Monday, October 27, 2014

RISE OF THE “NONES” Part 3 of 3

Many people in the United States are Christians in name only (“nominal” Christians).  The causes are complex but understanding them is important.   Statistics reveal that the majority of “nominals” will become “nones” (unaffiliated with any religious organization).

Eddie Gibbs, professor emeritus at Fuller Seminary, has found at least three major contributing factors: 

1) Churches have become more preoccupied with individualism and consumerism than lifelong discipleship.  Churches become primarily about what pleases people and meets their needs, and attendance, even membership, do not lead to authentic discipleship – understood to mean a deep total commitment to following Jesus as a way of living.

2) Church members most likely to become nominal are those who avoid close personal relationships where they would receive encouragement for their spiritual maturity, have accountability, and be involved in ministry opportunities.  They will eventually go missing without being missed.

3) Biblical illiteracy is alarmingly high in churches today.   Attenders, even members, do not know what the Bible teaches.   Consequently they become vulnerable to the influence of our secular society.

The answer is that we must make lifelong discipleship of Jesus a major emphasis of the church.  A decision to welcome Christ into your life as your Savior and God is just the first step to being a disciple of Jesus.  The issue then is to follow Him and grow in that personal relationship with Him, growing in our faith.  After all, Jesus never said, “Become a Christian.”  He said, “Follow Me.”  Authentic discipleship takes place in small groups.  And that’s why at Clay Community we consider our small group Bible studies to be of utmost importance. 

To turn the tide of the “nones” is a daunting challenge.  However, if we will take Jesus’ words seriously to believe in Him and believe what He says and make more lifelong followers of Him, we will begin to make a difference in our communities.

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

Monday, October 20, 2014

RISE OF THE “NONES” Part 2 of 3

The “rise of the nones” is not new.  It’s not a new wave of religious rejection.  They’ve been in and out of churches for a long time.  The difference now is that it’s culturally safer than it used to be. 

Possibly the first recorded “none” was a young man named Eutychus who was in the church at Troas and then dropped out of it… literally.  Here’s how Luke recorded it in Acts 20:7-9:  On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.  There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting.  Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.  Paul went downstairs and found the young man.  He took him in his arms and reassured the people, “Don’t be alarmed, for his life is in him” (Acts 20:10 HCSB). 

Kenda Dean, professor of youth, church, and culture at Princeton Theological Seminary has found that most young adults in the United States say they are at least nominally Christian.  They’re Christians by name, but their way of living suggests otherwise.  They say they identify with Christ, but they’re not committed to following Him.  At the same time a third of them say they are religiously unaffiliated (nones).  Like Eutychus many were once in church.  Author Elizabeth Drescher says 70 percent of nones grew up in Christian homes.  They started out in church, but then they vanished.

Drew Dyson, a pastor and a student at Princeton Seminary, found in his dissertation research that churches which emphasize meaning, belonging, and radical hospitality help young adults who have experienced “faith drift” to think again about being participants in the mission of God.

Churches which work at deepening the faith of nominal Christians tend to pull “Eutychus” into the center of the room by surrounding him with faithful mentors to encourage his spiritual growth, connecting him with God and other Christ-followers, leading him to understand God’s purpose for his life, and involving him in reaching out to others and serving them.

There is hope for the nominals and the nones.  But we must be diligent to draw them away from the window and deepen their faith.  They’re not dead.  They’re still alive.  There is still hope.  “… for his life is in him.”  Be watchful, be loving, be involved.  Their eternities matter.

Monday, October 13, 2014

RISE OF THE “NONES" - Part 1 of 3

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace.  One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.  They are referred to as the “nones.”

The prequel to the “nones” is the “nominals.”  The number of “nominal Christians” is growing.  Who are they?  They’re Christians by name, but their way of living suggests otherwise.  They say they identify with Christ, but they’re not committed to following Him.  To borrow from Drew Dyck, managing editor of Leadership Journal: Nominal Christians have a positive view of the faith such that they identify with Christianity.  They don’t put Christianity down or deny the existence of God, but you can’t distinguish them from those who are not Christians.

We may think that what they need is a nudge to become fully committed to following Jesus.  But maybe you’ve tried that as I have and found that many times it just doesn’t work.  In our culture today I’m coming to believe that what nominal Christians need is not a nudge, but a jolt.  This doesn’t exclude loving and being sensitive to needs, but that’s not enough anymore.

Nominalism is really a spiritual delusion.  And it’s a dangerous one.  Why?  Because it can inoculate against God’s truth, the real gospel.  Atheists may be hostile to Christianity, but they certainly understand their relationship to it.  On the other hand, nominal Christians claim a Christian identity for many unbiblical reasons:  “I’m a good person.”  “I do good things for people.”  “My grandmother was a church-goer.”  These are misconceptions according to the Bible, and they should be addressed according to God’s truth, though in a sensitive manner.

One day Jesus confronted a crowd of would-be followers with some sobering words:   A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.  And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27 NLT).  Jesus uses a hyperbole of speech to make His point, and it comes across strong, as He intended.  Our tendency is to make people comfortable and downplay the hard realities of following Jesus.  But many times Jesus made prospective followers uncomfortable and pointed out just how difficult it was to follow Him.

There comes a time as you lovingly relate to nominal Christians, that you must present them with the hard truth of what it means to follow Jesus.  Seeing where they are spiritually in relation to God is a necessary step toward faith for them, as it is for all of us.  We don’t needlessly offend.  We must be wise and sensitive in how we communicate the message of Christ.  But at some point, like Jesus, you’ve got to spell it out.  Spell out what following Him involves… and then let the chips fall where they may.

John Stott said in his book, Basic Christianity, “thousands of people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow Him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so.  The result is the great scandal of Christendom today, so-called ‘nominal Christianity’”.

When faced with the all-or-nothing demands of following Jesus, many nominal Christians will respond with genuine faith.  Others will walk away.  But at least they’re freed from their delusion that blinds them to their real need for Christ.

Monday, October 6, 2014


You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything (1 Cor. 6:12 NLT).
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block… (1 Cor. 8:9).  Because of these two statements and others in the Scripture, we must hit the pause button and examine our choices when it comes to doing what we are free to do because we’re forgiven through Christ and what we should not do because we’re to be responsible with our influence for Christ to those in our world around us.

The Christian’s freedom is a gift which leads to serving others.  It’s a freedom which sacrifices easy pleasures in order to encourage others in their spiritual maturity and worship of the Lord. 

The legalizing of the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado and Washington and most likely other states in the future gives us the opportunity to reflect on the nature of Christian freedom. 

Society’s ethical decisions are made within the culture and history of the society.  Take alcohol for example.  Alcoholic beverages do not serve the same purpose in every culture.  If you are Jewish, you are part of a community with a low propensity to alcoholism.  And you are blessed with a rich history into which is woven the use of wine.  However if you are Russian you are part of a community with a devastating tragic history of addiction to vodka.  The personal freedom the Christian has in both cases is the same, but what is good and helpful for others is radically different.

In our culture in America, what purpose does marijuana serve?  It’s associated with a superficial pleasant disengagement from the world.  It usually brings about a sense of slothfulness and tuning out.  These things are not an option for those who want to impact their world for Christ, be agents of change, love their neighbor, and go out of their way to express God’s compassion and grace to those who are distant to Him.  Are there other uses for pot?  Certainly, but the predominant cultural realities of it must be taken into consideration by the Christ-follower.

Andy Crouch, editor of Christianity Today, makes a revealing statement:  “A great inequality of the day and time in which we live exists between those whose affluence provides plentiful buffer zones for indulging in minor vices without major consequences, and those who are most vulnerable to consumer culture at its worst, tempted to depend on substances to numb the pain of lives robbed of dignity and meaningful work.”  The Christ-follower must take this into consideration when choosing whether or not to exercise his freedom in Christ in our culture.

The marijuana plant is a part of a world that was declared good by the Lord.  But enjoying the delights of the earth, including its array of aromas, flavors, sights, and sounds must always remain subordinate to living for Christ or it becomes idolatry and sinful.

Following Jesus engages us in relationship, so our use and enjoyment of creation should foster relationship, not disengagement.  Living for Jesus increases our sense of attention and responsibility.  It increases our skills and sharpens our abilities.  Following Jesus gives us the opportunity to influence the world.  Marijuana use will not do these things.  It’s a superficial substitute for truly living and living life to the fullest. 

If you’re looking for a complete and meaningful life in the middle of a dysfunctional world, if you’re looking for healing of unresolved issues and pain, then turn toward Jesus as your Source of life and love.  He said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matt. 11:28-30 Mes).  “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 Mes).