Thursday, April 15, 2010
Is Real Christianity Actually Declining in America?
Every few months someone publishes another poll that seems to indicate that Christianity in America is on the decline. While it is difficult to argue with the overwhelming statistics that fewer people in America consider themselves Christian than ever before, does that actually mean that real Christianity is on the decline?
Though I am not a professional pollster, I interact with a lot of people who do not go to church on a regular basis and I have my own theory about this matter. I think most would agree that a large number of people who may have called themselves Christians in the past did so only out of tradition or habit. Their family had some type of Christian heritage, so they assumed that made them Christian as well. But few of those people ever made a personal commitment to following Christ in their daily lives. This does not mean they were atheists, it just means that their Christianity was more of a vague concept or in some cases more akin to membership in a social club, than a deep personal faith in Jesus Christ. Though it is not my place to judge others, it seems that if a person has never made a personal commitment to the Christ of Christianity, then they are probably not real Christians. After all, how can people be committed to something to which they have made no actual commitment?
If my theory is true, then perhaps many of the recent polls about the decline of Christianity in America is more a reflection of people being honest about their faith than it is about real Christianity being in decline. If this is the case, then instead of being dismayed, we can actually be happy about these polls.
We can be happy about the honesty these polls reflect because it helps us overcome one of the greatest "arguments" against Christianity. One of the greatest "arguments" against Christianity is that there are too many hypocrites in the church. A hypocrite is a person who says one thing, but does another. If we have had all these people calling themselves Christians who really were not Christians, then indeed, Christianity had a large percentage of hypocrites in our midst. These large numbers of hypocrites give non-Christians plenty of excuses for not believing. But if people are now being honest and admitting that they were not Christians to begin with, then what should be left in the church are the real Christians. And if those real Christians are living out their faith like they should be, then Christianity should have far fewer hypocrites than in the past.
Though the "membership numbers" of the Christian religion may be smaller than in the past, if those who still call themselves Christians have a vibrant spirituality, then the church is actually stronger than it has been in a long time. As non-Christians see the vibrant faith lived out in the lives of the fewer, but more sincere, Christians who remain, those non-Christians may well be drawn to Christianity. The result of this could be a real resurgence in the church. Not resurgence based on family heritage, or cultural issues, but one based on actual spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ.
That sounds pretty good to me!