According to a recently released study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, more than half of all Americans change religions at least once in their lifetimes. While the study focused mainly on Christian faiths, it highlighted the eroding effects that negative media perceptions and other life goals can have on a person’s grounding in their childhood faith. As our society accelerates into a world of technology and tailored marketing, even on the part of churches vying for more members, what do you think it means for the future of so-called core religions?
Noting the fact that the study focused on Christians, it must be understood that the results showed less how “Americans change religions” and more how they shift denominational affiliations. Such switching within the Christian religion is not necessarily bad, and could actually be good.
Denominations are simply collections of like-minded churches combined in solidarity to perpetuate their common perspective. If someone is raised in a denomination where the highest goal is to work up an emotional lather instead of rightly disseminating Christ’s teachings, it would behoove that person to make a change to a denomination with better priorities. If their denomination denies essential Christian doctrine, or has ceased being a prophetic channel of truth to become merely a social organization, the spiritual person would necessarily go for change.
Gone are the days when the church one grew up with is the only show in town, and if someone truly owns their faith, they may find that another denomination better represents their beliefs and spiritual level.
Conversely, if changing has more to do with the fact that some church down the road has better entertainment value, or that it acquiesces to shifting cultural morality, then such change hardly matters because this is the behavior of the unconverted. Such should hardly be counted in the study.
Lastly, the growing category of the “unaffiliated” is also indicative of shallow faith. What’s wrong with someone who can’t commit to anything, not even his own religious brethren? The Bible says, we should “not give up meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25), yet we have entirely too many Sunday-slackers and church-hoppers who don’t even know what they’re supposed to believe or who teaches it.
We’ll have to wait and see what happens to the core as a result.
THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM
Montrose Community Church
The poll results are not surprising. We live in a transient world, and change exists whether it be religion, employment or otherwise. In the case of religion, individuals often seek more than just a basic understanding of God. They seek, among other things, fellowship, fulfillment, knowledge, understanding and acceptance. If they don’t find what they are looking for at one church or religion, they may choose another, or none at all.
Some churches or religions are retooling their message or delivery in response. For example, some churches now offer alternative Sunday worship services, such as traditional, informal or contemporary, and/or offer groups focused on individuals or issues.
This all begs the question as to what is the purpose for churches or religion? Is it to perpetuate them as institutions or something else? To me, the purpose is to bring individuals to Jesus Christ. In doing so, the road may not be easy.
As recounted in Matthew 16, a wealthy young man approached the Savior and asked “what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” The Savior’s ultimate response was simple, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” Upon hearing these words, the young man was sorrowful and presumably did not follow the counsel of the Savior.
In an age where individuals are looking for easy or temporary solutions to their problems, they forget that Jesus Christ has given us the ultimate solution, His invitation to come and follow Him. It is our opportunity to accept that invitation. It will not be easy, but it is worth it. Our challenge is to accept that invitation and come and follow Him.
BISHOP FRED L. CARPENTER
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
I find this trend toward abandonment of our birth religions distressing, since it signals an underlying lack of spiritual education. In my personal experience, a person who was born Jewish and wants to convert away often has a limited, or a total lack of, Judaic knowledge. I feel that the biggest challenge to all core religious affiliations is not necessarily conversion to another faith, but the frightful lack of spiritual education among our children.
In order to reverse this phenomenon, religious organizations should take an active role in advising parents of the negative consequences stemming from a lack of education. At the same time, there needs to be a concerted effort to reach out to our youth using the same media and communications technologies that so often spread negative perceptions.
Of all the core religions, Judaism alone discourages conversion to it, and at the same time opposes conversion away from it. We do not espouse the idea that Judaism is the “correct” religion. On the contrary, Judaism is right for a Jew as Christianity is for a Christian and Islam for a Muslim. This belief comes from the recognition that just as each person has a different physical appearance, our souls are not identical either; each one of us is instilled with specific spiritual direction.
We feel that a person born into a particular religious affiliation has a responsibility to accomplish his or her life goals via that spiritual path — assuming of course that it leads toward the recognition of God’s omnipotence, respect toward fellow human beings and a dedication to morality and peace.
RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN
Chabad Jewish Center
Our choice of faith is a serious issue that yields eternal consequences. And when we make this choice, it’s crucial to distinguish between religion and actual relationship with God.
Changing from one man-made religion to another might change our worship and lifestyle habits, but it doesn’t affect our standing with God. Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ is the one mediator between God and man. He alone shed His blood in full payment for our sins. By faith in Him alone we are reconciled to God.
Jesus Himself said “No one comes to the Father, but through Me.” Relationship is the key, not religion or denomination. To abandon a denomination doesn’t incur damnation, to deny Christ does.
So what’s the answer? Follow Christ, and never stop. “The one who endures to the end, he shall be saved.” Leave your church if you have to, but never leave Christ, who alone can save you.
PASTOR JON BARTA
Valley Baptist Church