Can Religion Meet the Crisis?
POPULAR and religious magazines and newspapers alike are quick to report on the “successes” some churches are having. They tell of prayer-and-praise meetings that are bringing people closer to God. They report that sermons in some churches are getting more spiritual rather than social or political. They talk about ministries to the poor, renewal weekends, Bible study groups, liturgical dance classes, and about willing lay people stepping in where there is a shortage of priests and nuns. All of this is taken to be a sign of a religious renewal.
In a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals last March, President Reagan of the United States declared: “America has begun a spiritual reawakening. Faith and hope are being restored. Americans are turning back to God . . . And I do believe that He has begun to heal our blessed land.” Such show of confidence does much to bolster the impression that ultimately the many problems facing distressed humanity today will be solved by the spiritual reawakening.
All of this may sound very good, but what have the “spiritual reawakening” and “renewal” accomplished? People may feel better about themselves, but have they become better Christians? People may feel they are more spiritual, but are they more interested in spiritual things than in material pursuits? If godlessness has been seen as a major cause of today’s crisis, then have they been helped to show godly devotion? The answers are crucial in determining whether religion can meet or cope with today’s crisis or not.
Godly Devotion—What Is It?
Godliness, or godly devotion, has been defined as devotion to God or being God-oriented. As such, it is much more than a mere show of outward piety or religiousness. One who possesses godly devotion is mainly concerned, not with satisfying some personal needs, but with knowing and doing God’s will, having an intimate relationship with him. The result is that a person’s life is changed for the better because “godly devotion is beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.”—1 Timothy 4:8.
Do the individuals who are turning to religion merely out of dissatisfaction with life’s realities fit into this category? Or are they more like those whom the apostle Paul spoke of as “having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power”?—2 Timothy 3:5.
If an individual turns to God just for the satisfying of some personal need rather than for the purpose of learning God’s will and serving him, his object of devotion is really himself rather than God, is it not? This kind of devotion is powerless as to changing the individual’s life from one of selfish pursuit to one of true self-sacrificing service to God.
What Paul stated was in harmony with Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. Pointing out that not all who claim to be his followers are acceptable to him, he added: “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.”—Matthew 7:22, 23.
Thus, it is not a show of religiousness that matters with God. For an individual to receive God’s guidance and blessing, he must be willing to accept God’s directions as contained in the Bible and to apply them in his life. As the psalmist put it: “Your word is a lamp to my foot, and a light to my roadway.” (Psalm 119:105) Are the people who are turning to religion today being helped to learn and follow such directions?
What Are the Facts?
A recent survey of 10,000 active Catholics in 60 parishes in the United States revealed that 77 percent of them are more concerned about what will happen to the country, compared with only 40 percent who are concerned about “personal salvation issues.” Similarly, a Gallup poll found that of all the questions people would like to ask God, the most popular one is: “Will there ever be a lasting world peace?”
Certainly, in these critical times there is nothing amiss with being concerned about our future. But how different such reactions are from what Jesus told his disciples: “As these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.” (Luke 21:28) What the survey results show is that in spite of all the talk of a spiritual reawakening, anxiety about the future dominates the hearts and minds of people today. Their form of religion has done little toward helping them to meet the crisis of our critical times.—See Luke 21:26.
As far as making church members more spiritual, an editorial in the Seventh-Day Adventist magazine Ministry laments that “too often there is little in the actual life style of our members or of ourselves to distinguish us from our non-Christian neighbors next door.” Rather, it goes on to say, the church is providing its members with “a theological rationale for incorporating the materialism and consumer life style” of the nonbelievers by portraying God as one “who wants the best for His people and who intends to see they get it.”
Similarly, The Economist of London, after reporting that “there are some signs of a continuing (even growing) interest in religious questions,” asserts that “the problem for the Church of England is how to minister to those who want to know about belief when it is not sure itself what it believes.”
What about the area of family and human values? Have the churches fortified their members against the corrupting influences and immoral ways of the world? Have they turned out better husbands, wives, parents and children? A recent survey of 8,000 youths and 10,000 parents of churchgoing families in 13 denominations provides at least a glimpse of the situation.
According to Christianity Today, the study found that 42 percent of the youths say their families never discuss religious matters, and 40 percent say they want more parental direction on sexual matters. Among those 15 years of age, 53 percent have used alcohol, 20 percent have used marijuana. An earlier study, reported on in The Ann Arbor News, found that 59 percent of the boys and 42 percent of the girls said they had had sexual intercourse by the time they were 18.
Finally, are the religions helping their followers to shun the violent spirit of the world? Indeed, if religion is to be a stabilizing force in today’s critical times, would we not expect at least this much? But, sad to say, more and more people have come to recognize that religion has, directly or indirectly, contributed to most of the wars and conflicts that have afflicted mankind. Mention places such as Ireland, Lebanon and Iran, and what comes to mind? In spite of the pastoral letters and peace marches, are not major religions embroiled in some of the bloodiest conflicts today?
Hence, what can we say about the so-called religious reawakening? Perhaps there are indications of a religious renewal, but it could hardly be called a spiritual reawakening. Instead of being built up spiritually, strengthened to face the critical times, most of those who turn to religions of the world are being put into a comfortable ‘holding pattern,’ a formalistic kind of worship. It is “a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power,” as the apostle Paul foretold. The superficial “reawakening” and “renewal” clearly fit in with the rest of the deteriorating conditions—moral decay, family breakdown, crime and violence, and so on—marking our critical times.—2 Timothy 3:1-5.
What Will the Outcome Be?
Using the ancient religious city of Babylon as a symbol, the Bible points to total collapse as the fate of world religion. The book of Revelation foretells: “A strong angel lifted up a stone like a great millstone and hurled it into the sea, saying: ‘Thus with a swift pitch will Babylon the great city be hurled down, and she will never be found again.’”—Revelation 18:21.
Before that swift end comes, however, there is opportunity to heed the divine warning of Revelation 18:4: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues.” Around the world, in 205 lands, Jehovah’s Witnesses have heeded that warning and fled to God’s Kingdom as the only hope for mankind. (Matthew 24:14) Will you be among the thousands who are joining them in that flight to safety? The decision is yours to make.
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In spite of the pastoral letters and peace marches, are not major religions embroiled in some of the bloodiest conflicts today?
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People may feel that they are more religious, but are they more interested in spiritual things?
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Today hundreds of thousands are heeding the warning to abandon false religion