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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How to Kill Christianity

Much has been made of the recent Pew poll that highlights America’s religious landscape. What has drawn the most attention is the apparent decline of Christianity in the U.S. “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining,” began the piece. Many liberals took gleeful notice. The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Mark Tooley noted, “Secularists and their fellow travelers are ecstatic. The secular utopia about which John Lennon crooned is impending. Christianity is finally dying!”

Of course, this is far from the case, as Tooley later reveals. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, points out that it’s not Christianity that’s dying, but rather “near Christianity” that is teetering. “Good riddance,” Moore concludes.

The denominations that have lost the most “near Christians” are Catholic and Mainline Protestant. According to the Washington Times, “for every person who joined the Roman Catholic Church, six others were departing.” Additionally, in the last 50 years, the proportion of Americans belonging to one of the “Seven Sisters of Mainline Protestantism” has plummeted from one in six, to one in sixteen.

From the Anglicans at Jamestown, to the Pilgrims at Plymouth, and the Puritans at Massachusetts Bay, virtually all of the Mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. can trace their roots to those who literally founded America. The principles of American democracy were born in Mainline churches. The revivals during the Great Awakening were preached by men from Mainline churches. Many of the first colleges and universities in the U.S. were founded by Mainline churches. What’s more, eight of the first fourteen U.S. Presidents were Episcopalian. The spiritual and political roots of America are deeply embedded in Mainline Protestantism. What a tragic fall!

So this begs the question, why have the Catholic Church and Mainline Protestantism seen such a collapse? Moore reveals the answer when he notes that, what the Pew poll really reveals is that we have “fewer incognito atheists” in America. “Those who don’t believe can say so—and still find spouses, get jobs, volunteer with the PTA, and even run for office. This is good news because the kind of ‘Christianity’ that is a means to an end—even if that end is ‘traditional family values’—is what J. Gresham Machen rightly called ‘liberalism,’ and it is an entirely different religion from the apostolic faith handed down by Jesus Christ.”

Of course it would be the denominations most infected with liberalism (Is there anything liberalism can’t corrupt?) that have seen the greatest decline. As Tooley put it, “Mainline Protestantism lost its way when it forgot how to balance being American and being Christian, choosing American individualism and self-made spirituality over classical Christianity. Nearly all mainline seminaries had embraced modernism by the 1920s, rejecting the supernatural in favor of metaphorized faith integrated with sociology and political revolution.”

Such watered-down theology has produced ear-ticklers like John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Gene Robinson, and the like, along with heretical nonsense such as the Jesus Seminar. For decades men (and women) like Spong and Borg made quite a name for themselves by rejecting the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, His atoning death and resurrection, every miracle recorded in the New Testament, and so on. In other words, in a tragic attempt to make themselves “relevant,” such men and women rejected virtually every tenet of the Christian faith, all the while still calling themselves “Christians.”

Unsurprisingly, it’s heretics such as these who’ve overseen such a precipitous decline in their denominations. After all, who wants to attend a church that rejects the supernatural and offers little more than worn-out platitudes and self-help advice? Who wants to attend a church that doesn’t talk about the forgiveness of sin (much less the existence of sin) and the hope of eternal life? Instead of pointing people to eternal truths, these liberal congregations have concerned themselves with “social activism.”

To a significant extent, the same thing has happened to the Catholic Church in the U.S. Though the American Catholic Church, unlike most of her liberal Protestant counterparts, has (for the most part) opposed abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and the rest of the radical sexual agenda of the left, sadly many Catholics have been all too willing to use big government activism as a substitute for charity.

As Paul Rahe put it, many years ago the Catholic Church in America “fell prey to a conceit that had long before ensnared a great many mainstream Protestants in the United States – the notion that public provision is somehow akin to charity – and so they fostered state paternalism and undermined what they professed to teach: that charity is an individual responsibility and that it is appropriate that the laity join together under the leadership of the Church to alleviate the suffering of the poor.”

Additionally, rabid anti-death penalty advocate Sister Helen Prejean, the inspiration of the Susan Sarandon movie “Dead Man Walking,” is doing little for the cause of “individual responsibility.” In an attempt to help Dzhokhar Tsarnaev escape the ultimate responsibility for his murderous crimes, Sister Prejean testified last week in the penalty phase of the notorious Boston Bomber.

In spite of the lack of any public expression of remorse, Prejean testified that she felt that Tsarnaev was “genuinely sorry” for his crimes. Like her Catholic cohorts who advocate for the likes of Obamacare, Prejean mistakes “state paternalism” for true charity. (Nothing says “state paternalism” like clothing, housing, and feeding a mass murderer for decades.) Again, borrowing from Mark Tooley, “Was she concerned more about his eternal soul, or his physical life, and her political cause? Let’s pray the former, but the latter seems likelier. If indeed the latter, Sister Prejean is an archetype for the modern church’s indifference to eternity, and judgment, in favor of therapeutic protection and affirmation.”

Sister Prejean is a great illustration of why the Catholic Church in the U.S. is in steep decline. Just as with its promotion of government healthcare, or a litany of other programs that push state paternalism over personal responsibility, for decades now the Catholic Church in America has shown “indifference” toward eternity and judgement. Thus, anyone fervently seeking the truth on such matters is drawn elsewhere.

By and large, the churches that are growing in the U.S. are those that unapologetically present the truth. Of course, a large or a growing church isn’t always a measure of a healthy and holy church, but when one is sincerely seeking the spiritual truths that we all at one time or another crave, most of us “seekers” know the truth when we hear it and see it. This doesn’t mean that the majority of us will embrace such truths. Jesus Himself warned us that this would not be the case.

Don’t be surprised to see the decline of Christianity continue. As it becomes more difficult and dangerous to be a follower of Christ, more and more people are going to find the “wide road” described by Jesus quite appealing. This is especially the case when so-called “Christians” are pointing the way.

(See this column on American Thinker.)

Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World


  1. Yes, I agree that it's a good thing that people are more willing to be honest about what they believe (or don't believe).

    It is the congregations that are often deemed "hateful" (evangelical) who are growing, or at least holding their own. And yes, the "war on..." is often over-hyped. Sometimes anything that goes wrong in ones life can be deemed as "persecution." However, many Christians succumb to such thinking because they know well what the Bible has to say about the persecution believers are almost certain to face.

    I don't think Jesus would be against the death penalty in general. (He never argued against it while going to the cross, or while enduring it, but conclusions from silence are dangerous.) However, He would probably not approve of how we in the U.S. administer it today.

  2. "It is the congregations that are often deemed "hateful" (evangelical) who are growing, or at least holding their own."

    Ummm... so you believe Westboro Baptist Church is growing and rightly should grow? Curious.

    My perspective is an evangelical ministry should be based upon spiritual messages. Intermingling religion and politics only sullies both and hinders the effectiveness of their missions to serve. This is more of a tragedy for religion than it is for politics.

    "Many Christians succumb to such thinking because they know well what the Bible has to say about the persecution believers are almost certain to face."

    History suggests the notion of religious persecution applies primarily to followers of Judaism who were persecuted by Christians during the Inquisition and the Crusades. Of course, then there was the case of those crazy Pilgrims who fled Europe to create colonies in America. Perhaps there is no better example of religious persecution in America than the Salem Witch Trials.

    I agree that conclusions based upon silence are dangerous.

  3. I don't consider the Westboro crowd evangelical (and I don't know of anyone who does). In no way should Christians leave their faith at the door when entering the realm of politics. Someone's morality is going to govern us. Why leave such to the godless?

  4. "I don't consider the Westboro crowd evangelical"

    Then how would you classify their ministry?

    "In no way should Christians leave their faith at the door when entering the realm of politics."

    Ah, but do you leave your politics at the door when you enter the realm of religion? As I said, I think this is more of a tragedy for religion than it is for politics. Intentionally intermingling the two hinders the ministry of each.

    To test your principle: In his day, did Jesus enter the realm of politics? Did Jesus ever wear his politics on his sleeve?

    You can serve only one master. Is it God or the GOP?

  5. "Any given Sunday."

    I would surmise that any "survey" given on any day of the week in a different location would show "significant" trending. I've never been a "counted responder" for such. But, do I believe there is a decline with respect to professing Christians? I would have to say - maybe.

    What I really think it is - liberal politics. Of course we have radicals of all flavors. Could it be this is just another liberal tactic to gain some sort of support? "Look. Our side is winning! More and more are seeing this fairy tale for what it truly is!"

    I also agree with Kiev500 in his 2nd paragraph. Having served in the military for 26 years, my family moved quite a bit. We had the opportunity to see what Kiev is talking about; much more so than the average person. I can see where the cited causes could "push" folks out of church, but I would pray that no one would reject Christ or their faith for such.

    As far as Westboro, I would more refer to them as "fanatical" than evangelical. To me it is not their message that is offensive, it is the venue they choose. Mostly funerals for veterans! NOT! I'm just thankful they never protested within a couple of hundred miles of where I've lived.

  6. I don't think one should leave anything "at the door" when entering church. As my late father-in-law often noted, we are not meant to be "grapefruit Christians," but rather "chocolate milk Christians."

  7. Yes, I agree: the Westboro crowd is certainly fanatical.

  8. Hummm... sounds like potential obfuscation to me. I am talking about attributes of the personal spirit. It sounds like your father in law may have been referring to group or congregational attributes. But I could be wrong...

    Examples of what I meant:
    In general, one should leave all impure thoughts, spiritual distractions, and disrespect at the door when entering church. To my mind this would include politics. But bring your sin and your prayers for others (bring every burden that Christ would carry for you). Confess your sin, and let this burden be lifted through God's grace. Say your prayers that those you pray for might be uplifted in His name.

    There are a few things that don't belong in God's house. Partisanship is one of them. "Money changers" would be another.

  9. Yes, certainly, there are things that have no business in a house of worship, but in most cases, those things have no business in our lives whatsoever. Remember, our bodies are a "temple." Thus, I don't think politics falls into such a category.

    Law, by definition, is an extreme exercise in morality. As Ben Franklin declared, "Laws without morals are in vain." Where but in the church of Jesus should proper morals be taught and learned?

    Additionally, the very seeds of our revolution were born in the pulpits of American churches. In other words, the liberty we all enjoy in this nation is the fruit of Christianity. It's no time for churches to stop being such agents.

  10. Quote:
    "The very seeds of our revolution were born in the pulpits of American churches. In other words, the liberty we all enjoy in this nation is the fruit of Christianity."

    We declared our independence from Britain and the UK. Britain was a Christian state, first a Roman Catholic state, then the Anglican Church Of England since year 1534.

    Can Christianity declare independence from a Christian state? Sounds kind of awkward. To my mind, the basis for the US revolution was taxation without representation. This was forbidden by the Magna Carta.