Drippings from the Honeycomb
More to be desired are [the rules of the Lord] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10)
In a recent blog I used those who regularly attend, or are part of a church, to discern the true number of Christians in Canada. The number I came up with was far lower than the 63.2% who identify as Christian sitting in at 3%.
What of those other 60%? Well I’ll allow their perseverance and the Judge to verify the genuineness of their faith but many of them may be what are known as “the Dones” (or even Secular Christians). The Dones are those who are done with the Church (or “organized Christianity”) but positively affirm belief in God, Jesus as the Saviour, angels, prayer, the support they feel they receive from their faith, the importance of being spiritual and a morally good person, loving their neighbour, etc.
Speaking with Dones reveals a number of reasons why they’re done with church. We need to listen to see where they are at (Prov 20:5). Often we should sympathize with their reasons, though we will want to encourage them in another direction. Sometimes we may need to speak the truth in grace into their faulty notions, and to do so as winsomely as possible.
Why did these people become “done”? The reasons vary as to the individual stories but a number of general observations could be noted: 1) they had a bad experience with “the church,” 2) the hypocrisy in “the church,” 3) they were hurt or felt they were not supported in some way, 4) post-modernism- the rejection of institutions, 5) individualism- I can be “spiritual” by myself with no need of public worship or corporate Christianity, 6) acedia (that is spiritual laziness)- I don’t feel like going (or I have other things I could be doing), and that leads to 7) confused priorities. We could probably think of some others. Many of these are real reasons for being disgruntled with the church.
Let’s address some of these.
Finally after we’ve listened and trouble-shooted all of these potential hangups with the Done we need to discern with them whether they are a Christian or a “Christian.” If they are not a true Christian these potential reasons for being “done” are eclipsed by their need of the Gospel. When we know and seek Jesus everything else falls into place, as we become undone.
"Christians" and Christians
Very recently I came by two different sets of statistics related to the visible decline of Christianity in the West, one was a local newspaper article and one was by the BBC.
The BBC article reported that for the first time less than half of the population of England/Wales identified as Christian down to 46.2% in the 2021 Census from 59.3% in the 2011 Census (Britain does their censuses every decade). What is more, those who claim no religion are approaching those who claim to be Christian at 37.2%. However, a more accurate indicator as to the state of Christianity is not the census but those who attend a church service semi-regularly at 1.5%. As not everyone who goes to church is a Christian (i.e. they may be a “seeker” or nominal, as shall be seen), an generous estimate as to the number of Christians in the UK could be as liberal as 1% (670,000). 46.2% vs. 1% is a BIG difference!
In Canada there is a similar trend. Our recent census figures show 53.3% identify as Christian compared to 67.3% in 2001. The more accurate gauge as to the true number of Christians is church attendance. The following chart shows the decline of those who attend weekly service:
Today, partly because all religions are included in studies and partly because the measurement moved from weekly to monthly (itself telling) it can be difficult to truly gauge numbers. One study put monthly religious attendance at 23% (including all religions). Stats Canada (2019) noted 31% of professing Christians were in church monthly (2.283 million or 6% of the population). We might halve that to get a rough weekly figure of 1.14 million or 3% of the population. So liberally in 2019 (pre-pandemic), 3% of the population may have been Christian vs. 63.2% in the census. That is a BIG difference!
That means 3 out of 100 people you meet in Canada may be Christian!
What the media, ever the naturalist, fails to distinguish is between true Christians as God sees them and visible Christians as the world sees (2 Ti 2:19). The world likes terms like practicing vs. non-practicing Christian, etc. Muslims think of the entire West as Christian, either because of its past or its censuses. Rather the Bible speaks of Christians and non-Christians.
Just because I call myself a cat doesn’t make me one. Just because I sit in a garage doesn’t make me an automobile. So too, just because I call myself a Christian or go to Church doesn’t make me one.
We must not think naturistically like the world but see spiritually as the Bible teaches. We need to have discernment. The Bible has not left us blind to discern the marks of a genuine believer.
Jesus said we would “know them by their fruits” and that not everyone who said “Lord, Lord,” would enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt 7). Likewise in 2 Cor 13:5 Paul urges the Corinthians to “test yourselves” and the possibility of failing “to meet the test.” Not all “Christians” are Christians. Similarly, Revelation speaks of “synagogues of Satan,” Jewish gatherings that visibly should have embraced their Messiah and been friendly but had rejected Him and so spiritually were not friendly. Indeed like many things in life we need this distinction to see the difference between real Christians and true Churches and nominal Christians and false Churches.
The Bible is filled with “tests of assurance,” marks that we are to use to evaluate (not be judgemental) as to whether someone is a Christian. You might read 1 John, which is filled with them, but the following may suffice. We know a Christian by three basic marks: by their lips (Ro 10:9–10), by their lives (Gal 5:22–23); by their baptized into the visible Church (Acts 2:38, 41).
Let’s wisely evaluate both our own lives and those who claim to be “Christian.”
 This group is commonly known as “the dones;” those who are still spiritual but not religious. They constitute an interesting demographic for evangelism.
 See Edwards Religious Affections if you’d like to do much deeper on this subject. Edwards was caught up in the 1st Great Awakening. He thought optimistically of all those who’d professed to be “converted.” In his book he looks at the Biblical marks of genuine conversion.
Conversing with a Mennonite
Recently I had a unique opportunity to speak with a local old order Mennonite (so not a Dave Martin Mennonite) about his beliefs (and many of our common beliefs). He shared how his church holds to the The Dordrecht Confession (1632), and was delighted to learn I had this in a book in my office. (You can read it here).
Having studied Mennonite history and beliefs at a general level I wrote to him some of my responses and questions in the hopes that he or his church leader might be able to further enlightenment me on Mennonite beliefs and practices.
Here are my comments:
Article 2- I was heartened to see you believe in Original Sin as I know some Mennonites do not. This is such a fundamental teaching of the Bible.
Article 4- There is so much here that is right and true. Twice, however, “salvation of all” and “purchased redemption for the whole human race” is mentioned and so I would gather you believe in a universal atonement. I would hold that Christ died for His own, the elect (Acts 13:48; Eph 1:1–6; 2 Ti 1:9; Rev 17:8); however, that the Gospel should be preach to the whole world. Election is a mystery the Bible speaks of for the believer’s comfort. The Gospel an encouragement to those who have not yet believed.
A line at about 60% says “we content ourselves with the declaration which the worthy evangelists have given…” According to Christology I find this somewhat vague as the visible Church (and I think with Biblical merit) has universally and historically believed the Chalcedon Creed that says “one person in two natures.” Creeds are not Scripture but church history does have a helping or ministerial role as Christians articulate their belief. Perhaps Mennonites are interested in the practical vs. the speculative (though probing who God is, I would argue, has great practical benefits).
I was heartened by the last line of this article.
Article 5- What is the Gospel? How do I become a Christian? This is not clear to me. Traditional Protestantism asks “What must I do to be saved.” It seems many Anabaptists ask, “How ought a Christian to live?”
Article 6- Truly, we must heed John the Baptist’s words quoted herein and also hear James that faith without works is dead. However, what is true saving faith and its connection to ongoing faith? (or saving faith and the fruit of faith). It speaks of “amendment of life” which is surely a proof of true faith (Parable of the Sower) but this does seem to have echoes of being justified (or made right with God) through our works. I would say that those who truly believe in the Gospel and are indwelled by the Holy Spirit will persevere in the faith and bear good fruit. You shall know them by their fruit Jesus said in Mt 7.
Article 7- Do you practice baptism by affusion (pouring) or immersion? I know different Mennonites have different practices. We practice believer’s baptism by immersion in the name of the Trinity.
Article 9- I was confused, do you have a tri-fold ordering of officers? We have Elders (oversight, teaching and discipleship) and Deacons (temporal needs and matters).
Article 10- I love the moral outworking of the theology of the cross (yet would still question “His precious blood—for the whole human race” see what I shared above. I would understand such verses in light of the others to mean, “so that…”).
Article 11- I applaud the spirit of humility in this article and the picture of true washing by Christ’s blood, however, is there really justifiable evidence that foot-washing is an ordinance? Does it merit a whole article? Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are quite emphatically put forward as signs of the New Covenant. Is not the main point of Jesus’ footwashing the principle of humility and service?
Article 14- This is certainly a noble belief and I have the utmost respect for those who carry it out. But is it not to confuse the future peace we will know with the present where sin reigns? Surely in Mt 6 Jesus is speaking of personal insult and not personal harm. I would allow suffering injury for the sake of the Gospel but, the justness or injustice of wars aside, what man would not protect his wife and children from a murderer or thief? Jesus even commanded his disciples to carry swords for legitimate cases of self-defence (Lk 22:36). The 10 Commandments speak of “thou shall not murder” not “kill.” In rare occasions I would see defence as a reasonable use of force.
Article 15- I agree with this interpretation of Mt 5, however, why make it a major statement of faith? May it not be a remnant of an important issue in the 1500s and not so much an issue today?
Article 16 and 17 (which are similar)- Likewise, I am a believer in what we would call church discipline (as a believers’ church), rightly dismissing members who persist in erring in doctrine or practice and do not show repentance after brothers seek to reach him (Matt 18:15–20). Likewise it is for their amendment and not their ruin. However, I wonder about the language of “sin unto death.” If they truly repent and show they were genuine believers do they really lose their salvation only to regain it or grieve the spirit whilst in rebellion and loose visible assurance? Also “have nothing to do with them” must be taken in its various contexts. Certainly we should avoid divisive people (Tit 3) and even apostates, yet wouldn’t to treat the average backslider like “tax collectors and sinners” mean we cannot have fellowship with them but that we treat them with mercy and try to convert them? What in practice would shunning look like?
Article 18- I agree wholeheartedly with what is stated here, the Resurrection, etc, yet even though Scripture speaks of being judged based upon our deeds, does it not go still further and speak of our faith, or what we have done with Jesus (Ro 14:23; Heb 11:6; Jn 12:48)?
Aside from many smaller questions the biggest question that I am not clear on, and what I would deem as the most important, is “What is the Gospel” and “what is true faith?” Likewise, what is the relationship of faith and works? If you could help me understand these I would be grateful.
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