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Truth or Consequences: The Cost of American Apathy

An interesting group of articles related to the current spiritual condition among Christians in America has surfaced over recent months. Among them are an article called “The Public Consequences of Religious Apathy” by Ken Connor of the Center for a Just Society, and an underpinning article that Connor refers to from USA Today entitled “Survey: 72% of Millenials ‘more spiritual than religious’.”

The second article, published in USA today is built on the work of LifeWay Christian Resources, (Thom Rainer, President). The overarching result of a study performed by Lifeway, doing telephone interviews with 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds is that 72% say they’re “really more spiritual than religious.”

The Connor article points out that, as Francis Schaefer stated in his 1981 “Christian Manifesto”, “the gradual shift away from a Judeo-Christian (or at least a Creationist) worldview towards a materialistic view of reality has broad sociological and governmental implications for western society.” My observation has been consistent with Mr. Connor’s thesis. I see it on several fronts:

  1. Certainty of Doctrine: One of the findings coming out of the LifeWay study is that among professing Christians, many are unsure that Jesus is the only path to heaven; roughly half say yes and the other half say no. Clearly these folks have never read or else do not believe what the Bible teaches: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5), and “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6). The Bible is clear, and Christ was especially clear. Christianity means following Christ. If one believes Christ, then there is only one path to Heaven, and He is it.
  2. Desire to Worship: Another finding from the LifeWay study was that 65% of professing Christians rarely or never attend worship services. This is an especially interesting point to me. The desire to worship is, in my experience, a natural instinct when one loves God the same way one desires to flatter and please anyone in their lives that they love. Yet many Christians, myself included (which is why this point is of special interest to me) really struggle with going to formal worship services these days. Why is that? For me, a lot of the church services – especially in the larger “megachurches” have become far too akin to rock concerts. They provide entertainment, and an opportunity for people to wave around with raised hands like reeds blowing in the breeze. Hymns of the faith which were brimming over with doctrinal relevance and depth have been replaced by what someone I know refers to as “7-11 music”; the same 7 words repeated over and over – at least 11 times. I know there are times for repetition, and a couple of the most meaningful and powerful spiritual songs I have ever heard have a lot of it – like the Hallelujah Chorus, for example. But come on, how many times can you sing out “My God is an Awesome God” before you have to sign up as an official Valley Girl? And the whole raising of hands and swaying around thing (with sincere apologies to my Pentacostal friends, many of whom I am sure are more devout than I will ever be) is just uncomfortable for an old school Baptist; frankly it feels like calling attention to one’s self rather than to God, and reminds me of the Bible passage: “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Matthew 6:5) OK, I’m just a stick in the mud. But I miss the old hymns and the less pew-demonstrative worship styles. My parting shot on this point is simply to quote Mr. Rainey, the President of LifeWay: “We have dumbed down what it means to be part of the church so much that it means almost nothing, even to people who already say they are part of the church.”
  3. Centricity: It seems to me that for many of us who are professing Christians, our spiritual lives are much more about what makes us feel good these days and much less about sacrifice, service to Christ, and service to others. The emphasis seems to be on experiencing God’s blessings (nothing wrong with experiencing blessings) and less on what we need to do in order to experience them. It’s like some of the pyramid scheme marketing overtures I have heard: “Just think about it: It will only take signing up 10 of your friends, and you can be a millionaire within a year. Let’s talk about the ways that you want to spend all that money!” They never focus on the fact that you have to get your friends to sign up their friends, and all of you have to turn into super sales people to make the scheme work. It has been my observation that few very devout Christians are millionaires – and that has always made a lot of sense to me, since Christ Himself was basically penniless. But few of us want to live the lives of the Disciples, who were commanded by Jesus to leave their families and their businesses and follow Him. (This brings us into stark contrast with biblical guidance all over the place; one clear example is 1 Corinthians 10:33). And that brings me to my last point: Depth of Commitment.
  4. Depth of Commitment: WARNING: I DEPART IN THIS PARAGRAPH FROM ALMOST EVERYONE. BRACE YOURSELF. I probably should have called this section “Shallowness of Commitment.” I cannot find any biblical text which tells us as Christians: “Go ye therefore, and be the best (fill in the blank here with your own occupation – car salesman, manufacturing engineer, business analyst – whatever) there ever was, and thereby glorify God.” What Jesus did in His own life here on Earth was call disciples and followers to leave everything – their jobs as fishermen, doctors, etc., their families, and all of their other responsibilities – EVERYTHING – and follow Him. There are several descriptions of this of course, but some of the clearer ones include Matthew 4: 18-25, and Mark 1:12-22. So as I was saying, I find no biblical evidence that God wants any of us who profess to believe in and follow Christ to be school teachers, politicians, lawyers, doctors, truck drivers or hotel managers. What I do find is this very clear and direct instruction from Jesus Christ Himself: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20). That’s it in a nutshell. That’s exactly what Jesus said to those of us who choose to follow him. Not “Go ye therefore to Harvard”, or “Go ye therefore and win the lottery”, or “Go ye therefore and be an entrepreneur.” Nope. According the Gospels, Christians were left here on Earth following Christ’s ascension into heaven for one purpose – to convince others to follow Christ before He returns to Earth, and announces GAME OVER: “And He said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven. (Acts 1:7-11).  So here we are, primarily going about our business being doctors, lawyers, salespeople, actors, and so on, trying to work in a little worship on Sunday and among the most devout, leading the youth service or song service at church, and thinking that pretty much covers it. As long as we attend services, contribute financially, and so on the pastor pretty much leaves us alone, and we feel pretty good about ourselves. But as nearly as I can tell from an honest and unbiased reading of Jesus’ words, what the vast majority of us (please note that I include myself here) are doing doesn’t even come close to what we were clearly and directly instructed to do with our lives. That’s increasingly OK, though, because according to the LifeWay survey results, few people actually know what the Bible says anyway, because 67% of professing Christians don’t read the Bible.

So the upshot of all of this that I am not surprised at all that professing Christians – especially younger ones – are now saying that they are “more spiritual than religious”, and that fewer and fewer are attending church and reading the Bible. It’s easier, and we are increasingly a culture that follows the path of least resistance.

As to Connor’s point that a materialistic view of reality has broad sociological and governmental implications for western society, I guess it would be pretty silly to think that it doesn’t. Marriage doesn’t necessarily mean a man and a woman any more. We cannot legally pray in public schools any more. We can’t be considered politically correct if we admit that the winter holidays exist because of Christmas, and that Christmas exists because we celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. George Washington said: “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. In 1782, the United States Congress passed a resolution that read: “”The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools.” John Hancock and John Adams wrote: “We recognize no sovereign but God, and no King but Jesus.” Adams also said: “I have examined all religions, and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world.” There are hundreds of quotes like these that make clear the intent of most of our nation’s founders. One of my favorite recent quotes in this area is comprised of the words of Ronald Reagan: “I believe with all my heart that standing up for America means standing up for the God who has so blessed our land. We need God’s help to guide our nation through stormy seas. But we can’t expect Him to protect America in a crisis if we just leave Him over on the shelf in our day-to-day living.

Thank you, Mr. President.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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