The Barna Research Group is a research agency that has been doing statistical analysis of religion since 1984. Their studies are widely recognized as academically valid. One useful part of Barna’s work is that they repeat studies to identify trends. Research this year indicates a decline in practicing Christians in America.
Barna defines a practicing Christian as: “Someone who identifies as a Christian, agrees strongly that faith is very important in their life, and has attended church within the past month.” In the year 2000, 45% of Americans surveyed identified themselves as Christians using that criterion. In February of 2020, that percentage had dropped to 25%. This research was based on interviews with 96,171 adults.
When you think about the numbers associated with the Barna definition, it is evident that the word “practicing” is the weasel word. Many people who claim to be Christians have not made a practice of attending Church services. At the same time, they would probably be upset to be called “non-practicing Christians.” However, the truth is that Barna used the same set of questions in 2000 and 2020. There can be no doubt that there has been a sharp decline in practicing Christians in America.
It may be that the coronavirus pandemic will pull some of us away from making a god out of our material possessions. But unless we replace our zeal for things with enthusiasm for the teachings of Jesus Christ, we will continue to be poorly equipped either for this life or for eternity.
We are all aware of the destructive nature of the pandemic we are enduring. There is no question about how the virus is impacting families and the economy of the country. At the same time, some positive things are happening because of Christian witness during the pandemic.
There is a story circulated by SAT-7, an interdenominational Christian television center in the Middle East, which demonstrates how the coronavirus is being beneficial. A man in Iran called the television station and said that the people talking on the station were not like the ones that dominated his country. He said he couldn’t believe that they weren’t violent but had a joy and peace about them which he found attractive. He didn’t have a clue as to who Jesus is. However, he knew that what Jesus was saying was better than the violence, terror, and killing that were a part of the religion that dominates his part of the world. He wanted to know where Jesus lived so he could visit Him.
A week later, this man called again, but this time he had 25 young men crammed into a tiny apartment, and all of them wanted to hear about Jesus. Secret house churches are blossoming all over the Middle East. The coronavirus allows Christians to show compassion and bring help and necessary medications to people who are suffering. Similar stories are coming from Afghanistan.
In America, the coronavirus is showing the huge contrast between atheist beliefs and what Christianity offers. Survival of the fittest as a guide to life doesn’t work well with a pandemic. Isolation and competing for medicine and medical care are not attractive lifestyles for most people. Christians who are first responders talk about the dominance of believers in their efforts. The idea of serving others and saving lives even at personal risk to themselves is the exact opposite of atheistic belief systems.
The coronavirus is not God’s retribution for human sin, but, “All things work to the good of those who love the Lord” (Romans 8:28). Christian witness during the pandemic brings a shining light in a culture that suddenly finds itself unable to manage. In this crisis, atheism offers no hope except perhaps personally, selfishly surviving the plague in whatever way possible. True atheism has no thought of helping others or being confident about the future, even if this life comes to an end. The contrast is a great apologetic for Christianity.
As the world and our country battle the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, we see daily statistics on the death rate. Whatever the death rate from COVID-19, as someone has said, the real death rate is one per person.
Death is something we generally don’t like to talk about or even think about. Some people seem to believe that if they don’t think about it, they won’t die. That hasn’t worked for anyone so far. Failing to think about death leaves us unprepared when it happens. In his book Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection, Stephen T. Davis wrote that “Human beings are the only animals who know that they must die, and thus the only animals who try to hide from themselves the fact that they must die.”
One of the things that separates us from other animals is our reasoning power. Our reason tells us that it is irrational to believe that impersonal and nonrational forces could have produced us human creatures who are both personal and rational. In my opinion, that is one of the strongest evidences for a personal and rational Creator God.
Now, suppose that you were the Creator of the universe, and your crowning creative achievement rebelled against you. Would you be willing to take on the form of those rebellious creatures to redeem them? Would you be willing to leave your eternal abode to enter the world of those disobedient and ungrateful beings to show them how to live? Would you be ready to die for them, even though they still didn’t catch on and follow your instructions? Is it possible that the Creator could have that much love?
It is more than just possible. It happened. The Creator did it. He died for us—for you and me! But that isn’t the end of the story. He conquered death! Yes, you can say that the real death rate is one per person in this life. But just wait for what God has in store for those who love him! (Read 1 Corinthians 2:9.)
Perhaps Christ’s transfiguration was the most significant biblical event other than the creation and Christ’s resurrection. It is described in Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36. Three men meet together on a mountain–Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.
The Law and the Prophets were the basis of Judaism. Exodus 24:13-18 tells us that Moses went up on Mount Sinai and received the Law. Deuteronomy 34:6 indicates that he had no known grave. Elijah, the prophet, went up Mount Horeb (Sinai) according to 1 Kings 19:8, where God spoke to him. Like Moses, Elijah had no grave (2 Kings 2:11).
God told the people through the prophet Malachi that the Law and the prophets would lead to Christ (Malachi 4:4-6). In Luke 9:34-35 we read of Christ’s transfiguration and the cloud which symbolized the covering of divine presence. God spoke and said, “This is my beloved Son: hear him.” The message is clear. Don’t let the Law or the prophets guide you–follow Jesus.
To this day, people want to snip out various parts of the Law or the prophets and use them in their religious practices. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17 that He fulfilled the Law and the prophets. Jesus summed up the Law and the prophets in Matthew 7:12 with what we often call the “Golden Rule.” Colossians 2:6-23 states that Jesus blotted out the written code with its regulations by nailing to the cross (verse 14).
Christ’s transfiguration leads us to real freedom. Just as Moses led Israel out of slavery to Egypt, Jesus leads all of us to real freedom from sin. Romans 6:4-23 speaks of Christians having a new life, not a legalistic political system. The Law was impossible to keep perfectly because of human weakness. Romans describes the new life we are called to. We can be completely and totally free by God’s grace and the power of love.
The Federal Communications Commission is working to establish a three-digit suicide prevention hotline. It will use the number 988, comparable to 911 for other emergencies. The reason for this new emergency number is a surge in deaths by suicide over the past ten years. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. More than 20 veterans commit suicide each day, and more than 500,000 LGBTQ youth attempt to kill themselves annually.
You might think that the reason for an increase in suicide is poverty or hunger, but that is not the case. According to the experts at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the common denominator is a lack of hope. As a former atheist, I can verify that kind of thinking. As an atheist, when I no longer was the “fittest,” my moral foundation built on “survival of the fittest” collapsed. That’s when I reached the point of attempting to end my life. There is no hope when everything around you is collapsing, and you are no longer in control.
The word “hope” occurs 135 times in the Bible. Life has meaning when we have faith in Christ and believe that this life leads to something better–even when we are not the fittest. Christ’s teaching and the New Testament repeatedly refer to joy. That joy leads to loving life and looking forward to the future no matter how bleak our circumstances are now.
The 988 number of the suicide prevention hotline is good because just having someone to talk to may help a person contemplating suicide. But it may be 2021 before the number is in service. The greatest message of hope comes from the Bible, and it’s available now. The real source of hope comes from finding new life in Christ, as Romans 6 describes in glowing terms.
One of the most divisive issues facing all Americans, including churches, is the question of how to handle the issue of sexuality in a changing culture. The United Methodist Church has been the most public about the struggle going on within their denomination. In an article in Christianity Today for January/February 2020, Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, discussed the Methodist Church as an indicator of religion in America. Tooley says, “The Methodist Church has boasted of being America’s church, and whatever is going on in America is going on in the Methodist Church.” What can we learn from the Methodist division about the future of religion in America?
Atheists have used the LGBT issue effectively against belief in God. They insist that refusing to accept anyone based on sexual preference is a form of abuse and a violation of human rights. The United Methodist Church added a sentence to “The Book of Discipline” in the 1970s, saying that the Methodist Church “does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” In 2019 that stance was reinforced by a vote of 438 to 384. That vote indicated the depth of division on this issue. Now the Methodists are debating how to divide into two denominations to make everyone happy. Will the Methodist division make anyone happy? What effect will it have on the future of religion in America?
The Does God Exist? Ministry maintains that God’s Word is 100% true and is the only trustworthy guide to all decisions made in life. These facts support that view and are the only way Christians can consistently deal with the LGBT issue:
*Abusing anyone because of their choices in life violates the teachings of Jesus.
*Sexual feelings do not demand sexual expression. Premarital sex, adultery, and fornication of all kinds are not mandated by being human. Same-sex attraction does not have to be consummated in sexual acts any more than being a single sexual teenager with raging hormones does. Abstinence is biblical and logical.
*LGBT lifestyles are destructive. All data shows that STDs are more prevalent in LGBT practitioners. Sex-change operations create the need for medication for the remainder of life. Psychological issues are involved in most LGBT choices.
Sexual orientation is not always a conscious choice of those with LGBT issues. Environmental issues, genetics, abuse, and family and peer issues are always involved. The Christian response to people struggling with their sexuality must be compassionate caring, and loving-kindness, with sympathetic support.The Church must lead in doing all of this. The future of religion in America must require that we NOT change the Bible to fit the current beliefs of the culture.
We are about to begin the third decade of the 21st century, and we can sum up the message of the century with the word “change.” We tend to fight change. I have an older friend who says that he has seen a lot of changes in America and he’s been opposed to every one of them. He is also an atheist. When I pointed out to him that Jesus Christ was an agent of change and Christianity is a religion of change, he asked me to explain that. Let me point out five reasons.
#1) The Bible we use is the NEW Testament. Jesus used that term repeatedly using the Greek word “kaimos” meaning new, fresh, recent. (See Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24 and Luke 22:20).
#2) Newness means giving up old ways that either didn’t work or have quit working. Jesus Christ was an agent of change as He consistently gave new and better answers to old ways. In Mark 10:4, some Pharisees asked Jesus about the law of Moses, which allowed a man to divorce his wife for virtually any reason. This made women the property of their husbands. Jesus gave a new perspective on this whole issue by saying, “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two of them shall become one, so then they are not two but one. What, therefore, God has joined together, let no man tear asunder.” This is not a sexual reference, and it made women partners, not property, and radically changed the view of women to a new and critical role. (See Genesis 2:24.)
#3) Newness in Christianity knocked down old prejudices and racial issues, making the walls that divide people non-existent. Galatians 3:28 expresses this new concept beautifully, saying, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” All of this newness was very hard for the religious and political establishment of Jesus’ day to accept, and it is still hard for many today.
#4) Newness involves changing. Christianity is not legalistic and is not run by a bunch of laws. Paul says it well in 2 Corinthians 3:6: “Christ has made us ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.” Hebrews 10:20 talks about Christianity being a new a living way and Hebrews 8:8-12 puts to rest animal sacrifice and other ineffective practices of the past.
#5) Jesus Christ is an agent of change because He has given us a new commandment that replaces the old ways. John tells about it in 2 John 5. Over and over, Jesus talked about love in a way peculiar to Christ, using the Greek word “agapao” to describe how the new way of life should function. All of Matthew 5 – 7 emphasizes this new way of living.
People rejected the newness that Jesus brought then, and people fight it now. The fact remains that Jesus Christ is an agent of change, and in Him, all things are made new. (See 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Ephesians 4:24.) As you celebrate the start of a new year, let us urge you to become a new person. Be born again and live in the newness that “looks for new heavens and a new earth” ( 2 Peter 3:13). Ultimately we look forward to the joy of having the best new existence that we can imagine. (See Revelation 21:4-5.) HAPPY NEW YEAR !!
Evolutionary biologist Joseph Henrich and his colleagues conducted a study of the historical influence of Christianity in Europe. The research focused on the Catholic Church and its ban on marriages between cousins, step-relatives, and in-laws.
The researchers took data from 440 regions under the influence of the Catholic Church in 36 European countries from A.D. 550 to 1500. They found that for each 500 years under the church’s influence, there was a 91% drop in those marriages which the church considered incestuous. They used 24 psychological metrics such as individualism, creativity, conformity, honesty, and trust. The longer the population was exposed to the Church influence, the higher its individualism, nonconformity, and trust of strangers.
However you view this study, it is clear is that faith institutions affect the culture in which they exist. As we look at America in the past 50 years, what has changed in the way we live and how we view institutions? As the influence of Christianity wanes and Christian values are discarded, what influence has replaced it? How has “survival of the fittest” and the emphasis on material things altered our culture?
An evolutionary view has replaced the teachings of Jesus Christ. Our children are being taught that we are the product of evolutionary change driven by the influence of social evolution embodying materialism and survival of the fittest. The result has already been catastrophic with violence, abuse, racism, drug use, and high suicide and divorce rates.
This study shows that on an academic level, the influence of a social institution like the Catholic Church is vast and varied. Where the Catholic Church has failed is when it introduces practices and beliefs that are not biblical – like celibacy, the papacy, and the use of force over doctrinal issues. Neither do we argue for denominational Christianity, or institutions constructed by men based on human wisdom and power. We argue for the validity of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the guidance given in the teachings of the New Testament. The influence of Christianity is critical for the survival of America and the world.
Relying on evolution to guide what we do and how we do it is a recipe for disaster. “Be not deceived, evil company is the ruin of a good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33 New English Bible).
CBS television has a new series titled “Evil.” The show deals with blaming evil on demon possession. In the first episode, a person tried to avoid responsibility for a crime by claiming to be demon-possessed. The story-line involves a psychologist trying to determine whether crimes were committed due to demon possession or psychological problems.
We need to say again that demon possession does not happen in the modern world. As we posted before, the priest who was the adviser in the making of the 1973 film “The Exorcist” explained his view of demon possession. He said that the demon-possessed “victim has had their freedom of choice taken away. The victim is no longer responsible for their actions.” That assertion is illogical and against all the evidence, and it is not what the Bible teaches. In both today’s discussion and tomorrow’s, we want to look at this subject.
First of all, let us point out that freedom of choice is a primary teaching of the Bible. God has always allowed humans to decide whether they are going to serve Him or serve Satan. There is a fundamental reason for this. Love cannot exist if there is no choice. That is true of all kinds of love. If there is sexual “love” without choice, we call it rape, and it has nothing to do with love. It is the exploitation and abuse of another human being. For someone to love you with any kind of love, there has to be the choice NOT to love you. God has always allowed humans to reject Him, and that is still true today.
When God came to Earth (John 1:14) in the form of Jesus Christ, there had to be a way for humans to reject Him. Christ performed miracles and gave people powerful tools for understanding. So that humans still had a choice, God allowed Satan to have extended power. In the Old Testament, there was no demon possession. The Hebrew word for demon (shaidim) is found twice–once in Deuteronomy 32:17 and once in Psalms 106:37. Both of those cases had to do with idol worship, not demon possession. Demons were a tool of Satan to provide a choice for humans. Freedom of choice was not taken away.
The spiritual battle continues, but Satan’s power is limited because Jesus is not here in the flesh, but the Holy Spirit is present in God’s people. Ephesians 6:12 spells this out, and Ephesians 3:10 talks about God’s plan to mount a war against Satan through the Church.
Many years ago J. B. Phillips wrote an excellent book titled Your God Is Too Small. The thesis of the book was that there are things we consider impossible because we think we are too small, or too weak, or too poor. The problem with that line of thinking is that we are not figuring God into the equation. That thinking is still alive. Because of our own limitations, we believe that God is incapable of doing great things in America today. Sometimes we have more confidence in Satan as the destroyer than we do in God as the creator.
Judges chapters 6-8 tell the story of Gideon. He was a man who had huge doubts about God. He wanted to believe, and he stepped out on faith a time or two. When Satan opposed him, he backed away, and his father had to save him. Then Gideon tested God. When one test that he devised worked, he refused to accept it, and he gave God a bigger challenge. Don’t you know that the people around Gideon thought the whole thing was nuts? “You’re looking at 135,000 soldiers, and you’re going after them with an army of 300? That’s insane!!” Read the story. Gideon didn’t win; God did.
So here we are surrounded by a sea of hate, violence, war, abuse, and poverty. At the same time in America, God has blessed us with enough to eat, comfortable places to live, and enough money to make a difference in the world. Do you say that you aren’t rich? Americans are rich by the standards of most countries in the world. Instead of pouring money into selfish toys and paying for expensive entertainment to support the lavish lifestyles of Hollywood icons and athletic heroes, we need to use what we have to solve the world’s problems. Those who believe in the “survival of the fittest” mentality will oppose this, but following the teachings of Jesus Christ can make it happen. We can, with God’s help, change the world.