A Vote of No Confidence

According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans are losing confidence in the church. Since the 1970’s, Americans have shown a steady decline in their trust of organized religion. Now just 44% of us have “a great deal or a lot of confidence” in “the church or organized religion”.

The poll does demonstrate a rather consistent response from Americans regarding the importance of religion in their lives. You might also find it interesting there is a sharp disparity between the trust exhibited toward protestant churches vs. catholic churches, the former holding a rather significant lead over the latter regarding the trust of its’ adherents.

I’m not sure there is a lot we can gather from this poll other than the confirmation of what most assume is a growing lack of interest in the institution of the church. There is an overarching feeling that religion is being replaced with a privatized cocktail of spirituality. William Farley, in his book Gospel Powered Parenting, identifies this shift with the phrase Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. He proposes recent generations are combining a “works-righteousness, religion as psychological well-being, and a distant, non interfering deity” to supplant the conventional place of religion and the church in modern society.

There are two ways to view such a vote of no confidence. The first is the natural response of those who still hold the institution of the church in high regard; “this is one more sign of the times, society is going to hell in a hand-basket and we are getting a front seat for the show”. The likely more atypical approach would be to evaluate this as failing grade for organized religion and to honestly assess the etiology of such a lack of interest. If the culture considers church to simply be the place where the self-righteous go to feel better about themselves, we must seek to honestly determine if they are right.

It should not be lost on us that the protestant reformation was fueled by a similar distrust and lack of confidence in organized religion. Albeit the argument can be made the opposition was led by a more accurate theological proposition, the foundational level of dissatisfaction holds some similarities. i.e., abuse of power, political influence, the love of money, etc.

Scripture clearly lays out the role of the church in the nurturing of the fellowship of the believers, but also in the greater context of the serving of the community as a whole. We have a choice to either dismiss the widening gap of distrust by our community as “their problem” or we could honestly assess our culpability in failing to mirror the original purpose of the church as defined by God’s Word.

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