Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why is Christianity so Popular?

This is not a naive question; it is actually quite profound when you think of it.

There are 2.1 billion estimated people who would claim adherence to Christianity in the world. The runners-up of note are Islam at 1.5 billion, secularists at 1.1 billion, Hinduism at 900 million, Buddhism with 376 million, Sikhism (the original Chrislam) at 23 million, and the children of Israel coming in with a poky 14 million. I'd be really curious to see if these statistics changed greatly as of the most recent census.

Wow, looks like Christianity's really popular! And with a world population somewhere between 6 and 7 billion (probably much closer to 7), that means Jesus' got a 30% approval rating! That's better than President Obama's rating, and probably most other presidents (not going to bother looking up that statistic).

So why is the world so messed up? You'd think two vs. 5 would be pretty good odds, especially when not all nonChristians are actively causing chaos. We're all made in God's image, after all, so one would expect that even those who reject God would behave somewhat morally, having The Law written on their hearts (Romans 2:14-15).

Then whence cometh evil?

The sad reality is, while it is impossible for any Christian to speak categorically about the status of millions of individuals' salvation, it is very clear that not everyone who claims to be Christian truly is.

Here's an eye-opening, and possibly disturbing, video.
The passage of interest is this one:
Matthew 7: 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness! (alternatively: workers of iniquity)’
Let's look at a few official positions of some 'Christian denominations.' Please consider that while the official position of a given belief system may be heretical or anti-God, this does not mean that everyone who claims to be of that 'denomination' truly is. There may very well be some people who are genuinely saved, but don't have the understanding to realize that their assumed denominational identity is not consistent with what they actually believe. Do not condemn individuals, but condemn beliefs and actions. On we go.

I firmly believe that the ultimate standard of Truth is the Bible. If anything contradicts the Bible, it must be false, and if something extraBiblical is held to be true, it must reasonably follow from solid Biblical Truths in order to be acceptable, but it will not be guaranteed to be true. It is only the original autographs of the Bible that were inspired. Any attempt to interpret the world must keep that concept in mind.

The Bible makes it clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast). Thus, any group that believes works are required for salvation is not saved, because they have denied the sufficiency of Jesus Christ's sacrifice. This link details the argument I outlined above. I'm not intending to do a thorough analysis of each group here, so I'm not going to look at every single problem with their doctrine. One disqualifying doctrine is enough for now.

There are 1050 million Catholics in the world, according to the same site that gives the 2.1 billion Christians in the world figure. Assuming for simplicity's sake that all people who claim to be Catholic are true Catholics (or unbelievers), which I know is not necessarily true, this reduces the amount of estimated true Christians in the world to 1.05 billion. Jehovah's Witnesses are heretical in that they don't view Jesus as God but as an incarnation of Michael the archangel, in addition to preaching a gospel of works. That reduces the total number by 14.8 million. Mormons have several distinctly heretical views about God, i.e. that He is a glorified created being, Jesus is not God (but 'a god'), that ordinary humans can become gods, etc. That reduces true Christians by a further 12.5 million.

Apostolics believe that baptism is necessary for salvation, and that the Holy Spirit is given to the believer by the 'apostle' giving the baptism. So close on other doctrines, but yet so far away. The most dangerous lies are those that closely mirror, or even adopt large parts of, the truth. Strike 10 million more from the total. The Lutheran church may in general hold to good doctrine, but significant subsects of the church believe baptism is necessary for salvation, and/or deny free will (a tricky issue. God makes it clear that he knows and is in control of everything, but we still have free will and are responsible for our choices. To deny either one or the other is unBiblical). Tentatively regard 64 million more as suspect.

We've now reduced the total of 'true Christians' to 949 million worldwide, and are not yet finished. 

Pentecostals are also suspicious, and some are very likely heretical, but there may be many people in those churches who have true saving faith in the Trinity of God and don't have strange ideas about speaking in tongues being a requirement for salvation, etc. Applying my  'a little leaven leavens the whole lump' hypothesis, for the sake of argument, however, as I've been doing, I'll simply continue pruning the Vine and reduce the number of 'true Christians' by a further 105 million, bringing the total to 844 million.

 The Anglican church appears to be doctrinally correct, so that's 73 million sealed (though GotQuestions puts it at 80 million). One group of Anglicans gets major props for separating from the Episcopal church when the Episcopalians decided to allow women to be pastors and active homosexuals to be church members.

 The Episcopal church is a heresy. The adherents.com link is not showing how many there are, however, unless they are part of a denomination I'm not recognizing, but the church itself puts the number at 2.2 million. There are now 841.5 'true Christians' remaining to be analyzed (minus the Anglican church).

 The Methodist church started strong, but appears to be shifting toward yearning for the praises of men rather than God. There are 70 million worldwide, making the 'true Christian' total 771.5 million.

 7th-Day Adventism is suspect, throwing a further 12 million salvations into question. Annihilationism isone example of a plainly unBiblical doctrine. 759.5 total.

 Presbyterians may be okay, maybe not. This, as with the Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist churches, ought to be evaluated on a case by case basis. Again, since I'm not interested in sorting the wheat from the chaff, I'm going to lump them all together and remove 75 million more, making the total 684.5 million.

Baptists can be either good or bad.  The Southern Baptist Convention is generally conservative and holds a high view of Biblical doctrine. I'm familiar with one name associated with that group, and that's Al Mohler. GotQuestions lists SBC as having 16 million members, so I'll seal them. The remaining 54 million will bring the total down to 630.5 million 'true Christians' worldwide.

 I have no idea what the list means by 'African Indigenous Sects,' so I'll simply take 10% of them as true believers, subtracting 99 million from the total (can you tell that I'm being a little arbitrary?), giving 531.5 million total.

Orthodox Christianity is more similar to Catholicism than Protestantism, and sadly, in several key doctrinal issues, such as the sufficiency of God's Word, possibility of losing salvation or receiving it after death, etc.  Take 240 million from the total.

291.5 million 'true Christians' worldwide. Are there really this many?

Obviously I'm not trying to say that being part of any one of the above groups disqualifies someone from receiving salvation. I just decided to take a very strict approach to doctrine and see who held up. Let's approach it from a different perspective.

Jesus says to 13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7). Would it be reasonable to suggest that 1 in 10 is an appropriate fraction to slice the denominations up with? I think so.

I'm going to approach this from a different direction. I'll ignore the obvious heresies, assuming that the vast majority of adherents truly are lost, and focus on the denominations that hold promise.

Lutheranism has 64 million adherents---> 6.4 million true Christians
Anglicanism has 73 million adherents---> 7.3 million true Christians
Methodism has 70 million adherents---> 7 million true Christians
Presbyterianism has 75 million adherents---> 7.5 million true Christians
Baptism has 70 million adherents---> 7 million true Christians
Total: 35.2 million 'true Christians' worldwide.

This is ALL just an exercise in probability. It's just a mental exercise (which I was doing for the first time as I was writing this post; I previously had no real idea of what the distinctions are between the major denominations), to give the average joe a wake-up call to realize that there are much less true Christians than professing Christians. Given the state of the nation, and the state of the world, a much lower number of practicing believers in Christ seems to make more sense. Imagine if every professing believer was out in their community, doing good works and winning hearts for Christ. The world would change in a week. But every claimed adherent is not necessarily a believer at all. Many people think that because they were born to parents who happen to go to temple, church or mass, that that makes them Jewish, Christian or Catholic, right? Wrong.

Speaking of the nation, the USA has 41.2 million claimed adherents of the groups I analyzed above, according to this link, which cites the 2005 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, which relies on 2003 data.

The total worldwide amount of the groups above was 352 million. 11.7% of the worldwide population lives in the United States. Thus, 35.2 x .117 = 4.12 (proving my math right, haha. I could've just moved the decimal on the 41.2) million "true Christians" live in the United States.

Now those are numbers that make sense.

Obviously this was not a scientific investigation, but as a casual numerical probability assessment of the likelihood of any given person being a 'true Christian,' I find my work's results to be quite interesting. I'd previously estimated (again, arbitrarily, but though I'm bad at guessing height, age, weight, amount, speed, distance, time, etc, I am very good at estimating fractions) that there were only about 10 million Biblically sound true disciples of Christ in America. It's a frightening number. What about those remaining 85%-->250ish million people who think they're Christian?

I'm scared.

It's a healthy fear. Do you have a healthy fear of the Lord? Does your heart break for the lost?

I hope that in considering all of this, your sensibilities are disturbed. May you be stirred in fear, for yourself or for others, because fear moves men to action: (Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.)

 May we all move with godly fear as we step out in faith, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, that we may become heirs of righteousness.


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