The Barna Group recently conducted a survey of self-described Christians and asked questions regarding their beliefs. The topics addressed their beliefs on the Holy Spirit, Satan, the Bible, other faiths, and the influence of faith on their lives. If the survey is to be trusted, than the results are disturbing because Christians seem to be in doubt concerning issues that are clearly addressed in Scripture. For example:
- The survey revealed that the majority of Christians believe that the Holy Spirit and Satan are just symbols of good and evil forces rather than living creatures.
- In addition, almost 30% of Christians seem to doubt that the Bible is accurate in the principles that it teaches.
- Nearly 40% of Christians seem to think that Christ sinned while he walked among us.
The results listed above astound me because they clash with the core teachings of Christ and the Holy Scriptures. I can understand when Christians differ on some matters. For instance, some Christians feel you should only attend church wearing a jacket and tie while others prefer a more casual “come as you are” setting. Some Christians prefer traditional hymns while others like contemporary worship songs. Some Christians teach that one should never drink alcohol while others think there’s nothing wrong with taking an occasional nip. This kind of stuff doesn’t really matter to me because they are matters of opinion. I have no problem worshiping Christ alongside someone who has different opinions than I do. Heck, even the apostles occasionally disagreed with each other, but they didn’t let their differences cause them to stumble in their devotion to Jesus. I do not have to totally agree with someone in order to call them my brother or sister in Christ. The above statistics, however, hint that Christians are in doubt concerning core doctrinal beliefs that are clearly presented in the Bible. This is something entirely different than disagreeing with me … it is disagreeing with Christ!
I guess the question is, “Does it really matter?”
My answer would be an emphatic yes! Don’t get me wrong, I think Christians are often prone to drawing inflexible boundaries around issues that are of secondary importance to the Gospel. I hate to see Christians who are unable to set aside matters of opinion and worship Christ as brothers. For instance, I have heard one Christian recently (and repeatedly) tell the story of a heathen who dared enter a church wearing a hat in 1955. I mean really, get over it already! Disagreeing over matters of little importance distract us from Christ’s message and presents a poor front to the non-believers who are always watching us. Issues like those listed above are different. They strike at the very core of what Christ taught us. If we begin to doubt the principles presented in the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the sinless [God] nature of Christ; we are doubting the very things that Christ confirmed in the lessons He taught us. When we begin to doubt things like this, we are telling Christ that we don’t really believe or trust Him. If that’s the case, why are we calling ourselves Christians when there are plenty of alternative faiths in the world to explore? The nature of Christ is really quite simple. As C.S. Lewis put it, Jesus is either God or he is diabolical. Only a diabolical and evil person would claim to be God and intentionally mislead millions of people. You either believe him, or you don’t. There is no comfortable in between.
I have attended several different churches in my life. I have seen worship conducted in a variety of manners. I am comfortable worshiping with people that disagree with me on a variety of issues. I believe Christians should be wary not to be inflexible when they draw doctrinal boundaries. There are; however, certain beliefs that I feel no Christian should waiver on; such as:
- The Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit
- Jesus was both God and human
- The inerrant nature of the Scriptures in the original form (I will soon write a post on this one)
- Heaven and Hell as real and tangible places
- The existence of an enemy that is opposed to the will of our Father
Perhaps I would add more to the above list if given time, but you get my point. There are certain beliefs that make us Christians. Without them, we are no different than anyone else.
The Importance of Knowing What You Believe
The above mentioned survey also revealed that Christians are deeply confused about their beliefs. For instance, half of the Christians who stated they didn’t believe in Satan also claim to believe that people could be under the influence of Demons. What? This is more than illogical, it is inane. Even more confounding is that one third of the Christians who claimed the Bible, Koran and Book of Mormon all teach the same truths also claim that the Bible is inerrant. This is hard to believe because even a passing knowledge of the listed texts reveal dramatic differences in their teachings. It really is astounding how confused and unlearned many Christians have become.
I profoundly believe that it is important for Christians to know what they believe in order to represent Christ well. Our faith is under attack continuously by those that don’t believe and it is important that we are able to defend it intelligently. I understand that people are wired differently. Some really enjoy digging into the Scriptures and studying them while others just have no interest or talent in that pursuit. This is where community becomes important. It is important that Christians get plugged into an environment with a knowledgeable pastor that can teach the truths that are revealed in Scripture. Even those of us that enjoy studying the Bible on our own should recognize the importance of maintaining a dialogue with other Bible scholars so that we aren’t led astray. Studying the Scriptures is much like a science in that not just anyone can do it. There is more to studying the word of God than just a daily devotional. If a Christian isn’t willing or able to put in the time necessary to learn the principles of studying Scripture and then applying them, they should be willing to find a pastor who is. Pastors should then recognize the incredible responsibility and importance of the task in front of them. Our teaching pastors should be educated and disciplined in the science of studying and communicating Scriptures. I’m not trying to disrespect the volunteer pastors who feel they are called to evangelize and preach … there are many small congregations that rely on these volunteers, but whenever a congregation has the opportunity, they should turn to a professional and educated pastor to teach the Scriptures.
I guess I am calling on pastors everywhere to recognize how confused Christians are and to do their best to fix it. Meanwhile, I am calling on Christians to quit learning what they believe from the History Channel, the SciFi Channel, and Dan Brown books. Either study the Word of God or get in touch with someone who does!
It really does matter what we believe.