I’m Joel Fieri. I’m the owner of Christian Podcast Central, and when you’re the owner of a Christian podcast network, there’s really only one thing you need to know to be successful. What is it that Christian podcast listeners are searching for? What are the questions and topics they want to hear discussed? Well, I put our crack research team on the job here at Christian Podcast Central, and we came up with a list of the most searched for questions and topics that you, the Christian podcast listener, are searching for. So welcome to What You’re Searching For, our new series here on Christian Podcast Central.
Okay, to start off with, the first question that came to us is this, “Is Christianity dying in the United States?” Well, that’s a really important question and I’m going to give you my best thoughts on it. Before I do, I want to define some terms and then make a couple of distinctions if we can. The terms I want to define in this question are, first of all, Christianity in the United States. What do you mean by Christianity in the United States? The second term would be, of course, what do we mean by dying? So if we say, “Is Christianity in the United States dying?” We need to know what our terms mean. A couple of distinctions I want to make are a distinction between the leadership in Christianity versus the laity in Christianity. So for Christianity in the United States, if you look at the research that’s done on this topic, Pew Research Center is the most prominent of all the research houses doing research on this. They’ll divide Christianity to the United States into several different faith groups, Mormonism, Catholicism, mainline Protestantism, and Evangelicalism. There’s a few more thrown in there, but those are the main ones.
As for our definition of dying, if you mean by dying ceasing to exist, then no, I’m going to throw that definition out right off the bat. The church can never die. The Bible tells us that no matter how bad a society gets, no matter how disobedient and far from God it gets, there will always be a remnant of believers. This is true throughout the old Testament. It’s pretty much the story of the nation of Israel. Time after time, Israel turning its back on God, pursuing false gods, but there was always a remnant of true believers. There was always a small group of people who did not bow the knee to Bael. The new Testament promises that too, and throughout history, we can see that playing out. Most recently, biggest example was in the communist world. No matter how bad the communist world got, there was always a faithful group of believers that was very effective in taking down communism. So, for that definition, ceasing to exist, no, but if by dying, you mean losing sight of our mission and our calling in a culture, well, I think that could be a working definition of dying. If by dying, you mean losing influence and relevance in a culture? Well then certainly that can be a definition we can work with.
The distinction I want to make is between the leadership of these faith groups and the laity, the individual believers and individual churches. So let’s go back to our definition of Christianity that we came up with, our major faith groups, and apply these definitions and these distinctions. For the Catholic church, I’m not Catholic myself. I do have friends and family members who are Catholic. The Catholic church, from an outsider’s point of view, has a lot of challenges on the leadership level. I’ve seen lots of tension in the Catholic church, directions that the Pope has taken the church that is different than previous Popes and different from some of the traditions of the Catholic church. Within the laity of the Catholic church, I’ve seen a lot of strong believers who are maintaining … trying very hard to maintain their traditions and they’re calling and fidelity to the word of God. So there is a strong remnant within the Catholic church, but there are challenges within the leadership and, from an outsider’s point of view, that’s really all I can say.
For the mainline denominations, I have more to say on the mainline denominations. I was raised in a mainline denomination, a church that is no longer around, but for the mainline denominations, it’s been very public in recent years, lots of church splits, lots of tension between the leadership of mainline denominations and the individual believers and churches. Leadership in the mainline denominations have very much lost sight of their calling and their mission within our society and as a church, but I know so many mainline Protestants who are working very hard at facing fierce resistance in trying to maintain fidelity to the word of God in the face of all the cultural challenges that we have. So, there is a strong remnant of believers within the mainline denominations, but they need our prayers.
As for evangelical churches, I have more to say on that because I am an evangelical. Most of my life, I’ve identified myself as an evangelical and attended evangelical churches. Leadership within the evangelical church has traditionally been very strong. There’s always been a strong commitment to our mission as our calling, as a church in society and culture. The advantage that evangelicalism has over the other faith groups is that our leadership is decentralized. We don’t have a strong central authority dictating which way our churches need to go. Each pastor has a lot of authority and leeway on which way his church is going, and so does the laity. What we do have in evangelicalism is thought leaders. We have a lot of prominent pastors and teachers who are very influential in evangelical thought and practice.
The issue I’m having with evangelical leadership right now is that I’m seeing lots of the same issues that the other faith groups dealt with and that were causing major splits and major friction within those groups, they’re now infiltrating evangelicalism. Many of our leaders are losing sight of their calling in our culture, the calling and the mission, and they’re caving in to societal pressures. It’s starting within the evangelical church. As for the laity at the evangelical church, the individual churches and individual believers, there’s still a much stronger commitment to stay faithful to the word of God in the face of these cultural pressures and maintain our mission and our calling and a strong desire to be influential for God in our culture, but our leadership is beginning to falter. So, in the years to come, very soon, evangelicalism is going to have a lot of very difficult conversations. We’re going to have to ask some very difficult questions and come to some very difficult decisions. This is not going to be easy. The challenges that face the other faith groups are now going to be facing us, but again, we have a strong … much more than a remnant, the believers and laity, individual believer and laity and many of the evangelical leaders are still holding strong, but many are not. So, that’s the challenge facing the evangelical church in the coming years.
So, I hope that gives a good introduction to this question. We’ll be discussing more of this in upcoming podcasts. We have a couple of followup questions that came with this question. The follow-up questions being, “If we think Christianity is dying in the United States, how did this happen? How did a once faithful Christian nation get to the point where it can be reasonably asked, is Christianity dying in our country?” The next question obviously is, “Well, if that’s the case, what can we do about that? How do we reverse this trends, so I’ll be giving you the answers to those two questions in the next two podcasts. This is a three-part series, three-part introductory series to our new podcast, What You’ve Been Searching For.
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