Today we will talk a bit about religion. Allow me to share a few facts about world religions. Here is the breakdown of the major world religions, expressed as a percentage, and a brief description of each:
Islam- 23.2%- Islam is a major world religion begun by the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia in the 7th century CE. The Arabic term islām, literally “surrender,” illuminates the fundamental religious idea of Islam—that the believer (called a Muslim, from the active particle of islām) accepts surrender to the will of Allah (in Arabic, Allāh: God). Allah is viewed as the sole God—creator, sustainer, and restorer of the world. The will of Allah, to which human beings must submit, is made known through the sacred scriptures, the Qurʾān (often spelled Koran in English), which Allah revealed to his messenger, Muhammad. In Islam Muhammad is considered the last of a series of prophets (including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Solomon, and Jesus), and his message simultaneously consummates and completes the “revelations” attributed to earlier prophets.
Hinduism- 15.4%- Followers believe there are multiple paths to reaching their god. Hindus believe in the doctrines of samsara (the continuous cycle of life, death, and reincarnation) and karma (the universal law of cause and effect). One of the key thoughts of Hinduism is “atman,” or the belief in soul.
Buddhism- 7.1%- The basic doctrines of early Buddhism, which remain common to all Buddhism, include the four noble truths : existence is suffering ( dukhka ); suffering has a cause, namely craving and attachment ( trishna ); there is a cessation of suffering, which is nirvana ; and there is a path to the cessation of suffering, the eightfold path of right views, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Buddhism characteristically describes reality in terms of process and relation rather than entity or substance.
Christianity– 31.4%- How is Christianity different from other religions? While Christianity shares some spiritual ideas with other religions, several of its claims are unique.
1. First and foremost, the Christian faith is based on the literal, physical resurrection of its founder, Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul considered the resurrection the matter of first importance: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). No other religion is based on the literal resurrection of its founder.
2. Second, Christianity is unique in its view of God. Christianity is the one faith that teaches there is one God who exists in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
3. Third, Christianity is unique in its authority. It accepts the 66 books of the Old and New Testament as the inspired Word of God that serves as the authority for matters of faith and practice. Second Timothy 3:16-17 teaches, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Second Peter 1:20-21 adds, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
4. Fourth, Christianity is unique in its impact. The church began in approximately AD 33 in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost under the leadership of the apostle Peter and 120 followers of Jesus (Acts 1—2). That day, 3,000 people were added (Acts 2:41). Soon their number grew to 5,000 men (Acts 4:4). Within the next 30 years, churches expanded across the Roman Empire, including Rome itself (Acts 28). By the fourth century, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. By the 21st Century, it is the world’s largest religion, with more than two billion estimated adherents.
5. Fifth, Christianity is unique in its teachings regarding salvation. All other religious systems require works in order to receive eternal life, teach reincarnation, or reject the afterlife. The Bible teaches salvation is by faith alone in Jesus Christ apart from works (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Christianity is currently the world’s largest religion. However, Islam will grow more than twice as fast as the overall world population between 2015 and 2060 and, in the second half of this century, will likely surpass Christians as the world’s largest religious group.
There are two main reasons for Islam’s growth:
1.Simple demographics. Muslims have more children than members of the seven other major religious groups analyzed in the study. Muslim women have an average of 2.9 children, significantly above the next-highest group (Christians at 2.6) and the average of all non-Muslims (2.2). In all major regions where there is a sizable Muslim population, Muslim fertility exceeds non-Muslim fertility.
2.Retention- Very few Muslim youth leave their religion upon reaching adulthood.
In contrast, The religious landscape of the world and specifically in the United States continues to change at a rapid clip. In Pew Research Center telephone surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.
So the percentage of Americans identifying as Christian in the last 10 years has dropped by 12 percentage points. And then in the other direction, the percentage of Americans saying they have no religion or no affiliation—the “nones”—has gone up 9 percentage points.
Consequently, this week we ask this question: “Is Christianity still relevant?”
It is instructive to look at the First century definition of Christianity-
1. Acceptance of Jesus as Messiah and Lord differentiated Christians from Jews and pagan Romans. Followers of the Jesus movement were first called “Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11:26) around ad 44.
2. Entrance into the Christian church entailed commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior and baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christian baptism was distinguished from Jewish ceremonial washings by its confession of Jesus as divine.
3. Christianity promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to its adherents.
4. Christian baptism was seen as participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus and as a sign of spiritual rebirth. It was a public declaration.
Here is the Modern-day definition of Christianity-
The religion based on Jesus Christ and his teachings.
These two definitions are clearly and markedly different.
To identify oneself as a Christian in the first century was public and often costly. A Christian was clearly distinct from others in the society, mostly either Jews or Roman subjects. A Christian’s understanding was shaped by the Apostles’ writings, and early Christianity was recognized as one faith.
To identify oneself as a Christian today can mean different things. For some, it can closely track the first century definition, but it can also be used casually, and be an almost default response. For many today, creeds that existed for first century Christians are optional. Things like: The inspiration of Holy Scripture, the death and resurrection of Christ, and that acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Messiah is the only way to receive salvation. And the person in front of you will often ask: “What denomination are you?”
Why is Christianity in America in decline?
One of the major reasons is that our young people are leaving Christianity in large numbers. Researchers have found that the majority of teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their faith, religious beliefs and practices, and its place in their lives. The de facto dominant religion among contemporary U.S. teenagers is what they call ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’: A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth; God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions; the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself; God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem; and good people go to heaven when they die.
Then we send them off to college. There we find that About 25% of college professors are professing atheists or agnostics (5-7% of the general population is atheistic or agnostic). Only 6% of college professors said the Bible is “the actual word of God”. 51% described it as “an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts.” 75% believe religion does not belong in public schools.
Interestingly, Although Faculty Generally Oppose Religion in the Public Sphere, Many Endorse the Idea That Muslims Should Express Their Religious Beliefs in American Politics.
So for the next four years or so our young adults are exposed to ideas, philosophy, and teachings that stand in opposition to Christianity. If they do not enter college with a rock-solid faith, is it any wonder that many abandon their faith?
Researchers asked self-professing Christians to respond to a series of statements related to classic, historic Christian doctrine. In every answer offered related to these theological beliefs, young people between the ages of 18 and 34 consistently held heretical views at a higher percentage than older respondents. Young people who identify themselves as Christians, are far more likely to hold views that aren’t Christian.
Biblical, first-century Christianity is relevant today. It has to be. It is the only hope of a fallen world. That means that we are the hope of the world. Jesus left His people with clear instructions regarding evangelism: Matthew 24:14; 28:19,20.
What should be our personal game plan? I will leave you with five suggestions:
1.Let us Do all that we can to keep our personal faith strong and vibrant.
2.Let us Be part of and take part in a vibrant Biblically sound church family.
3. Let us Be not ashamed or embarrassed about our faith- share the gospel freely when opportunities present themselves- personally evangelize.
4. Let us Take responsibility for raising spiritually healthy families.
5. Let us Take part in or otherwise support missionary efforts around the world.
Keeping Christianity relevant is the responsibility of each one of us as we navigate our way through a world that desperately needs to hear its life-saving message. Perhaps I should add a number six to the list above, and it is summed up in the words of Albert Barnes, who wrote:
In our manner of speech, our plans of living, our dealings with others, our conduct and walk in the church and out of it–all should be done as becomes the gospel (Phil. 1:27). Author: Albert Barnes
May it be so for each of us.