The study, to be published next month in the Review of Religious Research reveals that churches that adhere to conservative values and literal interpretations of the Bible are more likely to be growing compared to congregations that compromise and take a liberal approach to theology that are in decline.
Over the last few decades, there have been increasingly noisy calls from liberal sections of the church for the need to follow the world in order to be ‘relevant’. However these figures debunk that idea by suggesting that congregations that take a hard line with a literal interpretation of the Bible are more more likely to be growing. It also goes against other surveys that suggested theology was less important as a factor to the decline of the church.
The results of this study show that when we put God first, worry more about being right with God rather than man’s view of us and follow Him, trusting Him to bring those around us to Christ rather than forcing our own ideas on the world that the Church grows and most importantly we see people coming to faith in Jesus Christ. When we focus on our calling to spread the gospel rather than the size of the congregation, this study suggests that congregations grow.
Worrying Trends Emerging
Despite the positive news surrounding the top-line figures, the study also shows a worrying trend emerging. For example, the survey suggests that more than a quarter of Church leaders in growing churches do not read the Bible at least once a week and more than half of growing church attendees do not read the Bible regularly. 7% of leaders in growing churches do not believe that Jesus literally died and rose again to life fully – the key Christian belief without which there is no gospel.
The Bible is our instruction manual on how to live according to God’s standards. Psalm 119:11 says “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you”. If we are to truly be salt and light in this dark world, we need to know the Word of God and we need to have it in our hearts. If we do not read the Bible, then we won’t know the Word of God. That is why it is concerning that so many do not appear to read the Bible much. It suggests that many Christians are relying on what they hear from the pulpit displaying why it is so important to have Biblical literacy in teaching as the basis to a good understanding of the Christian life. It is also vitally important that we all read the Bible on a regular basis because being a Christian is not about religion and ritual – it is about relationship with Jesus and we only get to know God better if we read more about him.
The concerns do not stop at a lack of scripture study: According to the Guardian’s report of the study, a large percentage of leaders and church goers do not believe in miracles as a result of prayer. Of those surveyed in growing churches, 10% of worshippers do not believe that miracles happen as a result of prayer. Miracles take place everyday, some so small that many believers miss them, but the truth is that God responds to the cry of our hearts. If miracles do not happen as a result of prayer, then James would not tell us to call the elders of the church to pray over us when we are sick that we might be healed. If we presume that prayer cannot change circumstances we are limiting God. His power is infinite and we must not attempt to stop God from displaying His power by performing a miracle. Again, that so many do not believe in the power of prayer underlines the need for solid Biblical teaching and study. That so many reject the importance of prayer can be explained by the lack of reading the Bible. If more believers studied the Word of God on a regular basis, we would all quickly come to the realisation of the place, importance and power of prayer.
Whole Bible Theology
The mainstream media is full of regular reports of declining church attendance and this has no doubt led to some of the calls to reform the Church in order to be more appealing to the world. However, as this study shows, what matters most is putting God first and have a whole Bible approach to theology. It is to God alone who we should be looking for Church renewal rather than the world.
The problem with picking and choosing what to believe in the Bible is that if some bits are presumed to be wrong, then there is nothing to support other bits being right. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all scripture is God breathed. This means that every word of the Bible is God’s word. It does not say that some of the Bible is given by inspiration from God, it is entirely God’s own word. Our only option therefore is to believe and follow the Bible as a whole.
We know that the whole Bible is God’s own word. We know that God is right, yet ‘Christians’ of a liberal persuasion constantly try to second guess God and the Bible. Maybe the earth wasn’t created in seven days. Maybe there is a place for evolution. If God loves everyone then engaging in homosexual relations is fine because that doesn’t count as sexual immorality. Other faiths believe in the same God as Christians because we’re all on a different but equal path to heaven. On and on the list goes but we need not bother trying to rationalise these things. Every time we question the reliability of the Bible and arrogantly presume our own selfish view to be correct we miss the key point: If something in the Bible jars with our views, lifestyle or both, if something in the Bible makes us feel a bit uncomfortable, then perhaps there is something wrong with us that needs to change.
Faced with a world full of moral relativism, it can be quite hard to understand the absolute position of God, but it is important that we grasp that He has installed a system of moral absolutism so that there is a difference between good and bad, light and dark. Secular humanism wants to confuse us by creating a misty picture where there are no absolutes that ultimately lead to complete cultural chaos. God has made things quite clear for us, so we should not bother to attempt to complicate things by looking to the world for answers that change daily when we have a God who never changes.
A Gospel of Hope for the Nation
I have been saying for a while now that the Church needs to have something to offer people in order to attract new people in. If we abandon God, the Bible and the truths of the gospel becoming like the world, we don’t have anything to offer and so there is no reason for a non-Christian to join the church. However the truth is we don’t only have an answer to offer, we have the answer in Jesus Christ and with it comes an invitation for forgiveness of sins and new life in return for repentance.
The message of the gospel is life transforming in itself without our meddling and alterations. Our job is to be salt and light in the world by communicating the unadulterated message to those who need to hear it and ask God to meet with them that they be brought to the altar of repentance and receive new life in Jesus Christ.
Despite the numerous reports of doom and gloom for the Church, I believe that there is a bright future ahead. I believe that we will see a major revival in the UK and many people will come to faith. However, what is also clear is that we are only going to get to revival if we get right with God and get on our knees and passionately cry out to God for it and wasting time watering down the gospel to fit in with a wicked generation and evil world will not bring revival.
No amount of new initiatives, theological compromises, new lighting systems or professionalism of a worship band can substitute honest heartfelt prayer as we seek the Lord’s will for the church and nation. I believe that God wants to pour out his Holy Spirit afresh in this nation. The question we need to ask ourselves is has what Jesus has done for us been so great that we want others to receive it too? If the answer is yes (and it should be), then we should not waste time with watering down the gospel and our only response should be “Here I am, send me”.