I want to address in this post some struggles that we face living in an independent culture. These thoughts have been formed within a larger context of six dangers that young adults are facing, which I’ve outlined here for you.
- Living in a transitional stage of life
- Difficulty establishing important spiritual habits
- Difficulty making meaningful religious commitments
- Living in an independent culture
- Difficulty prioritizing the local church
- Difficulty obeying or honoring parents
- Living in a technological age
- Difficulty leaving the virtual world
- Difficulty exercising “slow” spiritual disciplines
- Living in a post-modern era
- Difficulty accepting long-standing traditions
- Difficulty embracing moral absolutes
- Living in a sexualized society
- Difficulty with relationships
- Difficulty with personal purity
- Living in a sacred-saturated secular context
- Difficulty avoiding religious superficiality
- Difficulty discerning secular from sacred
Living in our own world
Maybe an appropriate framework for understanding our independent culture is to think about the cosmological principle. This principle says that no matter where you are in the universe, you always appear to be, in some way, the center of the universe. The theory goes that whatever point in space you currently occupy, the universe will appear to be expanding away from you. Since the galaxies are continuing to expand and since space has no perceivable edge, the universe will always be moving directly away from you on all sides, no matter where you are. In this sense, you are the center of the universe. But despite the validity of the cosmological principle and though we aren’t actually the center of the universe, God has created us with incredible significance.
In recognizing our God-given abilities and surprisingly significant position in the scheme of the universe, how have we responded? The proper response would seem to be an attitude of deep thankfulness to God for what He has blessed us with and of desperate dependence on Him to accomplish the weighty responsibilities He has given us.
The reality, though, is that very often we see what God has given us and the responsibilities He has entrusted us with—and instead of responding with thankfulness, dependence, and submission—our pride and self-reliance grow. This is evident when we become so caught up in our own world and priorities that we dismiss God’s prerogative for our life. Along with that, the problem when we view ourselves as the center of the universe is that we see little need to rely on others—and what we actually do with others becomes self-serving. For young adults, perhaps two clear manifestations of this can be seen in their relationships to the church and to their parents.
Difficulty Prioritizing the Church
I’m currently in my fourth year serving at Bob Jones University. It seems like the majority of my life leading up to this point has been as a pastor. So why would I switch from a pastoral role to an “academic” role at Bob Jones University? It’s because the significance of this university is its relationship to the Church! This university matters because the Church matters! Our work builds up the Body of Christ by empowering students to reach their highest potential for God’s glory.
But do students view their schooling this way, as a way to best serve Christ and His Body? I’m thrilled to see thousands of students every year who have this passion, but my passion is for that passion to sink in deeper and spread even wider.
One of the dangers is that as young adults continually accept an independent mindset, they will lose sight of the importance of their relationship to the Church. Church attendance will be dismissed for spans of time—or altogether—in order to pursue a “more important” path. In doing so, they are not only rejecting God’s guidance to assemble with believers, but they will lack the grace that God provides—and they need—through the Church.
We’ve probably heard somewhere along the way that “God doesn’t need us,” which is true in one sense. But in another sense, it’s also true to say that God designed the Church to need you. And not only does the Church need you, you need the Church! The body needs ministering members in order to grow, and we need participation in the body in order to mature.
Think about the significance of Ephesians in relation to “church attendance.” Ephesians is an epic passage that explains God’s incredible plan through Christ, a plan so glorious that it will put the whole universe in awe. But what is unbelievably relevant to us is that God has chosen to accomplish this plan through the Church! The Church is (we are) a means for accomplishing this immeasurable glory. What pursuit could be higher than taking part in that? This isn’t just about missing a few services; this is about missing out on the most glorious thing in human history!
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:11-16).
Difficulty Obeying or Honoring Parents
This difficulty of honoring and obeying is compounded by living in both a transitional stage of life and an independent culture. The line is blurry so there is inevitably tension in figuring out how and when the shift from obeying and honoring should occur. Wisdom is needed in these situations, but sometimes humility is actually the outstanding issue.
Our independent culture is potentially hazardous, not so much in that it encourages and enables people to live by their own means, but more with the pride and lack of concern for others that comes with it. Those we should humbly respect, listen to and sometimes submit to have arrogantly and rudely been disregarded. I’ve mentioned before that the prevalence of reality shows, which constantly put a positive light on children usurping their parents’ authority, is having an immense impact. A child “knowing better” than their parents has become a legitimate excuse for rebellion. If their parents don’t “get it,” doesn’t that give children the right to disobey? Sadly, that’s a question that is becoming harder and harder to answer.
The Bible warns of living under our own advice. In fact, it’s even a sign of God’s judgment. He gives people over to their own counsel, which leads them down a path of destruction.
There’s a waterfall of grace for those who will submit themselves to authority. But a “fall” is sure to come for those who only heed their own advice. It’s ultimately God who blesses, and when we yield ourselves to the authorities He has placed in our life, we position ourselves for true blessing.
“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:5-6).
This post was cowritten with Garrett Martin.