There are well north of 200 Christian denominations in the United States. While perhaps not a positive of the overall church in the country, that is a testament to Christianity’s historic role in the nation. Does this remain a strength? Or is it now a liability?
One of the hardest groups to share the gospel with is people who consider themselves Christians because they go to mass a few times a year, or because they are in the church they grew up in, or said a prayer when they were 6, etc., but exhibit little or no outward trait of the Christian faith or profess even a basic understanding. Some I’ve talked to call themselves Christian but then tell me there are many ways to heaven. People say they follow the teachings of Jesus, but are not sure of the resurrection. These are small “c” Christians — cultural Christians. Too many are in pulpits. They are terribly confused and too often ignorant of the faith they claim.
Often times those who know little of the church in their upbringing are the most receptive to the truth that is Christ. They recognize their sinfulness and their need for Christ. Cultural Christians are immunized to this truth — they’re already Christians! This makes our countrymen all the more difficult to evangelize when so many already consider themselves Christians and good to go. God alone knows the individual heart, but it seems clear that a great many of our fellow countrymen think they are Christians, and they are not. How can I be so declaratory? If the Bible and Christ define the core tenants of Christianity, and one does not hold to those core tenants, then by the Bible’s definition — not mine — one is not a Christian.
Barna Research sheds some broad insights beyond my personal experiences.
“Among individuals who describe themselves as Christian, for instance, close to half believe that Satan does not exist, one-third contend that Jesus sinned while He was on earth, two-fifths say they do not have a responsibility to share the Christian faith with others, and one-quarter dismiss the idea that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches.”
This goes to the core issues. If there is no Satan and no hell, what is there to be “saved” from? And one-third says Jesus sinned? Remember, these are Christians. His sinless life, sacrifice of death and resurrection, all spelled out in the Bible, are imperative to His power to save. But a large percentage of self-identified Christians do not apparently think they need saving, nor do they think Jesus is qualified if they did. How can one possibly consider themselves a Christian while maintaining definitively un-Christian positions?
It’s surprisingly easy if you are a cultural Christian — always been a Christian, always will be a Christian. “Hey, I go to church!” one will say defensively. “Jesus was just a great teacher,” says another, a line of astonishing ignorance that C.S. Lewis demolishes. “Who are you do say who is a Christian?” charges another. I’m nobody. I just read the Bible and go by what it says. If you don’t believe the Bible, don’t believe in eternal consequences for sin, don’t believe in Christ’s atonement, don’t believe He is the only way to heaven — you are not a Christian. And your argument is not with me, it is with the Author of the Bible. Take it up with Him.
The historic influence of Christianity is broad, and the number of self-proclaimed Christians remains broad. But that may now actually be an impediment to evangelizing — or whatever term you prefer for telling people of the real Christ. (If you do not think that is imperative as a Christian, you really need to read your New Testament.)
Okay, so my question to those who see this as I do, how do we go about talking to our neighbors, co-workers, family members and so on about the need for salvation through faith in Christ alone, particularly when talking to people who consider themselves Christians but reject the basic Biblical tenants of Christianity? This is no small problem. I fear a great many people are headed for hell thinking they have tickets stamped, “heaven.” But it is no longer adequate to simply identify a problem. Under the grace that is given to us as followers of the sinless, resurrected, only-way-to-God Christ, we must seek to identify solutions. Others may not believe this statement, but we must: It is life and death.
I obviously agree with Franklin Graham’s recent overarching point on the nation turning its back on God.
But I do not believe he places the blame in the right place.
In an interview on NewsMax TV, he said: “In the last four years, we have begun to turn our backs on God. We have taken God out of our education system. We have taken him out of government. You have lawyers that sue you every time you mention the name of Jesus Christ in any kind of public forum. What has happened is we have allowed ourselves to take God out everything that we do. And I do believe that God will judge our nation one day.”
But who is “We?” Who is he pointing the finger at? “The far left” is the answer.
“They want to shut the mouths of evangelicals. They want to shut the mouths of Christians,” Graham told NewsMax. “One hundred years ago, political leaders in every community were the pastors. They were the voices that were heard. They were the voices that had the influence. Politicians know that and the government knows that — and they are trying to shut the mouths of especially evangelicals.”
Throughout the interview, Graham refers to “them” and “they.” But I think that is not the core of the problem. It is “us” and “we.” Christians, those who claim the name of Christ. Those who profess to be followers of Him, have the Holy Spirit and believe the Bible is exactly what it claims to be.
As I posted yesterday, if we Christians had not given place to more and more of the world at the cost of less and less of the spiritual, there would be no place for the far left to exist. Some would always be there opposing Christ, but they would not control all the halls of influence in our nation and have attained the power over the culture they currently do without Christians having voluntarily vacated the space to do other things.
Consider the decline of the big mainline denominations, which have lost members by the millions as the country has gained population by the tens of millions. Whose fault is it that the Episcopalians and Presbyterians and Lutherans and Methodists chose to more and more chuck the Bible and follow the culture? Leftists? This is most obvious with the acceptance and even ordination of gays. But that is mostly the final straw in a long retreat from holding to the word of God and evangelizing the lost. A little compromise begets a lot of compromise. None of that was due to lawyers or leftists.
Graham said that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is “a very good man, and I like the man very much — but I don’t think he was exciting or charismatic enough.”
Is that really justification for Christians not showing up? Is that really the reason that a three-percentage-point majority chose leftist secularism? It could not be bound up in much deeper, foundational issues? The question is rhetorical. Christians need to acknowledge that a far deeper drift from Christ is what should properly be placed at the center of the finger-pointing. That drift open the gates for this re-election.
I just cannot help but think the future pivots on our understanding of how we got to this moment. It is not about the rise of leftist secularists. It is about the voluntary decline of Christians that allowed the rise of leftist secularists.
I share this article because it underscores the point being made on the blog. Secularism arises only when it is filling a vacuum left by the retreat of religion. In America, that religion is Christianity. We see the rise of secularism in every institution driving the culture. This is only allowable by the voluntary retreat of Christians and the church in this country. Western Europe is 50 to 100 years ahead of the United States on this retreat, and it shows.
Ironically, the retreat of Christianity not only allows for the rise of secularism, but also for the expansion of Islam, particularly militant Islam. This is not because Christians are great soldiers, but the Christian foundations that fostered the building of the United States created a bulwark against Islamism. Those foundations were physical in our laws and actions and spiritual in our prayers. That, too, is in retreat.
So here is an article on Andrew McCarthy in National Review that is an example this reality without going into the underlying causes that we are discussing.
“The president is a movement leftist who sees in our society a condemnable legacy of racism, imperialism, and economic exploitation that cries out for “fundamental change.” That is not meaningfully different from the Islamist perspective of America: The Brotherhood’s self-proclaimed mandate to “eliminate and destroy Western civilization from within” by “sabotage” is, in effect, a cognate summons to “fundamental change,” even allowing that Islamists are driven to statism by sharia rather than Marxism. The Brotherhood’s American mouthpiece, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, brags that the president nabbed 85 percent of the Muslim vote on November 6 — larger even than Obama’s lopsided share of the Hispanic vote, which has GOP strategists hyperventilating. You wouldn’t want to take CAIR claims at face value, but their ardor for Obama, like the Brotherhood’s, is palpable. And as we’ve seen for four years, it is not an unrequited love.”
This is about what the re-election of Barak Obama represents. “Fundamental change,” in the President’s words, has always represented at its deepest roots changing the foundations of the country and leaving Christianity in the dustbin of history. Watch how things are playing out in the Middle East now that the United States, and even more so Western Europe, are distancing themselves from Israel. The Islamists are emboldened everywhere because they see in the weakening of the West, the weakening of Christianity.
This is a fate that Christians have brought on by active indifferences to the fundamentals of the faith, with the church following on as an increasingly empty institution. The good news is that the real church is not an institution, per se, but the mystical body of believers in Christ. And, I believe, there remains a very large remnant of those in this country.
This blog was begun after the election because of what the results revealed. But it has been perceived as being a desire to win elections by converting people to Christianity. Wrong perception.
Obviously I have not been adequately articulate. Hey, I’ve only been a published writer for 30 years, I’ll get it eventually!
So here is a quick post of clarification.
I see the widespread Republican losses Nov. 6 at the national levels as a leading indicator of a needed revelation. Election day pulled back the curtains on several issues. The biggest: The country is not Christian and anyone who thinks otherwise is detached from measurable reality. Secondarily: Christians can and do delude ourselves about where our nation stands spiritually. I’m not sure that part has fully sunk in yet.
We do not have political parties based on religious affiliation, fortunately. But the parties do reflect religious affiliation. And the party that by far gets the most votes from evangelical Christians — those who believe the Bible is true and Jesus was who he said he was and try to act accordingly — is the Republican Party. According to the exit polls, 80% of evangelicals voted for Mitt Romney.
So in that sense, the Republican Party is a leading indicator of the evangelical Christian community’s political participation — which is important in a democracy. (When broadened to anyone who calls themselves a Christian, often because they go to mass on Christmas or to the same church their parents went to or whatever, the distinction remains, but is no longer strong. God alone knows the hearts, but the definition of a Christian is not attending mass or attending church or doing good deeds. The definition is in the Bible — what Jesus says about himself — which is why believing the Bible is true is kind of important.)
So the clock-cleaning Republicans absorbed nationally, against all expectations among evangelicals and conservatives, revealed the state of Christianity. Retreating. Weakening. Losing its foundations.
However, and this is big, we are not Western Europe, either. Not by a long shot. According to the Atlantic Monthly, the evangelical vote was 27% of the electorate Nov. 6 — the highest it has ever been — noting, however, that the turnout was down. This means that Christians did their part at the ballot box. (Whether we do the rest of the time is the very big question.)
Again, if Republicans are the leading indicator, there are these facts: 30 out of 52 governorships are Republican. Republicans control 26 state legislatures and Democrats 16. The rest are divided. There are more legislators that are Republican nationwide than Democrat by 53%-47%.
The nation is clearly divided and electorally confused.
Take for instance Florida, where I live. The state is dominated at the state level by Republicans, who have held the governorship this century and have veto-proof majorities in the Senate and House. The Democrats in Tallahassee are almost irrelevant, the domination is so strong. Yet the state went for a Democrat president the past two elections and re-elected a Democrat U.S. Senate member.
Like I said, confused.
I think the confusion stems from the remnants of the Christian foundation colliding with the building blocks of a new, progressive, non-Christian or anti-Christian foundation. But the Christian foundation is not completely dismantled. It is only weakened. Nor is the progressive foundation completely laid. It is still in process. The future of the country — and therefore, the well-being both spiritually and physically of its citizens — hangs in the balance of which foundation the next half-century will be built upon.
So then, to be clear, do I want people to become Christians so Republicans can win elections? No, no and triple no. Double-down on the triple no! Clear? That political party simply acts as a sort of proxy by which we have one measure of Christian fervency.
To change the results of elections, we must change the culture. To change the culture, we must change the church. To change the church, we must change ourselves. To change ourselves requires Christ.
That is a guiding formula. Change will not come to this country without change coming to the church. And change will not arrive in the church without hearts and minds being changed, transformed, renewed by the unvarnished truth.
Modern revisionism aside, the United States was built on a Christian foundation, from the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock to the Founding Fathers, the basis was formed by a people who were majority Christian, large majority. The non-Christians are well known precisely because they were the exceptions. But we began slipping down the slope, away from the truth. People kept going to church, but it became more a function of routine, tradition or essentially networking. Exalting Christ and dying to oneself became foreign. Hearts began hardening. By the 20th century, the outward edifices remained strong, but the inward church was dwindling, weakening, crumbling.
The rise of secularism, given boost by newly secular scientists and “discoveries” from the theory of evolution to the theory of the multiverse, did not pave the way for anything happening now. The church had paved the way before those — Christians and other church members had paved the way by not adhering to and living the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Secularism had already found fertile ground by the time it busted above the surface in the 1960s. It was long in the classroom and academia. It was en route to overtaking the media and Hollywood. This most recent election that shocked so many Christians was merely another step down this long march to a secular nation that will not live under the blessings of our Creator.
To sum it up in reverse, Christians diminished themselves spiritually by accommodating the world around them. That diminished the church and that in turn diminished the nation to where what was once thought absurdly immoral — abortion — is now required by law for church institutions to provide.
There is only one way to turn it around.
Look in the mirror. Whose looking back?
That’s who has to change first.
I’ve said this in church many times: Change always starts with me.
There are several drivers of public opinion: schools, popular entertainment, academia and the media. But they are all filled with people — an awful lot of people who do not know the truth found in Christ. But many of them have been able to live their whole lives without getting a clear presentation of the gospel by Christians clearly living it.
Those institutions will never change until most of the people in them know the truth.
And that’s the job of Christians.
The day after the 2012 election was heavy. We were gut punched. Shocking almost every conservative and evangelical Christian, Barack Obama was re-elected president. Easily. It left that telltale sick feeling deep in the stomach for many. How could we have all been so wrong? Not pollsters. Polls are just a manifestation of impatience. No, conservative, evangelical Christians (for lack of better terms) were uniformly wrong about the outcome because we thought we knew our fellow Americans.
And I realized that if we can come to grips with the fact that many Americans — probably the majority — see the world and this country in dramatically different fashion from us evangelicals, then we have a start.
In fact, among all the questions drifting from the debris of Tuesday’s wreck, it’s the one stark answer we have. We weren’t wrong on the issues, or campaign strategies or candidates or ground games. We were wrong about who we are as a country. We can no longer assume that the majority of Americans think the Founding Fathers were some of the wisest and best men in all of history, that America is the world’s last best hope, that we are, as Reagan put it in biblical terms, “A shining city on a hill.”
A majority, albeit a slight majority, of our American neighbors just do not see us that way.
In part, this has come about via the domination of the institutions that move and shape public thought — schools, Hollywood and music, academia and the media. We need to retake those institutions that govern public opinion and shape worldviews. This is critical; either re-take them or neutralize their impact. Those will all come in future posts.
But none of them are the actual heart of the matter. We were outmaneuvered for the past century in all of those institutions, but the strategy would have failed — or never started — if not for the biggest failure of all. That biggest failure softened the ground nicely for the planting of the poisonous roots that bore such shocking fruit Tuesday.
The biggest failure?
This is on the church, not politicians or politics. Tuesday’s loss is the result of a declining Christian church in this country. I point no fingers. I am part of this church. I follow Christ and represent Him here on earth. It is on me. If you are a Christian, it is on you.
Charles de Montesquieu said, “The deterioration of a government begins almost always by the decay of its principles.” In a democracy, those principles derive from the morals of the people. In a Christian nation, that would be great. But does it need to be said? We are not a Christian nation. We once were. We no longer are. Whose fault is that? Not the politicians.
Serious Christians need to reengage the culture. I do not mean a reenactment of the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s, not abortion and gay marriage, not economics and taxes and immigration and gun rights and school prayer — although all of those need illumination. No, we need to reengage the culture with the truth of Christ. It is past time to take Jesus with us when we leave our comfortable pews where we enjoy great worship and preaching and coffee afterwards and take Him into the streets, into the offices, into the schools, into the hospitals and nursing homes, into the neighborhoods and the restaurants and bars, into the grocery stores and auto shops, into the prisons — everywhere there are people.
We need to stop hiding, coasting, shrinking back, being fat and lazy and compromising, parked in front of American Idol or listening to Beyonce or Eminem, or going after the biggest house or biggest church building or whatever it is that we have been doing, and start being what we are called to be: Light. A light needs to be turned on and shined to be of any value. We better know what we believe and be able and willing to defend it. Anywhere. Anytime. Because the opponents of Christianity certainly are.
The hour is later than we thought as a nation. But it is never too late for the author of true hope.
Our job: Stop all the junk and start living like Christ-followers. One by one, we start winning souls. When we win souls to the Christ of eternity, we have won all. But in the process, we will win hearts and minds, and the blinders of deception will begin to fall from our fellow Americans. It will be a long process, but the opponents of Christianity have been at it a very long time. They will not go quietly into the night.
This is a battle — a battle for the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans. A battle for souls for eternity. This goes far beyond the United States of America, but America’s future as a shining light or a backwater has-been will be determined in it.
It goes ill for the entire world if we lose. And we will lose, if we do not engage.