Purging the Church: Is the Rise in Religious Disaffiliation Necessarily a Bad Thing?

I read an old 2012 news article today which made me consider the secular situation the church finds herself in today.

According to this article, Protestant Christianity in America and Great Britain is decreasing, Catholicism has been flatlining, and “Nones” (those who indicate as having no religion at all) are on the increase.

This paragraph in particular stuck out at me, and I’d like to share it with you:

Those youngsters [the ‘Nones’] who once went to church out of obligation are now spending Sunday mornings in the supermarket or the gym (body worship is a flourishing faith). That means that the only young people in the pews are true believers who really want to be there.

Due to the rise of religious disaffiliation (the act of ceasing to identify oneself with and participate in a religious group), more and more people are leaving church who do not actually want to go to church This largely leaves the true believers remaining.

Now, on one level, this is clearly  bad thing, Of course it’s terrible that less young people are going to church.

But there seems to be something good about it as well. For when people leave church who do not actually want to be there, it seems that all you’re left with is the real deal. If a person visits a church, they can be more likely to expect real born-again believers indwelt and empowered by the Spirit of God.

There is nothing sadder in the world than Christian religious nominalism — being Christian in name only, and not in actuality. The nominally religious are spiritually dead reprobates with a false assurance that is leading them to hell.

Nominal church cultures breed fake Christians with false professions of faith. There’s probably nothing more harmful to a true believer than seeking holiness in a large, spiritually dead church full of nominal Christians.

I have a friend who lives in Houston, Texas, in the so-called Bible-belt. He finds it so frustrating to try and be truly holy and encouraged in a context where everyone just goes to church because that’s just what people do.

So maybe the secularisation of society has just drawn the battle-lines clearer. The church has always flourished the most under opposition. It’s only when she has become comfortable that she has become fat, lazy and unfruitful.

We can even see this in the history of Israel, in the Bible. Whenever Israel rested secure, she sinned, and drove the LORD away. But God was with his true believers like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Elijah in the midst of nation-wide backsliddenness.

Perhaps, then, an increase in religious disaffiliation within Christianity will wake us believers up to run the race with perseverance, prepare, and do the good Gospel work God has called us to do. Perhaps God will have compassion, and once again work this evil out for the good of his people.


Covenental Theology, Apostasy and Perseverance

So, here’s a point on covenantal theology in relation to apostasy and perseverance.

I was watching a debate between Douglas Wilson and James White on whether or not we Reformed Evangelicals should consider Roman Catholics our brethren. White spoke in favour of the Negative, and Wilson spoke in favour of the Affirmative. But Wilson spoke in the affirmative position from an interesting angle. Wilson maintained that for every person who is baptised with Trinitarian baptism (which, for the record, Wilson also takes to include infants), that person shares in a special covenantal relationship with Christ by virtue of that baptism which has been administrated unto them. And since this is the case, it can be said that a baptised Roman Catholic is a true, covenantal brother of a baptised Protestant, even if the Catholic Church is living in spiritual adultery and outside of regenerate salvation by virtue of its manifold abominations and perversions and errors.

Now what was so interesting about this was that Wilson, in his opening presentation, commented on the apostasy passages in Hebrews. If it is the case that a Roman Catholic counts as our brother in Christ by virtue of Trinitarian baptism, does it follow that they are part of the saved, elect people? And to this, Wilson answers: Not obviously. Wilson maintains that it is quite clear when one reads the Book of Hebrews that it is taken to be a very real possibility and danger for people who are members of the New Covenant community to forsake that new covenant with Christ and thus fall away from it. But does that imply that the elect can fall away from salvation? Well, no. Why? Because, on Wilson’s view, there is a distinction between people who are baptised members of the New Covenant Church and people who are born-again elect members of the New Covenant.

So it may be that in a discussion about apostasy and perseverance, there are very implicit underlying assumptions being made about fundamental covenantal theologies. For the person who thinks a distinctions such as that which is represented in Wilson’s view is correct or incorrect , that may alter the way you approach the question about apostasy and perseverance in the New Testament.