The religious book market is booming. The $3 billion market for Christian books, magazines, videos and music increased 12 percent between 1996 and 1997. Television airwaves are awash with religious teaching, preaching and viewpoints. Songs of praise boom out from Christian-music-only radio stations 24 hours each day. You would think this means religion in our society is alive and healthy. Yet, religion as an institution in America is in sharp decline. Hard to accept isn’t it? Believe it! The facts are startling.
Membership in some mainstream Protestant denominations is at an all-time low and still dropping. Presbyterians have been losing 35,000 to 40,000 members a year for the last two decades. Methodists have been losing about 1000 members a week since 1965. The decline in the Methodist Church is considered the worst mass departure in recent history. Even Roman Catholics are concerned about a falling membership. Along with falling membership is faltering church attendance. Although some church officials work to conceal the facts, many churches are as empty on Sunday as during the week. Many who claim membership in a church seldom sit in a pew.
What is happening in American religion? Where has it gone wrong? When we honestly analyze the facts, we’ll come to see that Americans do a great job at evangelism, but a poor job at discipleship. Why is American religion failing?
Founded on Faith
There is no doubt that our Founding Fathers viewed right religion as the necessary bedrock for American success. Many early settlers came to North American shores seeking refuge from religious persecution. Worship motivated the dangerous trek across the Atlantic. Early American preachers, such as Cotton Mather and John Cotton, believed that America was the “new Israel.” They understood their people’s flight from an oppressive Europe as a type of Israel’s flight from Egypt. And just as Moses taught the ancient Israelites, they instructed early Americans that the new nation would achieve its splendid destiny only under the direction of God. History shows that the early Americans believed and acted upon what these men taught.
America was shaped by religion. Religion permeated colonial society. American freedom became synonymous with religious freedom. Speaking of the American Revolution, British historian Paul Johnson states: “The Revolution could not have taken place without this religious background. The essential difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution is that the American Revolution in its origins was a religious event, whereas the French Revolution was an anti-religious event. That fact was to shape the American Revolution from start to finish and determine the nature of the independent state it brought into being” (A History of the American People, 1997, p. 117). The founding of America is unique in history. Religion determined the nature of America. Why would America, different from any other nation of this world, be so closely tied with religion? The answer is truly astounding and is revealed in the Bible.
Herbert Armstrong, in his book The United States and Britain in Prophecy, reveals that the United States of America is in fact the lost Israelite tribe of Manasseh. Yes, America truly is Israel. Prophecy shows that Manasseh was to become the single greatest nation ever in these end times. Together with Great Britain (Ephraim), the U.S. was to inherit the national name and promises of wealth given to Israel through Abraham millennia ago. To fully grasp the import of what is happening in American religion, you must understand this Bible fact. Please write for your free copy of this vital book.
Speaking of the promises to Abraham, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “Yet, we must face the astounding fact that our white, English-speaking peoples—not the Jews—have inherited the national and physical phases of those promises!
“How could this have happened?
“The Bible is an Israelitish book, preeminently of and for the Israelitish nationality, inspired by their God through their prophets. Is it not indeed strange that we English-speaking peoples are today the greatest believers in and exponents of this book of the Hebrew people; that of all nations we are the chief worshipers of Israel’s God and Israel’s Messiah—in the name and form, if not in truth and in deed?
“The more these facts are realized, the more apparent it becomes that a full knowledge of these Israelites is necessary to a right understanding of the Holy Bible, which is chiefly concerned with them as a people. And this knowledge becomes important if we are to understand the present status of the American and British peoples in the world—and their relation to unprecedented world conditions at this fateful hour!” (The United States and Britain in Prophecy, 1980 version, p. 15). The fact that the Bible is an Israelitish book, and today’s Americans have descended from ancient Israel, discloses why our roots are so religious. Yet, we have forsaken those roots. God has much to say about our religion in these troubled times.
To be honest, compared to the time of our forefathers, religion has lost its influence in American life. For all of our outward show, we are no longer a truly religious people.
Consider America’s crime rate—meditate on America’s violent cities—analyze America’s insatiable appetite for pornography. Are we looking at a religious society? Surely we would have to say no. Even with all the apparent religious fervor in this country, we must recognize that our society is growing ever worse. We no longer have the power to control robbery, rape and murder. We no longer have the sway to lead people away from hurtful lusts like drug addiction, alcoholism and illicit sex. Why is our society falling into such decay? Isn’t our modern crisis really a crisis in religion? We must put the blame for our modern problems squarely on the shoulders of religion.
For the most part, as a people, we have simply forgotten God. We only pay Him casual lip service. Many only turn to God in times of trouble or tragedy. We talk big and act shallowly. Our ancestors had to rely on God for their very existence. They knew every morsel of food, each day of good weather and all safe protection from the enemy came directly from God. The founders of America were a hard working people grateful for every blessing. Their legacy of hard work and faith laid the foundation for our modern success. And what have we done with their tears, prayers and sweat?
We have allowed ourselves to be blinded by the very wealth God has bestowed on us. Our material possessions have given us incredible power. Yet as a nation we no longer recognize how we obtained such wealth. Most believe we obtained it through our own power and strength. Tell the vast majority of successful Americans that God gave them their wealth, and you would probably witness a heavy measure of scorn. God? What do you mean God gave me such wealth? This condition in America was prophesied years ago.
Moses warned the Israelites, “When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deut. 8:10-14). Like our Israelite ancestors, Americans have become a vain people. God has richly blessed us. But now we are fat, fed to the full on our wealth. We have much time for our material pursuits, but little time for God. The prevailing attitude in this country is, who needs God when times are so good? One minister recently complained that he has lost his congregation to the weekend.
Americans worship the mighty dollar more than the Almighty God. Americans are well-known for their excesses in sports and other forms of entertainment. We love our TVs, movies, concerts and casinos. Americans love their shiny new cars and lavish homes. Did you know that Americans spend $10 billion annually on pornography? We are corrupting ourselves with our wealth! This too was prophesied thousands of years ago.
At the end of his life, Moses warned his people, “Gather unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them. For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands” (Deut. 31:28-29). Notice this verse is a prophecy for the latter days—our time now! Because of our turning away from God, evil abounds. As the Trumpet has been showing for months, America is about to fall under a severe financial crisis. Yet we take little notice. America looks to its great civilization—the work of our hands—instead of God. By doing this we provoke God’s anger. Wealth will never save a sinning nation. Our day of reckoning is quickly coming upon us.
Sea of Confusion
American religion is adrift in a sea of confusion. Inside our high-tech evangelism are the seeds of its own destruction. With so many denominations advertising, promoting and claiming that their truth is truth, we have doctrinal chaos. Watch religious television any Sunday. You will find that the clang and clamor of religious broadcasting is more distracting than helpful. This too was prophesied for our day.
In the Olivet prophecy, Jesus Christ stated that rampant religious deceit would be a leading sign of His imminent return. The disciples asked Christ, “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3). Jesus told the disciples, “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (vv. 4-5). Jesus said religious deceit would be a sign of His coming. He said emphatically that many would be preaching and teaching “in His name” and yet deceiving people. Jesus did not say a few—He said many.
Recognize, these deceivers teach in Jesus’ name and not their own. Christ is speaking here of false ministers who pretend to speak the truth, but are actually teaching lies. Christ plainly says that many so-called Christian preachers would be telling people about Christ, but would not be preaching Christ’s own message—His gospel. There are many different gospel messages being taught today. But which one is Christ’s gospel? Christ said many would be deceived by ministers teaching the wrong message. Have you been taught Christ’s gospel? You need to know. To be saved, it is necessary to believe that gospel (Mark 1:14-15). Herbert Armstrong’s book Mystery of the Ages explains Christ’s gospel message in great detail.
Jesus Christ again emphasized the threat of religious deception in the middle of this vital prophecy. Even though religious deception began in His time, He warned that it would increase in our time. “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not” (Matt. 24:23-26). These verses speak directly of the time just before Christ’s return. He states clearly that many men will be saying Christ is working in their organizations. But Christ promised that there would only be one true Church—not a mass of churches (Matt. 16:18).
American religion has opened its own shopping mall. You can find a multitude of denominations and non-denominations all claiming to be ministering for Christ. Christ stated emphatically that when you see a multitude of men claiming Christ is with them, believe it not! Christ expects His true followers to know where He is—where His Church is working. There should never be a need to look anywhere else.
Sociologists recognize that Americans love to “belief shop.” Many mix and match their beliefs. For example, in this decade, there has been a dramatic rise in interest with New Age religion, which promotes everything from Christian principles to Eastern meditation and includes white witchcraft—nature worship! What confusion. Jesus Christ aptly described our troubled religious times.
No Moral Absolutes
Instead of guiding society, religion today has been overcome by society! Instead of charting the course, religion is drifting with the tide. Instead of teaching a clear distinction between right or wrong, many ministers have become politically correct. Not wanting to offend, many have allowed immorality to infect our society. Our modern ministry has caused religion to lose its teeth. Think deeply about this. Most American religions hold few absolutes.
True Christianity represents a way of life. It reflects a high moral standard. It upholds a clear right and wrong. There was a day when a young man came to Jesus Christ and asked, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16). Jesus answered, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (v. 17). Jesus Christ had no doubt that true religion consisted of obeying a set of clearly defined rules of right and wrong. Perhaps confused, the young man asked Christ, “Which commandments?” Christ answered, “Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (vv. 18-19). Why do so many stumble over such simplicity in religion? To have an impact, our religion must get back to the simplicity of the Bible.
On another occasion, a lawyer asked Christ, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matt. 22:36). Christ answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (vv. 37-40). Jesus Christ taught a way of life that dictates our private thoughts and guides our outward actions. It shows us how to love God and people. True Christianity has absolutes. There is a clear right and wrong. Who is bold enough to stand up for God’s law in religion today? Too few. Most religious people believe that Christ came to do away with the law. But can a nation of people be truly worshiping God while disobeying His commandments? Hardly. Even James Madison, our fourth President, stated, “We have staked the whole future of American civilization…upon the capacity of each and every one of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments.”
We live in a lawless age. Our newspaper headlines tell us as much every day. In a 1991 bestseller, The Day America Told the Truth, nine of ten citizens surveyed said they lie regularly, one-third of married Americans surveyed indicated they’ve had an affair, and 7 percent said that for $10 million they would kill a stranger. Though experts seek solutions, few seek out the causes. Can we begin to see that our weak-willed religion must top the list of reasons why our society has gotten so bad?
Prophesying of our time, Paul wrote to Timothy, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (II Tim. 3:1-5). Using the Spirit of God, Paul looked into our time and saw untold violence. Paul witnessed our rotten moral fabric. Paul listed our many sins. We covet, we are vain, we are disobedient, we lack love, we lie, we love violence and we love ourselves more than God. But also notice—we are big on religion! As Paul stated it, we have a form of godliness, but we deny the power thereof. This means that God is not really in our religion. It is all show and no substance. Paul advises all true believers, “From such turn away”!
National Repentance Coming
Take stock of your religion. There are troubled times just ahead. The Bible does show that the greatest time of trouble ever—the Great Tribulation—is about to descend on the Western world. The immediate future is definitely not bright. Economic and nuclear disaster are staring us in the face. Yet, none of this need happen if we would collectively repent of disobeying God. Realistically, this is not likely to happen. However, it is not too late for you personally to get it right with God. If you turn to God, He will turn to you (Isa. 59:1-2). You need not go through the Tribulation. There is still time to repent.
Realize that even with the coming Tribulation, there is hope for our great nation. Moses prophesied of a coming time of national repentance. He told our ancestors, “But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; (For the Lord thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them” (Deut. 4:29-31). Although very negative, the Great Tribulation will produce positive results. God will regain His people’s attention. He promises that in the Tribulation, any who turn to Him, He will forgive and extend mercy. How great is God!
Even with all the bad news, there is very good news. When our nation does fully repent, God plans to restore it and lavish upon it all the blessings promised Abraham.