In balance with whatever
That the headline of a recent Pew Research study on America's Changing Religious Landscape reads U.S. Public Becoming less Religious is no great surprise. Most informed Americans didn't need to read the Pew data to know that. A hour with a remote control and some prime time TV would have disclosed what the Pew people can affirm with accurate statistics. To conclude that the population is less religious and more spiritual isn't the discovery of the Holy Grail either. That's the buzz now, our corporate disdain for religion, especially the organized, institutional kind. While the nominal Christians and those with no religious preferences grow as a percentage of the population, convictional believers shrink in number but remain strong in their confessional adherence to doctrine based values and practices.
Two or three underlying survey results seem worthy of comment.
1. Christians have influenced this flight to some degree. For many years our
confessional base has been anti-religion and pro-relationship. I can't tell you
how many times I've said that my personal faith isn't religion but is a
relationship with Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior. Of course, this is correct
doctrine and we'd all lift our hands in favor of this position if we were taking a
vote on it. But, with language in a serious secular morph even such a
statement can be construed as negative regarding the corporate, institutional
nature of our shared faith in community, the church. As much as we flinch at
the word "religious", the Pew people and most researchers use that term to
define us, you know, church people. So, even if unintended, this religious
bias is translating as a negative to the non-religious people.
2. Non-religious people display some religious attributes. One of the Pew
findings intrigues me greatly. it seems that most people with no religious
affiliation or preference are people who regularly give thanks or express
gratitude. The study under review asked a couple of new questions in
assessing the religious landscape of the nation. One newby was, how often do
you feel a strong sense of gratitude or thankfulness? Seventy-five percent of
adults in the none category indicated very often, as compared to 82% of those
with a strong Christian orientation, and 90% of those who attend church
regularly. The Pew study didn't ask to whom they were thankful or grateful.
But, other studies indicate a large percentage are grateful to God, the higher
power, while others focus their gratitude on nature, the earth, other people, or
some other indistinct force of the new age. They want a life of balance.
3. The new spiritualism is eastern or new age mysticism. Even though a
majority of Americans still believe in God or a higher power, their spiritual
motivations seek balance with the universe or some other non-personal
interest. It's an element of the new spiritualism, the balance thing.
4. The anti-religious sentiment seems to be aimed at church people. While our
non-religious culture preaches toleration, there's little for Christian people and
their corporate practices. So, profiling, which is detested by the rank and file of
those with no religious affiliation or preference, has Christian or church people
slotted as biased, intolerant, hypocritical, judgmental, close-minded, politically
opinionated, and generally bigoted. One wonk stated that he had no problem
with God, but many problems with His staff.
There's a good bit of biblical instruction about living the life of faith in the presence of unbelievers. Several are warnings about how unbelievers, the nones and some nominals of the Pew research, interpret the things of faith---
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to
keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the
image of God.
2 Corinthians 4:4, ESV
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are
folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually
1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV
Then, there's Paul's guidance about living this life to influence them---
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech
always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer
Colossians 4:5-6, ESV
The Pew study reminds us to live out what we believe in the world but not of it. As the culture becomes spiritual and not religious we must remain strong in the matters of faith to please Him and not them.
But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so
we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
1 Thessalonians 2:4, ESV
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please
man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10, ESV
Being tempted to ease off of our convictional base for life and practice in order to become more appealing to the ever-increasing secular world is a danger in reports like this. Let's be reminded of what Paul wrote to Timothy---
Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your
1 Timothy 4:15, ESV
It's about being in balance with Him, and not whatever, or even the world system.