(Paul Thompson blogs at theBridge and offered this take on recent Lifeway research. Thank you, Paul.)
On December 7, 2011, LifeWay Research released results of a recent survey on the Perceptions of Faith Groups. I would like to express concerns about some of the underlying assumptions behind the survey.
I realize any fool can throw a rock. It was Charles Spurgeon who said, “asking questions are as easy as kissing the back of your hand; to answer them is as hard as fattening a greyhound.” It is my attempt here, to fatten the greyhound.
It does not surprise me that the findings of Ed Stetzer are statistically accurate. Yet as a pastor in a Southern Baptist Church, I would be disappointed if Southern Baptists were considered more favorable by Americans than Methodist. The survey needs to better define some terms for me. I want to know what LifeWay Research means when they use the word ‘American.’ Is this secular America? Is this pagan America? Is this conservative America? Is this a Spirit-led, Bible-believing, God-fearing America? You see, if it is secular, godless, institutionalized America, then I fear that the intention behind the survey and the results themselves will deceive many. Pastors who are slaves to popularity trends and in bondage to cultural acceptance will read the findings of this survey and willingly enslave their passions to a master who demands his servant’s obedience. In a day where much of the Church in America are mesmerized by emotionalism or in some sort of zombie (unliving) hypnotic trance of the corporate model for church structure, this survey will only ensure that tragic condition remains the norm. Then another survey will need to be done in about eight years to show how Mormons and Muslims are considered more favorable than Southern Baptist. We may be closer to that reality than not, even today.
When David sinned against the Lord by numbering his military strength (1 Chronicles 21), he was given the opportunity to choose one of three consequences. He told Gad to tell God he was “in great distress.” David understood the character of God enough that he would rather “fall into the hand of the LORD” and pleaded that God not let him “fall into the hand of man” because “His mercies are very great.” The intent behind this survey reminded me of David’s census.
Further, there is no badge of honor if we as Christians – much less Southern Baptists – rate lower than others if we own that place among the godly. If we own that place because we are stiff-necked and out of sorts with biblical rightness, we must not blindly take pride in our “unpopular” position among those who chase hard after God.
Baptists – and Methodists, Presbyterians, Non-denominationalists – Carry the Gospel banner! It will be viewed as either foolishness or salvation depending on the ear. It may not be popular, but it is as needed, just as it always has been and always will be. To establish a rescue mission within the yard of Hell, you will need a Gospel banner – Not a popular slogan that feeds the idolatrous bent of man to worship himself.
I have two pleas for LifeWay Research:
1. Give us resources that unapologetically equip saints for the duty of carrying the Gospel banner to all nations. Make it all about the Gospel, yes, the offensive Gospel. The one where the gates of Hell cannot stand against, and the one that inflames the Enemy’s passions . A popular gospel tickles the ears and damns the soul for eternity.
2.Employ great discernment when publishing survey results. I am thankful to God for the heritage I have in the decades of Spirit-led, Bible-believing, God-fearing churchmen, known to the world as Southern Baptists. Not because they were Southern Baptists, but because they loved obeying God rather than pursuing friendship and popularity with the world.
Oh Southern Baptists, let us repent and choose the same as David. For God’s mercies are very great! Fear not the polls of man. It was C.S. Lewis who said, “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” The road paved with surveys will crumble when the Maker of Heaven and Earth shakes your opinion. Read surveys like this with extreme caution. Get to the right road soonest. Don’t let your heart be troubled when man thinks less of you than you wish. Rather, lift up your heads for there your “redeemer liveth, and on the earth again shall stand.”