A wide-ranging survey of Americans in January this year revealed that two-thirds of Americans believe that having ANY kind of faith is more important than the particular faith a person chooses to have. Disturbingly, of those who expressed this opinion, 56% identified as evangelical Christians.
The survey, called the “American Worldview Inventory”, was conducted by the Arizona Christian University Cultural Research Center, and it revealed further worrying trends.
Amongst the respondents who identified as being Christians, a disturbing number said they also believe that a person can attain salvation by “being or doing good”. This view was held by 46% of Pentecostals, 44% of mainline Protestants, 41% of Evangelicals and 77% of Catholics. Taken as a whole, just over half of all who identified as practising Christians held this view of salvation by good deeds.
In other words, if this survey is accurate, the majority of Christians in America today believe that Jesus is not the only path to salvation and that a person can be saved by their own good works.
There is good reason to trust the survey. The Cultural Research Center affirms the accuracy of their survey, stating that it was conducted among “a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults, with a maximum sampling error of approximately plus or minus 2 percentage points, based on the 95% confidence interval.”
If this survey is indicative of the true state of the Christian faith in America, and perhaps also in the wider developed world, we ought to be alarmed. Post-modern relativism has crept into the sanctuary. An insipid form of all-embracing humanism has taken a comfortable seat in our pews, and the clear teachings of Christ which were once indisputable and foundational have become optional.
One has to question whether this trend is in spite of, or because of, the teaching that is prevalent in the church today. Either people in the congregation aren’t listening properly, or else they are being fed the wrong message, because the teaching of Jesus doesn’t allow for even a hint of this kind of wishy-washy thinking.
Jesus’ teaching about the means of salvation was unequivocal and confronting. He claimed to be the ONLY path to God: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no-one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6). This was as shocking in the first century as it still is today. Jesus is claiming exclusivity. He is not holding hands with Buddha and Confucius and other religious leaders and saying, “It doesn’t matter which of us you follow, as long as you follow one of us.” No! He is saying, “I am your only hope! I am the only one who can save you! All other supposed paths to God are false leads and dead ends!”
Similarly, the Bible paints a grim picture of mankind’s ability to redeem itself through good works: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This is a far cry from saying, “Keep doing all those good works; you can make it!”.
The message of Jesus is that we are all utterly entrenched in sin and unable to save ourselves, and only He, the atoning Lamb of God who died as a sacrifice for our sins, is able to forgive and redeem us.
This, of course, is an extremely unpalatable message for modern mankind. Post-modern humanism proclaims that we are all basically good and are able to attain enlightenment and spiritual awakening through our own wisdom and insight. It also proposes that all truth is relative, including religious truth, and that all paths are, therefore, equally valid.
These are the two worldviews that are currently doing battle for the minds and hearts of humanity; the exclusive claims of Christ and the soothing, open-minded salve of post-modernism. This is the ‘War of the Worlds’ that is currently raging. And if this recent survey is to be believed, it appears that even in the church, it is the open-minded post-modern message that is beginning to dominate. The unequivocal, exclusive message of Christ is slowly being subverted by this ubiquitous post-modern philosophy that appeals to our own sense of self-worth and seems to offer a more tolerant acceptance of all philosphies.
So, once again, I ask the question; where does the blame lie for this decline in adherence to the teachings of Jesus? Is it the fault of pastors and preachers who have watered down the gospel to tickle the itching ears of their listeners? Has today’s church become embarrassed about the exclusive claims of Christ and softened them in order to fit in with the modern cry for tolerance and inclusivity?
In some churches, perhaps many, this may be true.
But even for those of us who continue to faithfully proclaim the undiluted gospel of Christ, we must concede that we are fighting an uphill battle. Our weekly sermons and Bible studies are an increasingly minority voice compared to the deafening roar of post-modern humanist philosophy. The ubiquitous reach of social media means that our church members who listen to our weekly sermons and Bible studies are also inundated with a daily, almost constant barrage of post-modern dogma that subverts the truth and swamps their thinking. Unfortunately, for many church-goers, it is a case of ‘the loudest voice wins’.
The post-modern message is extremely effective, not just because of its pervasiveness, but also because of its apparent reasonableness. It is an appealing message of tolerance, acceptance and inclusivity. It is a message which appeals to people’s vanity because it affirms their own intrinsic self-worth, self-determination and self-justification. It removes the need for a dying Saviour and relegates the traditional Christian gospel to the realm of outdated, intolerant dogma.
This is the great challenge that today’s church faces. We are an increasingly marginalised voice. We are an occasional whisper compared to the incessant roar of post-modern propaganda. We proclaim Christ’s message in the face of a howling gale of humanistic philosophy, and our words have barely enough time to take root in people’s minds before they are swept away by the tempest of opposing creeds.
This is why it is not enough to merely preach the truth on a Sunday and an occasional mid-week Bible study, because a brief message once or twice a week is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the post-modern flood that infiltrates people’s minds all week long. No, a daily intake of God’s Word is what is needed if God’s people are to remain in the truth and be able to discern truth from error.
It is not coincidental that the current infiltration of post-modern philosophy into the church has occurred concurrently with an alarming and well-documented decline in personal Bible reading among Christians in recent decades. When God’s people cease to feed upon His Word, the sugar-sweet message of the world becomes increasingly palatable.
What is desperately needed in God’s church today, is not only a restoration of faithful biblical preaching, but also a restoration of personal Bible reading, so that Christians are feeding upon His Word every day. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, the young pastor of the church at Ephesus, is really an exhortation to us all:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16).