after they are confirmed to when they graduate from high school and get out from under parental authority. Only some later return, when they marry and have children.

This needs to stop. We keep losing our youth.

Some of the most terrifying, disturbing verses in Scripture consists of words from Jesus. They are addressed not to heathen, pagans or criminals, but to religious people: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven. MANY (emphasis mine) will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' "

He was not just talking about false teachers here. I fear that He is talking to all of us who may believe that we are saved but who may be self-deceived, who may have been baptized, confirmed, recited a sinner's prayer, went forward in an altar call, made a "decision for Jesus" but who have not embraced Him as Lord from the power of sin. It took me quite awhile, after fits and starts, to let Him be God and Lord and as yet, many areas in my life are not under His Lordship.

Believe me, I pray daily for all those whose baptisms I witnessed over the decades as I have vowed to do during those events.

Statistics tell us that up to 70 percent of us in America list ourselves as born-again Christians. That figure would be very heartening, but for other figures. Some 4000 babies are killed daily by abortion. The divorce rate is just as high in the professing Christian community as it is among those outside it. And youth in the Church are almost as sexually active as those youth outside the Church. Isn't becoming a Christian supposed to make a difference in how we live?

I ponder the profound disconnect between us Western Christians and our severely persecuted brothers and sisters in Jesus throughout many Muslim countries and strongholds, in leftover Communist countries like China and North Korea, and in other restricted countries and hostile areas. These Christians' conversions are so real to them that they proclaim Jesus unafraid and are willing to go to prison for Him and die for Him. These believers take God seriously and being Christians affects how they live. Could much of the explanation be that in these parts of the world, the cost of being a Christian weeds out false professors such as are so often found in our Western churches, leaving genuine disciples and Christ-followers who take their faith seriously?

Yes, I was raised in the "easy believism" tradition. "Just believe in the finished work of Christ and you will get to Heaven." But as I ponder the high figure of those who call themselves born-again Christians, with all of our social ills and crimes (which are getting worse), I see a deep disconnect. Something is not right. No, true Christians are not perfect, and sin daily. I don't agree with the "Christian perfectionism" and "Altogether Christian" doctrines that teach that Christians can become sinless in this life. This is not taught in the Bible. But what is taught is that Christ-followers are always moving, however slowly, toward personal holiness and practical righteousness.

Based on my research and study of the Scripture, I have some ideas on how to remedy this problem: 1). Pastors need be freed from the fear of man, and preach and teach on the uncomfortable Biblical doctrines such as God's holiness, Hell, His judgment and the priority of personal holiness.

2). Pastors need to study the Bible and learn how Jesus evangelized, and clearly stress repentance and faith in their sermons. JUst because we live in "the age of grace" does not mean that the Law is no longer needed. Christ came to uphold the Law, not destroy it.

3). The main spiritual input happens in the home. Therefore, children's ministries and youth ministries ought to seek God about spending less money on programs and materials for children's and youth programs, and spend more money to teach and equip parents to raise their children to know, love and trust Jesus.
4). In ministering to children and youth, stress God's grace, repentance and saving faith in your instruction.

5). In small group ministry, seek God to find ways to make small group ministry more Biblical. Consider moving away from generational groups and work toward more inter-generational groups. We can learn from each other.

6). Seek freedom from the fear of man and introduce church discipline, with the aim being to restore sinning Christians or to awaken non-Christians to their need for God.

7). Pastors should end sermons by opening up the altar to people who want a touch from God or who have prayer needs.

Grace is free, but grace is not cheap. Even a casual reading of the New Testament reveals this. The New Testament writers discuss grace only in context of the Law. Implementing these measures will take sacrifice from all of us, cross-bearing and self-denial, but isn't that what we have been called to?

I'm sure there are other ideas, other than the ones above, but these are Biblical and may not only keep so many people from falling between the cracks, but may help solve some of society's problems and keep some people from slipping out the back door of our churches!

Love in Christ,

Lisa DeSherlia

Transcript of Paul Washer presentation (opens as a pdf on the podcast page in written transcript form)

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