Archives For Historical Theology


I am afraid we have missed the boat on a lot of key things and as a result, our young people (teens and twenty-somethings) have become disenchanted with organized religion. Keep in mind that this is not indicative of every church context (I know…your church is always the exception right?) but ever since I became a member of the Church of Christ I have seen some growing tension between organized church activities (including worship) and participation from younger generations. I do not have any hard data to prove this within the Churches of Christ (if there is such please comment below) nor do I think there is any specific causative reasons but what I do find fascinating is that there seems to be this trend among other Christian wings like the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me shows the trend of younger generations who are leaving organized religion. They are not leaving the faith as they still hold a high value on personal spirituality but they simply do not accept many of the different things their organized church stood for (Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus but not the Church is important here). But I wish there were data for the Churches of Christ to show the downward trending as all I have is experience which is limited in geography, theological leaning and other factors. 

So what I say cannot be authoritative because the Churches of Christ have no headquarters unless you count the various universities and preaching schools as different headquarters for different theological leanings (I digress).  I wonder what twenty-somethings long for in a church? Whatever it is I am not sure we are offering that to them. We think that we can have announcements, a few songs, a prayer, a quiet Lord’s Supper where nobody talks, a sermon, an invitation and a closing prayer and somehow that is supposed to spiritually feed them. Well you say, “Robbie, it is not our job to feed them as they are supposed to grow spiritually themselves.” That’s my issue!!! I think where we are failing can be summed-up in a few words: LACK OF INTIMACY.  

Somehow we feel that the teenagers and twenty-somethings are just supposed to “get it” by listening to sermons, attending a bible class and maybe the odd retreat thrown in there. Listen carefully: we need to get away from thinking that spiritual formation happens, or is even formed, from the church building. I have spent almost 8 years in youth ministry and the twenty somethings who were in my youth group would quickly tell you that they serve God not because of an event, sermon or bible class that happened inside the church building but it was the intentional, intimate relationships geared towards accountability, service and discipleship OUTSIDE OF THE BUILDING that changed their lives. 

That does not mean they are anti-church services or anti-preaching but it does mean that we have become too personal-salvation oriented to the neglect of inviting others to join in the conversation of spiritual formation. To illustrate this I wonder how many of your churches have poor, broken, drug and alcohol addicted people in your midst. Now church is not all about reaching poor people or those in the inner-city but nor does it mean churches are all about middle to upper-class people either. Why can’t we have both in the same building (some do…I know…but not many)? I think the issue is a lack of intimacy. We do not want to share their brokenness with them because it is ugly. Instead, we offer them to come to the building, hear a sermon, walk down forward and confess their sins and then we will pray for them. Good intentions but not enough. 

So here it is. Me and some friends of mine got together a few weekends ago to talk about this generation and what the church needs to do and what we came up with was nothing short of the Holy Spirit. We all admitted that we have failed to be intimate. Our marriages, our relationships with other men and women, our discipleship, our evangelism, our worship and our service. 

Here’s the problem…I don’t know how to solve it. How do you ask a church to become more intimate and change the way they do church in order to reach this generation? Also, how do you reach a church with intimacy issues who are in denial and say that they are ok? 

I don’t know but I am going to blog about it. These blogs are pro-Church and they are pro-Jesus (as if the two can be separated). I think we are just missing the boat somewhere and people are leaving and going elsewhere. So will the real church please stand up?    

***If you are from another denomination feel free to comment as I think the experience is normative across the evangelical board. 


When I say early church fathers I mean those early Christian thinkers between about 150ad-350ad.  Examples are men like Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Ignatius, Tertullian and other thinkers.  A big disclaimer is that these were just men and their words are not necessarily God’s word.  I do find their view of forgiveness somewhat intriguing though.  These quotes come from A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs which is edited by David W. Bercot (pp. 4-5).  What we think of as forgiveness the early church called “absolution” which was the formal act of a bishop pronouncing forgivness on the penatent sinner.

  • “Is it better to be damned in secret than to be absolved in public?”  Tertullian (ca. 203 A.D.)
  • “He, then, who has received the forgiveness of sins ought to sin no more. For, in addition to the first and only repentance from sins (this is from the previous sins in the first and heathen life—I mean that in ignorance), there is forthwith proposed to those who have been called, the repentance which cleanses the seat of the soul from transgressions, that faith may be established. And the Lord, knowing the heart, and foreknowing the future, foresaw both the fickleness of man and the craft and subtlety of the devil from the first, from the beginning; how that, envying man for the forgiveness of sins, he would present to the servants of God certain causes of sins; skilfully working mischief, that they might fall together with himself. Accordingly, being very merciful, He has vouch-safed, in the case of those who, though in faith, fall into any transgression, a second repentance; so that should any one be tempted after his calling, overcome by force and fraud, he may receive still a repentance not to be repented of. “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” But continual and successive repentings for sins differ nothing from the case of those who have not believed at all, except only in their consciousness that they do sin. And I know not which of the two is worst, whether the case of a man who sins knowingly, or of one who, after having repented of his sins, transgresses again. For in the process of proof sin appears on each side,—the sin which in its commission is condemned by the worker of the iniquity, and that of the man who, foreseeing what is about to be done, yet puts his hand to it as a wickedness. And he who perchance gratifies himself in anger and pleasure, gratifies himself in he knows what; and he who, repenting of that in which he gratified himself, by rushing again into pleasure, is near neighbour to him who has sinned wilfully at first. For one, who does again that of which he has repented,and condemning what he does, performs it willingly” (Clement of Alexandria,Stromata, Book 2.13).
  • “In smaller sins, sinners may do penance for a set time and come to public confession according to the rules of discipline.  Then they receive the right of communion through the imposition of the hand of the bishop (notice singular) and clergy.”  Cyprian (ca. 250).
  • “I entreat you, beloved brethren, that each one should confess his own sins while he is still in this world-while his confession can still be received and while the satisfaction and remission made by the priests are still pleasing to the Lord.”  Cyprian (ca. 250).
  • “O bishop, just as you receive a pagan after you have instructed and baptized him, likewise let everyone join in prayers for this [penitent] man and restore him to his former place among the flock, through the imposition of hands.  For he has been purified by repentance.  And the imposition of hands shall be similar to baptism for him.  For, by the laying on of hands, the Holy Spirit was given to believers.”  Apostolic Consititution (ca. 390).

The early church fathers were serious about forgiveness because it meant status in the community.  In order to receive communion you must be one who is not a “willful” sinner.  If you were then you had to approach the bishop and request forgiveness based on your confession.

I wonder if we took this seriously what would the implications be in our fellowship?