Do you think tbat America still a Christian nation, and do you think that it ever really was a Christian nation? Well, many folks would admit that America is still a "Christian nation," if the term simply means a majority of the population who claim to be Christians. But, a recent Pew Research report shows a decline of Christianity in the United States at a rapid pace. Only 65 percent of Americans now say they're Christians, down from 78 percent as recently as 2007. If this rate of change continues, the U.S. Christians will be less than 50% by 2035, with the ones acknowledging no religion representing well over one third of the population.
Smaller details from the study are very sad. The Protestant Churches lost their claim to an outright majority of Americans' souls around 2012. A decline in Christianity like this will have major political implications. Something like this began in Europe a two generations ago that created left/right politics that basically represents socialism/communism versus nationalism/capitalism.
But there’s hope. Our nation was founded on the idea of religious liberty, and it was Christian freedom of worship that was being sought—regardless of what those that want to revise and water-down Christian history might say. Great awakenings and revivals are irrefutable facts of our national heritage. As a nation we have sent, by far, more missionaries to foreign lands than any nation in history, and we have donated more money than another other nation on earth. U.S. citizens continue to donate more than other other country on earth——and it stems from our Christian determination to feed, clothe and care for others. Our nation’s history and good-will is founded upon the Christian faith. The Christian beliefs and convictions of our citizens has made us prosperous, generous and strong.
But what is the country where residents are considered the least generous? In all studies its’ China. This is where a nation ends up when religion is removed, pastors and priests are imprisoned, and truth is denied to the people.
But let me suggest to you that this is not the first time that people have opined that Christianity was about to be wiped off the face of the earth—-and to be sure it is the hopes and dreams of many that Christianity is destroyed And yet the faith has continued for 2000 years—-and I believe that revival is coming again in the USA and Europe. We might be, generationally speaking, at the epic-center of that awakening.
As you probably know, right after the resurrection of Jesus the church began to grow—-very fast—just as it is now in Africa and Asia. And there are at least four reasons:
1. People were connected to people.
Again and again, research shows that religious conversions happen through social networks, i.e. a structure of direct and intimate interpersonal attachments. Everyday friendships and the personal interactions of average believers are what makes the greatest difference — nowadays and in the past. Simply put, being a good neighbor leads to church growth. Are you are good neighbor to the unchurched?
2. The early church clearly cared for the sick, widows, and orphans
Plagues, fires, natural disasters, and devastation from riots or war were regular occurrences in the cities which the early Christians called home. What distinguished Christians was their response to these all-too-frequent calamities. Instead of fleeing to the countryside to escape the plague, they stayed to care for their own — and for others. Even without any knowledge of medical science, the simple act of providing food, water, and shelter to sick people vastly improved survival rates in times of widespread disease. It also sent a powerful message of solidarity to those pagans who happened to receive a helping hand. The results, over time, were shifting social networks and regular conversions to this community of faith so dedicated to service. Deliberately or not, the policies and dictates from our local and the federal government, in relation to the Covid-19 (or Chinese) virus, has damaged the work of the church and is antithetical to the practices of the church for over 2000 years. Rather than avoid others, hide in our homes, and refuse to worship, we needed to be be about our tasks of trusting God as we met together for prayer, fellowship and reaching out to others who were locked into their homes. Shame on us for hiding in fear when we could have offered hope, touch and fellowship to those who were afraid, dying or lost.
3. The church provided a clear-cut morality—it stood against adultery, abortion, and infanticide
The ancient Roman world was not kind to women and children. Married men could sleep with other women (especially slaves and prostitutes), and the unwanted offspring of these unions were usually aborted or simply left to die from exposure after birth. Christians spoke out against all of these practices, exhorting the followers of Jesus to remain faithful in marriage, and to care for the most vulnerable members of society: babies. Some Christians would even rescue abandoned babies, raising them as their own. The church of Jesus Christ must stand against abortion, adultery and sexual immorality.
4. The church had a strong theology of love that separated it from all other religions
The actions described above — engaging one’s neighbor, caring for the sick, rescuing little babies — reflect certain Christian theological principles. The most important one is the insistence that God loves the world He has created and that He desires those who love Him to also love their fellow man. In our post-Christian context, such an idea seems self-evident. It’s almost a cliche. Yet an all-encompassing ethic of love is a radical idea. We believe in it so widely nowadays, at least on a theoretical level, only because Christianity incorporated it so successfully into the very being of Western civilization over centuries.
But it takes the church getting back to basics and unabashedly preaching the good news if we are to grow again. Listen to what the author of Hebrews says:
Hebrews 13:1-10 (NIV). “ Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
When you read things like this in the New Testament, you realize that the challenges of being a faithful disciple was as real then as it is now. The early Christians, some that saw the resurrected Jesus and even ate with Him, still forget a few of the basics from time to time. That’s one reason we come to church each Sunday—-to spur each other on and to remind ourselves of things we should never forget.
1. The first point he makes is the most significant. “ Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” He only said this because some had ceased to love. There’s a tendency to get weary and give up with those that are weaker or more immature than us. We’re tempted to say, “I’ve had it”, instead of, “I will never give up on you”. We must remind ourselves to not become indifferent or turn away from those that disappoint or hurt us. Keep on loving! Don’t love only because it’s easy, but because you have made that determination to love that broken person—-because each one of us are also broken and yet loved by someone.
2. The second point contends with social connections: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Are you kind so strangers? You have a chance this very moment. Are you kind to those that you don’t know——not merely courteous, but kind? Do you go out of your way to show compassion to them and offer some manner of appreciation. Think about how you treat strangers—-others are watching—-so is God. He might be testing you.
3 His third point points to our faithfulness to those within our fellowships: “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Some folks are in literal prisons, others in relationships that have become a prison—-or a job or a nursing home. They are in a place they do not want to be, cannot get out—their only hope is prayer. And you and I have the power of prayer on our lips——an incredible power to bring about miracles.
We are to share in their suffering and loneliness and empathize with their plight. Never think that a man deserves the bad things that he gets in prison, financial ruin or public humiliation and then have no compassion on him. You might one day find yourself getting what you deserve also—-and none of us are us clean, pure and holy as we hope others think we are.
4. His fourth point contends with sexual morality:Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Now why did the author say this to Christian folks unless they were slipping? Obviously, then as now, people were breaking their vows and were engaged in adulterous and immoral behavior. It did not just start in the 60s in America, it’s been going on as long as man has walked this earth. But it should not be a part of a man or woman that is walking with Christ. It does not fit, it pollutes and corrupts and reduces people to grotesque objects of pleasure instead of daughters and sons of God.
5. The final point is that the church should be full of people that trust in God—-not their bank accounts or investments. “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” He is our confidence and our security. Don’t get attached to things. “So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” You can only say this if you have experienced it. And to experience it you are required to have financial challenges, attacks upon your health, perhaps legal and even existential perils that befall you. But unless those bad things happen to us, we will never have need of a “helper” like God. It’s only because I realize how perilously fragile and at risk I am that I am so grateful that God loves me.