Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is the Church Shrinking?

A recent article posted on the BBC’s website reviews a scientific paper about the trend away from religious affiliation. To read the paper go here. In their research, the paper’s authors put forth the hypothesis that sophisticated mathematical tools can be used to analyze social phenomena, among which is the trend away from religious affiliation in Europe.

No one I know would say that the church in Europe is healthy; most would recognize that European church attendance and affiliation have declined markedly, and nowhere more so than in our new home country, the Czech Republic. I have no argument with the BBC or with the original scientific study in their statement of these facts. My problem lies with the conclusion they draw from the facts. To quote from the paper, “The model indicates that in these societies the perceived utility of religious non-affiliation is greater than that of adhering to a religion, and therefore predicts continued growth of non-affiliation, tending toward the disappearance of religion.”

My problem with their conclusion is simply this: the growth of God’s kingdom is not dependent upon regional or even worldwide trends, but on God himself. In the second chapter of the book of Daniel, the story of King Nebuchanezzar’s dream is told. The king demands of his wise men that they tell him what the content of his dream was before they give him their interpretation of the dream. No man is able to know the mind of another, so all the wise men fail and fall under the king’s threat of death. God reveals to Daniel that he has given the king a sweeping vision of future history. The most significant aspect of Daniel’s God-given understanding is found in verses 34 & 35: "You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” Daniel later interprets this “stone that becomes a mountain” as the indestructible kingdom of God (see vs. 44, 45).

It is true that the observable growth of God’s kingdom has historically appeared to be in doubt – sometimes over wide regions and through significant periods of time. But the long term prospects and the final results are not in doubt at all. Although the present prospects for growth here do indeed look bleak, there will one day be a number that no man can number shouting with great joy before the throne of God. We are sure that there will be Czechs among those who shout that day.

1 comment:

  1. When the article says, "the perceived utility of religious non-affiliation" I can't help but think that modern attempts to win "converts" by showing them the "utility" of belief is doomed. The preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (I think Paul said that). We should put forth Christianity not as useful but true.