Reports concerning the demise of Christianity have been filling the digital and printed page in recent weeks, and though I wish I could echo the famous words of Mark Twain and say those reports have been greatly exaggerated, I don’t believe that they have been. Biblical Christianity is on the decline in the United States of America. Many of these conversations have found their impetus in a recently-released study from The Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life – a study that highlighted trends like the marked increase in adults reporting no religious affiliation, the sharp increase in the percentage of Americans who self-identify as atheist and agnostics, and the increasing reality that younger generations are consistently less religious than those preceding them – and a study that has caused angst in the pulpit and in the pew even while groups like the nonprofit American Atheist see its findings as cause to rejoice.
Though the well-documented origins of our great nation, from the Mayflower Compact to the Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges to the Declaration of Independence, clearly delineate the fact that the United States of America was born as a nation grounded in the belief in a sovereign Creator whose law served as the standard for human/human and human/government interaction, all signs indicate that it will almost assuredly die as a nation that has abandoned those roots. While this is disconcerting, to say the least, what most of today’s alarmists fail to realize is that though the descent into immorality in the United States may have accelerated in recent years, the truth is that authentic, biblical Christianity has been on the decline in our nation for some time.
The brazen sensationalism and celebration of today’s immorality simply obscures the fact that the seeds of secularism were sewn years ago in the soil of our nation. Today we are simply seeing those seeds beginning to reach maturity and bear fruit. Supreme Court justices and politicians are among those most often blamed for the slow death of Christianity in the U.S., but the primary blame has to be placed squarely on the shoulders of those in our nation who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. We were content for too long with casual, comfortable, Sunday-only, practical-atheism-masquerading-as-Christianity, but that “Christianity” practiced by past generations has directly influenced the current generation – a generation uninterested in the trappings of a religion with no power, a generation that has shunned the false god of religion for the false god of “do what thou wilt,” a generation that has no higher truth then the truth that they create.
Responses to the rapid retreat of Christianity have been varied. Some are fearful, stockpiling food and ammunition and weeping bitter tears over the imagined state of the nation that their children and grandchildren will inherit. And that is only if there is even any nation left to inherit. Others are militant in their resolve to fight back, demanding that Christians march and picket, flood the voting booths and debate halls, and otherwise hurl themselves into the arena to engage the “enemy” in the “culture wars.” Still others are apathetic, choosing to retreat to the ready distractions of entertainment and materialism and anything else that they can find to occupy themselves, content to fiddle as Rome burns. What is the correct response to the decline of Christianity in America today? How should believers feel? What should we do? Here are some suggestions…
To the fearful: Take heart. God’s Word is full of encouragement for believers in difficult situations like those facing us today and those sure to face us in the future. Truths like “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world;” “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;” and “The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me?” will serve as reminders of God’s provision if we allow them to.
To the angry militant: Our kingdom is not of this world. Vote, sure. March and picket if that’s what you feel that you need to do. But remember that while our Savior never compromised and never sinned, He also never raised an army. He never formed a government. He never even answered back in kind when He was mocked, ridiculed and reviled. Jesus seemed less concerned about the Roman occupation of the Jews’ land and more concerned with sins’ occupation of His peoples’ hearts. So, focus your primary energy on the clear proclamation and living out of the Gospel, and while you do that don’t forget to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
To the apathetic: Wake up. The increasing spiritual darkness in our nation means that there is an opportunity for the light of the Gospel to shine brighter than ever before. It’s easier to bury your head in the sand, but by doing so you will miss opportunities to do something for God’s Kingdom that will cause glory to abound to His name throughout eternity. So even though “Christianity” is on the decline in the United States of America, we can rest assured that the Church will persevere until Christ returns. We have that promise from Jesus Himself, who emphatically asserted that “the gates of hell” would not “prevail against it.”
Kevin Sartin is pastor of First Baptist Church on Main St. in Nashville. Rev. Sartin holds a Master of Divinity Degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and has spent the last decade pastoring churches in Louisiana and Arkansas.