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January 18, 2011 - 

Understanding Islam

Thanks for printing “Understanding Islam” (September 2007). But if there is anything we should understand about Islam, it is that Islam itself is not violent. The article didn’t identify the Islamist movement that has sought to justify terror by using passages from the Qur’an taken out of context. Islamism and Islam are often unfortunately lumped together.

It has been estimated that there are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today. Fortunately for us, the majority of them are peaceful and do not even support violence.

—Martin Witteveen-Lane Grand Rapids, Mich.

Where Are They?

Regarding “Where Did Our Young Adults Go?” (August 2007), as a single 24-year-old member of a Christian Reformed congregation that has virtually no other members my age, I have been richly blessed by the variety of people who have welcomed and included me. Whether it is a 75-year-old widow inviting me for tea or a young family putting down another plate for Sunday lunch, I have been made to feel a vital part of my church. It seems to me that before we recommend anymore programs or special clubs, the most important thing is to treat young people like we belong. Building relationships between generations, not within one age group, is how we create God-glorifying and lasting community in our churches.

—Shannon Marcus Bowmanville, Ontario

I am a 22-year-old raised in the CRC who no longer attends church in any denomination. Why do young adults no longer attend the CRC? Strangely enough the answer is in the pages of The Banner itself. Several young contributors in this article felt compelled to hide their identities when expressing their reasons for no longer attending the CRC. Moreover, in an article about a pastor’s views on ministering to homosexuals (“The Closet of Compassion”), The Banner itself felt compelled to hide the identity of the author.

There is a cultural lack of free speech in the CRC. As young adults wrestle with controversial issues, we need sympathetic listeners to come alongside us to openly discuss them. How can we engage with the CRC if we’re afraid of what people will think of us if we speak freely?

—D.M. Ottawa, Ontario

Thanks for this article. Now, for balance, please publish an article about the hundreds and thousands of young adults who have stayed with or joined the Christian Reformed Church.

—Roger Sparks Luverne, Minn.

Two articles in the August issue made me wonder about the CRC reaching out: "Where Did Our Young Adults Go?” and "The Closet of Compassion." While the CRC seems to do a good job for the very young, it does not seem to be very successful with many other age groups. When I came to Canada in 1967 I was often asked when I was going to get married; singles did not seem to fit the CRC model. I wonder if the CRC is not too geared to married couples or married couples with children. Maybe some research is necessary to find a better model in which all groups are equally welcomed.

— Bert den Boggende Brooks, Alberta

While visiting my parents in Canada last week, my father showed me the article in The Banner about young people leaving the CRC, and although I am not a young person anymore I decided to give you feedback on why I left. I grew up in the CRC, attended a CRC college, and later worked as a worship director/coordinator in two CRCs.

The most important is that God called me elsewhere.

My wife did not feel comfortable in the CRC because she came from a different denominational background.

Very few people seemed to want to get to know us. We saw that as "generational" churches (people from the same family attending these churches for more than one generation) the CRCs we attended didn't really embrace us. The first three weeks people would talk to us after church, and after that I could walk around the fellowship hall for 10 minutes and get nothing more than "hello" from two or three people. We were not invited to get involved in areas that would utilize our gifts.

I got the feeling of elitism: "we're Dutch" or "we're CRC," or "we belong to this family or group, and that's all that matters."

Worship wars were discouraging. Many people insisted on having music their own way, sometimes seeming to be more important to them than worshiping our Creator and Redeemer. As worship director, I simply couldn't please all the people; therefore I couldn't please the leadership.

I got burned. My position was eliminated at one church, and the explanation why didn't sound like the truth to me.

Perhaps it also helps to give reasons why we joined our present church and stayed there. Believe me, it isn't music style that keeps us there! The first week we were warmly welcomed by several members of the church. The sermon also made it clear they accepted people of all denominations as Christians. So we returned the next week. That week someone invited us to attend their small group, and we joined it. From there we became friends with most of the families attending the small group as well as a few other members of the church. A few years later the small groups were changed around, and we made some new friends. When we have had struggles, several people from our church have been there for us. When others have struggled, we have been able to reach out to them. Even when we've not liked other things that were happening at our church, we've had a community that has kept loving us, accepting us for who we are, and keeping in contact with us.

—Name withheld

There is a crisis in our congregations today. Our young people are the future of our congregation and keeping them is extremely important. The rate that they walk away is a symptom.

If we cannot evangelize our own children, how can we expect to affect the world around us? What we need to do is accept our young people as part of our congregations.

Many of our young accept the Lord early and publicly profess their faith. Then they are told that they are "full members"— they can give their money, take communion, and participate in church—but they cannot vote until they are 18. We think that voting is much too important to entrust to someone so young, even though these young people are old enough to decide about (less important) things, like their salvation. Then when they’re over 18 and no longer go to the young people’s ministry, we are surprised when they walk away. We have not taken the time to get to know them. We need to allow them to participate in our congregations.

—Bruce Tanis Dorr, Mich.

The issue of young adults leaving the church en masse, in my opinion, is not one that is solely concerned with practical issues such as sermon content, a lack of programs geared to the age group, or college-bound teens, but one that only mirrors the individualistic society in which we live. There seems to be growing popularity among young adults toward a mindset of individual faith over community faith opportunities. Gayla Postma’s article suggests that young adults are looking for sermons that cater to their individual needs, music that matches their individual taste, or programs that cater to their individual wants. And if none of those are found, they follow a system of individual faith, where their spiritual walk is solely between them and God—let no church stand in their way.

But maybe they’re on to something.

Many young adults today are simply getting tired of organized churches and the way in which they are run in North America. I have talked to a number of young adults who feel that North American churches, as a whole, have gone astray. And as a result, these young adults have chosen to abandon corporate worship in the traditional setting in exchange for simply living out a daily Christian life. That’s not to say that those of the older generation are not daily living out their faith. But young adults often equate the issue of modern-day churches with the generation(s) that founded them and continue to lead them. Where their reasons for leaving are based on issues within the church, it is most likely a reflection of their attitude toward an older generation who is less willing to allow for the changes that they are seeking. And either through lack of discipleship (regular daily-life interaction with the older generation where young adults can see the faith of their elders in action) or through an honest belief that the older generation simply lost their focus on Christ in exchange for traditions and doctrinal beliefs, many young adults have begun an exodus in pursuit of . . . something.

Maybe that “something” is called authenticity. Because perhaps what these young adults are really seeking is the authentic community that Geoff Vandermolen speaks of: one that naturally flows out of a church body’s commitment to following Christ (see “Could ‘Authentic Community’ Kill Your Church?” August 2007). Only we have mistaken this youthful pursuit as a problem to be solved. And like many other “problems” in the CRC (women in office, worship styles, service start times, etc.), we are bent on discovering a solution that we will either vacillate endlessly on or discuss until it distracts us from the point of the church altogether. We will prepare small group materials, invite more young adults to join the leadership of the church, and sacrifice our sermon content in the hopes of drawing back a fleeing crowd. And we will not likely see any change. Because these young adults are smart enough to see through the glitz and glitter and long only to see authenticity in their fellow church-going believers. And until that happens, until doctrinal differences are set aside and the endless debates finally conclude so that the church can resume its task of being a beacon of light to the hopeless and a haven for sinners, the exodus will continue.

Is this pursuit of a faith based on individual experience alone a healthy solution? In the long term, no. In the short term, however, maybe these young adults are on to something. Not attending church does not necessarily mean that a person has given up on faith altogether. And we can only hope that they will return with the understanding that church has nothing to do with our denominational differences and has everything to do with the tie that binds us in faith: Christ. Perhaps this exodus, this abandonment of the institutionalized church, is the beginning of much-needed change within the bride of Christ. The choice that our church will face, in time, will be whether to welcome these free thinkers back into the fold. History has proven that it will be a challenge to do so, but our church must prepare for this change.

And as these young adults grow older, they, too, must prepare for the changes sought by their ancestors, because the body of Christ is a living, breathing entity. It cannot be placed in a box of pre-understanding but, as our faith should, it too must grow and be challenged by necessary change. So, what is the solution to the “problem”? As Hielema suggests, repentance is where a solution must begin. There is a reason for this abandonment of the CRC. And our repentance must be intertwined with prayer, as only through prayer will our Lord reveal his will as the church continues to understand her role in society today. May he continue to bless us as we seek his will in our individual lives and within the church as a whole.

—Matt Kok Nakina, Ontario

Your recent article of people leaving the CRC sparked my interest. I was raised in Utah in a non-Christian religion. The pastor of the local CRC church reached out to me and my wife, taught us, and led us both to Christ. We now have children and grandchildren who are Christian believers. This is the end of five generations of non-Christian family. You have changed the eternal destiny of my family for at least three generations now and the family keeps growing!

Unfortunately the local CRC closed its doors. Now the nearest CRC is 60 miles away. I tried Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, and Lutheran. We settled on the Lutheran church. It was the closest to our beloved CRC.

I still read The Banner and forever will be grateful for the CRC and will always be CRC in my heart.

—Lawren Green

[Letters continued...]

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