"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."
-- Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."
-- Jesus, Matthew 7:13-14
All statistics indicate church attendance is on the wane. The COVID pandemic accelerated a trend already underway. Estimates range from 4,000 to 10,000 on the number of churches that will cease to operate and gather worshipers this year, while the majority of those remaining open will decline in attendance.
Are we witnessing the death of Christianity, or is something else afoot? Did not Christ Himself assert the almost absence of true followers He would find when He returns to earth? "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth" (Ref. Luke 18:8)? I have two opinions on the subject.
First of all, almost everybody still worships on Sunday. They may not worship the Lord Jesus Christ, but they worship nonetheless. In America, many gods abound.
Politics, especially presidential politics, is a certified religion in our country. Those who make this their god rise early on Sundays to grab the newspaper, read the opinion columns, and turn on the talking heads featured by every major network on Sunday mornings. The real zealots triumph their candidate while trashing the other, contributing hours and dollars to the cause.
Sports has been elevated to religious status in recent years, too. I admit to enjoying televised football and golf myself, after attending to the proper worship of God. But for the masses, church cannot compare to the thrill of the pregame shows or tailgate preparations that must be made as the whole of the Lord's Day is consumed by fleeting competition. In many cities, even youth sports are now scheduling games and practices during traditional worship hours.
Of course, the oldest god (little "g") in history is the almighty dollar. It is not a sin to work on a Sunday in a modern society, but if work means you never worship, then work, or rather the money you make from it, is your god, not Jesus Christ. Many mammon worshipers take Sundays off, but cannot drag themselves to a local church because they have overspent themselves to accommodate their overspending.
If one of the problems affecting churches today is false gods, then the other is the false worship of the true and living God. And I'm not just talking about alternative religions and pseudo-Christian cults. I mean there are churches that still gather people on Sundays in the name of Christ who either do not know the Lord or do not know how to properly worship Him.
There are persons mourning pulpits this Sunday who do not believe in the inspiration of the Bible, nor the biblical truths that affirm the literal virgin birth, sinless life, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. These are the churches in the steepest decline, and rightly so, but many find false assurance there. If you have doubts about where your pastor stands on these issues, make an appointment with him or her and find out.
Other churches more orthodox in their official statements of faith seem to be holding their own, even growing in some situations, which is good news and bad. It is good news if they magnify doctrine, lead people in serious and Scripture-saturated worship, and seek to make disciples rather than mere decisions. However, the evangelicals of today seem to be taken over by shallow, entertainment-oriented, positive-thinking drivel that passes for preaching and worship. There's an ounce of truth to it, but a gallon of hogwash.
Throughout the history of mankind, in the days of the Old Testament and the history of Christianity, God has only had a remnant of true believers and worshippers. Remnant means small, very small, in every context. Small, like the gate and the road Jesus speaks of in the Sermon on the Mount. Small, like the Apostle Paul writes about in his many treatises on God's sovereign grace. Small, like where you may want to find yourself, this Sunday morning.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]