Pisgah Baptist Church in Four Oaks, North Carolina (Church not involved in case)
“There is a direct correlation between church attendance and theological orthodoxy.”

Ligonier Ministries partnered with LifeWay Research to find out what Americans believe about God, salvation, ethics and the Bible? The resulting report is called The State of Theology.

The quantitative survey of American adults was conducted using a large, national online panel. Quotas were in place to ensure the sample was demographically balanced and slight weights were used to ensure the sample matches the population on gender, age, ethnicity, income, region and religion. 3,000 surveys were completed between April 14-20, 2016. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +2.0%. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

The project was designed with a large sample to allow for comparisons between groups within Christian churches and those outside the Christian faith. Those responding were asked to respond to various statements whether they somewhat agree, strongly agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree or not sure.

Here are some key findings.

A majority of Americans have embraced theological pluralism. 

The statement given was “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.”

63 percent of Americans surveyed said they agreed with that statement while only 25 percent disagreed. So a majority of Americans believe all religions are equally valid which scripture clearly teaches is not the case.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6, ESV).

What I find troubling is that 49 percent of self-described evangelicals believe this. Only 43 percent of self-described evangelicals disagree. This improves among those who attend church regularly (at least once a week) with 40 percent agreeing with that statement and 52 percent disagreeing.

A majority of Americans believe Jesus was created.

54 percent of Americans believe that “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. 34 percent polled disagreed. What is frightening is that more self-described evangelicals believe this than Americans in general – 63 percent agreed with the statement while only 30 percent disagreed. This went slightly down among those who attended church regularly – 59 percent agreed that Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God while 35 percent disagreed.

The statement may sound like it is honoring to Jesus, but He was not created. He has always been and will always be. Not only was He preexistent with God the Father, but He was co-creator with Him, as we see from the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made,” (John 1:1-3, ESV).

I have to wonder if part of the confusion is due to Jesus Christ being “born” and being called “God’s Son.” Because a majority of Americans believe in the foundational tenant that Jesus was fully God and fully man – 62 percent who agree and only 24 percent who disagree. Among evangelicals the numbers are better 83 percent believe Jesus was both God and man while only 11 percent disagree (still too high for my taste).

A majority of Americans believe the Holy Spirit is a force, and not a person.

57 percent of Americans believe that the Holy Spirit is a force and not a person. 27 percent disagree with that statement. Among self-described evangelicals, it is sad to say that almost as many believe this error than Americans at large. 55 percent of evangelicals believe the Holy Spirit is not a person, but a force. 36 percent of evangelicals disagree with that statement. Fewer evangelicals who attend church regularly believe this error – 47 percent to 46 percent who disagree.

The Bible identifies the Holy Spirit as a person, not as an impersonal force. He is the 3rd person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is co-equal with God the Father and God the Son.

A majority Americans have an elevated view of their own nature.

A majority of Americans – 64 percent – agree with the statement “everyone sins a little, but most are good by nature.” Fewer evangelicals believe that – 52 percent and even fewer who attend church regularly believe this about human nature – 42 percent.

It is not surprising that a majority of Americans – 79 percent – then would believe that “people have the ability to turn to God on their own initiative.” Even more self-described evangelicals believe this – 81 percent. 77 percent of those who attend church regularly believe this.

The Bible gives mankind lower marks on our nature.

When man then fell, breaking his fellowship and communion with God, bringing a penalty of sin and death to all generations and a curse to the world around him, (Genesis 3:7-19).  This sin nature has been passed to every human being since Adam, (Romans 5:12), with the exception of the second Adam, Jesus Christ.  Mankind is born alienated from God, (Romans 5:19).

Man from then on has been in spiritual darkness, (Ephesians 2:2; 5:8), in ignorance, (1 Peter 1:14), blind, (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 4:18) and lawless, (1 John 3:4).  Everyone one in history has sinned, (Romans 3:23) and deserves death, which is eternal separation from God, (Romans 6:23).  Any good that mankind can do is only by virtue of being created in the image of God, but even then our good works are considered as nothing but dirty rags before God, (Isaiah 64:6).

Mankind cannot restore fellowship with God the Father on their own, (Genesis 3:8; Romans 3:10-20; Ephesians 2:1-5).  God, being rich in mercy and grace, has given us His Word, His Son and His Spirit; for we are lost and without hope outside the grace of God, (John 1:12-13).  In order for restored fellowship with God the Father, our hearts must be changed supernaturally, (Deuteronomy 29:4; Jeremiah 31:33; John 3:5).  The Holy Spirit enters man when he exercises faith and trust in Christ, (Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:23).  Then the believer has the power of the Holy Spirit to have victory from sin, (John 7:37-39; Romans 6:4-13).

Our view of mankind impacts how we view judgement. For instance Americans overwhelming disagree that the “smallest sin deserves eternal damnation” – 73 percent. Fewer evangelicals disagree – 54 percent while among those who attend church regularly 50 percent agree that the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation while 44 percent disagree.

This represents a high view of man and a low view of God’s holiness. It also impacts how one views salvation as we’ll see next.

A majority of Americans believe in some form of works-based salvation.

First 52 percent of Americans believe that “by the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven.” 58 percent of self-described evangelicals disagree with that while 67 percent of regular church goers do.

Then 78 percent of Americans believe that an “individual must contribute his or her own effort for personal salvation.” What discourages me is that 74 percent of self-described evangelicals also believe that, slightly fewer regular church attenders – 67 percent – believe that statement.

This is a lie from the pit of hell. It smells like smoke.

Jesus’ shed blood did away with the sacrificial system, becoming the permanent sacrifice on behalf of man’s sin.  His blood is paid as a ransom as the price for human sin which God’s holiness requires, (Galatians 3:13).  Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin, (Hebrews 9:22).

Christ’s shed blood on the cross atones (makes reparations) for sin and provides for the propitiation of God, (Romans 3:25).  It satisfies God’s wrath, (Ephesians 2:3; 5:6).  This has opened the way for God to manifest His love and forgiveness toward men, and to bestow righteousness and grace to those who believe, (1 John 2:2).  It is only because of the shed blood of Jesus, and His resurrection, that fallen man can stand before God justified, (Romans 3:24-25; 4:25) being declared not guilty and righteous in God’s sight, (1 Corinthians 5:21).

Through the blood of Christ reconciliation also occurs.  Reconciliation is an aspect of Christ’s death by which God recognizes a complete change in the position of the world to Himself.  By reconciliation man is brought from an attitude and position of enmity against God, to an attitude and position of friendship and peace with God through the work of Christ on the cross, (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

We have absolutely nothing to do with our own salvation. It is by grace alone through faith alone – period.

The inconsistent becomes apparent with most majority American view – 62 percent – that “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.” 92 percent of self-described evangelicals believe this while 96 percent of those who attend church regularly believe it.

Conclusion:

Americans hold contradictory views, as do many self-described evangelicals. Church attendance is a key factor. They note, “there is a clear correlation between regular church attendance and theological orthodoxy. Christianity apart from the local church is not theologically robust Christianity.”

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