Living as Christians in our Post-Christian Society
What do Springfield, MA, Providence RI, Burlington VT, Portland ME, and Boston MA have in common?
Well, in a report that recently came out by Barna Research, a research group that focuses on spiritual issues and America society, these five cities top a list of 100 cities and their surrounding regions as the most Post-Christian cities in the United States. These are the top five cities and surrounding regions where more and more of its people no longer identify as Christian or even religious. Twenty years ago, the most secular region in the US was the Northwest but over the past 20 years, the Northeast, and specifically New England, has become the most secular, post-Christian region in the United States!
For those who live here, it may not seem so surprising. We all know plenty of people who are non-religious. Yet think about from where we came. A few centuries ago how in Massachusetts, a town could not even be incorporated in the state without a church at its center. Most of the oldest schools in this region were founded with a faith tradition. Imagine, Harvard’s original motto was “Truth for Christ and Church,” which later was modified simply to Veritas (Truth).
Well, the religious fervor and foundation of much of New England has today been replaced with nominal Christianity, or with no Christianity. So, Springfield, Providence, Burlington, Portland ME, and Boston top the country as the cities and surrounding regions that are the most post-Christian. In contrast to this, the region where Pres. Faith and I grew up in Lancaster County, PA, ranked 95th out of 100, which means it is one of the least post-Christian areas.
Now what does it mean to be “post-Christian.” According to this Barna survey, individuals had to meet nine or more of the following factors. “Highly post-Christian” individuals meet 13 or more (out of 16) of the following factors:
Do not believe in God Identify themselves as atheist or agnostic Don’t think that faith is important in their lives Have never made a commitment to Christ Don’t think that the Bible is accurate Think that Jesus committed sins, i.e. He wasn’t sinless Do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith” Have not attended a Christian church in the last 6 months Have not prayed to God in the last week Have not read the Bible in the last week Have not volunteered at church in the last week Have not donated money to a church in the last year Have not attended Religious Education classes in the last week Have not attended religious small group in the last week Bible engagement scale is very low, i.e. they have not read the Bible in the past week and disagree strongly or somewhat that the Bible is accurate Do not consider themselves “Born Again”
I don’t want to get into the specific details today of what it means to be post-Christian according to this survey, but I clearly see this reality in many people I meet. I know plenty of people who no longer are connected with any faith community, and who express little interest or desire to pursue such a relationship. I know quite a number of people who are biblically illiterate and don’t even know the most basic fundamental beliefs of Christianity. A couple weeks ago I shared a conversation I had with someone who said they never heard that Jesus rose from the dead, or another person who had no idea of who the Virgin Mary is.
And of course, this says nothing about people who utterly misunderstand basic Christian beliefs – like when someone tries to say, “Well the Bible says ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” as if this justified getting revenge on someone, instead of realizing Jesus clearly taught in his famous sermon on the mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek… “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven… therefore you should be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:38, 39, 43-45, 48
Our contemporary reality is that we live in a post-Christian, radically secular society. So, what does that mean for us who claim that God is the center of our lives and who want to faithfully follow Jesus Christ and His teachings?
It means that its surely not going to be easy, and if we want to be sincere about our walk in Christ, then we have to be careful about how we will do this. I want to highlight four key points to staying a faithful Christian. We have to become 1) very vigilant about living our faith, 2) extremely deliberate about nurturing and growing in our faith, 3) extremely careful about surrounding ourselves with other people of serious faith, and 4) bold in our witnessing and sharing the faith. Let me go into a little more detail about these four important aspects which will help us keep the faith.
- First, we need to be very vigilant about living our faith. Are we careful and on guard to walk with Christ, to live in Christ each and every day? The Christian faith is surely not a once a year visit to a church on Christmas or Easter, but it’s not even a once a week going to church on Sundays. The Christian life is a daily walk with Jesus Christ. It’s a connection with God each and every day through our prayers, by reading the Bible and other spiritual material, in consciously trying to see Christ is our neighbor and all those we encounter. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught His followers to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” We are supposed to turn to God daily, and rely on His sustenance, both physical and spiritual, with gratitude, with anticipation, with humility. And when we connect with God every day, are we then consciously trying to live according to His teachings, being guided by His Holy Spirit.
This takes conscious vigilance because every day the world entices us with all its temporary pleasures, with its fading beauty, with the fascinations of the rich, powerful, and famous. Every day we face countless temptations to forget God, to ignore God, and to reject God. If we are not consciously seeking out God, we may very easily unconsciously be falling away from God.
- Along with consciously trying to live our faith, we have to be deliberate in nurturing and growing in our Faith. What do we do daily to nurture our faith? To strengthen and grow in our faith? Do we try to pray regularly with God, connecting with Him through the set prayers of the church as well as with our spontaneous prayers? Do we participate in personal prayer as well as communal prayer? Do we try to learn more and more about the incredible treasure of faith the Church possesses? God is an infinite Mystery and we are on an unending journey into that Mystery. We can never think that “I know enough” about our faith or that “I’m in a good enough relationship with God.” We can always grow deeper in our union with God, in our intimate knowledge of God, in our love for God! Think of this – we are either growing closer to God or falling away from Him. There is no such thing as staying the same in our faith.
It’s like walking up an escalator that is going down. We can walk up, against the downward motion, but it takes effort. And if we ever rest, thinking that we’ve gone up far enough, then we will automatically begin going down. That is such a great analogy to our journey of faith. Either we’re going up or going down. Nothing in between. So, how are we deliberately nurturing and growing in our Faith?!?
- Along with being vigilant and deliberate, there’s a third extremely important aspect to not losing our faith in this post-Christian age, and that is to make sure you have some serious Christian friends. We all will have friends who are not Christian or non-religious but do we have at least a few close friends who also love God and who strive to follow Christ in their lives. The Bible clearly says, “Don’t be fooled, bad company ruins good character.” Now, I don’t mean to imply that non-Christians or non-religious people are bad company, but I do want to highlight that the people we spend the most time with will surely influence us in many conscious and unconscious ways. If we don’t have some friends who are serious in their pursuit of God, and who can encourage and help us in our own journey, then there’s a good chance we will slowly drift away. It may not be conscious or deliberate, but if we are not being inspired by, strengthened by, challenged by, and held accountable by others who love God and want to follow Him, then we will slowly drift away from our faith and become more and more nominal. This is one of the reasons why a strong church family is essential to a serious walk with Christ. We need one another to help us stay on the straight and narrow path that leads into a deeper union with God.
- Finally, a fourth point to help us strengthen our faith is that we have to become bold in witnessing and sharing our faith. The Christian Faith was never meant to be a private affair, between us and God. Christ and His Church made it very clear that our faith is a relationship between us, God, and our neighbor. The more we keep our faith to ourselves, the more it will die, or become distorted. The more comfortable we become in sharing what God means to us with others, in telling others how God touches and influences our lives, in sharing the hope and love and good news that Christ has placed in our hearts, the more our faith will grow. It will touch and inspire others, but it will also solidify and grow in our own lives. The beauty of faith is that the more you share it and give it away, the more it increases and grows within you!
New England may be the most secular, post-Christian region in America. Yet, this is where we live. We don’t have to fret about where we live, we just have to become aware of how living in a very secular, post-Christian society can negatively impact us in our journey of faith.
Therefore, let’s be conscious to daily try to become 1) very vigilant about living our faith, 2) extremely deliberate about nurturing and growing in our faith, 3) extremely careful about surrounding ourselves with other people of serious faith, and 4) bold in our witnessing and sharing the faith. In this way, we will not only preserve our own faith, but we will also touch the lives of those who have given into a secular, post-Christian spirit, and possibly change the demographic of New England!
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