A couple of weeks ago the results of a recent poll concerning Christianity made the headlines of several newscasts. The survey showed that in less than a decade the percentage of professing believers in America dropped from 78% of the population to just 70%. Some of the talking heads on television, who may or may not be professing believers themselves, were aghast at the poll and were more than willing to offer up their opinions as to why this had happened and what the church should do about it. In this month’s newsletter we’re going to look at four biblical responses that the body of Christ should have to such an occurrence.
Make Sure We Ourselves Are Saved (2 Peter 1:10-11)…What surprised me most about the poll was not that Christianity in America was down 8 points, but was that anybody in their right mind could possibly ever believe that anywhere near 70% of people in our population are genuine believers! I’ve driven down streets in large cities, mid-sized suburbs, and small towns in our great nation on Sunday mornings and have never seen 70% of the vehicles out on the road headed to the house of the Lord! 70% (or more) of our country may own a Bible but they certainly don’t read “the good book” on any regular basis. 70% (or more) of Americans may use the Lord’s Name in vain on any given day, but nowhere near that number will utter a genuine prayer in that Name or offer a fervent praise to that Name today! 70% (or more) of U.S. citizens have one or more of the following: cable tv of some sort, cell phones aplenty, a personal computer, internet service, car (or perhaps even cars), take annual multi-day vacations, and the list could go on and on of pleasures we in this country are blessed to enjoy. That having been said, nothing approaching 70% of people who do go to church, much less those who don’t, support a local congregation financially in any way (much less a tithe) in their efforts to spread the gospel! 70% (or more) of Americans will go out of their way by word of mouth or through modern day social media to tell somebody, even people they don’t know, about their favorite restaurant or perhaps their most un-favorite restaurant. However, sadly, much less than that percentage of even church going folks would be willing to share their faith with anyone under any circumstance. Assuming you’ve read this far, some of you might be thinking, “are you telling me that I’ve got to go to church, read the Bible, pray, give of my substance, and witness in order to be saved?!” No, that’s not at all what I’m saying. Although these are certainly characteristics that one would legitimately and biblically conclude should be associated with any Christian, there are many people who do all these things and more and yet will still hear the horrifying words “depart from Me for I never knew you” come from the mouth of the Lord on judgment day! Now, before we go down this line of thought any further, let’s be assured that the Bible clearly teaches that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone. It does not come as a result of any works that we could perform. Still, the same Bible that instructs us that salvation is a gift from God also clearly tells us that anyone who has genuinely received that gift will have a life that is changed, a life that bears the righteous fruits of obedience (to be in church, to read the Bible, to pray, to give, to witness, etc.) in ever increasing measure as evidence of being connected to Jesus the true vine! Those not growing in righteousness or living in a continual state of unrepentant sin have no biblical reason to believe that they are saved—and yet many do! Those who do have external and visible evidences that their lives are more righteous need to question if they are looking only to Jesus and His grace as the source for their salvation or if they are counting on their works for their heavenly reservation—yet they don’t!…A closing illustration and challenge before moving onto our next point. Most people (probably far more than 70%) think that texting while driving is wrong and dangerous. Yet people still do it! Why?! Because they think that even though people at large shouldn’t do it, they are the exception. They believe that they are exceptional (just a side note: people who believe they are the exception always believe they are exceptional) and, while others don’t have the ability to text and still drive safely, they do have such an ability! They are the exception, they are exceptional! They won’t be a statistic! Let me assure you, statistics are filled with people who thought themselves the exception! There is nothing more important than where you will spend eternity. Don’t fool yourself or think yourself the exception, the Bible is true and every human imagination and empty commitment a liar. What should we do about Christianity in the U.S. losing eight points? We might be tempted to immediately focus on reaching others but, in the words of Peter (2 Peter 1:10-11), let’s first be all the more diligent to make our own calling and election sure!
Focus On The Family (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)…I’ve been a school teacher for many years of my life, and as such I’ve made many a phone call home to tell parents about their child’s misdeeds. I remember one contact in particular that stands out to me, not so much for any shock value, but for the fact that it’s sadly indicative of the attitude of so many parents in today’s world. A certain female student that did not think she needed to follow dress code, be to class on time, do her work, stay off her cell phone, or not carry on incessant conversations with her friends in the middle of the lesson said more than a few choice words to me on her way out of the classroom when I confronted her about her behavior. I went to the office and got a home number to call. Her mom answered and I told her the story of why her daughter would be coming home with a disciplinary referral. She listened to everything I had to say and agreed that I was justified in writing her daughter up. So far so good. Then she said something that floored me and has stuck with me to this day. The young lady’s mother told me that I should do whatever I had to do; that she was not going to stand up for her daughter’s bad behavior. While there may seem to be nothing wrong in that response on the surface, the fact that she wasn’t going to personally discipline her child in any way revealed the underlying assumption that her daughter was ultimately my responsibility, not hers! Now, as a teacher, as a concerned citizen, as a Christian minister, I’m glad to do all that I can to help a student academically and in any other way. However, ultimately, until that young person reaches an age of accountability, the responsibility for a child’s academics and well-being in any and every area of life resides firmly with their family. This is certainly true in the area of spirituality. Moses made it clear that parents were to teach their children the word of God in their homes, as they went on their way, when they lay down and when they rose up (Deuteronomy 6:4-7). Pastors can help, church leaders can help, brothers and sisters in the Lord can help, but no one has more influence over the spiritual development of a child than their parents. Kids get their first impression of who God is, of what God is like, of what holiness is, of what grace means, of what is true, of what is false, of what is right, and of what is wrong from their dad and mom. Certainly we try to reach anyone and everyone we can with the gospel of Jesus Christ. That having been said, we must be careful not to neglect the people we have the most influence over, those under our own roof! Our first ministry, the first converts we should wish to make, the first disciples we should wish to teach, are the precious ones who reside at our same address. What should we do about Christianity in the U.S. losing eight points? Focus on the family. Evangelize at home first. Pray and work towards our kids being genuinely converted why they’re young. And should those kids reach an age of accountability, grow to the point of making their own decisions, and then seemingly turn their backs on the truths upon which they were raised, then keep evangelizing and show through our words and deeds what a genuine believer in Jesus looks like.
Focus On The Church (Acts 2:41-47)…I initially had this point labeled “Focus On The Family Of God.” That title seemed to flow better with the previous section of “Focus On The Family.” I decided to change it to “Focus On The Church” because I wanted to be emphasize the importance of the church and not allow for the misunderstanding that the family of God is somehow different from the church. Now of course not everyone who is on a membership roll of a church is part of the family of God. Also, is there the possibility that someone could be a member of the family of God but not be part of an organized church? Yes, there’s a chance, but not much of one (if you think you’re the exception, just remember statistics are filled with people who thought they were the exception!). For all the accusations leveled against the church, for all the hypocrisy which it has too long harbored in its walls, for all the hurt and pain and pettiness you may have experienced in the congregations of professing believers, let me remind you that it was for the church that Jesus died. The church is the only organization (perhaps better said organism—something living) that Christ came to establish. It is the church to which the word of God was written (just look at the title lines of the books of Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, etc. and you will find it says “the epistle to the CHURCH at _________”). It is the church that will overcome the gates of hell. Without the church we cannot do the “one anothers” of scripture and we are removed from an authority that God intends to be used for the discipline and growth of the individual Christian…In Acts chapter 2 the Holy Spirit descended upon believers on the Day of Pentecost. Peter preaches the inaugural message of the Christian church. Thousands are saved and the believers begin meeting together, praising God together, breaking bread together, studying the Apostle’s teaching together, and living Christianly together. As they did this, the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved…Do we have a responsibility to take the gospel outside the “four walls of the church?” Certainly. But what should be an even more pressing response to Christianity losing 8 points in America? A fervent focus on the church. Be faithful to be together. Be faithful to pray for one another. Be faithful to hold the church to sound doctrine. Be willing to be disciplined and be used for discipline so that we all grow closer to Christ.
Preach Christ Crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)…Picture this. A man goes to see his doctor. Sometimes he feels sick, sometimes he feels fine. Maybe it’s nothing, maybe it’s something, but he decides to go in for a checkup. The well-trained physician performs a battery of tests and discovers that the patient is indeed sick; very, very sick. In fact, the man has a disease so deadly that left untreated no one has ever survived its devastating effects. Good news is there is a cure, just one cure, but it does have a 100% track record of healing those who take it. Bad news is that it has a strong taste, such a strong taste that anyone who takes it has a lifelong distinct smell to their breath that is quite noticeable to anyone they come into contact with. Perhaps as hard to deal with as having smelly breath for the rest of one’s days is the stigma that everyone who does smell your breath knows that you’ve had the dreaded disease and that you’ve been willing to take the cure. Now imagine that the doctor is overwhelmingly fearful that the patient will be so upset by the diagnosis, so offended that there is just one cure, and so violently unwilling to take the strong medicine that the man will find some other physician to attend to his medical needs. So, in order to ensure he keeps his patient, the doctor makes the decision to authoritatively tell the man that there is really nothing wrong with him and that there are a number of possible medications that can be prescribed to help alleviate the pseudo-symptoms that he feels from time to time. The patient leaves the office, glad he has such a great physician, unoffended and unshaken by anything, and destined to die a terrible death!…Many commentators on the various news shows carrying the story of the 8 point loss in Christianity in the U.S. offered suggestions that could reverse the trend. Most of those proposals had to do with the church being more tolerant of sinful behavior, not being so dogmatic about Jesus being the only way, preaching on issues that are more relevant that deal less with eternity and the next life and more with how to be successful in this present life. Sadly, many who claim to be believers, even those in positions of leadership, several churches and even entire denominations, have fallen for these suggestions. They are unwilling to give the diagnosis of sin, the prognosis of death, the singular cure of Jesus Christ, and instead offer homilies that could just as easily be found on self-help, motivational-oriented daytime tv. Some leave these places of religion because they see someone who espouses no faith in Christ who is richer, who gets the promotion, who gets the better car and finds the better parking space and figure what’s the use of professing a faith that isn’t getting them the benefits they desire. Those who do stay in these gospel-less houses of worship may like their leaders and hype their experience, but apart from Christ they carry around a certain sentence of eternal death and damnation…Now, the church doesn’t need to be opposed to everything new. Some incidentals can change without wavering on fundamentals. Also, believers don’t need to be hated for being hateful or held in contempt for being unnecessarily offensive. That being said, we have no cause but Christ and no cure but Him crucified. What should we do about Christianity in the U.S. losing eight points? As the Apostle Paul prescribed, determine to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. Apart from this message even if the polls on American Christianity go up, the numbers of those on Heaven’s roll will not.