America Since September 11
Since I am a historian of sorts, I have been following the events subsequent to September 11, 2002. It has now been about eight months since the horrible acts of terrorism and the shock waves that reverberated through the world that said: America is not invincible. Some predicted that the terrorism attack of September 11 would bring America to her knees and result in sweeping changes. Others said that there would be little substantive and lasting reforms. One of the first worthy of considering polls has now been conducted and I want to explore the findings with you. The poll was conducted by PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and the results appeared in U. S. News and World Report, May 6, 2002, Edition. The study took place during March and April of 2002.
The Poll suggests that "the wealthiest, most powerful, best educated nation on earth is still one of the most religious." According to the poll, there are an estimated 159 million "Christians" and 13. 4 million non-Christian (Jews, 5. 6 mil., Muslims, 4. 1 mil., Buddhist, 2. 5 mil., Hindus, 1. 0., and Sikhs 0. 2 mil.). The significant finding of the poll is that since September 11, religion in America is now on the rise.
One matter of biblical importance is the fact that simply being religious or spiritual, in New Age phraseology, does not necessarily suffice. Jesus said of some of his Jewish brethren, "All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not" (Matt. 23: 3). The Book of James is replete with teaching that emphasizes the fact that effectual and real Christianity is active. It is good that Americans are becoming more religious, but we must seek after the religion of God and not our own. We must also actively practice what the scriptures teach. Hear James:
"21: Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. 22: But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23: For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25: But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. 26: If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. 27: Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (Jas. 1, see also 2: 14ff..).
The subsequent to September 11 poll says that "sixty-nine percent say religion is very important." Indeed, service to God should be paramount in our lives. Putting first God's kingdom and righteousness, total consecration, and living by and through Jesus will characterize the true Christian (Matt. 6: 33; Rom. 12: 1, 2; Gal. 2: 20).
One matter that is misleading about such polls is their use of "Christian." The mentioned "159 million Christians" now making up Americans takes in all sorts of religious aberrations. The noun Christian appears three times, as such, in the scriptures (Acts 11: 26, 26: 28, I Pet. 4: 16). There is a manifest movement under way to broaden the term Christian to even include those who deny Jesus as the Messiah. "Jesus was a the founder of Christianity and a good Christian, but he was a Jew," we are now hearing. Such expressions are totally unintelligible. People such as "Dr. Laura" in her wide range radio broadcasts are attempting to cause people to believe that one can be a "Christian" and not accept Jesus as the only begotten Son of God (Jn. 3: 16).
"Almost half say they attend worship services at least once a week - the highest percentages since at least the 1960s," says the poll. It is good that Americans are gravitating back to a more solid foundation than materialism and hedonism. Again, though, we need to be cautious and biblically correct in what we believe, accept, and practice religiously (such does matter, 2 Thes. 2: 10-12, 2 Jn. 9-11).
Beloved, Jesus shed his blood to purchase his church (Acts 20: 28). Paul's teaching about the love that the husband is to have for his wife is based on the love Jesus had for his church (Eph. 5: 23-25). What I am saying is that the church is very important. Jesus did not establish the present divergent church system for which America is now famous. There is only one church and the same teaching is to be found in Jesus' church, regardless of the location (Eph. 4: 4, I Cor. 4: 17). Jesus' church has a spiritual mission and work to perform and is overseen by men who meet certain qualifications (I Tim. 3: 15; Acts 14: 23, I Tim. 3: 1-7, Tit. 1: 5-11). Each local church is autonomous and is designated by scriptural terms that glorify her owner, not some man (cp. Rom. 16: 16).
Early Christians were regularly together (Acts 2: 42). There is the express command to, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together " (Heb. 10: 25). Being an active member of Jesus' church is essential, but we need to make sure it is Jesus' church and not one of the thousands of man-made denominations (Heb. 10: 25-31).
The poll reports: "Many Americans seek spiritual sustenance beyond organized religion, in personal experiences and meditative practices. Four out of five say they have experienced God's presence or a spiritual force." It is a biblical fact that our service to God must be intimate and personal (2 Tim. 1: 12, Gal. 2: 20). However, there are some matters that we must keep in mind: God speaks to man today through his Son; his Son speaks to man through the word; and we must abide in the word, the teaching of Christ (Heb. 1: 1, 2; Jn. 6: 63, 12: 48; 2 Jn. 9-11). One of the primary reasons for all the divergent and contradictory extant religions is people seeking God in their own way, apart from his word (Mk. 15, I Cor. 4: 6, 15).
Acts chapter two is the beginning of Christianity; hence, it is an important study. Peter was the featured speaker and he preached the gospel to all present (Acts 2: 14-47). They all heard the same message, truths, and received the same motivation to accept the taught truth. These Jews were told that they were lost because they had murdered and rejected Christ (vs. 23, 36). They were also told what to do to secure forgiveness and to become Christians or God's people indeed (vs. 38, this same message was preached to all peoples and nations, Mk. 16: 15, 16). We are warned to not teach another gospel or go beyond the teaching of Jesus (Gal. 1: 6-9, 2 Jn. 9-11). False religion and cults reign in the permissive, do your own thing religious climate that has reigned in America. Perhaps September 11 will begin to change this mind-set (Acts 20: 32).
The last item of the poll that I view as very significant is: "America is becoming the most religiously diverse - and tolerant." The poll reveals, "Nationwide, there are now more Buddhists than Presbyterians and nearly as many Muslims as Jews" (U. S. News and World Report, May 6, 2002, pg. 42). The poll mentions the indication that more Americans believe in tolerating and even accepting what used to be considered scripturally objectionable religions, even including Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus as their presence in America becomes more pronounced. Egon Mayer, a sociologist at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York is quoted as saying regarding present day Americans, "Not only a lack of knowledge of other religions but an ignorance of one's own faith." The poll states regarding Mayer, "You have Christians saying, 'Yes, Jesus is the only way' and also, 'Yes, there are many paths to God.' It's not that Americans don't believe anything; they believe everything" (Ibid., pg. 43).
As citizens of the greatest country known in modern times, we are grateful for freedom of religion and we would not change this as far as the civil constitution is concerned. However, we must not confuse the civil and the teaching of the Bible. Tolerance must be allowed in matters that are morally and doctrinally inconsequential (Rom. 14). However, the truth does matter and must be determinedly defended and protected (Jude 3, 2 Jn. 9-11).
I continue to be hopeful that September 11 will bring about lasting changes that will be for the better. In the mean time, let us make sure that you and I build on the Rock and embrace matters that such acts as September 11 (there will probably be more such acts to come) cannot take away from us (Matt. 7: 21-27; 2 Tim. 1: 12, 13). (To read more related material, click on "Why do Bad Things Happen to People?")