Secularists and others who crinkle their noses at Christianity enjoy pointing to the apparent decline of Christian faith in America. They look longingly at Europe’s seemingly thorough secularization and wistfully prophecy that America is finally following suit. Of course, many iconoclasts realize the death of Christianity is being exaggerated, but they continue the facade to belittle believers. By marginalizing Christianity, they hope to intimidate Christians into silence on cultural issues of importance.
This is actually a very powerful bullying tactic. Many Christians feel as if their belief system is in a hopeless state of decline. Ostracism from mainstream society leaves many Christians either wanting to completely withdraw from the culture wars or compromise completely. Others simply feel adversarial and defensive all the time. Generally, Christians (especially young Christians) are intentionally manipulated into feeling as if they are silly and insignificant. Ironically, agnostics are extremely evangelistic in their attempts to proselytize Christians into their cult of faithful faithlessness.
It’s worth noting that Christianity was birthed from a marginalized minority Jewish culture and established in relative obscurity. Genuine practicing Christians are no strangers to persecution whether overt or thinly veiled. To be separated from the world in inward and outward attributes is a defining characteristic of the Church. Jesus warned us this would be so on many occasions. However, American Christians have enjoyed unprecedented freedom and respect. As our country declines into deeper and deeper polarizations many Christians are left shaken by a perceived unpopularity. But millions of practicing Christians in other parts of the world have never served God without literally placing their lives and livelihoods in jeopardy. Perhaps American Christians are on the brink of learning what it means to be truly unashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sheer numbers are not an indication of what position, philosophy, worldview, or religious theology (or lack thereof) is correct. Packed stadiums, swelling bank accounts, and massive followings aren’t accurate gauges of rightness. History is littered with atrocities committed by majorities that considered themselves virtuous in their evil.
But the dirty little secret is that Christianity isn’t dying, dead churches are dying. Studies are finding that old “mainline” denominations are in sharp decline, while fundamental evangelical churches are holding steady and, in some cases, growing exponentially. Pentecostals (like myself) are particularly interesting in their outlier status of continued growth. Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians, and vast swaths of highly ceremonial denominations are losing members at a breathtaking pace. Statistics also show that churches are mostly losing nominal members. Meaning, members who never really had a strong connection to their faith in the first place aren’t maintaining membership in the church they grew up attending irregularly. People are no longer willing to remain connected to dead churches that don’t officiate real, lifechanging, relationships with God. Christians-in-name-only are finally dropping a meaningless title and substituting it with the religion of secularism. The Easter only crowd is ditching Easter, and why wouldn’t they abandon a weak powerless imitation of genuine Spirit-filled faith?
The steady advancement of secularism is separating the genuine from the fake. Squishy middle-ground Christianity is being revealed for the whitewashed tomb it has always been. Fundamentalists have long been derided by so-called mainline denominations, but the Christ of Christianity demands a radical, transformative, countercultural, multicultural, unashamed, uncompromising Church. And, that Church is alive and well.
The Church should prepare for the coming wave of emotionally and spiritually broken refugees. Many are already reeling from the gross hopelessness that secularism produces. It’s not coincidental that spiked suicide rates correspond statistically with increased levels of atheism and agnosticism. As the logical progression of moral relativism smashes against walls of reality countless lives are being catapulted into turmoil. Moral relativism and logical incongruities are being portrayed as a panacea; however, they are only a temporary placebo. As the placebo affect wears off the Church must be ready to administer genuine biblical solutions. If the Church capitulates to the pressure to move away from biblical absolutes under the guise of maintaining momentum or moderation it will cease to be the Church and meet the same fate as the “mainline” majorities of the past.
David, don’t worry about who is bigger or stronger, just make sure you’re representing the one true God fearlessly.
- The New York Times, The Overstated Collapse of American Christianity by Ross Douthat
- Pew Research Center, Pentecostals and Pentecostalism
- Christianity Today, Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing? by Ed Stetzer