Monday, January 28, 2013

There Aren't That Many of Us

Here is something that does not match my own personal experience and observations and it probably likewise does not jibe with what the reader notices of the people around him at work, in the neighborhood, and elsewhere:

Christianity is the most popular religion in the United States, with around 73% of polled Americans identifying themselves as Christian in 2012.[1] This is down from 86% in 1990, and slightly lower than 78.6% in 2001.[2] About 62% of those polled claim to be members of a church congregation.[3] [, retrieved on 1/28/13]

My own line of work is such that I deal with a lot of different people throughout days, weeks, months or years.  During that time I continually find that virtually none of these people are Christians in any sense.  For the moment I’ll even allow for a broad sociological definition that includes Calvinists, Arminians, charismatics, Adventists, Campbellites, observant Roman Catholics, modalists, unitarians, greedy Christians, Christians who are drunkards or who have been excommunicated by their congregation, et al.  Nope--there still have not been more than about six apparent church-goers of any sort and there have not been more than two or three people who have given any sign, indication or profession that may suggest that they have been granted regeneration, repentance and faith; in fact, what I see, hear and witness is often exactly the opposite.  Add it all up and I, for one, have reason to question the statistics given above.

Of course, different social strata and different locations will have different percentages of certain populations or groups.  Therefore, for example, one would expect to find more people per capita in the South and Bible Belt who label themselves as Christians than people in the Northwest who do the same.  Likewise, one would expect to find more members of the dying mainline Protestant branches among well-paid, college-educated Americans than among less wealthy immigrants from other countries.  Nevertheless, 73% as a number of all American adults claiming to be Christians seems too high and in my mind probably reflects an error in sampling or surveying methodology: you know, the sort of error that does not account for the influence of social pressure per survey method, or the sort of error that causes one to force-fit an answer out of a range of five pre-selected answers which do not necessarily cover all logical possibilities, or a sort which does not account for people’s claiming to belong to a certain religious group because their parents belonged to it or because they are currently allied with it, and so on.


In any case, it is not true that 73% of all American adults are Christians according to historical, biblical and reasonable usage of the name “Christian.”  Remember the adage that to be in a garage doesn’t make one to be a car.  Likewise, recall that the Scriptures have something to say concerning the idea of recognizing people by the fruit that they bear or do not bear (Mt 7.15-20, Mt 12.33-37, Lk 6.43-45, 1 Jn 2.3-6, 1 Jn 2.9-11, 1 Jn 2.15-17, 1 Jn 3.6-10, 1 Jn 3.15, 1 Jn 4.8, 1 Jn 5.18; cf. Gal 5.16-24).  Consider also that “many are called, but few are chosen.”

Talk is cheap and mere professions of socio-cultural alliance or association do not mean anything if what is in your heart and mind is not knowledge of the gospel of Christ and resultant repentance and faith in Christ but rather the attitude that says, “Christianity: I tried that; it didn’t work out.” The latter profession actually suggests that at best what you had was not faith but either a working theory or hypothesis of experimental belief--an assumption--or faith in a decision to do good and follow Christ, as a possible result of imprecise teaching of the staff of whatever church you were attending.  Remember: there is a reason that there are numerous NT passages that mention false brethren even during the time of the apostles: Matthew 7:21-23 (cf. John 10:27), Matthew 25:1-13, John 6:66, 2 Corinthians 11:26, Galatians 2:4, 2 Peter 2:20-22 (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17), Jude 1:4,19, 1 John 2:19.

So, apart from lazy or broad sociological definitions or usage of the name “Christian” the real number of Christians among a given population or in a given place will often be less than it appears at first glance.  Consider the findings of another portion of the Wikipedia article:

Another study, conducted by Christianity Today with Leadership magazine, attempted to understand the range and differences among American Christians. A national attitudinal and behavioral survey found that their beliefs and practices clustered into five distinct segments. Spiritual growth for two large segments of Christians may be occurring in non-traditional ways. Instead of attending church on Sunday mornings, many opt for personal, individual ways to stretch themselves spiritually.[40]
  • 19 percent of American Christians are described by the researchers as Active Christians. They believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ, attend church regularly, are Bible readers, invest in personal faith development through their church, accept leadership positions in their church, and believe they are obligated to "share [their] faith", that is, to evangelize others.
  • 20 percent are referred to as Professing Christians. They also are committed to "accepting Christ as Savior and Lord" as the key to being a Christian, but focus more on personal relationships with God and Jesus than on church, Bible reading or evangelizing.
  • 16 percent fall into a category named Liturgical Christians. They are predominantly Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, or Orthodox. They are regular churchgoers, have a high level of spiritual activity and recognize the authority of the church.
  • 24 percent are considered Private Christians. They own a Bible but don't tend to read it. Only about one-third attend church at all. They believe in God and in doing good things, but not necessarily within a church context. This was the largest and youngest segment. Almost none are church leaders.
  • 21 percent in the research are called Cultural Christians. These do not view Jesus as essential to salvation. They exhibit little outward religious behavior or attitudes. They favor a universality theology that sees many ways to God. Yet, they clearly consider themselves to be Christians. [, retrieved on 1/28/13]

In terms of a census by historical, biblical and reasonable usage of the name “Christian” one can conceivably write off fifty percent based on the definitions listed immediately above.  Comfort and Cameron, et al. have already dealt with issues pertinent to the “Professing Christians” category.  Plenty of other people have addressed the issues of Roman Catholic soteriology with its view of works of righteousness.  And any group of so-called Christians which does not take the basic truths of John 14.6 seriously is itself a group whose claim to being “Christians” is questionable at best.  Half of 73% is roughly 37%, and 37% seems a more realistic figure for the number of American adults who have been granted regeneration, repentance and faith.

No comments: