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.