30 September 2010

Does it matter to you?

by Frank Turk

Briefly today, I am certain many of you have read about the new Pew Forum Survey of U.S. Religious Knowledge. That link takes you to the actual home page for Pew and the survey, so you can go as deep into the subject as you have time and talent and temperament.

I think the knee-jerk reaction to this survey is to bemoan the state of American religion, especially among evangelicals and Protestants. But I think there are some significant pieces of good news in this survey.

For example, a lot of us are worried about whether or not Catholics are Christians -- whether or not we can trust them as brothers and sisters in Christ. This survey says -- as I have said repeatedly for years -- that most American Catholics aren't actually "Roman Catholic", if by that we mean "accepts and receives the teaching of the Magisterium." They're more like potentially-religious people -- which reads to me like the perfect opportunity to evangelize them. No sense worrying about if they are followers of the Pope -- they can't name the things the Pope stands for, and I think that makes them people who can and will listen to the Gospel if you go ahead and offer it to them.

Of course, that assumes there's anyone to tell them about the Gospel, which may be the bad news. Note to every person who runs a local church, whether you;re a liberal or a hyperfundamentalist: getting 7 out of 12 right on a quiz about the Christian faith is appalling, especially when the questions include these:

1. What is the first book of the Bible?
2. Name the first 4 books of the New Testament, that is the four Gospels.
3. Where was Jesus born, according to the Bible?
4. Which group teaches that salvation comes through faith alone?
5. Please tell me which of the following is NOT one of the Ten Commandments: Do not commit adultery; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; Do not steal; Keep the Sabbath holy
6. Which Bible figure is most closely associated with "Remaining obedient to God despite suffering"? (Job, Elijah, Moses or Abraham)
7. Which Bible figure is most closely associated with "Leading the exodus from Egypt"? (Job, Elijah, Moses or Abraham)
8. Which Bible figure is most closely associated with "Willingness to sacrifice his son for God"? (Job, Elijah, Moses or Abraham)
9. What was the name of the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation? (Luther; Aquinas; Wesley)
10. Which one of these preachers participated in the period of religious activity known as
the First Great Awakening? (Edwards, Finney, Billy Graham)

So take a look at Pew's analysis, and think about whether you personally would have fared better than the average -- and then decide that it matters to you. Decide that you're going to believe that the Gospel is the power to save today, and then act like it really will by delivering it to someone.










80 comments:

JG said...

I took the test (I guess my questions were a little different than yours) and, for the record, apparently know nothing about Eastern Mysticism. That doesn't bother me.

I guess "what bothered me" was two-fold. First, it's pretty obvious that the motives behind such a survey are to show that the most "educated" among us are also the least religious, or that if we really knew what we claimed to believe, we'd be an athiest/agnostic who scored much better on that test. I think if the athiest/agnostic category had been in the bottom 2, not the top 2, it would be getting nearly the traction is has.

On the other hand, yes, I am bothered that a lot of self-proclaimed evangelicals didn't know these basic questions. But what it said to me is less that we need to be doing more VBSes and more that perhaps we need to be more clearly defining the difference between nominal/cultural Christians and Believers. I think that probably accounts for some of the disparity in the poll results. But I'm optimistic like that.

JG said...

*would not. Sorry.

Michael said...

Sorry to butt in, but I enjoy this blog very much.
Well I'm in the atheist/agnostic/Jewish camps and I knew the answers to all the questions in the sample poll at the pew site and in the article in the Times. The thing is I'm fascinated by Religion. I'm not an angry Atheist/Humanist looking for ammo nor religious in any sense of the word. If I were a serious believer I'm sure I wouldn't be reading about other religions very much. Most Jews in this country are secular so they don't have blinders on either(in the context of knowing about the basics of other religions).
One more thing. When I read about a religion I read the writing of the folks in the religion not someone trying to expose all it's supposed flaws and hypocrisies. If I only read critical works I probably wouldn't know much about the actual beliefs.
Spurgeon rules! (in the slang usage of course)

Trevor said...

"Decide that you're going to believe that the Gospel is the power to save today, and then act like it really will by delivering it to someone."

Yes, yes, amen, yes, amen.

Steve B said...

FWIW, I got them all right. The last one IS Edwards, right?

I remember in one quiz game we played at church, one of the questions was, "What were Jesus' last words on the cross?"

I said, "Tetelestai." And people looked at me like I had two heads.

I think the pastor was the only other one in the group of about 30 who knew what I'd said.

I does you no good to set aside the liturgical traditions, if you don't replace it with actually reading the thing yourself.

Thomas Louw said...

Paul said it best
"I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength"
Ep 5:15-

I think a lot of mistakes has been made and are being made, the main reason, laziness.

Ms Darla said...

I took the test and missed one, so what! These are not question regarding the Christian Faith, they are questions about "Religion." The Pew alluded to that "Prostate" are not very religious and that those who are more intelligent and do not believe in God or a god have more religious knowledge -- Okay?
Than that must confirm that colleges are brain washing their student "about" religion instead of teach real academics.

Ms Darla said...

Spell check * Protestant, NOT prostate

B Barnes said...

Are you still even considered a Protestant if you don't believe in God, or if you haven't placed your faith in Christ?

Frank Turk said...

I am going to be absolutely stunned if this post, of all the posts of the last 7 years, gets high traffic from the non-religious and from non-Christians.

B Barnes:

no.

Frank Turk said...

Ms. Darla --

I think I'd rather have these results than the results from a Barna survey for two reasons:

1. The Barna surveys want to draw prophetic conclusions about the future of the church, and then take revisionist action to make something new of the Christian faith. I think that's way more offensive than a secular study saying that most Christians are ignorant of other faiths and, frankly, their own faith history & tradition.

2. This survey says to me that the Gospel is still the solution -- and points out that many people don't believe that. That is, they have never been taught that. While that's appalling, it's also a great opportunity.

Sir Aaron said...

I took the survery as well and about half of the questions were about other religions. I got 100 on the test (15 questions) but I wasn't sure about one or two questions about the other religion.

And I'd be ok with a Christian not knowing the answer to the question about the first Great Awakening. After all, that is more about history, IMO, than Christian theology.

Lastly, most Americans can't even identify their current government representatives. Why would it suprise me that they don't know much about the Bible? I'm convinced more than ever that God was being nice when he referred to us as sheep.

Matt said...

Frank,

Ms Darla did not even mention the Barna studies, so why did you bring them up? Is it because you don't want to face the reality of what the Barna studies reveal?

Look, I don't know what their "agenda" is at Barna. I really don't care. But their studies were asking pointed questions about what people actually believe and how they actually live, and the correlation between belief (doctrine) and lifestyle is actually quite striking -- as we really should expect.

The fact is, when you look across America and see how we as a country live -- specifically, how we as a church live -- you will come to the same conclusion as the statistics: the vast majority of American "Christians" are not, in fact, Christian.

The conclusions are startling, and I really have yet to hear a good rebuttal. Only 3.5% of Americans have the chance of being a Christian. The funny thing is, while I am railed against for saying, are not the precepts that define a Christian the very precepts in which you believe?

thomastwitchell said...

That is, they have never been taught that.

Agreed.

Reflecting on your pursuit of a sound SBC church...

The SBC that I left had it in their constitution that the two things that had to be taught was the history of the church and church doctrine. Which two do you think were never the subject of any class?

I suspect that this isn't the uni-rule, but it is interesting. The missions clause of the SBC BFM requires the same as vital. And it is. Then why the emphasis on pragmatic life-skills programs?

The problem obviously doesn't stop at the convention walls.

I think the major problem is the fact that most churches have pursued being relevant. To achieve that they function as adjunct organs of the local community college offeringa non-credit adult studies courses. You can't fail. The unfortunate thing is that it turns the church into a bingo-parlor of sorts, or an alternative to the bars and bowling teams, or perhaps the social clubs to which many cannot afford to belong so they go to the local church to find the community that they want. Many churches don't require membership and when they do, there is little or no discipline holding the fellowship accountable. That alone makes for taking the reason to grow up into the fulness of the knowledge of the Son of God a matter adiaphora.

You could list, perhaps, dozens of reasons for the decline in biblical knowledge. The final analysis is that the churches don't take their missions responsibility responsibly.

Lynda O said...

FWIW, I knew all the answers to the set of 15 questions. But then, by the very definition of things such as this blog, we believers that regularly visit here are in that 30% of evangelicals that "report that they read books or go online to learn about their own religion at least once a week." Obviously, those who are interested in their faith are going to score better than those less interested. That too goes back to the difference between believers and nominal/cultural Christians.

donsands said...

I remember having a hunger to learn God's Word as a young believer. I didn't know who Paul was, and was very unfamiliar with the Bible.
Yet my Savior saved me, and He put His Spirit in me, to bring me to His Word.

Genuine regenerated Christians will have a desire to read, and understand God's Word: --Though it is sharp as a razor, and does cut to the bone.

America has become "dumbed-down". And so the Church has followed in becoming the same.

But there's always a remnant. God's mercy and grace, and His promises will not be thwarted.

Yet we need to pray that God would grant us repentance, and a hunger for His truth, and a thirst for His Spirit. To be hungry, though it produces anxiety, is a good thing for a soul.

Matt Aznoe said...

donsands,

Well said.

Sir Brass said...

I only got one question wrong and that was the question on whether or not the supreme court allowed for the bible to be read aloud in the classroom as an example of literature. I said "no," when the answer was "yes."

I aced the other questions. It was NOT hard in the least, even the other questions regarding other religions. Very basic religious knowledge test.

Rob Bailey said...

As these comment accumulate, don't forget the thief on the cross next to Jesus may have not even been able to read, much less answer the questions. But Luke 23:43 is one of the most precious verses in Scripture. Do not get me wrong, I'm big on knowledge. Yet, we can't forget the grace granted. I'm not arguing, just thought about the thief and was able to worship and wanted to share it.

lee n. field said...

"Obviously, those who are interested in their faith are going to score better than those less interested."

Issues, Etc. talked to someone from Pew on this a couple days ago. That was his point. Those who scored poorly were those whose religious identification was "nothing in particular". Those who cared, for or against scored better.

Mesa Mike said...

I need to flog myself, because I apparently confused Edwards with Finney...

Eric said...

Matt,

Why come here with a chip on your shoulder every time? Frank gave no indication that he doesn't want to face the reality of the results of Barna surveys.

We get it already that you crunched some numbers at your blog and came up with a number that you seem to want to parade around looking for a reaction. Arguing about exact or even ballpark numbers of actual Christians in the US is entirely counterproductive. Certainly the authors of this blog and a good majority of the commenters here share your concerns about a lack of knowledge, fruit, and exhibition of true belief amongst professing Christians in the US today. Why do you think the authors of this blog continually seek to stimulate deep and thoughtful interaction with one's Christian beliefs resulting in fruit?

So, why do you come here seeking a fight when all Frank did was indicate to a commenter why he prefers the Pew survey over Barna surveys?

Ms Darla said...

I am not a "subject matter expert" as it pertains to Research Methods, though I passed the mandatory college course for my degree. I understand the basics of what researchers are supposed to do and not supposed to do. Whether Gallup, Barna,Pew,or Brooking all are attempting to expand on what they already know or think they already know. Perhaps, some will use this information to influence others in a negative way, who really knows their intent.

John MacArthur commented on a poll, not sure if it was Barna or Gallup, their intention was to discover what percentage of American's are Christians...80%! Everyone said, "WOW!" After several follow-up polls from this same group they found that 80% claimed to be Christian's, but a very small percent actually lived the Christian life. (I'll look for those polls and post a link. I want to say it was Gallup, but I am not certain.)

Regardless of the pollster's intent, it was John MacArthur who put the research together and gave an excellent sermon on the narrow road. Just think, Pastor John didn't have to spend all the time money to prove what we already know from God's word!

stratagem said...

4. Which group teaches that salvation comes through faith alone?

I wouldn't have gotten this question correct, probably. Don't most Christian groups believe this?

David Regier said...

There's a story told of two shoe salesmen sent to a tropical clime to check out the possibility of expanding their market.

When they came back, one of the salesmen said, "Bad news. The natives don't wear shoes."

The other said, "Great news! Everybody in the country needs shoes!"

Ms Darla said...

David : )

Larry Geiger said...

"Only 3.5% of Americans have the chance of being a Christian."

I'm assuming that there are some words or meaning missing from this sentence? I cannot fathom what the writer of this sentence really means.

The Reformant said...

Matt,

He brings them up because its helpful to offer contrast when making a point.


You said -
"The fact is, when you look across America and see how we as a country live -- specifically, how we as a church live -- you will come to the same conclusion as the statistics: the vast majority of American "Christians" are not, in fact, Christian."

Too which I completely agree... I don't think anyone here is arguing with you there.

Frank's point is, that the Pew survey shows that the Gospel is the answer to this problem.

What did Paul do when the church in Galatia wasn't acting like "the Church"?

He reiterated the Gospel to them.

trogdor said...

"Decide that you're going to believe that the Gospel is the power to save today, and then act like it really will by delivering it to someone."

Don't miss this at the end of the article. There's a place for talking about our scores, or discussing the state of religious education in the church and America in general, but if I come away from this bragging about getting all 15 right, I've totally missed the point.

I know it - so what? What good is knowledge of the truth if I keep it to myself? How well do I really know the gospel if I'm willing to let my neighbors like Mike and Kevin go to hell without ever throwing myself in their way, no matter the personal cost?

This is a great three (so far?) part series, where all of them have a similar point.
Today - if you know it, act like you believe it and tell somebody.
Yesterday - if you understand the magnitude of the gift, act like you do.
Tuesday - if you understand how much God has blessed you, act like it and seek to lovingly, sacrificially bless others.

Don't just know it. Live it. Encouraging but convicting.

s.driesner said...

We can spend much of our time arguing about how many believers there actually are based on this survey, but that's not the point of the post.

I believe the point of Frank's post was to look at the data from the study and then decide how that data should affect *you*.

And it may be that the initial personal application would be to fall on your face before God, confess your own sin, and pray that God would use you to proclaim His Gospel boldly (Eph. 6:19-20) to a lost and dying generation.

@Frank, did I get that right?

@stratagem:
"faith alone" (i.e. sola fide) was one of the rallying cries of the Protestant Reformation, so identifying oneself as a Protestant implies that you hold to salvation by faith alone, in contrast to (for example) Catholic soteriology, which teaches effectively that salvation is by faith + works (works = performing the sacraments).

So, to answer your question, no, not all "Christian" groups teach that salvation is by faith alone, it is exclusive to the Protestant doctrine of salvation.

Frank Turk said...

Matt (no last name):

I think the problem you are having is that you're interpreting bad data through a faulty lens, and a person who is willing to do that cannot be disuaded -- because if you replace the lens or improve the data, that person is bound to say, "well, that's not what I was talking about at all."

Your conclusions require your faulty lens and your bad data. If we fix those things, the consequences might be that there are actually no Christoians in the United States, and it might be that there are many, many Christians in various states of maturity and discipleship, but we can't start to find out until you are willing to admit that your lens and your data are both not helpful.

Can you imagine that such a thing is possible? If so, show me that this is true: which is more likely in you opinion -- is your data bad, or your lens faulty?

Matt Aznoe said...

The Reformant,

Thank you. I see what you mean. I guess I would say that both reports support the observations of the other, just coming at them from different directions.

The problem I see is that there is still a prevailing thought that the United States are Christian. I continue to hear the presentation for overseas missions based on the idea that America is already reached. But what these studies show is that the American people do not even know what Christianity is, and the vast majority of them do not have a worldview that is submitted to God.

It also leaks out into how we view church membership. I am continually told to just stick in out in my church, to not be a church dater. But what do you do when you discover that the leadership of your church is are not truly committed to Jesus Christ? Could it be that the vast majority of churches out there are apostate, and if so, would that not have a huge impact on how we counsel people about finding or staying in a church?

It seems to me that there is a disconnect. On one hand, we admit that there is a problem, but then we assume that it is a problem for other churches or communities. Then there are those who go to good churches who do not realize how incredibly fortunate they are.

I do not mean to come across as combative. Perhaps it is because I have seen the underbelly of the beast that shakes me to the core. Everywhere I turn, I see idolatry and lies. I long to see the real Church in action.

Sir Aaron said...

@Larry Geiger:

No, he literally thinks that 3.5% of Americans are Christians. Most of us agree that not everyone who calls himself a Christian is, in fact, a Christian. After all, I can say I'm a cow, but it doesn't make it true. But he has some sort of voodoo mathematical computation to come to 3.5%.

Matt Aznoe said...

Frank,

The problem is that what I see with my eyes actually matches up with the data. I actually did this study over a year ago, and I have been wrestling with it ever since -- questioning its accuracy, the methods, my understanding. Do I still have doubts? Yes, I do, but I have not really seen anything convincing to change my mind on this.

I don't think we (and I do mean, we... I am torn apart by my duplicity in this as well) take the Christian life seriously enough. When I hear about the suffering and persecution of our brothers around the world compared to our coddled, materialistic and empty Christianity here... I wonder when or if I have seen true Christianity in action.

I think we need to take a serious, hard look at ourselves in the lens of what Jesus taught and said regarding his disciples and who would enter the kingdom of heaven.

I am not saying that we need to add works to our salvation, but I do question whether we truly have faith if our lives are not transformed.

Matt Aznoe said...

Sir Aaron, perhaps you should read my blog before you disparage everything I say. Ignorance helps no one.

Frank Turk said...

s.driesner --

Aha!

Someone read my post!

Frank Turk said...

Trogdor --

Someone read all three posts this week ... I think I have something in my eye ...

Frank Turk said...

Matt Aznoe --

And that differs from my posts this week in what way? That is: how does your final sentence in some way find itself at odds with the posts I have made either today oir any other day this week?

Matt Aznoe said...

Frank,

I am not actually disagreeing with you! I thought your articles were actually quite interesting. My question is why you are disparaging Barna or my findings so harshly. Could it not be that the situation is even worse than you think?

The Reformant said...

Frank,
Change the lens, i like that....

Like the Hubble... but hopefully not as expensive.

Sir Aaron said...

Matt:

I read your blog post and my previous comment stands. Do you feel better now?

Matt Aznoe said...

Sir Aaron,

So where did I go wrong?

DJP said...

Boys: this is where we talk about Frank's post.

If you want to talk about Matt's post, go to Matt's blog, please.

Frank Turk said...

Matt --

I think that I have more confidence in the Gospel than you do, and more confidence than Barna that there is actually a Gospel.

Stefan said...

I got 15 out of 15, but knowledge isn't my problem. Actually living out the faith I claim to have, and actually living as if I really believe what I claim to believe is the problem.

Michael: As an ethnic Jew who grew up as an atheist and was an agnostic most of his adult life, welcome to the blog! (Maybe that's why I got 15 out of 15?)

Matt Aznoe said...

Frank,

But see Frank, that is just it. I have faith in the Gospel as well -- that it transforms lives. But when I look around at those who call themselves Christians, I do not see them being all that different from the rest of the "good" people around them. What I read in the Bible talks about a radical transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit, but I just do not see that in American churches.

So either the Gospel is not effective like the Bible says it is, or the Gospel is not being preached and accepted in America.

I really don't mean to be argumentative, but I am frustrated. We talk about God's ability to transform lives, but quite frankly, what I see isn't all that different than any secular self-help program. Perhaps it is because we are cut off from our power source.

Now, of course, you will write me off because of my "charismaticism", but I ask you: where is the real Christianity? Where are the fulfillments of the promises Jesus makes in the Bible.

I have seen a few examples, but all of these having something in common in addition to serious study of the Bible: they have a powerful prayer life and a dedication to following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I am not trying to take this off-topic, because I think this is the core topic: what is Christianity? Most Americans believe they are Christians, and a large percentage believe they are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, but if their lives are not changed, if they are not salt and light in the world, has it done them any good?

Am I making sense?

greglong said...

Steve B.

Jesus' last words were not "Tetelestai" but rather "πατερ εις χειρας σου παρατιθεμαι το πνευμα μου."

Frank Turk said...

Matt --

I think you need to think a little harder about your concerns. Here's what I mean.

I can imagine a church that has a lot of leaders who think they are smarter and better speakers than the Apostles. Those guys are leading a church which is full of factions, and which allows all manner of sin in its midst. That church has a problem with idolatry, and with undersatnding marriage, and with managing serious and god-ward worship, veers toward charismania, and it has a problem because it doesn't do a great job of treating the eucharist as if it's a serious and solemn occasion in which they show (among other things) that they are honoring the body of Christ. Worst of all, they have a general problem in which they aren't sure if the resurrection is actually a real thing -- even though it's a central issue of the Gospel.

That could be almost any church in America -- but it turns out that this church is the church in Corinth, about which Paul says, "[you are] the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours."

I think that people who are saved who set their minds on the Gospel and apply it to everything that matters are people who change. I think saved people who are factious and swayed by celebrities are people who are saved but ridiculous.

I think you think that people who are under-discipled and under-disciplined are unsaved -- and let me say it frankly: you are wrong.

The Gospel is greater than what we wind up doing, and greater than our wimpy and weak consciences. It's greater than our effort-- even the right-minded ones which are given to us by the Spirit.

The question is simply whether or not the Gospel -- the good news of Christ -- saves, and if so what shall we do about it. I think you think it doesn't actually save weak and under-fed and under-led people. I think it is given becuase we are weak, unfed, and unleadable.

Frank Turk said...

And FWIW: it doesn't matter what "Christianity" is. This is what matters:

1. Who is Jesus?
2. What did He do?
3. For whom did He do it?
4. Can it be undone - even by those for whom it was done?

Matt Aznoe said...

So accepting the Gospel does not mean that your life is changed?

What did the apostle John say?

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.
(1Jn 2:3 ESV)

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
(1Jn 2:10-11 ESV)

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world.
(1Jn 2:15-16 ESV)

No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.
(1Jn 2:23 ESV)

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
(1Jn 3:10 ESV)

Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
(1Jn 3:24 ESV)

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
(1Jn 5:18 ESV)

We are not perfect (1 John 1:8,9), but are our lives not supposed to be transformed by God. If there is no difference in our lives, can we truly say that we believe the Gospel?

As I read the Bible, I see grace and love, but I also see a call for complete surrender to the will of God.

Maybe I am taking this too far, but I fear that we are giving a false assurance of salvation to millions of people across America. We cannot just add Jesus into our lives. He needs to become our life.

The Reformant said...

Matt -

We all are frustrated, but are you so frustrated that you do not see that there are Christians who are out there trying do what this series of posts say they should?

Are we fighting against a majority? Yes

Is there a massive stereotype against "Christianity"? Yes


But...

There are churches and Pastors, normal business people and bloggers (LIKE THE PYROS!) who are working towards that goal, and exhorting their friends, families and readers/sheep to do so.

Perhaps your missing the forest for the trees...

Frank Turk said...

Matt --

I think you are missing the point, but I could be wrong.

You are asking the question, "Does the Gospel change one's life?"

The answer, unequivocally, is "yes."

And you stop right there.

The problem you face is that, short of final glorification, none of us are perfectly changed. Which, I need to make it clear, is why Paul's letters to the Corinthians and to a lesser degree but to the same objective my blog posts this week are needed by people of good faith.

In your view, because nobody is perfect and in fact most people are pretty screwed up, almost nobody is a Christian. In my view, because most people are pretty screwed up, they all need to hear the Gospel so the unsaved ones can get saved, and the saved one can get sanctified -- that is, they can grow in maturity.

I embrace the view that the more we know of Christ and the more we embrace Him as our Savior, the less we will cling to sin and the less we will cling to our own effort and accomplishment (moral accomplishments included).

I reject the view that says we measure our salvation by our accomplishments.

All of them.

donsands said...

"..they all need to hear the Gospel so the unsaved ones can get saved, and the saved one can get sanctified -- that is, they can grow in maturity." -Frank

Amen to that. That's what my pastor says over and over.

Last week my pastor began his sermon by saying, "I have a question I want to ask all of you. I don't want you to raise your hand, although you can raise your hand in your heart.
Are you a Christian? Do you really trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior? Is your hand raised in your heart?"

And he went on to preach the whole truth of what the Gospel is, and then went to his text for this Lord's day.

Preaching the Gospel all the time, even to ourselves, as Jerry Bridges teaches, is what the people of God need, first and foremost.

Magister Stevenson said...

Frank,
This is the money quote: I reject the view that says we measure our salvation by our accomplishments.
All of them.

Amen! I just talked today with one of our security guards here at the school. His 25 year old daughter died this past summer. Horrible mess-up led to it. And he said, "I can't help God is testing me to see if I'm worthy..."
I was glad to share the gospel with him. It saves, not how he handles this terrible tragedy.

Michael said...

Stefan,
Thanks for the welcome!

Cathy M. said...

My husband's atheist business partner couldn't wait to share this study with him a few days ago. On the bright side, it led to another witnessing opportunity. Whenever the partner opens the door for spiritual conversation, my husband always walks in with the Gospel.

CR said...

Certainly there are people out there that make false professions. Christ did say, that many will say on the last day, "Lord, Lord." That is true. But I think we also allow many professing Christians to live their entire life not clearly understanding the gospel. Roms 3:19-26 is a wonderful summary of the gospel, worth committing to memory.

I think it was donsands that pointed out from Bridges that we must preach the gospel to ourselves everyday. That is so true. Rather than seeing if we fared well on test or thinking about percentages of Americans who are Christians here are truths that we must understand about the gospel and make sure others understand:

(1)No one is declared righteous by observing the law (of Moses) or any other moral code system.
(2)There is a righteousness from God that is apart from law
(3)This righteousness is from God received through through faith in Jesus.

Many professing Christians are not instructed in the gospel because they do not fully understand the riches and glory of the gospel, thus they cannot preach it to themselves(and by default can't preach it to others) and live by it.

Steve B said...

I think Frank is making an essential point to Matt, here.

If a person confesses to be a Christian, then only he or she and God know the truth of it. But judging whether or not someone is Christian "enough" to claim the title is not a role we should take on ourselves, and if we do, not to do it lightly.

"But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." 2 Cor 3:18

Being...as in, a process. Yes, we are a new creation, but we are created as babies.

"like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,"
1 Peter 2:2

And a process that is never completed in this life...

"Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on [fn] so that I may lay hold of that [fn] for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus."
Phil 3:12

If I have learned one thing in the life, it's that judging another's walk is fraught with peril.

If we all achieved the same level of perfect sanctification upon conversion, the Lord would not need to equip pastors, teachers and mentors.

I've been a Christian since I was six years old, recommitted my life at least twice, and STILL, there are great swathes of my life where I certainly didn't fit the profile. IfyouknowwhatImeanandIthinkthatyoudo.

greglong:

John 19:30: "Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!{tetelestai}" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit."

The other books also have your phrase, so maybe we're both right!

Robert said...

I realize I'm chiming in late, but just wanted to throw in my two cents...which might be all it's worth.

Matt,

I hate using this word, but I must say that you come off as highly judgmental with the way you're throwing around your numbers and comparing Christians here to those in other countries. Do you remember the parable where a man gave one slave 5 talents, another slave 2 talents, and a thrid slave 1 talent before going on a trip? The first two doubled their allotment and the third produceed nothing. The master didn't condemn the slave with two talents for not producing as much as the slave with five talents, right? So, who are we to condemn some who may be Christians, but are under bad teaching and just aren't that mature? Maybe they only have one talent right now and are working with it. If anything, the mature Christians should feel challenged to bring the gospel to both the lost and to believers (mature and immature alike).

I am deeply saddened by the state of many "churches" in the US. I have a hard time telling who is immature and who is an unbeliever in my extended family. But we need to be careful to show people grace, just as God has shown to us, instead of just throwing out random judgments based upon people who might not understand all of the tenets of Christianity as well as we do. After all, how did we get to our level of understanding and belief? God worked through some means to bring that about and I have a feeling it is so that we can follow what Frank has been working on in the series of posts this week (thanks to trogdor for pulling them together for us and Frank for working to present them in such an orderly fashion). We are all sinners in need of grace.

Heck, I'm dealing with some unrepented sin in my own life right now...maybe I'd be lumped in with the 96.5% you are casting out. However, my assurance is in Jesus Christ living a perfect life and His atoning death on the cross for me. And I know that He is working through this to refine me.

Matt Aznoe said...

Let me start with this: I am not entirely sure that I am in the 3.5% either. I am wrestling through this right now. The essential question for me is this: what does it mean to believe?

The passage that gives me serious pause is this one:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'
(Mat 7:21-23 ESV)

Now I want to explain why I am so hard on the church in America, why I am so hard on myself. When it comes to ignorance of scripture, we have no excuse. None. We have a high literacy rate (and free access to education if we need it). We have an exorbitant amount of free time on our hands to devote to study and reading God's Word. We have study tools, commentaries, devotionals, books, sermons on tape, sermons on YouTube, etc. We have so much information right at our fingertips. Our "persecution" in this country is so slight it is almost laughable at this point (though I believe that is soon to change). If we truly want to know more about God, there is nothing to hinder our pursuit of that knowledge.

And yet most people in America don't. It is not because they can't. It is because they don't want to.

"And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil."
(Joh 3:19 ESV)

To make things even worse, we then hold our "Christian" banner high and act as if we are God's gift to the world with our exalted wisdom and understanding. We treat the rest of the world as inferior, looking down on the other churches and sending them missionaries to "teach them about the word". Sometimes I wonder if it is we who need to learn how to live by faith as they do. I am not saying that there are not churches that desperately need training, but I am not sure that we are the best source for their education. Do we really want to spread American Christianity around the world?

We have so much pride and do not realize how wretchedly pitiful the church in America is right now. We are more concerned with having a high tech sound system or multimedia presentation than we are with reaching the lost. We build huge fancy buildings with padded pews and carpeted floors while ignoring the plight of the inner city poor. Our faith is God is weak because we do not really depend on him for our daily needs. Our faith is in our banking system and retirement accounts, not in the provisions from the hand of God.

I think we need to take a good long, sober look at ourselves in light of the scripture. It could be that we have a lot more Christians in our country than I think, but then I consider this:

"I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked."
(Rev 3:15-17 ESV)

Would God spew His children out of His mouth? If we are lukewarm, are we, in fact, Christians?

That is the question we must ask ourselves. God's response is this:

"I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see."
(Rev 3:18 ESV)

Frank Turk said...

Oh Matt -- I am sure you think it makes you think you are more credible to say, "well, maybe I'm not saved either," but it in fact points out how tenuous and underconsidered your position is.

Why would you even care if the Gospel is true if you didn't believe it in some way -- if you didn't believe that Jesus is the savior of men? Why would you care if anyone was saved? It seems to me that what you are now trying to do is disown the fractions of sound thinking you have under your faulty lens and faulty data in order to further justify the use of the lens and the data.

Listen: there's no question that the Bible does in fact give stern warnings to the church and to believers about testing one's self. There's no question that completely fruitless lives are pretty much ruled out by the Bible -- but equally, there's also no question that Paul repeatedly tells people not, "You're probably not saved becuase you're still pretty screwed up," but "becuase you are still pretty screwed up, remember the Gospel and turn to Christ."

Examples:

1Cor 1:26-27
1Cor 3:16-23
Heb 10:19-25
Eph 4:1-16

Robert said...

Frank,

I hope you don't mind me adding to your Scripture references. This is from Paul looking at his own life...Romans 7:14-8:2. I know that could spawn off a whole other argument about where Paul stands in Romans 7, but I'll risk that.

Matt Aznoe said...

I know that no one this side of eternity is perfect, but does there not come a point where you must wonder whether the faith is genuine? When there is so little fruit to show, no real discernible difference between one who calls themselves a believer and the rest of the world? I know several atheists and agnostics who are even more moral than most Christians I know.

Morality and works do not save you, but should not a soul that has been washed in the blood of the lamb and filled with the Holy Spirit result in a difference you can see?

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
(Jas 2:14 ESV)

But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
(Jas 2:18-19 ESV)

Maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill, but we are soon coming upon a time when our faith is going to be severely tested. How many of us will stand in that day?

Eric said...

Matt,

My encouragement/exhortation to you is to avoid slipping into despair over personal or corporate shortcomings. Maintain balance in your assessment. As surely as the Bible issues strong warnings of empty/false faith, it also contains many assurances and reasons to be confident in the saving power and simplicity of the gospel.

pimshell said...

sorry, this is a test for posting comment directly in PIMShell.

sonofthunder7 said...

Matt, I don't believe anyone disagrees with you that we are called to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith or that true faith will produce works of righteousness. I also don't think anyone doubts that much of the current "Christian" church is currently unsaved.

But it also seems you have a particular threshold of righteousness defined by which we can judge one's Christianity, and that's what's sounding off-pitch to so many here. Christ saves us in the depths of our depravity and is continually bringing us closer to him, day by day, until the day we are face to face with His glory!

I sin each and every day, but Jesus saved me when I was dead, and I know that I will see Him someday. I love Him because He first loved me and I long to do the works of His righteousness. Alas for our current mortal body and its propensity for the deeds of the flesh. But amazingly through God's grace and his gift of faith, we are in Him and are walking in good works which He prepared for us.

But we're not perfect yet. Not even close. But Christ died for us!! We are now justified in Him and given the power to do good works, which will indeed prove out our salvation. But I can say with confidence that Christ is mine and I am His.

Do we have a threshold of righteous works that can show if one is indeed a Christian or not? I know of none in the Scripture. All I know is I once was blind and now I see.

Frank Turk said...

The question is asked:

does there not come a point where you must wonder whether the faith is genuine?

Unless someone is himself an unrepentant teacher of false doctrine, I think the answer is "no".

There are plenty oif false teachers to worry about, don't get me wrong. But as we say in my house, "you" is a full-time job. And the rememdy that Scripture offers "you" is "the only name by which men must be saved."

Mike Riccardi said...

The bottom line is that the Bible doesn't call us to have faith in our faith, but to have faith in Christ.

That means:

1. If you're wondering about whether your faith is "good enough" to pass the test, stop looking to your faith for assurance and look directly to Christ. Bank on Him for your salvation and not your own confession. If your faith is deficient, it won't be made sufficient by your own trying to make it better, but by knowing and loving and serving the Author and Finisher of faith.

2. If you're wondering about whether other people's faith is genuine, well, see #1 first. But then, if the roofbeam is out of your eye, present Christ to those people. If their faith is deficient, it won't be made sufficient by their own attempts at reforming their lives, but by knowing and loving and serving the Author and Finisher of faith.

That's exactly what the author of Hebrews does with his congregation facing the persecution that "is coming soon" in America. He does indeed warn them of the consequences of apostasy (Heb 10:26-31), but then he moves right into building up their confidence in Christ, so that even if they never were saved, they can get saved now. And if they are saved, they'll be strengthened:

"But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings... For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one."

He's saying, "Think about all the grace you've enjoyed from Christ already!" And then he goes on:

"Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised."

He's practically tempting them with the goodness of being a Christian! Then he defines that goodness:

"For yet in very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay."

He's coming! And the righteous will live by faith! And the one who shrinks back won't be saved.

But at that point, he doesn't say, "So get all introspective about whether or not your faith will cut the mustard." He comforts them, and exhorts them, by saying, "But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul." You see? He says, "That's not us, guys. We stand firm in faith." And then he launches into an entire chapter of what faith looks like, calling those whose faith might be deficient not to work on their faith, but to sap it to the root of its object: Christ Himself, the great reward (11:6, 16, 24-27).

And finally, he calls us to fix our eyes -- not on our faith -- but on Jesus, who both creates and sustains the faith by which we are justified.

Love and live in that grace.

Stefan said...

That's a great comment, Mike.

donsands said...

I have strong faith in the Lord at times, and I'm quite weak in my flesh at other times.
I would rather be a dispicable man like David, who loved his Lord, then a very moral man, who simply loved people, and loved his religion.

I pray I will continue to grow in the grace of Jesus, and be conformed into His image more and more. Amen.

Matt Aznoe said...

Thank you, Mike. That was very helpful. Look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith...

Cindy Swanson said...

Love that you found something positive in this!

Daryl said...

I wonder if the whole issue of performance (besides the fact that sin hard-wires us all to try to measure up to God) gets confusing because not everyone who looks the same is actually the same.

What I mean is this.

A guy at some other blog once asked me during a discussion of heresy and doctrine, how much of the Bible someone needed to believe in order to be a Christian.

My answer was the if you're asking because you want to find out the minimum requirements for being a Christian, that is, how little belief in God and His word do I need in order to squeak in, well then the answer is all of it.
If that's your question, then there is no out. You need to have it all.

If, on the other hand, you're looking at me with a scared, wild-eyed stare, fearful of dying and being condemned to eternity in hell, and hanging on to Jesus death and resurrection by your last fingernail, and wondering if you've believed enough, well then the answer is you just need to believe repentance and faith in Jesus is all there is.
If that's your question, then what you're really asking is "Can Jesus save a guy like me?". Of course we all know the answer to that one.

Trouble is, until we get to know people personally (and sometimes not even then) we just can't tell who's hanging on by a thread, and who's looking for the least invasive way into the kingdom.

So then we decide that either everyone is done for, the church is lost and I might be too, or that we're all trusting in Jesus and there's not a charlatan in the lot.

So back to Frank's point. Preach to gospel, to them, to you.
Do that, and you'll quickly identify the bruised reeds and the arrogant non-believers.

One of the most personally helpful things I've ever read in this regard is where Dr. Lloyd-Jones said that we need to stop listening to ourselves and start preaching to ourselves.
That one thing alone has helped me immensely, because when I remind myself of the gospel, then I see my sin as it really is, and I see Jesus as a real saviour.

And then I can sleep at night.

Stefan said...

"...we need to stop listening to ourselves and start preaching to ourselves...."

Man, another good one!

thomas4881 said...

Do you think this is a root for division in the Church? You have all these false converts and Christians who don't understand the differance between walking in the flesh and walking in the spirit in the Church.

donsands said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
donsands said...

"Trouble is, until we get to know people personally (and sometimes not even then) we just can't tell.."

Yep.

Even the Apostles didn't know about Judas. In fact, when Jesus said one of you is a devil, they all were questioning their own hearts no doubt.

They certainly did grow and developed discernment in the grace and wisdom of their Lord; and so it goes for all who are God's beloved elect children.

The man born blind said:
“Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” ... “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”....
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him." [John 9]

Have a full of joy Lord's day in your salvation, and a focused on Christ our Savior Weekend.

mennoknight said...

I scored on that test about as well as a a guy who's touched Clayton Erb's moustached should be expected too...

...I though that the group teaches that salvation comes through faith alone was the graduates of Veritas Seminary.

I missed one.

Still, I somewhat love how Pyro turns into an epic battle in the comment section, right about until my attention span runs out around comment #53.

Either way, people who know Christ usually want to know about him, and that necessitates the accumulation of facts.

Them's my two shillings.

Jimmy McPhee said...

"For example, a lot of us are worried about whether or not Catholics are Christians -- whether or not we can trust them as brothers and sisters"

This is -- Inane.

Daryl said...

Jimmy,

I agree. We should, of course, consider them unbelievers and evangelize them at every opportunity.

When we are wrong, and they are already a believer, we should be joyful, we should encourage them to find a bible-believing church, and we should carry on.

We would do the same with a Mormon who uses the term Christian.
Why the double standard?