There are a lot of doomsday articles on the state of Christianity in the present day. Why not? So many professed Christians don’t know where their Bibles are, don’t attend church, and don’t believe in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity(ie. existence of Hell and Satan). There are disturbing public opinion polls on religion, in that, people identifying in the Christian faith holding views that are clearly opposed to Biblical teachings. The amount of professed Christians viewing abortion and homosexual marriage favorably are alarming. The amount of Christians watching porn and fornicating is alarming. The moral state of our nation is in decline. However, when was there ever a point in human history where the Church did not feel this way? The Church needs perspective and not just self proclaimed doomsday prophets in sackcloth.
A deeper look into Church numbers
Church attendance has been declining. Less than 20% of Americans regularly attend a church. This number comes after factoring for Halo Effect and better data gathering. But aggregate church attendance is highly misleading. We need to break it down. There are several denominations. Catholics, Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopalian, and the most interesting distinction is between Mainline Protestant and Evangelical. Mainline refers to older denominations that have adopted liberal or, more accurately, progressive theology, not necessarily liberal politics, but social leftism is a plague in these churches. Evangelicals refers to more traditional and conservative theology. So if the numbers are broken down by denomination, a much different picture emerges. Keep in mind that the technically-not-Protestant Church of England rooted Episcopal Church is considered Mainline.
Decline Is A Choice
Broken down, these aren’t the worst numbers the Church could be seeing. And this is merely younger people. As a whole Church decline is a lot more broken down than oft preached on Sunday.
Not all denominations are in decline. A more The Church in America isn’t parachuting with churches falling at different rates. In fact the denominations impacted by social leftism are the ones facing the most membership loss. For churches, social leftism is a deliberate stray from the teachings of God’s Word. Consider Paige Roger’s words on the Episcopal Church’s attempt to strip God of masculinity.
We have a name for that.
It is called blasphemy, sacrilege, heresy, apostasy, irreverence, desecration, impiety, profanation, imbecility, deception, evil, false teaching, vituperation.
To let this blasphemy stand unaddressed, unrebuked like so many other heretic controversies before, inevitably signals the future acceptance and inclusion of this sacrilege into Episcopal “doctrine.”
And this is precisely why good people – like myself – are fleeing the Episcopalian “church.”
Aggregate church attendance fails to tell the whole story of what’s going on in Christianity in the United State and around the world for that matter. If Christianity is “smaller” in America today, it’s likely stronger. So when Gallup asked Americans why they do go to church, it wasn’t for the music.
How did we get here?
While things may seem bad, we need to look at the current situation bearing in mind historical contexts. Every generation of Christians tends to think that the people are falling away from God. And the truth is, people usually are. So the question remains, is now worse than any other time in our nation’s history? The decline of Western Civilization is certainly a new presence that did not exist, say a hundred years ago. But many churches today refuse to embrace cultural decline. Above I used the term Evangelical to classify Protestant denominations that hold a more literal and contextual theology. However, the history of Evangelism is more recent than you might realize.
As you know, America was founded by people who wanted religious liberty. Soon after our country’s birth, we found ourselves in a drought of faith. In response, we had the 2nd Great Awakening. At the start of the 1800s our country saw many revivals and at the peak, anti-slavery became abolition. Yes the two are related because Americans largely stopped viewing salvation as exclusive. But not long after the Civil War we saw the rise of liberal theology. In the modernist era, humans thought they could solve all of the world’s problems. The modernist sought to replace Christianity with science and reason. So modernist theology became prevalent in the Church. They started preaching the historical Jesus. They denied the Resurrection and the virgin birth. In this liberal theology, the Bible became metaphorical and not literal. As we know, humans learned that modernism didn’t perfect us. In fact, it created terrible working conditions, evil ideologies, and could prevent no avoidable wars.
This is a term often thrown around by opponents of Christianity. But it has a real meaning rather than it’s modern day misuse. Fundamentalism is consolidated Christianity. It was a response to modernist liberal theology. Christians saw what was happening in the church. People preached on the “historical” Jesus rather than the actual Jesus. People believed that they could create utopia and that science and reason were substitutes for God. They were high up didn’t stop outside of the church walls either. Liberal theology was well-funded with even JD Rockefeller backing heretical churches. Liberal theology was so pervasive that many Christians consolidated their theology and viewpoints. The fundamentalist shut out anything to do with or associated with liberal theology.
The fruits of the fundamentalism weren’t desirable. The liberal theologians had a great emphasis on social issues while fundamentalism rejects things of the world. For this reason both the liberals and the fundamentalist participated in the temperance movement leading to the 18th Amendment. We also had embarrassments such as the Scopes Trial. Internationally, the church was too weak to deter nations from unnecessary war. Majority of World War 1’s belligerents had no business declaring war. Throughout the 1930’s, the church in Germany was weak enough to allow Nazism to thrive. If ever there was a low point for Christianity, it had to have been in the earlier twentieth century.
Rise of Evangelism
Where fundamentalist sought separation from the world, evangelicals sought to win the world. Not all Christians back then were fundamentalist. CS Lewis certainly wasn’t. A famous Christian who comes to mind is Dwight L. Moody who sought to reach the masses. Following in his footsteps was Billy Graham. Chrsitanity Today notes:
As Graham’s prestige and influence grew, particularly among “mainline” (non-evangelical) Christians, he drew criticism from fundamentalists who felt his cooperation with churches affiliated with the National and World Council of Churches signaled a compromise with the corrupting forces of modernism.
Billy Graham helped pave the way for the church in America and globally, to switch from defense to offense. World War 2 taught the capitalist side of the world that modernism failed to deliver on all of its promises. Billy Graham united Christians across denominations on the key doctrines of Christian faith and with that the goal of baptizing peoples of all nations. Billy Graham was also a key religious figure during the Civil Rights Movement. We lost a great man earlier this year. It’s a shame, but he left the church better than when he found it.
Much of what fundamentalist had considered sinful, evangelicals utilized to reach people. Believe it or not, the most overtly Christ-glorifying sport I’ve ever seen is mixed martial arts. Christian music is commercially viable, and faith based movies have made a quality comeback, most recently with I Can Only Imagine outperforming box office expectations. Fundamentalism is still alive today, but is laughable and largely irrelevant to the advancement of the church.
While things aren’t as bad as they were 100 years ago, the present day church is not without flaws. Hot topic issues, like abortion and homosexuality, help weed out the liberal and progressive churches, but not all apostate churches are separated so easily like sheep from goats. One of the country’s largest “churches” is helmed by Joel Osteen, the prosperity gospel preacher. From the fall of modernism came forth post-modernism. Post-modernism contains an emphasis on feelings and experiences with rejection of absolute truths. In the current age people like talking about grinding and hustling to achieve what you want in life. There are endless motivational speakers and cliches. False churches are preying on this. Too many pastors are motivational speakers first and bible teachers second. Many churches focus more on entertainment and metrics.
The church is also struggling to stay the course in the midst of the Trump wave. An alarming amount of church-goers put their faith in Trump over God. While there is a larger Christian presence in the Whitehouse than in the previous administrations, Trump is by no means a devout man of faith. To much extent, Trumps rise is a blow to the church’s credibility, even without him being a follower. Still, God allowed Trump to be President. And since Jesus hasn’t returned we still have work to do.
Billy Graham managed to help bridge the divide between protestants and Catholics for a time, but that largely went away with the ascension of Pope Benedict XVI. The Catholics are now in the hands of Pope Francis, who denied the existence of Hell, committing the heresy of annihilationism.
Christianity to today is not without faults and challenges. However the Church is gaining ground in China and Iran even as Western Civilization spirals downward. As our culture reaches a tipping point I find there to be no question that the Church in America today is better equipped to do what God calls them to do than 100 years ago. Christianity is not at an all time low; however, the Church’s trajectory in the United States is hard to predict. The outcome will largely depend on our trust and steadfast stewardship
God bless! And Happy Easter!