"If there is a God, why is this world so terrible?"
"How can we be sure that Christianity is any more valid than any other world religion?"
"If God is always with me, why do I feel as though I've never met him ? "
These are questions many people ask—especially during adolescence, when they struggle with questions and doubts, trying to test their limits and find out who they are and what they believe in. In spite of their involvement in church, church school, Christian school, or youth groups, teens inevitably bump up against the "wisdom" of modern and pop culture and start asking Why? and How?
Because young people often don't know where to turn with these doubts and questions, addressing some of these issues in public worship can be very worthwhile. Through openly discussing their fears and questions in the supportive environment of their church home, young people, their parents, and the congregation as a whole have a rich opportunity to grow and mature in the faith together.
The pages that follow offer six services from a series that addresses some of these questions by focusing on the ten most common objections to the Christian faith (see sidebar). Space considerations prevented us from including all ten. If you would like the other four services as well, they are included on the computer disk for this issue (see contents page). For a $2.00 fee, you can also order a laser-print copy of the services and/or the bulletin covers by calling (616) 246-0752.
You may find the following strategy notes helpful in planning your service series:
■ The bulletin should not list all the objections until the series is complete.
Only list the objection that the congregation will focus on that week and those covered in previous weeks. This keeps up suspense and stirs internal musings in parishioners' hearts as they wonder which objection will be dealt with next week (Will it be the one that disturbs me at times?) and as they attempt to recall the answers they discovered in previous services.
■ A young person should read 1 Peter 3:15-16 near the beginning of every service, and another young person should read Ecclesiastes 12:12b-14 near the conclusion of every service.
This is a vital step that will weave a common thread while not imposing too much "serie-ness." The different services can contain a lot of variety and innovation, but be disciplined about this common thread (except in the fifth service, in which the Ecclesiastes passage should be skipped, and the sixth service, in which an elderly person should read the entire twelfth chapter of Ecclesiastes as a gift to the young people).
■ Solicit and encourage musical contributions by the young people.
■ The sermons need to be sermons and not lectures.
In other words, they need to be encouraging and passionate—filtered through the grid of the preacher's own struggle to believe, but without the irritating and distracting clutter of the first-person singular.
■ The sermons need to remain pastoral.
Most "objections" to the faith take the alternative form of "doubts" in the hearts of believers. We are not in a simple "us versus them" or "world versus church" pattern. Young people especially will identify readily with most of the ten objections. The atmosphere of Hebrews 11:1 needs to permeate each service: "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see!"
■ In almost every single case, the sermon needs to begin by conceding some limited validity to the objection.
In other words, the preacher needs to seriously ask if the ob-jection is based on anything valid. Where does the objection come from? Is there anything reasonable about the motivation behind the objection? Failure to begin with questions like these will make the preacher sound arrogant and will undermine his or her credibility—especially with young people, who are suspicious of any "talking down."
■ The suggestions for each service are merely a framework that you should feel free to add to and modify. Only the elements related to the theme of the service are included on these pages, so you'll often have to fill in some gaps.
■ The fifth service, in which everything leads up to the doxol-ogy is a very risky enterprise, but well worth the effort. Therefore, while you should feel free to move around, add to, and modify the elements in any of the other services, you probably will want to stick quite closely to the order suggested in addressing Objection 5.
■ The service dealing with Objection 10 should definitely include communion, although I acknowledge with regret that young people often do not have communion privileges.
Your bulletin each week should give clear credit for the origin of this series idea, a little booklet called Ten Myths About Christianity, developed by the students and staff of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at the Universities of Guelph Waterloo, and Laurier, in Ontario, Canada. The booklet was published in 1984 and copyrighted by Gorder Carkner, Herbert Gruning Bruce Toombs, and Richard Middleton. â€¢ Rev. Nick Overduin, author of this sermon series, is chaplain at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario, and a member of Jubilee Fellowship Christian Reformed Church. â€¢ The hymns in this service were selected from the most recent editions of the following hymnals: The Psalter Hymnal (PsH] The Presbyterian Hymnal (PH), Rejoice in the Lord (RL), the Trinity Hymnal (TH), and The Worshiping Church (WC).
THE TEN MOST COMMON OBJECTIONS TO THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
- Jesus Christ was only a great moral teacher.
- Christianity stifles personal freedom.
- Conversion and religious experience are just the result of social conditioning.
- Science is in conflict with the Christian faith.
- The presence of evil and suffering in the world proves there is no God.
- It doesn't matter what you believe because all religions are basically the same.
- Christianity is just a crutch for the weak and helpless.
- Christianity is otherworldly and irrelevant to life in the twentieth century.
- The Bible is an unreliable set of documents that cannot be trusted.
- There is no evidence that Jesus Christ arose from the dead.