Newsweek posted an article titled "The End of Christian America" earlier this year. The initial response to such a claim is normally sadness, disappointment, and a slew of other negative emotions and thoughts. Statistics are tossed around for churches and membership going down and they provoke a response of some sort. In all actuality these numbers aren't a true picture of what is happening here in Mississippi. We have a similar problem that looks totally different. On one level I appreciate the decline in numbers and Christians actually have plenty of room for hope among all of the naysayers. I honestly believe that this time of woe, in some people's eyes, is actually a great opportunity to fight the Bible Belt Mentality.
As I stated earlier, the bulk of the decline hasn't even touched the southern region, but this is not the good news. Our region is so religious that we have ceased to seek closeness with God. We're almost like the Pharisees, if you will, judging others yet remaining oblivious to our own sins. So what is the good news? A visible falling away from God gives us the opportunity to point back to the true God. We have been pointing to the wrong god for years now. We have pointed to religion. We have pointed to church-going, tithe-paying, and religious steps that don't save anyone. Someone who is convinced that their way is right is hardly ever willing to accept correction. Someone who realizes a mistake has been made is more willing to retrace his/her steps. The national statistics show that a mistake has been made. I hope they shout these facts from the mountain tops. It's like being a professional athlete watching ESPN call you soft. It automatically provokes you to prove them wrong in the next game. We, the body of Christ, need that jolt. We need a repentant and humble attitude.
Speaking of a humble attitude, I'm reminded of another phrase used in sports a lot: getting back to the basics. A lot of people don't find NBA teams like the Spurs or the Jazz very entertaining. This doesn't take away from the fact that they win. They win by being fundamentally sound versus offering lots of flash. When I look at the book of Acts, I'm able to study the basics. They had the hardest job of any Christian to date. I'm not even talking about the persecution, because we (not in America) still have persecution. The challenge I'm talking about is the fact that they had to present Jesus Christ to a world that had never heard of Him. Think about the evangelistic challenge of telling people, who had never heard the name of Jesus before, that Jesus is God. They depended on the love and the power of God to prove their point. To be honest, we depend on religion. We say things, whether verbally or non-verbally, like "you know you need to get right with The Lord!"
We have been spoiled, because we just have to Re-present Jesus. We represent Him because He, at least in America, has already been presented before we even step on the scene to minister. I say all this to make one point. We have to get back to the basics of presenting the way of Christ to non-believers. We have to stay away from spouting off empty or loaded cliches that the un-churched audience won't grasp. When we say "church" our audience already has a preconceived idea of what church is, even though it is probably not what Jesus intended for His Church to be. The good news is this. This "falling away" gives us room to redefine (according to the Bible) who God is, what The Church is, what religion is, and how our lives should actually be lived in pursuit of pleasing our God.
If we weren't saved and were locked in a room for a month with only a small portion of food, we would probably fight over the crumbs. That is what the American church looks like to me in looking for church members. What if money started to fall from the sky? What if enough money fell from the sky to make us all millionaires? Would we still be fighting? Probably not, because we would be too busy picking up the cash within our vicinity. I had a pastor that used to always say, "There isn't a shortage of sinners!" This is our opportunity to step up and allow God to use us at a higher level. Let's REpresent Christ to the masses. Let's lift up His name without selfish ambition and watch God show Himself strong among the nations once again! I hope you don't allow the negative reports to discourage you. God is still sovereign. If anything, allow the reports to provoke you to step up and be who God has called you to be.