Letter to Jim

Dear Jim:

Please excuse me for not writing last month. For the last weeks life at the college was unbelievably hectic. But now the finals are completed, graduation is over, and summer vacation (?) has begun I can get to other important things, such as writing to friends.

This evening I was reading the R.E.S. (Reformed Ecumenical Synod) News Exchange. There is a report in the most recent issue dealing with tensions dividing the Reformed Church in America. One of the many areas of concern in the R.C.A. is “Youth – what do they want? Youth says, ‘We want a living relationship with Christ. We’re not sure we want the church.’”

I can easily understand why the report labels an area of concern, for any denomination should be concerned when its youth aren’t sure they want the church. But why should so many young people feel that wanting a personal relationship with Christ is different from and possibly opposed to wanting the church? The same puzzling attitude is expressed in “A Student’s Open Letter to God” (Christianity Today, June 5, 1970, p. 16) in which a premedical student writes: “I’m torn between being a Christian on the one hand a a churchman on the other…There are times when I want to burn down every cross-topped building in the world and start over again. But what will I replace it with once it has been torn down? You understand, Lord, I want what you gave, and I can even see some sparks of life in today’s ‘church.’ At the same time, however, I want that beautiful, personal relationship I found so exciting.”

But, again, why should youth be torn between Christ and the church? Is the church driving men away from Christ or standing between them and Christ? Obviously, this is not why Christ instituted the church. It is the purpose of the church (I am speaking about the instituted church), through the preaching of the Word of God, to call and lead men to a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Through the ministry of the church Christ Himself speaks to men so that they are not only called to Him but, having believed, are strengthened in their relationship with Christ. And, what is more, by means of that same preaching of the Word by the church believers are told how they are to live in all spheres of life before the face of that Christ, who is seated as King at the right hand of God.

At the moment, I can think of two reasons why Christians you should think they must choose between Christ and the church.

I am under the impression that many feel it is the task of the church to become involved in all kinds of social-political activities; and that if the church does not do so it fails to show the love and concern which Christ has and the Christian should have for our world. But such activity is not the task or function of the instituted church. Christian social-political activity is the communal responsibility of Christians as members of the body of Christ. This responsibility should indeed be made clear through the preaching of the Word by the instituted church, but it is not to be fulfilled by the instituted church. A second possible reason for the confusion and frustrations of Christian youth today may be that the instituted church is not fulfilling its purpose. Too often, as the church becomes involved in social-political activity—which it should not do, but in many instances has—it fails in its responsibility to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom—which it should do, but in many instances has not. God’s people—and this includes God’s youth—have a right to expect that the preaching of the Word will not only call them to and strengthen them in a personal relationship with Christ, but will also make clear to them their responsibility to live now, in all spheres of life, in humble and loving obedience before Jesus Christ their Savior and Lord.

On the other hand, Jim, the more I reflect on this matter, the more I wonder if there isn’t another reason why youth claim that they must choose between Christ and the church. Is if perhaps because they don’t want the Christ the church proclaims, the Christ of the Bible, the Christ who demands confession of sin, humble faith, and grateful obedience? Is it possible that the Christianity they are talking about isn’t Christianity at all, but simply a matter of doing their own thing and calling it Christianity? Is this perhaps the reason why they’re not sure they want the church? I’d like to write more about this in the next letter.

Meanwhile think about it, Jim, and let me know what you think.


Pastor Hulst