Surveys have become a regular feature in our modern-day life. Someone wants everyone to express something about everything. There are surveys where you can rate your experience, and others that want to know what you are doing.
Social surveys can offer a valid picture of what is happening, though not necessarily the cause. For example, Barna Research reported last year on the state of Christian churches in America 1. Practicing Christians were defined as Protestants or Catholics who believed their faith was very important and attended church regularly. Twenty years ago, 45% of respondents qualified as practicing Christians; today the number has dropped to 25%. There are 36% fewer Americans attending weekly church services in 2020 compared to 1993. Church attendance, and church membership, is dropping faster than declines in Bible reading or prayer.
It seems to me Christian faith is inseparably composed of both spiritual and religious cords. Spirituality is the substance of things hoped for, and confidence in things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). We hope the bad things we have done can be forgiven, and one day we might live forever in a paradise. Our God is not something that can be seen or quantified, yet scripture and prayer are, in a sense, the private practices of our faith whereby the Lord, who is Spirit (John 4:24), becomes very real to us.
The religious aspect of faith is the more tangible cord. We are instructed to gather together, in part to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25), and in part to be a unified body separated from the carnal world around us (Romans 12:4; Ephesians 4:11-13). The early church met in the temple courts or individual homes. Leadership and duties were assigned by spiritual gifts or apostolic appointments (Acts 1:25; Galatians 1:1).
From Acts to Revelation, you can find instances of conflicts arising in Christianity, mostly from the religious cord deciding who is in charge and what beliefs and practices were acceptable. This cord became even more dominant after the Edict of Milan in 316 AD; churches were built and hierarchy determined spirituality. Attempts to return to spirituality often led to hermits living in the desert or rationalized theology where anybody could believe what they wanted.
For the most part, mankind has made a mess of Christianity. Kings and Popes gave themselves authority to decide who was Christian and who was not. Priests and scholars claimed intellectual superiority to interpret scripture. Cultures and societies inserted their opinions into belief and practice. Congregations adopted popular ideologies.
The Lord doesn’t conduct surveys on how you want to be treated. He has stated commandments, options, judgements, and rewards quite clearly. My opinion doesn’t matter, only my response to His directives.
I struggle with how we might get the “nones” (no religious preference) or non-practicing Christians back into church, or convince non-Christians to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. Nor can I offer a simple argument for Elders and Baby Boomers to join forces with Millennials and Gen-X to blend spirituality and religion into faith.
However, I do find hope in scripture to help me bind the cords of spirituality and religion into every aspect of my life. I have the desire to make disciples, not church members. I no longer think of church as a building; rather as the place to meet God. And worldly criteria for success have no place in the kingdom of heaven on earth. My prayer is for you to find the same kind of hope in this everchanging world.
Know Doubt Ministry, LLC