You are the salt of the earth, you Christians are, so says the Gospel writer Matthew. Or at least you should be.
And you are also, Christian, the light of the world, shining examples of the faith, the Christian faith that is within you.
But if the Christian has lost his saltiness and the light within him grows dim, there can be no effective witness, no example, no works which edify and redeem. Faith suffers and the future of the faith is in doubt.
CHURCH ATTENDANCE. It is down, very much down says pollster George Barna who keeps a finger on the pulse of American Christianity. In fact, church attendance has dropped precipitously in the last decade alone. People who call themselves Christians feel no obligation, no duty to attend church. There is today far less desire to fellowship with other Christians. There is little need to practice the sacraments and communion seems irrelevant, or at least unnecessary.
Prayer meetings, special events and speakers and especially Sunday night worship services seem to be of little value in today’s Christianity. An individualized approach to Christian belief and practice now prevails over the Corporate, the Church, the gatherings, the fellowship. That is especially so with larger denominations, old-line denominations where massive worship structures and cathedrals sit vacant day after day and are ill-attended on Sundays. Failing church attendance bodes ill for the future of the church.
PROFESSIONS OF FAITH. George Barna and cohort Bill Dallas say that professions of faith are at a historically low level. There seems to be a growing lack of personal relationships with Jesus Christ, and consequently no need to profess a personal belief in HIM. That is especially so with regard to others. Faith and belief then become private matters and there is little need to witness or in many cases even discuss. The light in the heart of faithful believers grows dim.
BORN AGAIN CHRISTIANS. The born again spiritual experience, that powerful encounter of and commitment to Jesus Christ declines. That active, personal faith and relationship is replaced by what is called IDENTITY THEOLOGY where whatever is right to believe for the individual, whether scriptural or not, replaces true biblical theology. The biblical views of faith, hope and love are watered down, secularized and individualized. The Christ of Glory, the resurrected, forgiven Son of God becomes for many just another prophet of truth, a great moral teacher but perhaps not indispensable. Truly transformed lives go missing, the Army of the Lord declines and the future of the faith in America and even worldwide becomes more tenuous. The biblical admonition of:
EXCEPT A MAN BE BORN AGAIN, HE CAN NOT SEE THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
Is ignored in today’s secularized Christianity.
CHRISTIAN IDENTIFICATION. The number of people in America who identify themselves as Christian is declining. A new personal branding takes over. Individuals become searchers for truth, religious experimenters, synthesizers of all kinds of beliefs and moral precepts and refuse to be labeled or label themselves, especially as Christian. Some who hold Christian beliefs are intimidated by our aggressive secular society, criticized or even threatened by those hostile and atheistic, cowered into silence. Some refuse to identify themselves as Christians so as not to offend someone else. The biblical admonition that one who believes should never be ashamed of the faith or the proclamation of the Gospel no longer applies.
Interestingly, our present Congress, the 115th Congress is more Christian than the U.S. population as a whole. The vast majority of the nation’s federal lawmakers (91%) describe themselves as Christians, compared with just 71% of U.S. adults. This Congress has 30 Jewish members, 3 Hindus, 3 Buddhists, 1 Unitarian Universalist and 1 Religiously Unaffiliated. But very few of those congresspersons take strong stands with respect to their religious beliefs. That presents a real challenge to the future of the faith.
WORSHIP PARTICIPATION IN SMALL GROUPS. Spiritual get-togethers, Bible study groups, prayer and discussional gatherings have declined by a full 50% in America. Spiritual value once there is gone. The individual prays, worships, reads Scripture or otherwise participates in things spiritual in different ways and all alone, if at all. The true Church, the BODY OF BELIEVERS becomes fragmented, individualized, losing combined and corporate spiritual energy. The Christian person of faith so often stands alone with weakened spiritual energy and effect. As a consequence, the future of the faith in America is itself lessened and weakened.
ADULT SUNDAY SCHOOL PARTICIPATION. Attendance at Sunday school by adults has decreased dramatically. That seems consistent with declining church attendance. Perhaps that has much to do with the quality of Sunday school content and the leader of Sunday school programs. Often, the lesson-giver comes from a current, secular culture which waters down strong biblical content. Current issues of the day are often discussed rather than real spiritual ones. The compelling truth of the Gospel is often missing. In the words of one:
IT’S (SUNDAY SCHOOL) JUST NOT WORTH THE TIME!
The sense and appreciation of Sunday, the Sabbath as a day set aside to worship and honor God declines dramatically. There is no sense of duty to attend, nor any guilt in that regard. In fact, many who do attend church do so at the earliest possible time (multiple services) so that they can have the rest of the day to enjoy and not, as one parishioner stated:
“Lose the whole day!”
The sense of worship, the holy, the coming apart and being separate for even one day hardly exists, and the true dynamic, the ultimate energy of the faith, the future of the faith becomes even more doubtful.
BIBLE READING. Bible reading has declined. And with it, BIBLE STUDY has dramatically declined. So many so-called Christians think little of the biblical admonition:
STUDY TO SHOW THYSELF APPROVED UNTO GOD
There is ever declining truly thoughtful study, meditating upon the Word of God, comparing commentaries on Scripture and little prayerful spiritual requests for truth (prayer) and the revelation of such truths by an intervening God. The Bible, Scripture, becomes dull, even irrelevant. The sayings and stories are old, far too historical, relevant for a certain time but not for today. Spirit-led insight and interpretation is replaced by what the individual, the so-called Christian individual wishes to believe and thinks is right. Large passages of Scripture are denied, disregarded and in many cases seen as just plain wrong for today’s so-called Christian. Consequently, there is little or no need for Bible Study. The faith once given is in so many ways no longer and the future of that real effective faith is highly in doubt.
PRAYER. George Barna says that the number of adults who pray to God has “decreased significantly in recent years.” It really is shocking to think that, of all fundamentals of the faith, prayer would decline or even disappear. That is, true prayer, real prayer to the only God, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and that same God the Father of a Christian’s Lord Jesus Christ. Rather, if there is any prayer, it is made to God in general, someone or thing out there and more often than not only in a time of need. Prayer becomes mere words, the prayer for the most part not really believing that there is a God or one who will in fact answer the prayer. So, why bother? The biblical admonition to pray without ceasing and firmly believing seems long gone. Prayer seems nothing more than a release, words out there, formalized words so often heard in church or even from wrote memory like THE LORD’S PRAYER, so much is without real meaning or real effect either for the individual praying or for the results sought. So, why bother.
Prayer is perhaps the most powerful biblical concept. It can energize the entire person, provide insight, produce love and effectuate change. But all of that not only declines, but disappears. Millions have given up prayer never to return. Rather than praising God, God is blamed for problems, the evil of the world and a divine indifference to the petitioner. Without prayer there is no faith and without the faith of the individual, spiritual salt and light at work, the future of the Christian faith in America is highly in doubt.
SHARING FAITH AND THE GOSPEL. Pollsters Barna and Dallas found that only 2 of 10 adults believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith in Christ and the Gospel. 2 OF 10 ADULTS only 20% believe they should share, witness, testify regarding their personal Christian faith and belief!
There is a growing sense even among Christians that faith and belief are personal, highly individualized and that no matter what one believes, those beliefs should not be foisted upon another. Any individual should be entitled to what he or she believes whether right or wrong. And, there are many who are ashamed of their faith, ashamed to testify and they are silenced. Many are afraid of ridicule. Others of rejection. Many who are weak and meek eschew criticism and do not want to give a reason for the faith that is within them. That is so whether the witness is in word or deed. Our aggressive, secularistic, often atheistic society marginalizes religion in the public square, condemns public testimony even to the point of penalties for those who in fact seek to share their beliefs. The witness, the verbal power of the Gospel is eviscerated and becomes of little effect. Even when shared, the message is watered down, presented in non-offensive terms so that it is given in non-offensive ways, utterly ignoring Scripture which indicates that belief in Jesus Christ and the message of THE CROSS is in fact an offense of which the true believer should not be ashamed. Without that aggressive witness, the people perish and so does the Church. Without strong, passionate, sincere and consistent EVANGELIZING, the future of the Christian Church is highly in doubt, at least the effective, energetic future is.
“CHRISTIANS ARE NOT EXCITED ENOUGH ABOUT THEIR FAITH IN AND RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST TO SHARE THE BASICS OF THAT FAITH WITH NON-BELIEVERS.”
So say pollsters Barna and Dallas and that conclusion sadly seems so very true. What the world needs now are passionate Christians where the love of Christ shines ever so brightly. If the Christ is in fact the light of the world, then the faith of real Christians should shine as brightly for all the world to see. If the Christian faith, if that relationship with Jesus Christ is in fact the salt of the world, the salt of the earth, the spiritual chemistry which changes society, exposes its immorality then the passionate faith of Christians should be that cleansing, changing effect but again, it is true so sadly so that more often than not, none of that happens because:
CHRISTIANS ARE NOT EXCITED ENOUGH ABOUT THEIR FAITH
So, the spiritual bottom line is to:
TAKE A STAND
The future of the faith, the Christian faith, the Church, the Body of Christ is at risk, failing in so many ways, lukewarm and so much in need of revival, revitalization and re-energizing.
Only then can the Body of Believers become the salt and light which the Scripture requires and which are the true evidences, the fruits of the faith, real passionate faith and belief in Jesus Christ.