When the Barna Group calls us to Meet Those Who “Love Jesus but Not the Church,” they might as well include leprechauns, elves, and temporary tax hikes.
Because there’s no such thing.
Why does Barna Group imagine they do exist? Because: proof! What proof? Cryptozoology fans offer as proofs! grainy photographs and fourteenth-hand eyewitness stories. The Barna organization holds out polls. This latest specimen lauds these elusive creatures as “fascinating” (why? how? to whom?). We’re told that 89% of folks who self-report as having “made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important to their life today” have not been to church for at least six months. (For the sake of this discussion, I take this to be a voluntary absence—not, for instance, due to hospitalization or a secret trip to Mars.)
This tiny but inflating minority has distended by 3% since 2004. Nearly 2/3 are women, versus 2/5 men. Were this a competition, the combined Gen-Xers/Boomers count of 80% would beat the millennials’ 14% handily – winning what, one wonders? Perhaps an “F.” (For fascinating, remember.)
“Despite leaving the church,” Barna labels them as maintaining a “robustly (!) orthodox view of God” – defined as believing in only one God (93%), seeing Him as the omnipresent (95%), “all-powerful, all- knowing, perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today” (94%).
A bare 18% talk often with others about “spiritual matters,” while 34% do so “rarely” or “never.” Unsurprisingly, only 28% affirm any obligation to evangelize.
The Barna Group’s editor-in-chief, Roxanne Stone, insists that they “still love Jesus, still believe in Scripture,” but do not attend church because “they can find God elsewhere or…church is not personally relevant to them.” She feels that the “critical message that churches need to offer this group is a reason for churches to exist at all.” Stone asks, “What is it that the church can offer their faith that they can’t get on their own?”
So do they do anything? Though Stone said they “still believe in Scripture,” only 26% read Scripture much. Yet more than eight out of ten pray! (Not having read Proverbs 28:9, one presumes.)
Oh boy. Where to begin?
Let’s start here: Won’t Barna’s definition of orthodoxy mean that we must label Satan as “robustly orthodox”? No? Why not? Satan knows all the truths Barna’s Jesus-loving/church-rejecting sorts know. In fact, Satan’s legions find those truths very deeply moving (James 2:19b). Satan knows there is one God, knows of God’s power and wisdom – and, like Barna’s faith-fairies, Satan talks to God (cf. Job 1:9, etc.).
What’s missing here? A lot. Fundamentally, what is missing is a Biblical understanding of faith. The Barna definition seems to think that faith is defined as the maintaining of an opinion – which, given Barna’s title, also defines love.
Does Barna’s definition harmonize with the Biblical description of faith, or of love? Beyond a rational doubt, it does not. To single out just two anvil-blows:
James 2:17 — So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
John 14:15 — “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
The kind of faith that saves is a faith that produces obedience. Genuine love leads to keeping God’s commandments.
The modern perversions of faith amount to believing “in” Jesus without actually believing Jesus. That is, we adopt a few opinions about Him (He’s the Son of God, He died for our sins, He rose from the dead; check, check, and check) – but there’s no impact on our worldview and life. This is not “robust orthodoxy,” and it is not the Gospel. The Gospel is a world-tilting message which, if we genuinely believe it, literally changes everything for us.
One problem is that many define faith at variance with the Biblical meaning. To us (as seen in the Barna poll), faith is simply holding an opinion. While that is a necessary element of faith, it is only one part. Biblical faith involves:
- Recognizing the facts as God’s Word presents them.
- Realizing that those facts are true, and that we need them.
- Resting on those facts, entrusting myself to them in a transformative way.
So I see a boat, and recognize it as a boat. Great – but still no relationship to the boat. I must also realize what it does, and that it would hold me if I got in. Am I done now? In no way: I must rest myself within that boat.
And when that happens, if the boat leaves the shore, so do I.
So: Can you be a Christian without calling on Jesus as divine “Lord”? Absolutely not (cf. Romans 10:9). If we believe that He is Lord, will that faith produce works, action, follow-through in our lives? Absolutely yes: Jesus asks, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). If the claim to faith does not produce obedience, it is meaningless – according to Jesus. Jesus should matter here, right?
I am here assuming as proven that church involvement is necessary if one believes and obeys Jesus. My target in this post is establishing the more fundamental truth that believing Jesus is fundamental to being a Christian, and that Biblically-understood faith issues in obedience. Of course, obeying Jesus will necessarily mean that we will be personally involved in a faithfully Bible-teaching local church, as I’ve shown at length elsewhere and often. I have never yet seen an attempt to dodge this obvious truth that did not reek of selfish, unteachable, blind arrogance, coupled with an accountability-averse unwillingness to obey the clear sense of such of Christ’s commands as Hebrews 13:17.
In closing: What is the actual percentage of those who love Jesus, but choose not to become involved in a local church? The question is phrased wrongly. Here’s the real question: How many love Jesus, but do not believe Him enough to be persuaded to obey Him, resulting in local church involvement?
After polling Jesus, above, we have our answer: