A new Pew Research study indicates that between 2007 and 2014 the number of adults in the United States who identify themselves as Christians dropped from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. By any measure that’s a significant decline!
“Millennials leaving church in droves,” trumpets CNN.
“Christians drop, ‘nones’ soar,” says USA Today, and goes on to declare, “The United States is a significantly less Christian country than it was seven years ago.”
But is the U. S. really significantly less Christian than it was seven years ago? I don’t think so.
Identifying as Christian and being a Christian are two different things
Yes, there undoubtedly are fewer people today who call themselves Christians than there were a few years ago. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there are fewer Christians. It’s long been obvious that many of those who, when asked, identify themselves as Christian are what might be called “cultural Christians.” They may have grown up in a Christian household, may have attended church for periods in their lives, and usually have lived their lives in a nominally Christian environment. But they have never had any significant personal commitment to the faith or to Christ. Yet, if you asked for their religious affiliation, they considered themselves to be Christians.
In my opinion, what has changed over the last seven years is not the number of actual Christians, but the number for whom it is convenient or comfortable to call themselves Christians, even though they have little commitment to living their lives as adherents of the faith.
In fact, during that seven year period the incentives for the nominally Christian to disavow that connection have multiplied.
There is now a cost to being seen as a Christian
In the “culture wars” of the last few decades, Bible-believing Christians who are committed to maintaining biblical standards in both their personal lives and in our communal life as a nation, have come to be seen in a decidedly negative light by large segments of the population. As standards in society have evolved, these believers have stubbornly and loudly refused to evolve with them. As they have stood against the flow of public opinion on issues such as abortion and the normalization of homosexuality, and the current vogue of celebrating non-traditional sexual practices, biblical Christians are now often seen and spoken of as bigoted and hateful reactionaries who are trying to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of society. Who wants to be associated with that?
So, for the many in our society for whom being identified as a Christian was more a matter of convenience than commitment, the tide has indeed turned. They no longer have any reason to associate themselves with what it means to be a Christian in today’s world, and now feel the freedom to honestly say so.
Christians are marked by their obedience to Christ
The truth is that real Christians, as defined by the Bible, have probably never been a majority in this nation. Those who carry the name, but are unwilling to live the life simply don’t qualify.
1 John 2:4-6 (NKJV) He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.
True Christians can expect to be vilified and hated
Jesus made it clear that those who refuse to bow to the standards of the society in which they live, but who stand firmly on God’s standards as declared in His word, should expect to be hated:
John 15:19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
2 Timothy 3:12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
The number of Christians hasn’t declined, just the number of professing Christians
The days of being comfortably Christian in this country appear to be over. From now on, only those who are truly committed to Christ, and all He stands for, will want to carry that name.
Are there really significantly fewer Christians today than in former years? Probably not. There are just fewer willing to pay the price of aligning themselves with what that name stands for.