Pew research has released a new report and everyone is scrambling to leverage its finding for their own agenda. Part of the Pew findings show that the number of people that identify as a Christian has shrunk a fair amount in the past seven years (about an 8% decrease). Many now want to tell us what this means. But be wary of those who "know" what is happening here. The spin machines are out of control on this one.
Religious liberty is front and center in our culture's collective mind. And this research will be used by those that think religious beliefs belong at the kids table. They will use it to show that the country is "growing up." It will be ammunition for them. It will be viewed as validation for their agenda and cause them to ramp up their efforts. But whatever this research means, it does not mean that Christianity is declining in America. At most, it means that cultural Christianity is fading.
To be American was to be a Christian. Whether a person actually trusted in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and regardless if they followed his teachings, living in America meant you were a Christian. It was part of our culture. It was part of our national identity. This was both good and bad.
It was good because for a time our cultures morality reflected Biblical teaching. And many who had not been redeemed were blessed by the fruit that comes from the right living of others. That is to say, many could reap the benefits of Christianity socially even if they had not reaped them spiritually. The ways of the Lord are good and when our country embraced them many experienced the goodness of God without knowing him for themselves.
Cultural Christianity was bad though because what it meant to be a Christian was hidden beneath a national identity. Many came church because that's what you do. Americans watch baseball, eat apple pie, shoot fireworks on the fourth of July, and go to church. It's what we do. It's who we are. And the gospel, the good news that by faith and through grace mankind can have their sins forgiven, was not understood as the basis of Christianity. Cultural Christianity inflated our numbers, but we've known for a while that many who sing our songs and celebrate our holidays would never face a firing squad for our beliefs.
So perhaps what this research is showing us is that Christianity as the family tradition is dying. But that does not mean the real thing itself is on life support. And though many may suffer from the consequences of embracing a code of ethics that is not good, what it means to be a Christian may become a bit more clear. And perhaps another great awakening is what will follow. Reaping temporal benefits from a morally healthy society is good, but nothing can compare to truly knowing Christ the Lord.