The 3 articles linked above lead off this issue of Bucket Drops and highlights a common theme among several popular stories this last week or so. The Barna Group, a Christian research group, released a new survey that asks the question, “Do Americans change faiths?” Their survey comes on the heels of Anne Rice’s public declaration that she has “quit Christianity” and based on the results it reveals that 60 million Americans share a “spiritual profile” with Anne Rice, whatever that means. The Barna data showed that 23% of people surveyed have moved from one faith or faith tradition to another and when asked how many had changed faiths since childhood the results were 26%. An additional noteworthy statistic showed the greatest change occurred from those who “shifted” from Christian, Protestant, or Catholic to now being atheist, agnostic or some other faith, 12%. The survey even provided reasons for the change in faiths citing, “life experiences, such as gaining new knowledge or education; feeling disillusioned with church and religion; feeling the church is hypocritical (a popular excuse); having negative experiences in churches; being in disagreement with Christianity about specific issues such as homosexuality, abortion or birth control; feeling church is too authoritarian; wanting to express their faith outside of church; and searching for a new faith or wanting to experience other religions.” This list pretty much runs the gamut of human reasoning.
So what are we to make of this data? First of all, let me say that I do not endorse the folks at Barna because I believe their surveys, polls, and research is all compiled for the sake of modeling church growth. Meaning they attempt to follow trends via surveys and polls in order to determine what works best to attract people to church. I don’t believe I’ve ever read of the Apostles in the Book of Acts taking surveys to see what worked. They preached Christ and Him crucified and left the church growth to the Holy Spirit, but I digress. The second point we can garner from this poll is greater evidence of the continuation of the biggest heresy to invade the church since the time of the Apostle Paul. In Paul’s day he was constantly refuting the ideology of the Gnostics, fast forward a couple hundred years and Augustine had to battle the Pelagians. Moving forward to the Reformation, Martin Luther stood in contrast to Erasmus and John Calvin’s doctrines of grace were a refutation of the teaching commonly known today as Arminianism. From the Gnostics to Pelagius, Erasmus, and Arminius each promoted a similar theology that is in contrast to the Word of God and this Barna survey shines a bright light on why those beliefs are so dangerous.
What these surveys assume, much like those beliefs beliefs mentioned earlier, is that Christianity is a swinging door and that somehow the narrow gate from Matthew 7:13-14 opens up to let people in and reopens to let people out. This is best represented by the more common phrase of “free will” which at its heart would argue “I’m free to come in and free to go back out”, i.e. no eternal security. Let’s briefly look at some proof texts from the Word of God, though I suspect I’ll be lead to discuss this in more detail on future posts. If we want to understand the theological position of Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, et.al. versus that of the Gnostics, Pelagius, Erasmus, Arminius, et.al. we need to go directly to the source, namely the Bible, and more specifically the words of Jesus Christ while He was here on earth. In John 3 we read the account of Jesus’ epic conversation with Nicodemus in which Jesus states, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus responds by asking “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John 3:4-5 So Jesus’ statement here is that no one can be saved and enter into His eternal kingdom unless they are born of the Spirit. A person cannot be born of the Spirit and then be unborn of the Spirit. It simply doesn’t work that way because God’s work in us is final, complete, unfailing. Would the poll from above be so naïve as to suggest that those who “switched faiths” were able to overcome a Spiritual re-birth? As Paul states in Romans 8:30, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Predestined, called, justified, glorified. There are no dropouts, lest the plans of God be thwarted by man. How then does one become born of the Spirit? Jesus’ response in this same chapter of John’s gospel, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8
In John 5:21 Jesus is speaking again as He says, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He will.” Do you think that Jesus gives life and then someone gives it back? This is a typical man-centered belief to think that we can somehow overpower the plans and will of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are only 2 religions in the entire world: that of divine accomplishment, that says God has done all the work for justification and those of human accomplishment, which says man has something to add, perform, or work to be justified. One is from the will of Jesus Christ; the other follows the will of man.
In John 6:37-40 Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” The will of the Father is that the Son should lose none of those that He has given and Jesus will raise them up on the last day to be with Him in eternity. Are we then to believe that those represented by this poll and those who hold the beliefs of the Gnostics, Pelagius, Erasmus, and Arminius actually believe that God’s will, as Jesus describes here in John, can be overcome by the sinful, finite, simplistic will of man? How self-centered. How blasphemous.
Again in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:63-67, “’It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And He said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’ After this many disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’”
The Barna survey from above would look on those disciples that we just read about in John who “no longer walked with Jesus” and say that they had “switched faiths”. What then are we to make of those who leave Christianity or switch to other religions? The answer is clear and it is always found in God’s Word. In 1 John 2:19 states, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” The Word of God speaks the truth. Those who “leave” were never truly saved to begin with. True believers, as Paul states in Romans 8:35,38-39, cannot be separated from the love of God by, “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword,” neither, “death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Christianity is not a two-way street as many unwittingly believe. For the first 1600-1700 years of the Church these beliefs were considered a heresy, but today the opposite is true. To believe that salvation is a work of God and Him alone is considered crazy, hateful, and insensitive because it does not cater to man’s selfishness and felt needs. Man wants to come to God on his own terms, free to choose whenever/wherever and free to come and go as he/she pleases. The truth is Christianity is not a religion that can be wandered in and out of. It’s not an easy believism, sign a card, walk an isle, pray a prayer act of man. It is a supernatural work of God, the Father who elects, the Son who redeems, and the Spirit who draws. Those whom God sovereignly chooses are sovereignly kept by His almighty hand and in that is assurance of salvation.
For more information on this subject, see last week’s post: Predestination and the Free Offer
1 John 3:10 “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”