Picture of youths protesting with fist in the air

They called for Revival but only wanted attendance.

When growing up Christian, youth retreats and conferences were a right of passage. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of High School students would gather to worship, pray, and hear the message preached by guest pastors. One common theme was often that of revival. For those who didn’t grow up in the same environment, a revival was an occurrence that was constantly prayed for — a spiritual awakening in our communities and cities. We dreamed of people being drawn into churches by the power of God and by His love being reflected in our lives. The goal was simple — to stir the power of God and attract more people to the Church. Teens would pray, cry, and go out onto the streets to preach the love of Jesus and offer to pray for those who needed it. Looking back, I believe our own intentions were pure, but we were fooled into believing revival was something specific when it was not.

It’s funny how churches have gone up and arms about the deconstructionist movement — a movement of evangelical Christians leaving the church and being very vocal about it. People like me, who were heavily involved in the church, have suddenly awakened to the realization that much of what is preached in the church does not reflect its policies and members. From ostracizing people to hiding/minimizing sexual assaults, from passive-aggressive comments to manipulation tactics, people are now deconstructing their beliefs from the toxicity of institutionalized churches and getting back to the raw roots of their faith. As more and more people start to approach God from a different and much deeper perspective, unafraid to relate to their non-believing friends and family that surround them, isn’t it all starting to sound like a revival? A true revolution?

Church leaders today might disagree, leading me more and more to the conclusion that revival was never about getting people close to God but rather getting church attendance up. Most recently, Christian rock singer-songwriter John Cooper of Skillet went as far as to declare war on the deconstructionist movement at one of his concerts. “I don’t hate those deconstructed Christians, I pray for their repentance. But listen, they have divorced [themselves] from God, and they want to take as many of you people as they can,” Cooper began, “and it is time for your generation to declare war on this idolatrous deconstruction Christian movement.”

There are so many problematic things with what John Cooper has said and the kind of sentiment he represents. For one, he completely ignores the fact that many of those deconstructing from the Church have left because of the same kind of “us against them” mentality he so strongly preaches from the stage. Many people who have left the church have been deeply hurt by those in it, and instead of addressing Christians to root out the core of what is driving these people away, he instead declares war on them. The biggest disappointment in his statement is assuming that most deconstructionists have abandoned God when in actuality the vast majority are trying to rediscover God in the fullness of truth. One thing he did say correctly is, “it’s not their fault, we did not do our job properly. We need to do our jobs better.” The irony of the full message didn’t surprise me.

Fear of progress or change isn’t anything new within the institutionalized church. There has always been resistance to change and there will always be pushback as any sort of spiritual development takes place among a new generation. Leaders in the church need to come to the realization that such change is not an attack on faith nor is it an attack on God. It’s an attack on legalism — the parasitic mindset that clings on to tradition and religiosity over actual outreach and compassion. Legalism is the true sickness, and it is rampant within the four walls of the church.

I’m reminded of a recorded occurrence between the Apostle Paul and Peter. Peter had literally walked with Jesus during his lifetime ministry. Jesus’ presence was palpable, visible, touchable to Peter who had the privilege of hearing his sermons and asking him questions. Peter, however, was still deeply rooted in Jewish traditionalism. For the Jewish people, fraternizing with Gentiles (non-Jewish people) was extremely looked down upon. At that time, Jews still believed themselves spiritually superior to any Gentile and would avoid any sort of contact.

Paul, on the other hand, was a Jewish man with Roman citizenship. He was a man who at the beginning of his ministry had been shunned by the Jewish people for having accepted Christ and shunned by the Christians for having persecuted them for years before his conversion. He was left for most of his ministry to live among Gentiles and to those very same Greeks, Romans, Asians, he would preach. While Jesus’ original Jewish disciples would preach the Gospel to those like them, Paul was living out an unconventional faith and preaching to the people the disciples wanted nothing to do with.

In this recorded event, Paul is already far into his ministry and well-known across the Mediterranean. He scolds Peter publicly for an instance where Peter had been dining with Gentiles and spreading the good word, but as soon as a group of Jewish believers entered the scene, Peter immediately distanced himself from the Gentiles. Paul scolds him for his hypocrisy:

11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him in public, because he was clearly wrong. 12 Before some men who had been sent by James arrived there, Peter had been eating with the Gentile believers. But after these men arrived, he drew back and would not eat with the Gentiles, because he was afraid of those who were in favor of circumcising them. 13 The other Jewish believers also started acting like cowards along with Peter; and even Barnabas was swept along by their cowardly action. 14 When I saw that they were not walking a straight path in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you have been living like a Gentile, not like a Jew. How, then, can you try to force Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Galatians 2:11-21 (GNT)

Paul was an unconventional revolutionary, who lived his faith outside of the norm. Peter was a traditionalist, still trapped by the traditions and customs he grew up with. Maybe it’s time for the older generation to come to the realization that perhaps they are the Peter of this story, and those living out an unconventional path of faith are the Pauls set to change the world and lead it to faith — lead it to God.

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