Exploring the reality where more than 80% of church members may not be Christians

A long while back I read a Slate article expounding on the conclusions reached in the book Forbidden Fruit, written by a sociology professor and consisting of several comprehensive surveys that were conducted with young adults about their views on sex and religion.  While 80% of teens who identified as evangelicals believed they should wait for sex until marriage, the number who actually put this into practice is a lot smaller.  Only 16% surveyed consider their religious beliefs as extremely important and actually appear to practice what they believe.

Based on what I read, 1 out of 5 evangelical teens don’t even believe sex outside of marriage is wrong.  80% say they do, but roughly 60% of them don’t really have the strength of their convictions.  That leaves only 16% of the demographic of evangelical teens that a truly devout Christian teenager might have anything in common with.

I’m of the view that these numbers probably mirror the state of Christian churches as well.  Imagine picking a church at random and realizing 80% of its members are either apostates or frauds.  To clarify, I regard   You might think you can still find camaraderie within the 20% who take their beliefs seriously, but there’s a caveat to consider here as well: I found when seeking out this 20% they tend to be of the very legalistic sort.  There is a fervor to their beliefs that the rest of the 80% don’t have, but they also exhibit a cold, arrogant, detached personality reminiscent of the ancient Pharisees.  Sadly, I’ve made the mistake of believing these were the real Christians and initially sought their company out in the past, desperate to find people who believed as I did, and perhaps within that circle finding a wife who loved God and sought to live a life pleasing to Him.

Instead I seemed to exist in this weird murky area where I wasn’t sinning enough for the nominal Christians, but I was sinning too much to be accepted by the legalists.  The remnant of believers that I might actually have anything in common with was indeed a lot smaller than the 16% who consider their religion “extremely important,” because it doesn’t screen out for those who take a pharisaical/legalistic  approach to their Christian beliefs.

Note: there’s been some confusion regarding these labels in the comments.  To clarify, I regard hypocrites/frauds as those who pretend to be perfect Christians while either hiding or simply ignoring their sins.  Legalists are those who aren’t so two faced, tend to be more “learned” so to speak, but they lack charity and have a smug sense of self-righteousness.  The real Christians are those who sin, but they acknowledge their sin, and they try to do the best they can to live as holy a life as possible.  They don’t pretend to be perfect, but they strive for it, which is a key difference.

Presuming that most churches have a predominating mix of apostates, frauds and legalists, should I still give it a chance, as long as the preaching itself is good?  It should matter more what’s coming from the pulpit than what the makeup of the congregation is, right?

I have two issues with this: one is that the message from the pulpit tends to define the audience.  People aren’t going to stick around for preaching that pricks them to the heart and convicts them of sin, unless they are willing to lead sincere Christian lives.  More often than not the nature of the congregation will reflect what’s coming from the pulpit.

The second issue has more to do with my introverted (INFJ) personality.  For most people, the disingenuity that exists in many church members is something they can merely observe, but for people like me it’s something that we actually feel.  We don’t merely observe it;  we sense it as well, and with that level of sensitivity comes a great deal of agitation and oppression.  Sitting in for a sermon, I can sense the spiritual wickedness around me in ways that others can’t (others more secular would call it bad energy or vibes).  It is painful to endure and there is no relief from it until I finally leave.

The only exceptions I’ve found was when attending prayer meetings.  I did so a few times at a church boasting over 1,000 members, and while I had no peace sitting in for Sunday sermons, attending the men’s prayer meeting was a different experience.  The nature of these meetings tend to draw the most devout, sincerest Christians from the rest of the congregation, and it was then that I could finally enjoy true fellowship with other believers, even if it was in a limited capacity.  I did find it very telling that despite a church of over 1,000, only 3 people showed up to pray the last time I was there (4 when you include me).

As important as church is, I can’t accept that God would require me to subject myself to agonizing oppression and despair every Sunday just to fulfill my obligations to the body of Christ.  For others this level of spiritual sensitivity is switched off, enabling them to function even in the midst of evil and being in a position to reform the churches from within.  Such does not seem to be the case for me.  That’s why I relate more to John the Baptist and Elijah than I do the likes of Paul, men who dwelled in the wilderness and separated themselves quite physically from the rest of the civilized world.  It was probably the only way they could cope with the wickedness of humanity without going insane.

My experience with prayer meetings makes me wonder if there’s a middle ground to all this that I could pursue instead.  I could attend bible study or prayer meetings rather than participate in Sunday services, though these tend to require you be vouched for by a regular member of the group before joining, which I can understand.  Other times it’s over the top, such as barring people from signing up for ministries to feed the hungry until you’ve been a regular member of the church for at least 6 months.  To set up such roadblocks just to perform charity work is something that’s offended me to no end, and rather than play by those ridiculous rules, I’ve chosen instead to do any charity work independently and directly, without dealing with the oversight of churches and groups I have no reason to trust with my time or money.  Sad, but as I’ve written so many times before: it is what it is.

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20 Responses to Exploring the reality where more than 80% of church members may not be Christians

    • Frank Swift December 31, 2013 at 12:23 PM #

      One thing to consider is that we may not always see the fruits of the seeds we plant.

    • Carnivore January 2, 2014 at 10:58 AM #

      Yes, you bring up a good point – something I hadn’t intended with the above passage – your presence may move hearts and influence people to change their bad habits. This is quite true and something we all need to consider when interacting with fellow sinners.

      The point I did want to make with the parable that starts with that verse is Christ was instructing us to not be surprised when we see the good along with the bad. The screams of “Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites” when some sinner is exposed is typical leftist/atheist nonsense. As an RC, it’s old news for me. For example, sins of Renaissance popes with mistresses and bastard children are unfortunate, cause scandal and injure the Church but do not negate its message. Despite our PC-righteous age, the hidden sins among fellow Christians are much the same as 500, 1000 or 2000 years ago. After all, human nature has not changed and we are all still fallen.

    • Frank Swift January 2, 2014 at 1:18 PM #

      Definitely good points to consider.

  1. an observer December 31, 2013 at 6:09 AM #

    The qualifying period is a marketing technique called brand management. The six months allows the brand managers to assess your values and their overall fit with the church.

    Whilst i dont have the same sensitivity as you, behaviour still affects me. It means that church is mostly nogo now.

    The few times at church i did speak out did not go well. Mostly they patted my head and said they knew all about it, and its all under control. Which usually meant they didnt, and it wasnt.

    • Frank Swift December 31, 2013 at 12:24 PM #

      I didn’t realize they were following a rulebook there. I wonder how common this really is.

  2. ava December 31, 2013 at 11:48 AM #

    seriously Frank, it’s so sinful for you to post such things on the new years eve. i’m pretty sure i can find a verse or two somewhere in leviticus against such lawless acts.i have like 4.86 infinities of things to do now and instead of doing them i find myself with this frantic need to comment on this post. of course i’ll be late as always, but this time it’s gonna be your fault ;)

    i feel like this post overlaps with the disagreement we had on francis chan, but i have thought about this whole thing ever since and have come to some new conclusions.

    first of all, you seem to be opposing keeping the God given law to the grace of God. when according to John 1:16-17 the law that God gave to Moses was also grace. we’ve received grace after grace, first the law and then Jesus, it’s fulfillment. i’m not sure what’s your stand on the law of God: do you think we’re still under the law (i believe we are)(1) or was it just a temporary regulation that pointed to and ended with Jesus’ death? (that’s what paul teaches, but i think it opposes jesus’ multiple statements).(2)

    1) cause if it’s the first option, then why do you criticize those so called ‘legalists’ for keeping the law? you compare them to the pharisees as if Jesus was opposing them, because they were so careful to follow the law, when that simply was not the case:

    matt 5: 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

    matt 23:1-3: Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

    matt 23: 23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

    see Jesus never criticized pharisees for obeying the law, but for being hypocrites. so who would be the real pharisees of today according to Jesus’ definition? those that are eager to obey him, or rather those that say they know they should, but don’t?

    2) if, on the other hand, you’re for the latter option then why does it surprise you that people do not lead sexually pure lives? why do you think it matters so much, if they’re no longer under the law but only under the grace?

    “Instead I seemed to exist in this weird murky area where I wasn’t sinning enough for the nominal Christians, but I was sinning too much to be accepted by the legalists.”

    i don’t know what you’re referring to here, but i’ll just say that i don’t think that we’re under people’s idea of what gods law is, we are under what god actually said his law was, and how Jesus explained it (and i do differentiate between Moses’ law and Gods eternal law).

    ok, that’s enough for this year! have a happy new year!

    • Frank Swift December 31, 2013 at 1:02 PM #

      Ava,

      To break it down generally but simply: apostates speak love without truth, legalists speak truth without love.

      Pharisees have the common traits of being full of self-righteousness, elitist in nature and lacking empathy. (I thank you Lord that I am such an awesome adherer to the law and that I am not like this despicable sinner here, harumph, harumph!) They may technically understand and obey most of the law, but they ignore probably the most important elements of it: (Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith). Elsewhere we find God saying that He desires mercy, not sacrifice.

      So while I find legalists to be be more consistent in their beliefs, they lack the love, empathy and mercy that God considers the weightier matters of the law, whereas on the opposite side of the spectrum those who profess to love excuse sin and ignore the law altogether in the name of tolerance. They’re examples of how Christians tend to go off on extreme tangents as a result of cherry picking the parts of Scripture that suit them and disregarding the rest.

    • Frank Swift December 31, 2013 at 1:05 PM #

      i have like 4.86 infinities of things to do now and instead of doing them i find myself with this frantic need to comment on this post. of course i’ll be late as always, but this time it’s gonna be your fault ;)

      The fact that you make time for me despite my ability to endlessly grate on your nerves must mean you want me pretty badly. Best not to fight it dear. Let the love flow.

      I’m kidding… I think. Happy New Year to you as well.

    • ava January 1, 2014 at 11:08 AM #

      well then how are the 2 groups any different? according to your definitions both are doing the exact same thing cherry picking bible verses and laws. love, empathy and mercy are also god given laws, just like the 10 commandments. you may view them as a little different in nature (more like equity law?) but they’re god’s given laws nonetheless. one cannot be a selective legalist- that’s an oxymoron, so to me your distinction simply doesn’t make sense.

      but if love, empathy and mercy are part of god given rules, then how do we keep them? and how do we put them into practice? when we discussed francis chan, you said he’s a legalist because he says one has to be helping the poor if he’s saved, but how i understand it, helping the poor is simply an implementation of those before mentioned gods laws of love, empathy and mercy. you cannot obey those laws by being passive and indifferent to peoples’ suffering. and that passage from matthew 25:31-46 makes it clear that god commands us to help others, and what are the wages for braking those rules. so why do you criticize those that claim to be christians and sin sexually, and at the same time you say it’s fine to break those other laws? how is it different?

    • Frank Swift January 1, 2014 at 1:52 PM #

      I think we probably agree more than we disagree, but something gets lost in the translation or in us defining words a bit differently. You seem to define legalism technically, whereas I see it as more of a pejorative term that describes a certain class of Christians. If you read the Wiki definition here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legalism_%28theology%29 it might help clear up some of the confusion.

    • ava January 1, 2014 at 11:30 AM #

      =>The fact that you make time for me despite my ability to endlessly grate on your nerves must mean you want me pretty badly.

      you mistake my procrastination for love. and you don’t really grate on my nerves, i’m just not that kind of person. don’t measure me with your own yard stick :)

    • Frank Swift January 1, 2014 at 1:53 PM #

      I don’t measure, I deduce using my cognitive powers of deduction to deduce things with efficacious deduciveness.

    • ava January 2, 2014 at 8:37 AM #

      it’s not lost in the translation, these terms are used the same way in all the languages i know. i’m just pointing out how inaccurate this is. if you’re calling ‘legalists’ christians that forget about love, empathy and mercy, then you’re essentially excluding these from the law.

      and i don’t like people calling other christians that, because it suggests that there’s something wrong with keeping the law. or that keeping the law equals rejecting love, mercy or faith. think about it: the term that describes a person that is keeping the law has a common pejorative meaning in the christian circles, that’s so telling. i guess i’m just as sensitive to ‘christian bull****’ as you are to the ‘bad vibes’. that’s it.

  3. an observer December 31, 2013 at 5:42 PM #

    didn’t realize they were following a rulebook

    Church politics has always irritated me, I once wrote a college assignment about it. Of course the feminist lecturer loved it.

    • Frank Swift December 31, 2013 at 7:47 PM #

      LOL, I bet she did.

  4. Pilgrim of the East January 2, 2014 at 6:14 AM #

    Hi there,
    sorry to start that harshly, but you seem as hypocrite with “holier than thou” attitude.
    I mean it’s great that you stayed virgin (btw, I’m 25 yo virgin too), but just because you didn’t sin in this particular way while they did means that you don’t have anything in common? Really? I’m sure that there are plenty of sins you(/we) have in common. Also considering chastity, have you ever watched porn? If yes, isn’t the reason you stayed virgin partly also that you had never easy enough opportunity for sex?(can’t say it is completly false for me, I’m no alpha to whom would girls throw themselves all day long).
    Also I don’t really think there is really distinction between heavy and light sinners, we all need God’s mercy in the same way, so saying that you don’t qualify for certain sinner category is quite stupid.

    Considering you are part of manosphere, would you mind to explain difference between “God wouldn’t want me to stay in marriage because I dont FEEL haaaappyyyy there” and “As important as church is, I can’t accept that God would require me to subject myself to agonizing oppression and despair every Sunday just to fulfill my obligations to the body of Christ.”, please?

    P.S.: when I read this comment, it’s really quite negative, but I didn’t mean it in a bad way

    • Frank Swift January 2, 2014 at 10:44 AM #

      I probably need to edit my post to clarify: I’m not looking for people who don’t sin at all, but those who acknowledge it. Hypocrites are those who pretend that they are just like, completely and totally AWESOME Christians while hiding their sins in secret, or just ignoring it altogether. The real Christians are those who make the effort to be better, even if they stumble. For example, I’d prefer to fellowship with an alcoholic struggling to stop drinking than an alcoholic who denies he has a drinking problem and yet has to be picked up at the pub every night.

  5. Rachel Nichols January 24, 2017 at 12:10 AM #

    The dangers of speculating on how many people in our churches are hypocrites or legalists are twofold. One, it can keep us from focusing on the sins in our own lives–the sins we’re responsible for. Two, it can make us proud and keep us from the Body of Christ where we belong. Cut off a toe and it will die by itself.

    • Frank Swift January 24, 2017 at 1:41 PM #

      There’s no speculation here, it’s easy to examine the fruits of a church’s behavior and beliefs to see how closely they hew to Scripture (by their fruits ye shall know them). Participating thereof in heresy would be in direct contrast to the call to “come out from among them and be ye separate” as well.

      In order for the toe to die, it has to be cut off spiritually. Not being physically in attendance based on a rigid once a week on Sunday schedule does not mean you are spiritually cut off from the body of Christ. I always thought this was a catholic thing, too much emphasis on the physical and emotions to discern whether a person is part of the body of Christ or not.

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