This week, an article addressing issues and concerns over the condition of the Russian-American church made a big splash on the social media world. Within a few hours, the article got over a thousand hits and dozens of comments. What started out as one young woman sharing her personal concerns for her culture and church quickly became an explosion of strong feelings, opinions and disagreements. Apparently there are many many young people who feel very strongly about challenges within our denomination. Surprised? Not really…
Indeed, we Russian-Americans (or more properly, Slavic-Americans) are a very unique group, in a unique place in the history of the church. We are caught between two very different language and culture groups. There is often a very large gap between the world of the younger and the older generations which leads to some very different expectations in areas of our faith and practice. This is a very important time, a time of generational and cultural divide.
We know this struggle. I know this struggle. And there are no easy answers. As I have grown up and served in the Russian Baptist context my years have been filled with challenging questions, struggles and tests of my faith and worldview . The powerful explosion that this article has really reminded me that there are hundereds of other young people in the same boat, struggling with the complex issues of culture and faith.
What have I learned from all this lately?
When worldivews collide, misconceptions, misunderstandings, and miscommunication abounds. We are prone to assume, to judge and to jumpt to conclusions. Our immature and quick reaction can do a lot a damage. There is great potential through all this to leave a big black spot on the history of the church. These are times that will call for changes, challenging decisions and tough conversations. Indeed we need these things. Change and growth will not happen without action.
But how can we move forward in a way that serves to effectivelly build Christ’s kingdom? Heres three convictions I set for myself as I move forward.
1. Fear God
Jesus laid down a serious warning for those who would cause stumbling in the faith of his children (Matt. 18:6). In dealing with issues of tradition, culture and church there is very much potential for injury and pain. No matter how personal we feel about these challenging issues, we must remember that the church is Christ’s church, not ours. All that we do we do as stewards of the opportunities he has given us (Col. 1:25). And we will answer to him for it. So much foolish things have been done in the histroy of the church by people who were “defending the truth” and simultaneously destroying people’s faith. The temptation is of course to follow the trend of Peter in the garden; to whip out our proverbial swords and start wacking our “enemies” left and right. Fear God. Hurting the faith of his people, no matter how immature they are, is one of the scariest things one can do.
2. Love the Church
Hey I get it. It can be very frustrating when you are labeled as a crazy liberal just for starting a worship band in church. I know what it feels like to get false accusations, rumors, and very unkind little notes handed to you right as you sit down after preaching a message. But Jesus calls us to a higher way. Learn to love people who are different than you. Learn to love them desipte their hypocrisy and immaturity. After all, love is the essence of our call (1 Cor. 13:2). Love is the essence of the gospel. He loved us when we were still sinners, when we had no idea how ruined we are (Rom. 5:8). Too often, love is pushed aside for “greater priorities” of standing for “standing for the truth” and “defending the faith”. We are fools if we think we can accomplish any positive change or build any future without being rooted and grounded in love. Indeed we must stand for the truth. But we forfeit the right to proclaim that truth if our heart is filled with anything other than love.
3. Seek Humble Maturity
As a younger generation, we may see the need for change. But how can we be so sure that we know the answer to what that change should be? Its easy to jump up and criticize but what makes us so sure we can do better? The reality is we can’t. We are no wiser or better than any generation tha t came before us. There is a great risk that this unhappiness will lead many young people to leave the problematic Russian churches in exchange for something worse. I think that this is what many young Slavic-Americans are moving toward; they are going out of the frying pan and into the fire.
The only thing that has ever given the church the ability to grow and move past difficult times is the work of the Scripture in the hearts of the people. Any hope for change starts with a return to the supremacy of God’s word in all things. We will never build a future for the generations that follow unless with start with a humble understanding of our own limitedness and need of growth. And we must grow. We must read. We must ask questions. We must seek true and humble maturity.
We are a generation that is at a cross roads. It is a special and challenging time. Its a time that will call for tough decisions. Lets be humbled by the responsibility that God has entrusted us. Let’s not get overly fired up and let our dissatisfaction get the best of us. We are no better than any other generation of christians to follow Christ.