Published November 1, 2012
In the Friday, Oct. 19, 2012 edition of USA TODAY, in an article titled, “Christianity Isn’t Dying,” Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, addressed reports that state the church in America is in decline and the number of Christians is waning. Stetzer makes some excellent points that bear repeating, just in case you didn’t happen to see the article, I would like to mention some of his points.
Stetzer begins the article by saying, “You’ve heard it suggested that the United States is simply Europe on a 50-year delay. Most churches will be museums before your grandchildren reach adulthood.”
If you have traveled in Europe, as I have, you have likely grieved, as I did, for the churches and magnificent cathedrals that have literally been turned into museums. In Russia a few years ago, the Sons of Jubal sang in the Smolny Cathedral in St. Petersburg. It is truly one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have seen, yet, it is now used primarily as a concert hall.
I am happy to say that the night the Sons of Jubal sang there, it was transformed into a house of praise lifting up the precious name of Jesus. After the concert, one gentleman who attended said, “I don’t know how you did what you did here tonight, but this is the first time in 100 years that the Gospel has been proclaimed in this cathedral.”
Stetzer says, “Not so fast,” to those who believe that Christianity in America is on a trajectory of extinction. Rather, he suggests that many in America who identify themselves as Christian do so superficially. He refers to these people as “cultural Christians” who use the term, but don’t practice the faith. Many of these who have called themselves Christians are becoming “nones,” people who have no religious affiliation whatsoever.
In the article, Stetzer mentions three ways people identify themselves as Christian. “Cultural Christians” may mark that they are Christian on a survey because they know they are not Hindu or Jewish or some other religion. Some label themselves as Christian because their family has a history of doing so.
Stetzer then mentions “Churchgoing Christians,” so named because they occasionally go to church. I remember when I was a boy hearing my father in the pulpit on Easter Sunday, before a packed congregation say, “I am so glad to see all of you here on this beautiful Easter morning. I want to wish you a happy Fourth of July, Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you that I won’t see again until next Easter.” The ones who didn’t laugh that morning were a part of this group.
The third group Stetzer mentions is the “conversion Christians.” These are the believers who claim to have had a transforming faith in Christ that has resulted in a profound faith in the Lord.
Stetzer believes that the shift of “Christians” to “nones” has come from the two groups of “Cultural Christians” and “Churchgoing Christians.” They have shifted to a category that no longer uses a religious identification.
Ed Stetzer declares that “Christianity is not collapsing, but is being clarified.” He cites a survey that shows that the evangelical movement has remained generally steady from 1972 to 2010. He comments that annually Gallup asks Americans whether they consider themselves to be evangelical Christians. That number has remained in a range from 36 percent to 47 percent with the 2011 yearly aggregate being 42 percent. Stetzer plainly declares that there is “no collapse.”
The article concludes with this statement, “The future of Christianity in America is not extinction but clarification that a devout faith is what will last. Christianity in America is not dying, cultural Christianity is.”
What I find troubling is that Christian-ity is flourishing across the world, but here at home, it is not seeing the same growth. We have Christians from other nations now coming to the United States as missionaries. Clearly we need them.
What will change the spiritual direction of our nation? I believe that the answer to that question is prayer. I also believe that God wants to bless our nation with revival, but I believe He wants to see that we truly hunger for revival.
Are you praying for it? Are you longing for revival? Georgia Baptists, let’s pray as never before that God will touch our nation with His transforming power in ways such as we have never seen in our lifetime.
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