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Good News about Recent Religion Survey

December 5, 2019 | by: Jack Lash | 0 comments

Posted in: Uncategorized

It is likely you have read of a recent Pew Foundation survey of religion in America saying that the number of Americans who consider themselves Christians has dropped by around twelve percentage points while a corresponding enlarged percentage of Americans consider themselves “nones” with regard to religious identification.

On the surface, this may sound like bad new for American Christians, even catastrophic news, and very good news for those who consider Christianity to be the bane of the earth. But it seems to me that a deeper look will elicit very different reactions.

First, we must pay close attention to what the survey actually measures. It does not measure the percentage of Christians in America, only the percentage who CALL THEMSELVES Christians. The survey does not define what a Christian is; it leaves that up to the responders.

So, what IS a Christian? The answer to that question depends on who you are. From a sociological perspective, ‘Christian’ may refer to all those who consider themselves Christians, who claim to adhere to the tenets of Christianity. But that is not what Bible-believing Christians say a Christian is according to the Bible. They make the point that the Bible talks a lot about false Christians. If this is true, it means that, according to the Bible, a Christian is not just anyone who claims to be one.

But why would people claim to be Christians who are not? There are lots of reasons. They might be trying to please their family or faith community, or trying to feel eternally safe, or associating themselves with the most loving people they have ever known. They might not have any idea what a true Christian really is. But one thing is undeniable. Overall, it is getting less and less socially beneficial to be a Christian in America. So, it makes sense that less and less people are pretending.

This means that it is entirely possible that the percentage of true Christians in America is not decreasing, but that the survey results are just getting more accurate, because less and less people are falsely calling themselves Christian. If less people are pretending to be Christians than before, then that is not bad news for Christianity in America.

False Christians may warm the pews of churches, they may even add to their finances. However, in the end they do the church more harm than good. Like my fat (I am trying to lose weight), they add dead weight while compromising the health of the body. They likely do most of the complaining, most of the squabbling over trivial matters, most of the gossiping, most of the self-righteous judging. They likely contribute majorly to the church’s preoccupation with buildings instead of souls, with entertainment instead of worship, and with the church’s hypocrisy. The fewer false Christians there are, the better; everyone should be able to agree with that.

Another factor which is signoficant to this has to do with history. About 100 years ago, most of the mainline denominations in America began to abandon the faith of their fathers, rejecting the Bible as the authoritative word of God, along with many classic beliefs of the Christian faith. Since then, many smaller Bible-believing denominations have formed as well as many independent Bible-believing churches. As the Bible-believing churches have flourished, the increasingly Bible-denying mainline churches have lost members dramatically. As the children of these churches have grown up, many of them have left the church altogether. Over the last 50 years, by and large, it is the mainline denominations which have shrunk.

But what if the percentage of true Christians in America really is declining, which it might well be? Well, while the faith is shriveling in one part of the world, it may be thriving in another. While more and more Americans grow publically antagonistic to Christ (which is indeed sad), there are others around the world who are welcoming Him in unprecedented ways. Muslims are embracing Him in record numbers. So many folks in Iran have been becoming Christians that the president of Iran has been publically complaining about it. Christianity has spread so much in Africa and Asia that those regions have supplanted the west as the center of the Christian faith in the world. In spite of the strenuous efforts of the world’s most powerful government, the church in China has grown so much that there are now considerably more Christians in China than there have ever been in the USA. Internationally-speaking, Christianity is doing better than at any other point in history.

Even if this is not true, however, even if (as many hope) we are in the beginning stages of a massive decline of Christianity in the world, this does not mean that Christianity is close to its death. If you look at church history, you will see that the Christian faith has always experienced ebbs and flows. It has gone through very dark times and come back again. This pattern can even be seen in the Bible; it is one of the main themes of the book of Judges, for instance. God allows this, partly to teach His people to walk by faith, not by sight.

You see, true Christians believe that Jesus really is who He said He was in Revelation 1:8, namely: “the One who was, who is, and who is to come.” Now most everybody agrees that Jesus WAS — 2000 years ago. But true Christians believe that He also IS — in other words, that He is alive today, more real than you and me, building His church, able to be personally known though He is hidden from our eyes (Colossians 3:3). And they also believe that He WILL BE; that He will come again at the end of history to judge and to recreate the heavens and the earth. However silly that may sound to the modern ear, anyone should be able to understand why this makes it hard for true believers to take the “Christianity is dead!” declarations seriously.

In fact, the Scriptures themselves talk about this kind of premature triumphalism over the Bible’s God. In Psalm 2:1-3, the world’s elite are found plotting to escape from and overthrow God and His Messiah:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed {Hebrew: MESSIAH}, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

What is God’s response to this human defiance? Is He afraid? Is He in a panic in the face of such unpopularity? Not at all. “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (v.4). It goes on to tell us that God will give the nations of the earth as an inheritance to His Son, who will “break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces” like a pot (v.5-9).

God does not need human assistance for His church to thrive. In Luke 19:40, when the Pharisees complained to Jesus about all the loud noise people were making to celebrate His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He answered: “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” As He did in Nineveh in the days of Jonah, God could make all America worship Him in an instant, if He so willed.

I know this power personally. I grew up as a militant atheist. I despised everything religious. Then God showed up in my life, and suddenly He was as undeniable as my own existence.

Those who oppose Christ can hope all they want, they can even celebrate what they perceive as His demise. Some folks in the first century did that when He died on the cross, and it did not turn out well for them.

As a pastor, I know well the lust for worldly success and recognition. I so want my church to grow and prosper that it is hard to be content without it. It is an idol I struggle with constantly. But even as my sinful heart yearns for a feeling of accomplishment, and for human approval, my Lord keeps entreating me, “Feed My sheep. Care for My little lambs.” (John 21:15-17) And so I do. I wait for Him and I seek to serve His people well, without growing weary. I believe God’s promise that “in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).