What Is Happening to Religion?
HAVE you wondered what is happening to religion? What is the meaning of the turmoil in the churches? Does it mean that religion is on the way out?
‘By no means!’ some may answer. Where they live, many may belong to a church, and on Sunday mornings large numbers may still attend the services. But this situation is clearly the exception now, rather than the rule.
In fact, the rapid decline of religion has become a common topic of discussion today. The national Catholic magazine St. Anthony Messenger of May 1973 notes:
“The decline in converts is just one factor in the malaise of Catholicism in the present day. Priests and sisters leave their posts, seminaries report drops in enrollments, parochial schools shut their doors, young Catholics reject traditional religious and moral values, Sunday Mass attendance sags.”
The decline is observed not only in the Catholic religion. Church attendance is sagging and millions are quitting other churches as well. This May, at the 185th general assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., a church official lamented that Presbyterians had “experienced the same downward trend in membership as have many of our sister churches.”
However, even more serious than the membership loss is the defection of the clergy. Baptist minister Warren Carr, in his new book At the Risk of Idolatry, writes: “Clergymen are finding it just as difficult to stay with the church as are the laymen. Many of my professional colleagues have already made their exits. More are planning to do the same thing. The exodus shows no signs of abating.”
Episcopal priest John W. Downing, director of an agency that helps former priests and ministers to obtain secular employment, predicted that half of all clergymen in the United States will quit by 1975. Could this really happen?
A report in the Yearbook of American Churches 1972 indicates that it could. “In a nationwide survey,” the Yearbook says, “nearly four in ten young Protestant and Roman Catholic clergymen said they have seriously considered leaving the religious life. Among Jewish clergymen, the proportion is six in ten.”
The prospects for replacing the departing clergy are dim indeed. Few people want to become clergymen. Thus many seminaries are closing. In just one area in the middle United States twelve of thirty-three have closed since 1967! The Christian Century observed: “Protestant seminaries are drying on the vine and Catholic seminaries are dying on the vine.”
The situation in other countries is worse. “Eighteen thousand churches, chapels and oratories in France have been or are about to be abandoned,” reports the Paris Le Journal du Dimanche of January 18, 1970. “This means that sooner or later over half of the places of worship in France are doomed.” The Ottawa Citizen of January 6, 1973, notes: “Britain has seen 5,000 [churches] closed in the past few years.”
The decline threatens to cripple world religion. But what is behind it? Why have so many left the churches, or, at least, seldom attend anymore?
Reasons for Decline
For one thing, people have become disgusted with the way the churches keep harping on money matters. “‘I’II tell you what the church’s attitude is,’ said one active Lutheran. ‘It is one of greed. They want your money. . . . They always act as if they can’t get enough.’” Have you felt similarly about the churches? Persons who do have been quitting religion.—The Lutheran, November 6, 1968.
Also, many people are disturbed by religion’s involvement in political matters. Readers Digest of October 1971 carried an article entitled “Must Our Churches Finance Revolution?” It claimed: “The World Council of Churches is using church power and church funds to back insurrection in the United States and Africa.” Are churches with which you are acquainted deeply involved in political issues?
The clergy have not been sticking to the work of teaching God’s Word, and this has distressed many. “Sure, we’re Biblical illiterates,” admitted one woman, as reported in The Arizona Republic. “The ministers aren’t preaching or teaching the gospel anymore.” Is it any wonder, then, that people have been abandoning religion?
The opinion reached by many persons is that the churches simply are not serving God. The front cover of the March 1969 Ladies’ Home Journal carried this arresting heading “1,000 Women Report: ‘You Can’t Find God in Church Anymore!’”
Could it be that Almighty God himself disapproves of the churches?
Religion That God Disapproves
God’s Son Jesus Christ made clear that God does not approve of all religion. These words of Jesus aptly apply to practicers of religion that fails to conform to his Father’s will:
“Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.”—Matt. 7:21-23.
Workers of lawlessness! Do you want to be identified with the kind of religion that God views as working lawlessness? ‘But,’ you may object, ‘God would never view a religious system in that way, would he?’
Indeed he would! Consider, for example, the Jewish religious system in the first century that professed to do God’s will, but did not do it, preferring their own ideals instead of God’s Word. (Matt. 15:1-9, 12-14) God’s Son Jesus Christ said to its leaders: “Look! Your house is abandoned to you.” “The kingdom of God will be taken from you.” And that is exactly what occurred! That entire religious system was rejected by God. As a result, it did not simply die out gradually. Instead, in 70 C.E. it was wiped out—its temple and priests and worshipers being destroyed, as God’s Son had foretold.—Matt. 23:38; 21:43; Luke 19:41-44.
What about your own religion? How does it stand with God? There is a way to find out.