The Church and “The Man”
It’s no secret that people of my generation are incredibly suspicious of the church. I’m not talking about the binge-drinking, drug-using, frat boys/sorority girls crowd who think they’re religious giants because they went to confession six months ago and fingered the rosary before their Chem 2A exam. I’m talking about those who were raised in Christian homes, served in the nursery, played piano for the hymnsing, and worked on the church with the men during the biannual maintenance workday but now feel rather disenfranchised and repressed by the church.
To put it simply, in their minds “The Church” has replaced “The Man.”
Like the anti-government, anti-establishment protestors of the 60s and 70s who viewed the government as an unassailable institution colluding together in dimly lit, smoke-filled rooms for their unhappiness and ruin, this current generation imagines their 40-60 year old pastors as having a specific agenda hatched over soda water and reruns of The Brady Bunch to keep topics such as social justice, globalism, profanity, and sexual expression out of their churches. And anyone who would dare violate the purity of the their church by having the audacity to suggest that such things might be good to talk about is immediately put on the pastoral hit-list to be ostracized and branded as a radical liberal who needs to be shunned or evangelized.
Every generation exalts some particular virtue. The Greatest Generation values work ethic and perseverance. Generation X values economic success. My generation values authenticity. People who are raw and unrestrained in their opinions. People who throw off cultural norms for the sake of individual expression. They are the heroes. Until someone can prove that they are authentic, content is irrelevant. Consequently, the chief evil of my generation is to come across as stiff and formal. If you’re going to try to convince us of something, don’t bother trying to reason with us until you’ve proved you’re not defined by other people’s expectations.
What could be less authentic than a bunch of older people (30+) getting together in a building to sing a bunch of songs that went out of style long before the iPod was even invented? And then, to top it off, the center point of the service is for a man to get up and deliver a public address from a manuscript that he’s spent the last week writing, looking down at his notes over and over to make sure that he’s gotten his prepared wording right and hasn’t skipped anything. [I hope it is clear already, but at the risk of sounding redundant, let me say that I completely disagree with this perception. This perception of the church is stilted, and is not my evaluation of my Cornerstone church family. After all, I am the man who looks down at his notes often to make sure he’s got the prepared wording right!]
Whatever we may say, we don’t really care about authenticity. We care about style that masquerades as “authenticity.” After all, we’re the ones who buy jeans with the rips and stains already in them so we can look rugged and play Gears of War at the same time. We’re the ones who like indie music and indie movies because they’re unsullied by the machine. We’re the ones who couldn’t care less that Obama is reading from a teleprompter just like McCain, but think McCain is irrelevant because of how he reads the teleprompter.
And maybe when we view the church we’re a little surprised that there is an institution that continues to defy our preferences. After all, society worships youth. The worst felony someone could ever commit is growing old. When was the last time you saw a McDonald’s commercial starring a 5’7″, balding, slightly overweight white man dancing to Journey about how incredibly jazzed he was to pick up a Big Mac during his lunch break from his middle-management position at the local CPA firm?
When a generation that is used to being worshipped meets an institution requiring them to abandon their personal preferences for the sake of those they consider to be irrelevant (see Romans 14:1-15:6), the victim mindset takes root. Underlying this attitude is a hypersensitivity to anything that could ever be perceived as an insult or a slight. Any comment, silence, action, inaction, program, lack of a program, gratitude, ingratitude, joy, sorrow, offer to help, lack of offer to help, and everything else under the sun is suddenly perceived as an intentional personal attack upon their beliefs, dignity, and person.
In reality, while my generation will eagerly denounce “The church” as holding them down, their real beef is with the Word of God. Anyone who would confront them with Scripture is seen as a Bible-thumping, brainwashed, right-wing, starving-children-hating fundamentalist. Those who refuse to indulge in sexual humor are prudes. A man or woman who refuses to pepper his or her speech with profanities and curses is downright retrograde. Never mind that the Word specifically addresses all these issues–to have any kind of source outside of yourself is to become inauthentic, and therefore irrelevant.
No, the church is not afraid to talk about social justice, globalism, profanity, and sexual expression. No topic will ever be brought up that will overturn or threaten the truth of God’s Word. But we will not like what the Word says about some of these topics. That’s called our sinfulness meeting God’s holiness. And because the church exists to worship God by teaching the Word, we may not like what the church says about those issues. “The Church” isn’t the “The Man” who holds anyone down. Rather, God through His Word calls us to abandon pride and sinful ways of life. And if any of us ever find ourselves at odds with Him, it would be wise for us reevaluate our paradigms.