Each year the American Bible Society releases a report on the “State of the Bible” in America. This study polls Americans from across the country and asks questions about their view of the Scriptures. Here are some trends from this year’s report.
9% of Americans read their Bible on a daily basis. From 2011-2019, this number was steady around 13%. A four percent drop in one year is unprecedented.
3% of Americans read their Bible four or more times per week. 10% said several times per week. 9% said either once per week or once per month. 8% said three to four times per year. While 34% answered they never read their Bibles.
When asked the question, “The Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life” the respondents answered-
37% strongly agreed
31% agreed somewhat
32% disagreed with that statement.
What does this study show us about the state of Christianity in America? First, it reveals our biblical ignorance when we have the greatest access to God’s word in human history. Second, it helps us see the shift of values in our country. Of course, things have been trending in this direction for quite some time. There is little doubt we live in a post-Christian culture.
It is not all negative, though. The church has great potential to teach people God’s truth. During the first century, the church thrived in a world that was biblically ignorant. This presents some challenges for us. First, we must be well informed of God’s word (2 Tim. 2:15). This means learning to mature and train our "powers of discernment" (Heb. 5:11-14). Second, our lives must become the living embodiment of biblical truth. In other words, the world needs to see genuine, New Testament Christianity. No matter the cultural trends, God’s mission for the church remains the same. To be God's people, we must submit to his word.
Are we organized around a mission or are we organized around an antiquated ministry model inherited from a previous generation? Please understand I'm not being critical of previous methods of evangelism. This question comes from a study of great preachers and missionaries of the past in the Lord's church. One characteristic I noticed from this study was their willingness to effectively preach the gospel in their current generation/culture. Whether it was abroad or stateside, any resource available at the time was put to use. Souls were saved and the borders of the kingdom were spread.
What about us in the twenty-first century? Culture has changed, as it always does, and so we must evaluate our methodology in reaching our world today. Again, understand that I am not talking about altering the message. Under no circumstance do we have the authority to weaken or change the the gospel to make it more palatable. As a matter of fact, it has been proven our postmodern culture rejects a watered-down gospel. What are some things we need to consider as we strive to reach the lost?
- We need to be careful about promoting “event” based Christianity. Yes, we have several events every year. These are wonderful tools to grow and edify the congregation. But, if we are not careful our mission strategy becomes more about the event and not the gospel. An event (i.e., gospel meetings, VBS, ladies’ day) may get someone here initially but follow up is the key. This leads to me my next point.
- We need to focus on relationships. We are relationship driven. If a person is not connected to at least five people, they will not be faithful to worship and will not participate in the work of the church. Do we realize that Paul recognized this in the first-century? Titus 2:1-2 instructs the older to mentor the younger. We need more of this in the church.
- We must utilize the power of technology and social media. I’m not a fan of most social media platforms. However, it is part of our world and can be an effective tool. If you have noticed our world, both old and young, are tuned into social media. Are we using it effectively in the mission of the church? I know I could do a better job.
Whatever methodology we use to preach the gospel, we need to utilize it effectively. God has given us the treasure of the gospel in an earthen vessel (2 Cor. 4:7). We are challenged to be faithful stewards of the everlasting gospel (1 Cor. 4:1-2).
Until recently, most of us never heard of a coronavirus or the term COVID-19. Now, it seems that we cannot get away from these words. It’s on every channel, social media, and the talk of everyday life. It has caused unrest in our world. Many things in our yearly routine came to a grinding halt. No spring sports, mission trips, vacations, and school events which we assume will take place each year. When our regular routine is interrupted, it causes anxiety and saps our joy. Philippians 4 gives us some keys to living with Christian joy to combat the anxiety in times like these.
First, we must have right relationships (Phil. 4:1-5). Paul loved the Philippian church (4:1). They supported him during dire straits (cf. 4:15-17). He preached the gospel there in the midst of great difficulty (cf. 1 Thess. 2:2). He wanted the church to be unified (cf. 2:2-3). Strife was harming the work of the church (4:2). From this passage, we’re reminded that right relationships are a key to having joy. Christians share the same values, focal point, and lifestyle. Surround yourself with people that will build you up in the faith (Jude 20).
Second, we must have the right prayer (4:6-7). The Bible is clear that humanity was not meant to operate out of fear. Instead, we’re to walk in prayer and trust in the Lord. Paul instructs us to be prayerful in “everything.” Prayer is our opportunity to pour our hearts out to God. It grants us access to peace that “surpasses understanding.” Feeding our fears starves our faith. Prayer strengthens our faith and feeds our souls.
Third, we must have right thinking (4:8-9). Recently, Nick Saban hired a new coach to help with player development. He hired this man because of his background in “athlete psychology.” In other words, he would not only help the players physically he would aide them mentally. Our thinking controls us (Prov. 23:7). In Phil. 4:8, Paul gives some parameters for right thinking. In 4:9, he states practice “these things.” Our thoughts will become actions. If we focus on Christian living, we will be able to rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 4:4).
Satan seeks to sap your strength and joy. Wrong relationships, a lack of prayer, and ungodly thinking are his tools. Your defense is making sure you have right relationships, prayer, and thinking.
Some of the word pictures in Scripture are magnificent in their description of biblical principles. In Ps. 103, the Bible describes the forgiveness and steadfast love of God. He does not repay us according to our iniquities (103:10). His love for us is higher than the heavens (103:11). But, my favorite is found in v. 12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” In other words, there is nothing we might do that God won’t forgive.
Perhaps, you’re struggling with sin and feel it is too “big” for God to forgive. Or, Satan has used your guilt against you, and now you feel unworthy of God’s forgiveness. In this verse, God reminds you these are false. He is forgiving (Exod. 34:6), gracious (Eph. 2:4-8), merciful (Heb. 8:12), faithful (1 Cor. 10:13, and just (1 John 1:9). His forgiveness is the greatest blessing you could receive (Ps. 32:1-2).
God’s forgiveness does require action from you. In Ps. 103:13, the Psalmist states, "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion on those who fear him." Walking in reverence for the Lord is the first step in faithful obedience. It is a God-focused attitude. What must I do to be obedient to God? First, you must be submissive to God’s plan of salvation. Jesus Christ established a "better covenant" with his eternal sacrifice (Heb. 10:10, 19-22). You must believe that Jesus is the Son of God (John 8:24), repent of your sins (Acts 3:19), confess that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9-10), and be baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Second, if you’re a Christian, the Bible commands us to repent and pray when we desire for God's forgiveness (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9). Third, you must walk in the light and abstain from the influence of darkness. This blesses you with fellowship with God, and the continual cleansing of Jesus' blood (1 John 1:5-7). And, the blood of Jesus frees you from the burden of sin.