I was speaking recently with a pastor I respect about my discontent with the church. I shared with him the results of my thesis work and my theories about why millennials feel uncomfortable with traditional church. We are uncomfortable with pastors’ insistence that neither women nor homosexuals be “allowed” to preach over churches, I said. I wanted to know how I could share my findings with pastors and what they would be interested in learning from a millennial who has been there.
He offered me this question to answer for a Christian publishing niche: How can pastors welcome these millennials without compromising our theology?
In Kaye Gibbons’ book A Virtuous Woman, a preacher keeps coming to Jack Stoke’s house to offer him the gospel. Usually Jack banters with him about theology because despite being a nobody farmer, Jack loves a good philosophical argument. But now he is losing his beloved wife to cancer. And when the preacher comes over yet again during her last days to offer them one more chance for her to go to heaven, no one could blame Jack for sending the man packing.
We may feel sympathy for the Evangelist. He certainly meant well, at least. But no true Christian is on his misguided side, because God is in charge of salvation. Our task is people.
Theology can and has been compromised, over and over again. People are more important than theology. Though God is first and beginning, He is also last and end. We are that which is between the inevitable and thus is faith. In other words, while God might feel differently due to our actions, His essence remains unchanged.
What freedom! Not the kind of freedom that is perhaps immediately accessible, but those of us trudging our faith along our lifelines know well that we need that powerful Existence to hold its Truth, regardless of our religious antics. Regardless of our theologies. In that power we have freedom to serve others no matter what their identity.
It is for this reason a man can be saved by faith through works. It is a great mystery. It is a greater mystery that this service-based love brings us life in Christ. It is a still greater mystery to me why a pastor’s theology is ever given priority over its people: why we refuse to marry anyone, why we do not “permit” women to teach, why we ever say we are certain the Bible prescribes exactly this or that. God prescribes many things, and yet we all have sinned against them, perhaps not continually but at least frequently.
Rather than fearing that proper faith resides in the execution of our theology, let us freely feed and eat the tangible fruit of love.
Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).