The Lost Identity of Christianity

Previously, I have written about the 70, 6, 2 predicament. This is rooted in recent data which suggests that while 70 percent of Americans identify as Christian only 6% have a Biblical worldview. Meanwhile, only 2% of young adults have a Biblical worldview. I pointed out how this may seem problematic, but by participating in the story God is writing we can overcome this apparent lapse in our predominant national faith. So in today’s post, I want to dig in a little deeper to see why these numbers are the way they are.

There are several possibilities we can blame this predicament on. Perhaps our churches are not teaching our kids well enough. Perhaps the way churches do youth ministry is wrong. Maybe today’s kids are apathetic and lazy. It could be they do not like the music. Or the preaching is bad. Worship services simply are not exciting enough. Or they are too long. I think we have all heard these types of excuses before. However, I do not think they strike at the problem of our predicament.

So why are these the wrong explanations? There are a couple of answers to this. First, while these explanations are not completely off base, they all share a common factor in how they err. Each explanation is blaming others for the problems contemporary Christianity is facing. There is no personal responsibility. We blame the church. We blame pastors. We blame the services. We blame our kids. We blame everyone but ourselves. If we are going to participate in the story God is writing, we have to stop stealing the pen from God.

For the record, I am not excusing myself here at all. In high school, I was leading the youth group in lessons. I had no business doing that. I was not properly trained nor was I mature enough to handle that responsibility. And I reflect back and I feel terrible about how I handled some situations. And I also reflect on my role as a camp counselor. I was not mature enough for that either. I was not willing to put the proper effort into forming relationships with the campers. Looking back, I think I may have been helping as a counselor for some of the wrong reasons too. Of course, I did not understand that at the time. I thought I was well-intentioned. However, just because we are well intentioned does not let us off the hook for the responsibilities we have as followers of Christ.

In fact, that is one of the biggest problems in contemporary Christianity today. Too many Christians are shirking their responsibilities. Instead of working to form personal relationships, we just tell them to go read a book. Youth and young adults do not need another book to read (and that includes the Bible). They need personal relationships that influence how they view the world. Jesus did not say go into all the world and tell everyone to read a book. He told the disciples to go into all the world baptizing in His name and teaching them what He commanded. Books are not bad tools, but they have to be used in the context of a relationship. We need to be studying together as a cooperative activity.

However, I do not think that list of complaints nor the blame game is the only reason we have the 70, 6, 2 predicament. I believe the problem is our lost Christian identity. People simply do not know what it means to be a Christian today. Most probably think being a Christian is about being a good person and doing good things. And as a result, good things happen back because God honors people who do good things. Many believe God is for them and working on their behalf to cause good things. And they believe humanity is generally good. But that is not Christianity. That is moralistic, therapeutic deism.

Of course, there’s also survey data which suggests Americans do not understand some of the most essential doctrines. In a 2018 State of Theology survey commissioned by Ligonier Ministries1, 58% of people agreed that Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God. That’s Arianism and was rejected at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. 59% of people agreed the Holy Spirit is a force, but not a personal being. This heresy was refuted at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. Finally, 67% of people surveyed believed while some people sin a little, most people are generally good by nature. This is not a particular heresy, but is contrary to Christian teaching that human nature is corrupted with some teaching it is totally depraved. As St. Paul writes, “There is no one righteous, no not one.”

I could provide more data and show how it is contrary to Christian teachings, but I do not think that would be productful. This is because there are other things happening which also point to a lost identity. How many times have you heard about a pastor or lay person stealing money from a congregation? How many times have you heard about Catholic priests abusing children? How many times have you heard about a youth pastor who has seduced one of his female students? Perhaps it is not even something that serious. How many people reading this were mentored as teenagers one on one? How many times have you seen a Christian say one thing, but do another? How often have you seen Christians with double standards? Sadly, many of these events are all too common.

Quite simply, too many people have lost trust in the “church” (or Christianity in general). We start having doubts about whether any of these beliefs are real. Do they matter? Are people actually being changed by this? Can I believe this? Is there any reason why I should believe this? And the answer many find to these types of questions is “no, these beliefs do not matter.” The end result is people leave Christianity behind and view it as a false religion. But that does not make Christianity a false religion. It simply means people are leaving because of bad Christians.

In my spiritual journey, I began to have some of these doubts, but I realized early on that my faith should not and was not contingent on how other people lived out the Biblical mandates. What it was founded upon was the evidence for the Bible as eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. It was built upon my own faith in Jesus Christ as the God who became man and dwelt among us. However, that did not change my view of the “church”. 

So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.

Matthew 7:18-20

Seeking the True Church

This passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is paramount to discerning between false prophets and the true followers of Christ. Yet, it equally applies to the “church”. What I want to suggest is perhaps the brand of Christianity we are familiar with here in the United States may not be the true Church. Why? From the information and anecdotes I have shared, I think it may begin to be clear the “fruit” of American Christianity is not good. As Jesus taught, only bad trees produce bad fruit and those trees are cut down and thrown into the fire. We will know each “church” by the fruit it produces. Follow the advice of St. John, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)”

Now, I am not going to condemn every church or Christian out there. That is disingenuous. However, in the next couple of blogs, I plan to continue to write about reclaiming the lost identity of Christianity and the Church. I plan to spend time defining what the true Church looks like. But I will not tell you which church is the true Church. Your job is to find out what Church bears good fruit. Test the spirits. However, I believe that whichever church is the true Church, it bears out the apostolic faith.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:4-6

Additionally, I plan to make this topic the subject of my first podcast. I hope to have it out by next Friday. 

1 If you want the most current data, Ligonier Ministries will be releasing the State of Theology survey data for 2020 on September 8.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s