Numbers Are Not Enough
Buddhists . . . . . 500,000,000
Roman Catholics . . 464,000,000
Moslems . . . . . . . 300,000,000
Hindus . . . . . . . 300,000,000
Protestants . . . . . 225,000,000
Orthodox Catholics . 200,000,000
Jews . . . . . . . . 12,000,000
NUMBERS are not a sound basis on which to build faith. If Christianity had been founded on numbers, it would have failed. At Christianity’s darkest hour, namely, when Jesus was on the torture stake, there was not one of his apostles that stood by him. Yet Christianity triumphed, not because of its numbers, rather because it is of God.
Large numbers tend to create a false sense of security. To dispel any such illusion, Moses told the Israelites: “It was not because of your being the most populous of all the peoples that Jehovah showed affection for you so that he chose you, for you were the least of all the peoples. But it was because of Jehovah’s loving you and because of his keeping the sworn statement that he had sworn to your forefathers.” Numbers are not an influencing factor with God.—Deut. 7:7, 8.
One with God is a more formidable force than a populated universe without him. God can save by many or by few. Take for an example the case of Judge Gideon. He started with an army of 32,000 men to face the well-equipped army of Midian, composed of at least 135,000 crack swordsmen. God told Gideon to cut his forces. Gideon did, to a mere three hundred men. With this handful he went to battle against the Midianites and won a smashing victory. The difference was God. “For there is no hindrance to Jehovah to save by many or by few.”—1 Sam. 14:6; Judg. 7:1-14.
In all probability King David yielded to temptation when he had Israel’s young men numbered to determine the nation’s fighting strength. Evidently he was planning a military venture without the counsel and help of God. He was about to trust in numbers. Later, David admitted that he had “acted very foolishly.”—1 Chron. 21:1-8.
In democratic lands the majority rules, but that is no basis for believing that majorities are always right or that might of numbers makes right. For example, the vast majority of humankind were opposed to the course that Noah and his family took. Yet the majority were wrong. Noah and his family by surviving the flood were proved right. In Jesus’ day almost all the people did not believe him to be the Christ. They were wrong. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead by God established his Messiahship beyond all doubt. God sets the rules of right and wrong, not man. “Who is wise, that he may understand these things? Discreet, that he may know them? For the ways of Jehovah are upright, and the righteous are the ones who will walk in them; but the transgressors are the ones who will stumble in them.”—Hos. 14:9.
Today, religious organizations have a habit of pointing to their great numbers and wealth as proof of their being favored by God. The Roman Catholic Church boasts a population of 464,000,000, almost one fifth of the world’s population. Followers of Buddha brag of an even larger number, some 500,000,000. Hinduism claims 300,000,000 adherents; Moslems, 300,000,000 followers; and Judaism, nearly 12,000,000 people. Protestants the world over number some 225,000,000, and the Orthodox, another 200,000,000. Do these great numbers represent God’s blessing? Many professed Christians say, Yes. They point to membership increases as a mark of Christian fruitage.
One of the most dramatic increases in the last twenty years has been the growth of nominal Christianity in the United States. “As of the beginning of 1955,” says a Reader’s Digest report, “church membership has rocketed from 50 million in 1929 to more than 95 million—a gain of 90 percent, while the population was increasing only 31.4 percent. During the same period 58,000 more places of worship were built, bringing the total to 295,000 churches and synagogues.” The Southern Baptist membership has grown from 5,100,000 in 1940 to 9,206,758 in 1958; Methodists from 7,400,000 to 9,691,916; and Episcopalians, from 2,200,000 to 3,274,678. The number of members of churches and synagogues in the United States in 1958 was estimated at 104,189,678 persons, or 61 percent of the estimated 170,500,000 population. Of every 100 Americans, 62 now claim affiliation with some church, compared with 20 out of 100 a century ago. Total receipts for all purposes from fifty-three Protestant and Eastern Orthodox bodies reported for 1958 came to more than $2,000,000,000, representing a rate of increase more than three times that of membership.
Roman Catholics in the United States tell of an increase of 47.8 percent since 1949. The 1959 total of Roman Catholics was put at 39,505,475, which figure represents a jump of 3,481,498 during 1958. The Roman Catholic Church does not publish its receipts.
Membership and known receipts show a sharp increase. Church construction is at an all-time high. Today’s houses of worship have form-fitting pews, scientific lighting, gay color schemes and sound-conditioning, and many are equipped with air conditioning. But is all of this—these numbers, dollars and comforts—representative of Christianity? Not necessarily so. Associate general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in America, Dr. Roswell P. Barnes, observed that, while religion in America gained in prosperity, the incidence of crime had reached a new high. This “embarrassing fact,” he said, is symptomatic of a “low state of moral discipline, an underlying restlessness and tension. Wealth and comfort have not made our nation righteous and happy,” he said.
The fruits of God’s spirit mentioned at Galatians 5:22, 23 are not in evidence throughout Christendom. One sees people in churches, but Christian principles in practice in public life one does not see. The divorce rate is at its highest, adult and juvenile delinquency is at its worst, immorality is rampant, integrity and virtue are flouted. While loud professions of peace are made, few practice peace. Cries for unity and “ban the bomb” stem from fear and not from the principle of love.
Religious membership numbers are plentiful, but numbers alone are not enough. Righteousness, goodness, love, faith and integrity—these are what truly count.