An Opportunity for Spiritual Renewal
- Friday, March 20, 2009
By now you've likely heard the headlines about the extensive research by the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) describing the significant decline of religion and the rise in secularism in America.
A summary of the study by USA Today (Cathy Grossman) states, "The percentage of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers - or falling off the faith map completely."
Experts agree that the cultural influence of Christianity is sliding as more people are describing themselves as non-religious (now at 15%). The Washington Post commented, "The only group that grew in every U.S. state since the 2001 survey was people saying they had ‘no' religion."
Mark Silk, researcher and expert on public values, helped supervise the survey. In the Washington Post he noted, "The survey substantiated several general trends already identified by sociologists: the slipping importance of denominations in America, the growing number of people who say they have ‘no' religion and the increase in religious minorities including Muslims, Mormons and such movements as Wicca and paganism."
Another Washington Post writer (Michele Boorstein) noted, "The percentage of Americans who call themselves Christians has dropped dramatically over the past two decades, and those who do are increasingly identifying themselves without traditional denomination labels."
Of course, you can read the articles and watch the news stories on your own.
The Concurrent Disappearance of Truth
At this same time The Barna Research Group released another study of the "Biblical Worldview" of Americans, finding that only 9% of all American adults have a biblical worldview (to see Barna's definition of this and the details of his study, go to www.Barna.org - "Survey Examines Changes in Worldview Among Christians over the Past 13 Years"). Among "born again Christians", fewer than one out of every five (19%) had such an outlook on life. Among the "Mosaic Generation" (ages 18 to 23) "less than one-half of one percent has a biblical worldview, compared to about one out of every nine older adults."
An obvious question is: "What do we do about this?" Let me weigh in with a few thoughts.
A Few Misguided Responses
There may be a few instinctive reactions that we all feel. I would not recommend the following:
Panic - While this negative news may be cause for concern, we are assured that God is still on the throne, truth ultimately triumphs over error, and light still dispels darkness. We know from history that these trends could be dramatically reversed by another spiritual awakening in our nation.
Anger - Pointing a hostile finger at atheistic writers, the government, other religions, or the anti-religious sentiment in the media as the cause of this decline is irresponsible. (Whenever we point a finger we have three pointing back at us - and our thumb pointing heavenward, reminding us of our personal accountability to God!) If anything, we must be angry at our own failure to demonstrate the glory of the gospel in ways that positively transform the culture.
Resolve - Another dose of fleshly cleverness, additional new and novel methods and mere human resolve is not in order. We have more education, money, technology, methodology, and refined technique today than at any other time in the history of the church, yet the impact of our best efforts are yielding disappointing results. We are reminded of God's clear word that it is "not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit," (Zech. 4:6).
Some Recommended Responses
Become Deeply Broken - I believe this is a time for us to return to brokenness over the spiritual condition of our nation, our inadequate impact on the culture, and our need to return to holiness, truth, and spiritual renewal. God still resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
Become Increasingly Desperate - A well-known Ugandan pastor, who survived the tragedy of Idi Amin's rule and then watched the spiritual resurgence of his nation, often issues this call to American Christians: "Desperation or devastation." Truly this is a good time to recommit to desperate praying for the spiritual revival of the church in America. We must get to a place where churches are renowned as houses of prayer more than centers for programming and Christian entertainment. This is a prime time for pastors to re-establish biblical priorities according to Acts 6:4 ("prayer and the ministry of the word') and to lead their people into consistent, powerful experiences of balanced, biblical prayer.
Become Biblically Educated - While we know that "knowledge puffs up" (2 Corinthians 8:1) and that powerless theological education can be counterproductive - we still must be resolute as approved workers who are "rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). We must demonstrate the power and value of a biblical worldview. Then, as we "sanctify the Lord God" in our hearts we will "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks" for the reason for the hope that we demonstrate in this life. We must offer these answers with "meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15).
Become Meaningfully Engaged - Prayer is not a substitute for meaningful ministry; rather, it is the source of spiritually-empowered ministry. This is not a time to hide out, but a time to pray up and go out. We need to engage with lost friends, the non-religious, and those who are ignorant of the real meaning of the cross. They are not the enemy but are victims of The Enemy. As Acts 4:13 demonstrates, we may not impress them with our own acumen or status, but we must impress them "that we have been with Jesus." Acts 4:20 gives us this example: "We cannot help but speak of what we have seen and heard." This boldness, experienced and empowered by our time in His truth and presence, is a positive force for transforming a culture in spiritual decline.
Become Spiritually Empowered - As we all "with unveiled faces" experience "as in a mirror the glory of the Lord" - we will be "transformed from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18). As a result, we will understand a new definition of ministry. This ministry is described in 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 with powerful verbiage that tells us that we do not lose heart, we expose the darkness with light, we are servants with a bold gospel message, and we are shining with the glory of Jesus Christ. That kind of living has the power to turn things around in our nation.
Bad News - Good News
Yes, the headlines are touting some bad news for people of faith. But our hearts can interpret this as an opportunity for a fresh dose of good news. We must become the recipients of this good work, then serve as catalysts of this good message, accomplishing great things in a culture that is still spiritually hungry and looking for real answers.
Copyright © Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
Daniel Henderson is Founder and President of Strategic Renewal, a ministry focused on igniting the heart of the church through personal renewal, congregational revival, and leadership restoration for the glory of Jesus Christ. An accomplished speaker, teacher and author, Daniel travels across the U.S. leading seminars and events that motivate individuals and entire congregations to greater passion and effectiveness in prayer. With 25 years of pastoral experience, he offers individuals and churches the spiritual tools for a more intimate relationship with God.
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