Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who Knows What About Religion? Pew Forum Survey

When I first read about this survey in yesterday's (September 28, 2010) Los Angeles Times, I had to laugh. Mainly, I laughed because the ignorance shown by Protestants is something that I have been keenly aware of for a number of years. This study clearly demonstrated that the appreciation for the life of the mind is glaring in its omission from the lives of Protestants. It appears that most Protestants don't even know some of the fundamental reasons for the Protestant Reformation let alone who was the the "key" figure in the Reformation (I place the word key in quotes, because any cursory study of the Reformation and pre-Reformation gives a reader a number of important reformers).

While much can be (and has been) said for the showing of the atheists, agnostics and Jews in this survey, I do not wish to focus on them. Here are some of the dismal results:

Protestants teach salvation through faith alone:
Christian - 16%
Protestant - 19%
White evangelical - 28%
White mainline - 14%
Black Protestant - 9%

This result does not surprise me given the shear amount of churches teaching Arminianism in this country.

Martin Luther inspired the Protestant Reformation:
Christian - 46%
Protestant - 47%
White evangelical - 52%
White mainline - 46%
Black Protestant - 40%

Again I am not surprised by this result. Ask yourself, "When was the last time I heard my pastor preach about the reasons for the Reformation, and why we do not genuflect at the alters of Rome?"

The next question was just as surprising. The Pew Forum asked the following:

Jonathan Edwards participated in the First Great awakening.

Christian - 11%
Protestant - 13%
White evangelical - 15%
White mainline - 10%
Black Protestant - 10%

Jonathan Edwards was America's finest preacher. His greatest sermon, "Sinner's in the Hands of an Angry God," still has people repenting and believing in Christ hundreds of years after Edwards' death. The fact that the mainline denominations don't know about him is not surprising when you take into consideration just how far into apostasy they have fallen. The numbers with the black Protestants may have something to do with Edwards' race.

The ignorance of Christians is not just limited to Christianity (which is inexcusable), but to other religions as well. The results from the Pew survey demonstrate that Christians are just as or even more ignorant of other world religions. How can the church properly present the message of the Gospel in the context of other world religions when the church does not understand those religions? The short answer is simple, "It can't!"

So the question that must be asked is, "Who is responsible for this woeful showing?" I think the blame can be laid at the feet of two groups. First and foremost, are American pastors. Secondly, the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) that have overrun most American churches due to the first group.

American Pastors

What I am about to describe is purely anecdotal, and while it does not in any way reflect what happens in other churches, I believe the principle is valid. That principle is simply that most American pastors have no true desire to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Let me explain, in the church I called home for the majority of my Christian walk (20-plus years), the pastor spoke on giving and/or tithing in more than half of his sermons during the year. The rest of the time was spent on his pet activities such as prayer and fasting. In the entire time I was a member of that church only once was a preaching through a bible book attempted (Ephesians, and it was never finished to my knowledge). Now how did this pastor justify himself? He said that teaching through a book did not meet the needs of the people in the quickest way possible. It is my opinion that this pastor simply could not or would not devote himself to the level of study that expositional preaching requires.

Secondly, and I will broaden my criticisms here, I believe that too many pastors want the "mega-church". This is something that constantly flows from my former pastor's lips every single service. Why is there such a desire for a church with 1,000-plus attenders? Simply, it is the money and prestige that a "mega-church" bestows on pastors of these sorts of churches. Once the 1,000 attender goal has been reached then the pastor is receives some sort of credibility that he believed he did not have prior to that milestone.

Further, "mega-churches" attract people that will give in order to soothe their consciences (more on this in a minute). Since these people will give in order to rid themselves of the guilt sin heaps on their lives, most "mega-churches" have $1 million budgets. As my old pastor tells that church, "Money gives you ability and credibility." This is true, but it also demonstrates a severe lack of faith in God's provision, but that is another story.

Lastly, while most pastors are afraid to even address finances (unlike my old pastor) they are even more afraid to address sin in the lives of the of the attenders. This is because if something controversial is said many of these attenders will leave in order to find a church that is more accepting of their religious hypocrisy. This is why you have the popularity of preachers like Joel Olsteen, who do not mention sin and the eternal consequences of it, but would rather teach attenders about living their best life now.

So rather than equipping the saints, as Paul commands in Ephesians 4:11-12, pastors continue to give pablum to placate the goats in attendance, and in the meantime true saints are severely malnourished from an unbalanced spiritual diet of pablum and milk at best, or pure heresy at worst.

The Goat Attenders

This is the saddest part of the entire equation. Because pastors no longer wish to offend any, they stop preaching on the bad news that makes the gospel good news. The bad news is that men are sinners, and that there are eternal consequences to sin. Instead pastors water down the effects of sin in the life of a person. They water down the message of the gospel which never begins with "God loves and has a wonderful plan for your life", but rather begins with sin and judgment, and ends with Christ's death and resurrection which forever rescues humanity from the penalty of sin.

It is these goat attenders that drive the sermon selection of the pastor. They want their itching ears tickled (2 Timothy 4:3), and so they church shop until they find the church that allows them to be comfortable in their religious hypocrisy. Sadly, since most pastors view the pulpit as a job and not a calling, they sell-out the gospel in order to gain more attenders. It is this "mixed company" (Exodus 12:38) that the pastor preaches to, all too often at the expense of the elect. The elect have to scratch on the ground digging for morsels of food just to survive, and in the meantime the goats are impacting the church for the negative.

It is these goats that have no interest in learning about the history of the men and women that have come before them. They consider the old hymns boring, the history and reasons for the Reformation as stodgy, and the study of doctrine as "head knowledge" with no "real life" application. So in order to keep them attending his church, and inflating the numbers (not to mention the pastor's ego) of attenders, the pastor fastidiously ignores these subjects and keeps his sermons as shallow as possible.

The Pew Forum Survey says a lot about the current state of the church in the early 21st century, but it really says more about the quality and calling of pastors more than the elect. Until the American church begins to really examine its ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), and begins to move back to a biblical model, the results as seen in the Pew Survey, will continue their downward spiral.

That said, I don't want to end on a down note. The true church, will always be triumphant. There are churches that are led by pastors who are faithful to the study of the word. Most of these pastors will never have a 1,000-plus member church, but they will have something even more valuable. They will have the words of our Lord Christ Jesus ringing in their ears, "Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master." How much more valuable are these words, when compared to a 1,000-plus attender mega-church and million dollar budget?

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