Do you return missionaries remember what it was like to encounter ardent evangelicals and their closely allied believers, Born Again Christians? I do. They were good people alright, good people like those you find in any LDS church house on a Sunday morning, yet I could not understand why they so firmly accepted a doctrine of salvation rooted in simply affirming acceptance of Christ. No matter how many times I quoted the familiar phrase, faith without works is dead, they downplayed the importance of works, claiming instead that we are saved by faith and grace, not by works.
Downplaying the importance of works was bound to have ramifications on behavior, and it is. Recent polls indicate that the “saved by grace, not by works” chickens are coming home to roost (to borrow a phrase from Obama’s former minister, Reverend Wright).
Consider, for example, that evangelical pollster George Barna found that Born Again Christians are more likely to divorce, and University of Texas researcher Mark Regnerus found that evangelical adolescents who believe in abstaining from premarital sex are more like to be sexually active at an earlier age than Mormons, mainline protestants, and Jews. Are these the sort of polling results we would expect to find among believers who are continually reminded that salvation is largely about faith and not works? Perhaps. Author Ronald Sider calls it the “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience”. In his book by the same name, he asserts that “By their daily activity, most Christians regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is their Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate their allegiance to money, sex, and personal [self-gratification].”
This sort of treason is present in all Christian churches, but why is it increasingly becoming a concern among evangelical and born again churches? Perhaps the “saved by grace, not by works” doctrine is sending an unintended message, that it is okay to sin a little as long as you accept Jesus as Lord. Is this doctrine and its accompanying laissez-faire attitude toward works, particularly works of a sinful nature, contributing to the hypocrisy that is pushing people like Anne Rice out of organized religion?
Finally, changing doctrine away from traditional Christian teachings is also contributing to defections from organized religion. Consider that in 2009 the American Evangelical Lutheran Church voted to remove the celibacy requirement for gay ministers, a vote which opened the door for openly homosexual Lutheran ministers. In the same year (2009), the Lutheran Church lost almost 91,000 members or 48 congregations, largely due to the aforementioned vote.
Like Forrest Gump, I wish I could end by saying, “That’s all I have to say about that.” Yet this sort of post demands a closing comment. I used to think that it is better for someone to be in a mosque, church, temple, or synagogue on a Sunday morning than at home watching football; now I am not so sure. If I had to choose between someone being at church listening to an openly homosexual minister downplaying the importance of good works in obtaining salvation, or being at home on a Sunday morning, I might chose being at home (reading scriptures and good books instead of watching football ;)