Last week the Associated Press carried an article entitled, “Fewer in US identify with a religion.” The article referenced a Pew Research Center study that noted the Christian faith had declined between 2007 and 2014 while those claiming no faith had grown. Christians declined from 78% of the US population to less than 71%. Those claiming no faith or “nones” increased 16% to 23%.
On the same day, USA Today carried an article entitled, “Christianity isn’t dying.” The USA Today article quoted the same Pew Research Center findings and stated that “Evangelical Christianity is growing in America. From 2007 to 2014 the number of Evangelicals in America rose from 59.8 million to 62.2 million according to Pew.” The article concluded that “nominals — people whose religious affiliation is in name only — are becoming “nones” — people who check "none of the above" box on a survey.” “The number of people who are practicing a vibrant faith is not fading away, quite the contrary. Christianity and the church are not dying, but they are being more clearly defined.”
The Associated Press article and the USA Today article both reference the Pew Research Center data and come to different conclusions. So which is it?
More than likely it is some of both. But however we interpret the data, we should be reminded that the Christian faith is always only one generation away from extinction. As someone once said, “God has no grandchildren.” We do not inherit faith like we inherit eye color or ethnicity. Faith comes through a personal decision, one-person-at-a time.
This is abundantly clear in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. For hundreds of years the Jewish people vacillated between obedient faith in God and disobedient rejection. We are no different. Every generation, and every person, must decide for themselves whether they will place their trust in God.
When crowds of Jews sought out John the baptizer, he said to them, “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. Indeed the axe is already laid to the root of the trees, so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:8-9).
Years ago I went to the Metrodome in Minneapolis to hear Billy Graham preach. The stadium was packed. At the end of his message, he said to the crowd, “Many of you were baptized as infants by your mothers and fathers. They did that for you because they loved you. But you must come to faith in Jesus Christ yourself.” Hundreds of people filled the aisles and made their way to the stadium floor to make a faith commitment to Christ. The faith of our mothers and fathers will not save us. Each one of us must find our own faith in God through Jesus Christ.