Ligonier Ministry’s 2020 State of Theology report highlighted a disturbing statistic: 30% of U.S. evangelicals agreed with the statement “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” I found this alarming because such a belief is not even Christian, let alone evangelical! Even more disturbing is that the report defines “evangelical” not by how they self-identify but by their evangelical beliefs, which includes biblical authority, the need for evangelism, and the centrality of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Ninety-six percent of this same group of U.S. evangelical respondents affirm the doctrine of the Trinity. Yet a staggering 65% agreed that “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God,” which is an ancient heresy that contradicts the Trinity. How could evangelicals be so confused about such fundamentally basic Christian beliefs? Were their churches’ discipleship programs so poor? Or were they discipled more by the internet?
Speaking of the internet, recently leaked internal Facebook documents revealed that 19 of Facebook’s top 20 pages for American Christians in 2019 were run not by Christians, but by Eastern European troll farms. Collectively, these fake Christian Facebook pages reach about 75 million users per month. Thanks to Facebook’s algorithms, these fakes have a larger reach than any genuine Christian Facebook page. That cannot be good. Are Christians being influenced more by their social media feed than by their churches?
U.S. church attendance has declined across all faith traditions. A recent Faith Communities Today survey found a median decline in attendance of 7% between 2015 and 2020. Evangelical churches declined at 5.4% over the same five-year period. The Christian Reformed Church in North America faced a net membership loss of 1,741 members in 2020. And Canadian Christians and churches are not immune from any of these trends.
These facts are only a few in a long list of social ills, conflicts, and challenges God’s people have faced these past few years. We can look at all of this and despair. We can be afraid for the church’s future. We can be afraid for our own denomination’s future. Maybe some of us have suffered deep losses this past year. Maybe we don’t feel like celebrating Christmas.
But I was reminded recently of God’s promise in Isaiah 43:1b-2a: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” Note that God did not promise that we will avoid the dangerous waters, but that he will be with us as we pass through the waters. We might be going through difficult times, but God has not abandoned us. Christ is Immanuel, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).
At Christmas, we remember that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5, NRSV). Even the light from a flickering candle cannot be shrouded by darkness. Even death cannot snuff out the light of Christ. God’s resurrection power gives me hope. Therefore, let us take courage. But let us also grow deeper in our Christian faith and wiser in navigating the world.
Let me end by giving thanks to God for a good year for The Banner. This year, we won best denominational magazine awards from the Evangelical Press Association and the Associated Church Press. Our overall monthly reach metrics (print and online) have grown by 10,000 readers over the past fiscal year. Our revenues (advertising and fundraising) have also increased. And we have again surpassed $400,000 in donations. Thank you so much for all your support! Soli Deo Gloria.