You’ve got to love a culture so intoxicated with itself that it has the audacity to infer that God – or at least religion – is dead. Maybe I’m reaching here, but any person, culture, or planet that believes it can make God go away, by public consensus or otherwise, has in fact declared itself to be God. That’s the ultimate form of self-worship, and it does not and cannot lead to a happy place. But despite what you may hear in the media, or even believe on a personal level, God isn’t dead – not even remotely.
How do I know that – apart from logic itself?
On Monday, December 23, our church – Manchester Christian Church – swimming against the supposed tide here in “spiritually dark” New Hampshire – drew a crowd of 9,258 worshipers to its annual Christmas service. That doesn’t count many more who watched the service online.
(DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this article are my own. They do not in any way reflect those of Manchester Christian Church. Nor has any of this content been reviewed and approved by clergy or staff at the church.)
Why that Kind of Church Attendance is So Significant
This wouldn’t be a newsworthy event if it happened in a large Bible Belt city, like Atlanta or Dallas. There’s a critical mass of professing Christians in those cities. But this is Manchester – population, 111,000 – and the largest city in New Hampshire. It’s the state that vies with Maine and Vermont for the dubious distinction of having the lowest average church attendance in the US.
It also ranks number 50 out of the 50 states in “religiosity”. Just 33% of the population describe themselves as “highly religious”.
And did I also mention the state is one of the smallest by population, with just 1,356,458 residents?
That combination is hardly a recipe for a large-scale church service. True, it was MCC’s dedicated Christmas service. But it was held on Monday night at 7:00 pm, on a workday for many, and a mad, last minute Christmas shopping marathon for many others. Even still, close to 10,000 people found their way to the Southern New Hampshire University Arena. Their purpose? To spend an hour celebrating the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
You’d literally have to clear your schedule to attend such an event on a day like that. And thousands of people did.
That means something powerful that can’t be ignored.
Religion – and Christianity – are NOT in Decline All Over the World
The news media are partial to celebrate the decline of Christianity. But is this even true? There’s certainly abundant evidence it’s declining in Western nations. And since the news media is centered in the West, they may be guilty of exaggerating the demise of the faith based on what’s happening in their own backyards.
But according to the discussion on Christian population growth on Wikipedia, the worldwide Christian population is expected to grow to 3 billion by 2050, or nearly 10 times the population of the United States. Considering there are just over 2 billion Christians now, that represents significant growth in just three decades.
However, there’s little doubt Christianity is in retreat in the Western world. That includes the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe. This is the phenomenon most of the Western media focuses on. They seem particularly taken that most of those abandoning the faith are doing so to become “irreligious” (adhering to no religion).
But this is hardly the case in the rest of the world. The faith is growing rapidly in much of Africa, Asia (including China and Korea) and Latin America. Part of the growth is from rising birthrates in poorer countries. But much of it is also from conversions from other religions.
Another story makes the rounds is that Islam is growing even faster than Christianity. Predictions are it will soon eclipse it as the largest of world faiths. But much of this is due to the fact that Islam is the dominant faith in poor countries with very high birth rates, more than anything else.
The Bottom Line on Religious Projections Experts Miss
There’s a bigger picture religious trend that’s being ignored: Both Christianity and Islam are growing rapidly. The idea that religion is fading into history is beyond baseless, outside the Western countries.
And even in the West, we have to acknowledge that the story isn’t over yet. It never is, especially to those of us who believe in God. Statistics and trends measure only what has happened up to this point. But they aren’t so good at predicting how the future will play out.
The fact is trends change. What’s impossible today becomes tomorrow’s reality. When God told Ezekiel that “It (Egypt) will be the lowliest of kingdoms and will never again exalt itself above the other nations. I will make it so weak that it will never again rule over the nations.” – Ezekiel 29:15 it was an absurd notion. But soon after, Egypt was overrun by a series of empires, including the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans. It has never risen up to assert itself since.
With no offense intended to anyone from Egypt, the country is today – more than 2,500 years after the biblical prophecy – one of the poorest countries in the world. It ranks #123 in the world in per capita income, and is one of the few countries in the Middle East that doesn’t have substantial oil reserves. Put another way, the prophecy from the Book of Ezekiel has stood for more than 25 centuries.
Who – apart from God Himself – could make such a prophecy with so much certainty?
The Western Experience May Be the Real Story
Clearly the Western media and populations have bought into the myth that religion is fast becoming passé. But it may be more accurate to say that nearly every institution in Western civilization is fading, not just religion. Closer to the truth, Western civilization is in serious danger of fading into history.
Rest assured religion – and especially Christianity – won’t follow Western civilization into obscurity. As it has with every other empire that’s come and gone in the past 2,000 years, Christianity will survive and thrive when the experience of the Western nations is consigned to the history books.
Perhaps more than anything else, it may be that many in the West are losing their concept of religion, along with many other foundations necessary to human existence. If that’s the case, it’s not the Church that will disappear, but nations that forget the lessons of history.
Many of the same “experts” who are tracking what they believe to be the decline of Christianity, simultaneously see the rise of Islam. And perhaps more than anything else, that’s an outcome they fear. Not the fall of Christianity mind you, but rather the rise of Islam.
But Islam contains a cautionary tale to anyone who believes religion is dying or is irrelevant to modern life.
The uncomfortable truth is that the Muslim is more certain than the modern Westerner about what he believes, where he comes from, and how he should live. By contrast, the typical resident of Western countries is immersed in non-belief, and not just about religion and Christianity.
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way…”
The above Bible verse is from Isaiah 53:6, and it perfectly describes the current Western outlook and way of life.
The modern Westerner has turned to idols, which by definition are the “works of our hands”. Those idols take different, almost unrecognizable forms. They may be faith in the government to solve human problems or the progression of science and technology, or faith in more personal institutions, like careers, 401(k) plans, rising home values, medical science, or human goodwill.
In the end, Western civilization may be guilty of dismantling the very foundations of human civilization, including religion, and replacing them with what are essentially benefits that will be no more than temporary.
And it should go without saying they have no Eternal value.
“…On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”
It’s fashionable to argue in our day and time that an ancient book like the Bible is irrelevant. But that’s the kind of position taken largely by people who have never read it. If you do read it, at least seriously, you’ll quickly come to realize the timeless wisdom it contains.
And what you may also find as shocking are some of the prophecies it makes for the future. When you realize we’re living in a time that was largely predicted 2,000 years ago and even earlier, it gets downright spooky.
Let’s first ponder this point: The last 2,000 years have seen the rise and fall of powerful empires, nations, and countries (again, refer to Ezekiel 29:15). It’s also seen the rise, fall and even discrediting of various philosophies and political factions, as well as charismatic leaders. But for all that rising and falling, Christianity continues to exist.
Now consider the following 2,000-year old exchange between Jesus and his disciples, but mostly Peter, in Matthew 16:15 – 18:
“He (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Emphasis mine.)“
“The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” – that’s pretty strong language. And perhaps it’s a warning to all today who believe that religion, particularly Christianity, is heading for extinction by public consensus. If you believe this as well, know that history doesn’t support your position.
What About the Supposedly Declining Number of Believers in the Western World?
This is when it’s important to realize Christianity has always been spread by small numbers of people. It was launched by a single man – Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He was all the Father needed to make it happen. Then Jesus himself appointed just 12 men to carry on his work after his death. And by all accounts, they were hardly the most brilliant minds he could have chosen. But then God has a long history of choosing and working with those the world deems to be the least qualified.
How did that go? Well, today there are an estimated 2.3 billion Christians worldwide, making it the largest faith in the world and representing nearly a third of global population.
All that came about from one man who appointed 12 others. Let that sink in. God has never needed the consensus of the majority to bring about His will. In the end, truth always triumphs over superior numbers, even when the truth tellers are but a few.
God Has Always Worked Through a “Remnant”
From Jewish roots some 4,000 years ago, there are numerous examples of this throughout the Bible.
In 1 Kings 19:14 – 18, we read of the following exchange between God and Elijah:
“He (Elijah) replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
God didn’t need all of Israel to bend the knee. He didn’t even need the majority. 7,000 was all it took. And history – as well as the present – confirm that both Judaism and Christianity are alive and well, thousands of years later in the 21st century.
Final Thoughts on God Isn’t Dead
Last week we had more than 9,000 faithful souls attending a single Christmas service in a thinly populated state that’s documented to be the least religious in the country. Time, it seems, has not changed God’s strategy.
Unbeknownst to many who are doubters, not looking much past daily headlines, TV soundbites or Internet clickbait, God’s “remnant” continues to move across the country and around the world. And as history has shown, God needs only a few to change the hearts of the many.
We shouldn’t dismiss lightly the event that took place here in Manchester, NH, on Monday, December 23, 2019, or anywhere else a “remnant” springs up. It’s been happening for thousands of years. And maybe it’s time to admit it isn’t just a coincidence.
Perhaps it’s time for you to consider going against the cultural trend, to become one of the “remnant” yourself? If so, history – and the Creator of the Universe – are on your side.
Thoughts or comments?