America is now a secularized, post-Christian nation! Secularism has conquered American Christianity!
Such declarations are regularly pronounced by social scientists, pollsters and even clerics. Reviewing today’s Christian membership rolls, they appear to be right.
During the past decade, as a percentage of the population, American Christianity declined by 8%. Most of the decline came from mainline Protestants, some Catholics and fewer evangelicals. Although several American Christian religions are still growing, their rates of growth are trending downward.
But is it really true? Is the decline of American Christianity the result of external, secular forces victoriously overwhelming it? Are Christian clerics right when they blame secularism for their failures to convert new members and retain old ones? Or, is there something else afoot that more accurately accounts for the decline of American Christianity?
Early Christianity faced far worse profanity, paganism and persecution than Christianity today. Yet, for the first 300 years, under the most oppressive conditions, it triumphantly grew at a phenomenal average rate of 40% each decade, while concurrently reshaping the development of Western culture.
Early Christianity prospered because, as Christ counseled, it rigorously rendered unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and religiously rendered unto Christ what is Christ’s — the perfect model for Christianity’s prosperity. It was no surprise when, in 312 A.D., Emperor Constantine stopped the persecution and shrewdly hitched his ruling fortunes to the rising fortunes of Christianity.
Mahatma Gandhi once mused: “If all Christians acted like Christ, the whole world would be Christian.” On the other hand, if American Christianity fails to act like Christ when attempting to Christianize the culture, it is corrupted into Christless Christianity, which inevitably inspirits secular supremacy.
To illustrate, American Christianity split, polarized by two opposing campaigns that distorted Christ’s true character and teachings to serve their objectives. The first campaign, started by social justice warriors, pushed its churches to contrive a “nicer-than-Jesus” gospel, fitted to promote a progressive culture. The second campaign, started by reactionary culture warriors, pushed its churches to create a “fiercer-than-Jesus” gospel, weaponized to combat the first campaign.
One campaign fights trying not to offend the devil, while the other fights trying not to offend Christ. Both marshal out of their sanctuaries to battle, pouring into the public square, pitting churches against churches, and Christian against Christian, plunging the nation into perpetual dissension and division, while shamelessly claiming fidelity to Christ.
American Christianity’s ceaseless warring over social and political stakes heedlessly disfigured the faith, unrecognizable to many disciples and unattractive to most searchers. It became what Christ called, “whited sepulchers full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
No, secularism didn’t cause the decline. It never does. Christless Christianity caused it. It always does.
Still, American Christianity can recover by reincorporating Christ’s five principle purposes: 1) conform to Christ’s true character and commandments; 2) sacrifice first for the love of Christ and then for others; 3) promulgate Christ’s otherworldly salvation messages, elevating the earthly through eternal aspirations; 4) seek foremost the kingdom of Christ and freedom from state entanglements; and 5) preach Christ’s prophesied return and millennial reign.
Christian doctrine and deportment do indeed determine Christian demographics, which in turn determine Christianity’s destiny. When American Christianity precisely promotes Christ’s principle purposes, dedicated disciples gather, have larger families and devoutly share their authentic faith with family and friends, resulting in increased Christian growth and prosperity.
If American Christianity will return to its roots, rigorously rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and religiously rendering unto Christ what is Christ’s, it will not only survive, as early Christianity proved, it can overcome its woebegone weaknesses and triumph even in the worst of times.
Stuart C. Reid, Ogden, is a former Army chaplain and former Utah state senator.