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“Thou shalt have no other god before me.”  (Exodus 20:3 KJV)

Confidence in organized religion hits all-time low in Gallup Poll

July 14, 2012

Americans' confidence in religious institutions has hit an all-time low, with only 44 percent expressing a "great deal" of confidence in organized religion, according to a new Gallup survey.

The article from MSNBC goes on to say -

This follows a downward trend since the 1970s, when 68 percent of Americans had a high degree of confidence.

So - what happened to the supposedly 80-some percent of Americans who consider themselves Christians? Where are they? Are they all of a sudden gone?

Well - as the article continues, we read -

"While various sex abuse scandals involving U.S. clerics have likely played a role in Americans' growing skepticism about the church and organized religion, the decline in confidence does not necessarily indicate a decline in Americans' personal attachment to religion," writes Lydia Saad of Gallup. "The percentage of Americans saying religion is very important in their lives has held fairly steady since the mid-1970s, after dropping sharply from 1952 levels."

Well - that's encouraging.
Isn't it?

I tend to think not.

Eighty plus percent are Christians,
but only 44% have a great deal of confidence in their religion.
That means about half of those who claim to be Christian have do not have a lot of confidence in Christianity.
That doesn't sound encouraging at all.

In Matthew 22:34-40 - Jesus replied to a question from the Pharisees -

Mt 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

So we see -

God is #1 - we are to love Him with all our heart - soul - and mind.
OK - the 80%+ are claiming to do this.

Also - love your neighbor as yourself.
This one could be a problem.

Your neighbor is everyone -
and yes it includes the people in that church with us -
including those leading the church that some 50% of the people don't have a great deal of confidence in.
Uh Oh.

The Apostle Paul had a few things to say about things like this.

One is from a segment in 1 Co 1:10-17 that the NIV titles "Divisions in the Church" -

1Co 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas’”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

1Co 1:13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Maybe it seems like not having confidence isn't a division in the church -
but I submit that it is.

Whether the issues lies with the lay people in the church who disagree with a pastor who does speak from the Bible and people don't want to hear what he says -
or if it's a pastor who is incorrectly interpreting the Word of God -
or a church leader who isn't living life the way they preach it -
it is a division.

The important thing - as Paul says - about divisions is that we don't reach the point where the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Not having confidence in the church is certainly heading in that direction -
if not already there.

So - what if there really is an issue with the leadership in the church?
What can one person do?
Are we to just silently sit there and do nothing -
or change our beliefs to go along with what's happening?

Can you imagine Paul doing that?

Not at all as we see when the letter continues in 1 Co 1:26-2:5 -

1Co 1:26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

1Co 2:1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

God doesn't want His church to be misled -
He doesn't want the leaders to be living lives of sin -
He wants His people to be able to have confidence in His church -
and He will give people His power.

Paul goes on to talk about divisions in the church in 1 Co 3:1-9 -

1Co 3:1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?

1Co 3:5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

And we see again that he says not to follow people - but to follow Jesus.

And there's the problem for us.

The church -
it's people in it -
it's people leading it -
and we people aren't Jesus.

Somehow we have to make the leap that Paul writes about -
don't follow the people -
follow Jesus.

We aren't perfect -
neither are the human leaders of our churches.

People sin.
It's that simple.

It's what happens next that matters.

Jesus gives us an example of this in John 8:1-11 -

Jn 8:1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

Jn 8:9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

Jn 8:11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

People are to forgive.

The sinner is to repent and stop the activity / whatever the sin was.

But now -
in cases like the Catholic Church - it was known and hidden for a long time -
in some "churches" - let's call them what they are - cults - the human leaders have taken the place of God -
in some churches they would appear to be re-interpreting the Word of God -
all sorts of things are happening.

And - it's not just the leaders of he church who cause a loss in confidence.
It's also the people sitting in the pews - or chairs - or whatever you use -
as we see later in
1 Co 6:1-11 -

1Co 6:1 If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers!

1Co 6:7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.

1Co 6:9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

That's right -
the Church -
it's all of us.

It's not just the leaders that cause the lack of confidence -
it's all of us -
including the way we treat each other.

Later in the same letter -
Paul explains this very well with an illustration in
1 Co 12:12 - 31 -

One Body, Many Parts

1Co 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

1Co 12:14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

1Co 12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

1Co 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And there is the hard truth -

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

If there's a loss of confidence in your church -
it's not someone else's problem to deal with - everyone's problem to deal with.

There's a little story that I keep in my office as a reminder - fits quite nicely here -

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

We could change that ending a little bit -

It ended up that Everybody lost confidence in Somebody (in the church) when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

All these steps along the way that I've quoted here -
put in your own feelings of frustration / confidence killers -
look at your feelings about "the church" - maybe your own church -
fill in the scenario in the appropriate parts of Paul's letter -
take to heart Jesus' words to the woman - ask if you are everybody - somebody - anybody - or nobody.

Be involved.

Somebody's souls could be saved.
Anybody's souls could be saved.
Everybody's soul in your church could be saved.

For sure - if your not involved in your church - will be saving Nobody's soul in that church.