A Barna poll of a few years ago confirms statements by Dave Shiflett in the Wall Street Journal; claiming many Christians no longer feel compelled to convert heathens (or unbelievers) – primarily because they aren’t sure there are any. (And that trend certainly hasn’t changed.) Many apparently buying into the idea that every religion is equally valid; embracing the modern dictates of tolerance and inclusion over the traditional teachings of their faith. (Such as John 14:6,7 and Acts 4:12) The findings of the Barna poll are surprising at first glance, but in truth only reveal a trend we’ve chosen to overlook at our own peril, the phenomenon of unbelieving born-agains.1 In an attempt to be non-judgmental, we have allowed many professing Christians to do just that – profess a very loose, emotional, even idealistic belief in God and Jesus as Savior while failing to live a life that exemplifies the ideals expressed by Him. We seldom teach, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” 2 Timothy 2:19; failing to understand Christ’s observation of, “…wisdom is proved right by her actions.” Matthew 11:19
A spiritual awakening is occurring around the world, much of it with no substance; after the emotional experience of “finding” God, there is often no attempt or desire to discover his will for our lives. For example, the Barna poll indicates that 26% of people claiming a born-again experience believe all religions to be essentially the same; that 50% believe good works entitle them to heaven; while 35% don’t believe in a literal resurrection of Christ from the dead. They selectively apply only a part of the gospel expressed in Romans 10:9; “…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’,” omitting, “and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,” then “…you will be saved.” They are avoiding the, “…obedience that comes from faith.” Romans 1:5, by not taking the next step to maturity in their relationship with Christ; having merely been introduced into his presence, they are failing to get to know him intimately.
More disappointing numbers from the poll indicate that 52% (of Christians) do not believe the Holy Spirit is a living entity, 45% do not believe in the existence of Satan, while slightly more believe in his existence than believe in the Holy Sprit! (See John 14:16 & 26,15:26,16:7,8; 16:13 for Jesus’ declarations concerning the Holy Spirit) 10% believe in re-incarnation; 29% in the possibility of communication with the dead. Moral issues reveal the same lack of scriptural grounding – 33% accept same-sex unions; 39% believing it is acceptable to live together before marriage. This moral decay is revealed most tellingly in the fact that Christians are actually divorcing more frequently than non-Christians – 27% to 24%. This evidence strongly suggesting that Christianity is conforming to our secular culture rather than effectively changing it. The missing element being a strong adherence to Christ’s claim of lordship, expressed in obedience to his will – necessitating an understanding of his word. (John 14:15,15:10)
These findings are reinforced by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute which reports broad interest in spirituality among today’s college students but a disappointing lag in church attendance and participation. They also noted most universities failure to recognize their students’ spiritual questioning except in rebuttals of Christianity and encouraging alternative faiths. A key finding being that serious study through reputable, established sources was lacking in spite of the expressed interest in many things spiritual; with only 29% of older students regularly attending weekly services – a drop-off from the 52% of respondents as freshmen. Even as 78% say they discuss religion and spirituality with friends, 74% think religious conviction provides support and guidance, 77% advocate some form of prayer, 73% find some kind of personal identity in their faith, with 76% considering “religion” personally fulfilling and helpful.
So what’s the problem? Why doesn’t interest equate involvement? Rebellion against anything perceived as “established” may explain part of this reluctance to attend church but I believe a large part has to do with laziness. (Not to mention the fact that some congregations don’t “do church” all that well while some individuals within the church do so hypocritically.) We all recognize that faith involves faithfulness to a code of living that may require us to change our priorities. To do that we must understand what we are changing from and to; if we don’t know – we won’t go! We often just don’t care enough to “Study (KJ) – do your best (NIV) to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who…correctly handles the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 Instead, we talk among ourselves, which is not altogether wrong; yet those we share with are often experiencing the same temptations, have come to the same conclusions – are at the same maturity level we are. Consequently they do little to challenge us to a deeper understanding of issues or a higher standard of accountability; ultimately resulting in stalemate and stagnation.
We must heed Paul’s admonition to, “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.”, and to not, “…have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because they… produce quarrels.” 2 Timothy 2:16 & 23 (Choose your counselors wisely – guard your time jealously!) In turning from such we can find fulfillment in God’s word and confidence in those who teach us as, “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16
Can this only be done in church? No – but a good Bible-based church (which is up to you to be earnest enough to find) is the best source to go for teaching, correcting, training and encouragement in worship and ministry; allowing you to gain perspective and achieve maturity from a variety of sources, age groups, and experienced counselors. (Which mirrors the “small group” setting Christ used to prepare the founders of his church.)
1Quote by Mr. Shiflett and Barna Poll findings from an article in World Magazine, by cultural editor Gene Edward Veith
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