When the (self-appointed) voices of a generation saying the church needs to “change or die,” it’s easy—tempting, even—to get frustrated or disillusioned. When the voices get louder and seem to gain more prominence, what are we to do?
This is really the question brought up by all the hullabaloo surrounding millennials and the church. It’s important to remember two things:
1. This is nothing new. From the beginning, the church has been infiltrated by false teachers intent on deception (Jude 4), teachers actively trying to turn the eyes of the Christian community away from Christ (and many times under the guise of “reclaiming” or “renewing” the faith). And Christians have historically had a difficult time, either because of simple naïveté or maybe theological ignorance, recognizing these teachers for the “fierce wolves” they truly were.
The first centuries of the church, from the time of the New Testament’s writing onward saw numerous battles waged against various heresies. Paul fought vigorously against the Judaizers. John battled the proto-gnostics. Jesus rebuked the Nicolaitians. Augustine defended the faith against Pelagius and his followers. Athanasius battled Arius. On and on the list could go with Luther, Calvin, Owen, Spurgeon, Packer, Schaeffer, Machen…
The point is simple: The attacks against the church we see today are nothing new. We ought not be surprised when they come.
2. Renewal is needed—and will come. In each of the cases above, the counterattacks mounted by Christians were successful, in the sense that many believers were awakened to the danger of false teaching and renewed their commitment to sound doctrine. Inevitably, though, the Church’s fresh zeal would, over time, cool into passivity before slipping finally into apostasy—typically within the relatively short span of three or four generations. Where one generation believed the truth, the second assumed it and the third denied it, as D. A. Carson frequently reminds us. But in every instance, when truth is denied by one generation, God mercifully brings about a renewal in the next.[1. This paragraph adapted from my recent book, Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World]
Our own day is indeed in desperate need for renewal. That’s one thing all this talk of millennials and the church makes abundantly clear. But it should give us confidence that renewal is coming. Errant voices, ironically, do us a great service by making us reexamine the beliefs and practices we cling to. The flames of our hearts are reignited to the amazing truths of the gospel and we move forward. And while the war waged against orthodoxy will not cease, Christ’s kingdom will not fall. He will not be thwarted.
Renewal is needed. But have faith, dear brothers and sisters—renewal will come!