• Mark Ledbetter

Evangelicals Need a “Make Over”!

Part Two: The Subtle Demise of Evangelicals (second in a three part series)

With the emerging of “mega-churches” and the meteoric rise of popular pulpiteers who guide them, there is a subtle masking of what has taken place in American Christianity in the past 20+ years. The deceptive signs of success, thousands of adherents, a strong social media presence, sprawling campuses and multiple ministries hides the realization that church membership in the United States has dropped from 70+% in 1998 to a startling 50 percent in 2018.[1]

This attrition can be explained by researchers in part as the result of what they describe as “switching.” Not only are people switching congregations and denominations, but are switching to other religious affiliations, or dropping out altogether. Another factor attributed to the decline is the aging of congregations – members are dying and not being replaced by subsequent generations, especially the “millennials.”

For Evangelicals, there are also two other important factors needing to be addressed: The erosion of fundamental beliefs and lack of emphasis upon – Evangelism!

The Erosion of Fundamental Beliefs

As cited at the beginning of this series, the heart and soul of Evangelicals has been their fundamental belief in the infallibility of the Scriptures, the sinless life of Jesus Christ, the atoning redemption secured by His death and only means of salvation, the hope of the resurrection of the faithful at Jesus’ return, and the compelling mission to share the Gospel with every creature.

The fundamentals remain set for a majority of Evangelicals, but any deviation should not be viewed as a statistical anomaly but a major concern. Following is a report (10/8/2020)[2] reflecting a breakdown of Evangelical beliefs, findings that should be alarming:

  • · 52% do not believe in objective moral truth

  • · 75% believe people are basically good and not sinful

  • · 43% believe Jesus did not live a sinless life

  • · 58% believe the Holy Spirit is as symbol rather than a person[3]

  • · 44% believe the Scriptural teachings regarding abortion is ambiguous

  • · 40% do not believe human life is sacred

  • · 34% do not believe marriage is between one man and one woman

Is this enough to convince Evangelicals that they are facing major problems?

If not, consider this: LifeWay Research, an division of Life Way publications, which is an arm of the Baptist Convention,[4] conducted a survey and concluded “While the number of evangelicals has stayed strong while Christianity Crumbles in America, only about half of them ‘qualify’ as evangelicals based on their beliefs.”[5]

In real numbers this means of the approximate 80.8 million Americans who identify themselves as Evangelicals, only 40.4 million are truly fundamental Evangelicals. It is hard to imagine how this development suggests the numbers have stayed strong when the true number of Evangelicals has been cut in half.

The recent fiasco in Washington January 6th served as a wake-up call for some among the ranks of Evangelicals. While lamenting the tarnishing of the Evangelical’s reputation, some have clamored for a return to the Evangelical fundamentals, which in light of the more devastation attrition of fundamental beliefs and number of true Evangelicals, will be a difficult agenda to accomplish without a major revival among Evangelicals.

The Looming Question: “How did we get here?”

The looming question that begs an answer is: “How did we get here?” The answer isn’t pretty! It won’t be easily received. The answer will be surprising and should be disturbing.

It seems there has been a concerted effort to strip education, and consequently children, from Christian and parental influence, with catastrophic impact of both the American Family and the Church/Evangelicals. Lest you believe this is another conspiracy please consider what follows.

In his provocative work, Promise and Peril: The History of Religiosity and Its Recent Decline,[6] author Lyman Stone reached this conclusion for the erosion of Christianity in America: “The decline in religiosity in America is not the product of natural change in preferences, but an engineered outcome of clearly identifiable policy choices in the past.”[7] A major implement for achieving this “engineered outcome,” Stone suggests, is an “increasingly secularized government control of education.”

Navigating through the maze of statistical data supporting Stone’s work, Cameron Hilditch was able to conclude the devastating impact of a government controlled secular education.[8] Hilditch writes, “The story of religious decline in America is not the story of adults consciously rejecting the faith of their forefathers: It’s the story of each generation receiving a more secular upbringing than the generation preceding it.”[9]

He continues: “Children learn more at school than reading, writing, and arithmetic. They imbibe a whole set of implied assumptions about what’s important in life. By excluding religious instruction from public schools, the government-run education system tacitly teaches students that religious commitments are not the first-order priority in life.”[10]

This development did not happen overnight but has a storied history that Evangelical parents have little or no notion. The “engineered outcome” was first introduced by Thomas Jefferson.

Early educational systems were heavily influenced by John Calvin’s and Martin Luther’s[11] proposition that one major function of government is to include religious education as a core component of education as a whole. Educational institutions controlled by the Church became a means of preparing students for salvation, and then train men to become ministers or statesmen.

With the founding of the University of Virginia,[12] Jefferson became one of the earliest education reformists dedicated to wrest education from ecclesiastical purpose and influence and embrace a more naturalist approach.

It was Horace Mann,[13] described as “The Father of American Education”, who was instrumental instituting a public education system, thus competing with Church and private education. What developed was a centralized, state-controlled education, governed by state bureaucracy and financed by property taxes.

With the seeds of humanism already deeply influencing public education, it is educators John Dewy and Charles Potter who, in the beginning of the 1930s, set the pattern for an educational revamping of the American mindset. Their double-edged sword – humanism and the state is god, took root in the educational policy and process.

Potter’s shares his educational philosophy: “Education is thus a most powerful ally of humanism. And every American school is a school of humanism. What can a theistic Sunday School’s meeting for an hour once a week and teaching only a fraction of the children, do to stem the stem the tide of the five-day program of humanistic teaching?”[14]

The National Geographic’s We Americans[15] documents the history of education in ecclesiastical language and Evangelical fervor:

“The family and other private mechanisms could no longer be responsible for education. Children now had to be wrenched loose from their families, their origins, and whatever entrapped them in peculiar and parochial outlooks…The complicated process of acquainting the young with the world was now separated from society and settled within the four walls of the school. Teachers would be the new priests, preparing people for a new salvation.”[16]

Later humanist envisioned the student’s exposure to humanistic values would lead to the “elimination of religious superstition.[17]” Teachers were envisioned as the “proselytizers of a new faith: A religion of humanity…utilizing a classroom instead of pulpit to carry humanist values into whatever they teach…The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new – the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism.”[18]

Subtly, purposefully, humanistic values have, as Hilditch suggests, with each successive generation exposed to humanistic policy and procedures, undermined both parental and Church influence upon the minds, and hearts of our children.

Placed in Scriptural terms, having failed to heed the warning of the Apostle Paul, we have allowed the spirit of this age through “philosophy and empty deception”[19] capture the hearts and minds not only of our children, but both pulpit and the pew.

And we wonder why half of Evangelicals no longer have a Biblical Worldview.

The Diminished Influence of Parents

In retrospect it should not be surprising that parental impact on the spiritual dimension of their children’s spiritual development has waned. Parents have been “trained” to leave their education to the schools, and in like manner have been willing to assume Sunday School would be the proper, and perhaps the only forum for their children’s spirituality.

Two things have contributed to this development. One, the pace of American society has taken its toll on parents who are busy, overwhelmed, over committed, and exhausted. Frantic schedules crowd out any opportunity to have not only a family altar but little or no Biblical instruction, thereby eliminating the natural order for parental Christian instruction in the family setting.[20] Parental instruction should be a life-style and Christian faith modeled before children.

Two, parents should serve as role models, but with secularization’s purposed design to provide both a spiritual “dumbing down” of parents, and as successive generations of secular education strips away parental influence, the results should hardly be a surprise. Subtly secularism has induced a God-excluding atmosphere in education, and successive generations of parents have fallen victim to the plan to destabilize parental moral and ethical standards.

In essence, the parental role as spiritual leaders and teachers – in word and deed, have either abdicated to, or usurped by, the public, God-less schools, and a “dumbed down” religious program.

The Diminishing Role of Evangelism

The heart-cry of Evangelicals is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and as believers we have been commissioned to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” proclaiming the call for repentance “in His name to all the nations.”[21]

Once the penetration sword of evangelism claims its soul, the Church is also commissioned to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…”[22]

Evangelism, reaching the lost with the message of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, moved believers to share the Gospel, motivated evangelistic crusades, brought about moral and ethical reform. It was the steam engine of evangelism in early American history and continued to be the guiding force well into the 1960s. Revivals were conducted, rallies were formed, conventions were held teachings Evangelicals how to share their faith.

Yet, these efforts and approaches towards evangelism have all but disappeared and in the spiritual vacuum churches have resorted to fad preaching and religious gimmickry.

“Fewer churches emphasize and equip for evangelism these days, and the results are obvious and undeniable…” researcher George Barna suggests, “We are essentially abandoning both the future of the Church in the U.S. and the best interests of our young people through our wholesale dismissal of evangelism and the importance of having Jesus in our lives.”[23]

When Evangelicals have abandoned the fundamental tenets of the Christian Faith, and the Commission of Christ to share the Gospel, Evangelicals have forfeited the right to claim to be Evangelicals.

Now is the time for repentance and reformation, a time for intercession and intervention.

Next Issue: Part Three: "...strengthen the things that remain..."

“I am a voice of one crying, ‘In the wilderness make straight the way of the Lord.’”

(Isaiah 40:3f; John 1:19-23)

The Prophetic Voice

© 2021 by Mark Ledbetter. Published by The School of the Prophets 401 S. Broadway Ave., Sylacauga, AL 35150 USA.

Email: reclaimthemantle@gmail.com.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

End Notes

[1] Statistics reveal Church membership for Americans, 73%, held steady for several decades, from pre-WWII (with an upward spike post-war, 76%) 1998 marked a steady decline for two decades with membership dropping in 2018 to 50%. (Gallup: U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades, Jeffrey M. Jones, 2019 (news.gallup.com) [2] “Barna: We’re Experiencing Another Reformation, and Not in Good Way,” Jessica Mouser (October 8, 2020); churchleaders.com/new/383605-george-barna-another-reformation.html. [3] Amazingly, 24% of Pentecostals see the Holy Spirit as a symbol. They are not Pentecostals. [4] Formerly Southern Baptist but in wake of the social unrest and racist label, Southern has, or is proposed to be, dropped. Posted on September 16, 2020 “Southern Baptist Convention Leaders Dropping ‘Southern’ from Name over Slavery Connection,” Celine Castronuovo, The Hill, September 15, 2020 [https://www.amren.com/news/2020/09/southern-baptist-convention-leaders-dropping-southern-from-name-over-slavery-connection/] [5] “Evangelicals vs. Born Again: A Survey of What Americans Say and Believe Beyond Politics,” Jeremy Weber (original post, 12/6/2017), Christianity Today (February 16, 2020) [www.christianitytoday.com/news] [6] American Enterprise Institute, April 2020. [7] Ibid., 1, emphasis added. [8] “Why American Children Stopped Believing in God,” Cameron Hilditch, National Review, 12/133/2020 [www.yahoo.com/news/why-american-children-stopped-believing-113039119.html]. [9] Ibid. [10] Ibid. [11] “I am much afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures, and engraving them in the hearts of youth. I advise no one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which men are not unceasingly occupied with the Word of God must be corrupt.” – Martin Luther, “What Luther Says,” Vol. I, 449. [12] Chartered 1819. [13] 1796-1859 [14] Francis Potter, Humanism: A New Religion, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1930. [15] We Americans: A Volume in the Story of Man Library, National Geographic Society, 1975. [16] Ibid., 130. [17] The Humanist, 1976. [18] Ibid., 1983. [19] Colossians 2:8 [20] Deuteronomy 6:4-9. [21] Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-47. [22] Matthew 28:19-20. [23] “Born Again Christians Continue Declining, Only Minority Believe They Must Share the Gospel: Survey,” Stoyan Zaimov, The Christian Post, 12/1/2017 (https://www.christianpost.com/news/born-again-christians-continue-declining-only-minority-believe-they-must-share-the-gospel-survey.html)

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