Let me start off this letter by expressing my deep love and appreciation for you. I have been an active participant in the community of faith for about 10 years now, and I have been profoundly blessed, cared for, loved, and inspired to be a better human being through you. I have also seen — and even participated in — some of your ugliest and most unfaithful moments in recent history. But through all of these experiences, nothing but utter appreciation and love remains for you. I believe, in the words of Bill Hybels, that the church is the hope of the world. I believe in your great power and potential to renew and reconcile our broken world through the way of Jesus. I believe that you can do it. That we can do it, together.
With that said, there has been a lot of talk recently about your impending death. For a long time, I believed the hype. I saw the numbers of millennials who were walking away from the churches and both mainline and evangelical churches closing their doors. I was convinced that maybe the church had truly seen the end.
But I was recently reminded that what we have been witnessing in the West is not, in fact, the death of the church at all. Instead, we are experiencing the death of Christendom. We are experiencing the death of the triumphalist age of Christian influence over the globe in which predominately European Christians used the message of the Gospel and the structure of the church to leverage power, wealth, and influence.
For centuries, Christianity has dominated the Western world. Christians’ views have been seen as mainstream, our beliefs have been culturally acceptable, our holidays have been universally recognized and celebrated, and our individual churches have been used as political and social platforms that have directed the course of history. With this kind of position and privilege, we have seen great masses of people flocking to our communities — not necessarily because they sought to commit their lives to the way of Jesus, but rather because it was the culturally acceptable thing to do. Our once radical faith of self-sacrifice became nothing more than state-sanctioned religion. And after many centuries of enjoying this position of power and influence, God has seen fit to pull out the foundation of Christendom and caused the whole thing to crumble. And I for one am thankful.
So the good news is that you are not dying. While the studies indicate that organized communities of faith are in decline, the amount of men and women who are seeking and finding a radical faith in Jesus is increasing. God is still at work in our world and is still bringing people into this rag-tag family called the church. My generation, the millennials, are also not walking away from their faith in Jesus, but are walking away from the modernized, politicized, sterilized, Europeanized version of Christian faith. Organic, grassroots communities of faith are forming all across our nation without buildings, without marketing, without ordained clergy, without 501(c)(3) exemptions, and without the privilege that most institutionalized churches have enjoyed for so many decades. These communities are simple: spiritual seekers, followers of Jesus, coming to express their true questions, thoughts, and experiences, seeking to be encouraged and empowered to live out the radical way of Jesus in their communities, cultures, and world. These communities aren’t recognized as a church, but as a way of life, a tribe of friends who are working and walking with one another to change the world and establish the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Many will struggle to accept this new move of the Spirit of God in our world. Many believe that the way the church has existed over the past few centuries is the way that it has always looked and should always look. Many will work hard to maintain a position of power and influence over culture and government. But I firmly believe that all of these efforts are in vain.
God is re-revealing to us the radical message of our Lord — a message of transformation through service, sacrifice, and selfless love for our neighbors, enemies, and selves. A message of humiliation and simplicity as the way of abundance and eternal life. Christians have never meant to be the ones in power. In fact, history shows us that anytime Christianity is given a position of power and influence, it quickly departs from the Gospel of Jesus — because a Christianity that is given worldly power is not Christianity at all. Christianity is the religion that proclaims a God who humbled himself and entered into creation, taking the form of a servant —who touched the untouchables and spoke sharp truth that exposed those in power. Christianity is a religion centered on the subversive power of love and sacrifice, not power and wealth.
Church, I am convinced that our best days are ahead of us. I am certain that God is not finished with us yet and will continue to use us as the vehicle for his redeeming work in our world. But it will look very different than it has in the past. We are moving into a new age of human history where God’s Spirit is doing fresh work in our world. The expression of our faith will look significantly different than it has in the past, but the object of our faith will remain steadfast. May we be open and willing to allow God to do his refining work on us, understanding and embracing the pain of change, and looking forward with great hope and expectation for the days to come.
“The Church is the salt of the earth, she is the light of the world. She is called to make present in society the leaven of the Kingdom of God and she does this primarily with her witness, the witness of brotherly love, of solidarity and of sharing with others.”- Pope Francis
With Much Love,
Brandan Robertson is a writer, activist, speaker, and dreamer behind The Revangelical Movement. He has a B.A. in Pastoral and Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and is pursuing his Masters of Divinity degree from Wesley Theological Seminary. Brandan writes for a number of prominent outlets and is a frequent guest on national and international television and radio programs. Follow him on Twitter @BrandanJR.