-Tweet by Pope Francis
A recent survey conducted by The Barna Group came up with distressing, but not surprising, results.
“Many Christians are more concerned with what they call unrighteousness than they are with self-righteousness. It’s a lot easier to point fingers at how the culture is immoral than it is to confront Christians in their comfortable spiritual patterns ... "
In other words, according to the study more Christians (51 percent out of 1,008 phone interviews in which 718 respondents "self-identified" as Christians) tend to have self-righteous attitudes and actions rather than Christ-like attitudes and actions.
Those surveyed responded to these statements with agree or disagree. From Barna:
The 10 research statements used to examine Christ-likeness include the following:
Actions like Jesus:
- I listen to others to learn their story before telling them about my faith.
- In recent years, I have influenced multiple people to consider following Christ.
- I regularly choose to have meals with people with very different faith or morals from me.
- I try to discover the needs of non-Christians rather than waiting for them to come to me.
- I am personally spending time with non-believers to help them follow Jesus.
- I see God-given value in every person, regardless of their past or present condition.
- I believe God is for everyone.
- I see God working in people’s lives, even when they are not following him.
- It is more important to help people know God is for them than to make sure they know they are sinners.
- I feel compassion for people who are not following God and doing immoral things.
- I tell others the most important thing in my life is following God’s rules.
- I don’t talk about my sins or struggles. That’s between me and God.
- I try to avoid spending time with people who are openly gay or lesbian.
- I like to point out those who do not have the right theology or doctrine.
- I prefer to serve people who attend my church rather than those outside the church.
- I find it hard to be friends with people who seem to constantly do the wrong things.
- It’s not my responsibility to help people who won’t help themselves.
- I feel grateful to be a Christian when I see other people’s failures and flaws.
- I believe we should stand against those who are opposed to Christian values.
- People who follow God’s rules are better than those who do not."
As you can see, 51 percent of Christians responded in a way indicating that their attitudes and actions reflected the Pharisees, "the self-righteous sect of religious leaders described in the New Testament," according to Barna. Only 14 percent of Christians identified as Christ-like in attitudes and actions. Twenty-one percent were Christ-like in attitudes but not in actions and 14 percent were Christ-like in actions but not in attitude.
These findings are distressing to me because so many Christians are not living the abundant life. Of course, we all have issues on which to work, but being like Jesus should be our goal. When we fall short of the mark the Christian community should change its ways - in the past this was called repentance.
I also said that the findings did not surprise me. All one has to do is look at Facebook, Twitter and the comment sections of most news articles to see that people who claim Christianity as their religion have lost their focus, if they knew what it was at all. All Todd Starnes, Fox News' replacement for Glenn Beck, has to do is say that Christians are suffering persecution here in the States and people begin frothing at the mouth in the comment section.
We can find the reason for this in findings from another survey that Barna conducted. The article, Self-Described Christians Dominate America but Wrestle with Four Aspects of Spiritual Depth, describes four obstacles standing in the way of Christians.
Commitment: "More than three out of four self-identified Christians (78%) strongly agreed that spirituality is very important to them. Yet, less than one out of every five self-identified Christians (18%) claims to be totally committed to investing in their own spiritual development. About the same proportion of self-identified Christians (22%) claims to be “completely dependent upon God.” Those figures help explain why a majority of self-identified Christian adults (52%) believe that there is much more to the Christian life than what they have experienced."
Repentance: "Most of the self-identified Christians in the U.S. (64%) state that they have confessed their sins to God and asked for His forgiveness. But the evidence is quite clear that relatively few self-identified Christians are serious about abandoning the lure of sin and handing total control of their life to God." In fact, only 3 percent of the surveyed Christians said that they had completely given their lives to God.
Activity: "Mired in a culture that rewards hard work and busyness, it’s not surprising that tens of millions of self-identified Christians have confused religious activity with spiritual significance and depth. For instance, four out of ten self-identified Christian adults (39%) have participated in a combination of three “normal” religious activities in the past week (i.e., attending church services, praying, reading the Bible). But far fewer have engaged in another trio of deeper faith expressions: less than one out of ten have talked about their faith with a non-Christian, fasted for religious purposes, and had an extended time of spiritual reflection during the past week. Various spiritual disciplines – including solitude, sacrifice, acts of service, silence, and scriptural meditation – are also infrequently practiced."
Spiritual Community: "Only one out of every five self-identified Christians (21%) believes that spiritual maturity requires a vital connection to a community of faith. Further, only one-third (35%) claims to have confessed their sins verbally to another believer at some point during the past quarter."
Of course, who wants to go to church with a bunch of hypocrites? Millennials (those born between 1984 and 2002, according to Barna) are leaving the church in droves. Even though I am a Buster (1965 - 1983), I too have considered leaving the church because I do not have much in common with the average church goer. Why did I not leave? Because church is where hypocrites- and we are all hypocrites to some degree - belong.
The Church, however, cannot help hypocrites if the depth of preaching does not go beyond the basic salvation message or if leaders merely parrot popular teachings. Pastors and Sunday school teachers should take responsibility for the people under them and research their sermons, Bible studies and lessons with more than one source. Preferably these sources should either disagree or present different aspects or viewpoints of the topic. Critical thinking should be encouraged. People should ask questions, especially in Sunday school.
Church should not be a "country club" where busy-ness and activity are confused with spirituality. The Barna Group mentioned that the church lacks practice in spiritual disciplines such as "solitude, sacrifice, acts of service, silence and scriptural meditation." In fact, fundamentalists ridicule these disciplines and those who practice them, as heretical.
I am going to close with a quote from John Wesley, an Anglican cleric and theologian who is credited with starting the Methodist movement. Wesley believed in holiness of heart and life.
Lord, I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will. Let be employed by You or laid aside for You, exalted for You or brought low by You. Let me have all things, let me have nothing, I freely and heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, You are mine and I am Yours. So be it. Amen.