Most of us know the difference between The Christian Church and the local church. One is spiritual, and the other is physical. When COVID hit last year, I heard many Christians appeal to the Church as an excuse to abandon their church – because the “Church is not a building.” However, the local church has been, is, and always will be vital to not only the life of a Christian, but to the health of the nation.
Statistics on churches in America
- In 2018 – About 70% of Americans profess to be Christians – down from 80% over the past decade
- “No religion” increased from 13% in 2010 to 21% in 2020.
- In 2020, church/synagogue/mosque MEMBERSHIP dropped below 50% for the first time since polling began in 1937 – when membership was 74%.
- 66% of Americans born before 1946 belong to a church, only 58% of baby boomers do. Meanwhile, membership for Generation X is 50%, and just 36% for millennials. Gen Z on the same path
- 24% of Americans attend church weekly. 20% attend “almost every week” or once a month. 25% attend seldom, and 29% of Americans never attend church.
The data show that Christian identification, and church membership and attendance are all in decline. I would argue that there is a correlation between church attendance and social morality – as church attendance decreases, social morality decreases.
I think there is a general feeling that society is less moral, but how do we quantify that?
- Oral drug tests increased 47% between 2011 and 2014
- Heroin use tripled from 2003 to 2014
- Per the CDC, 2020 had the highest ever number of drug overdose deaths over a 12-month period.
Suicide rates are skyrocketing, especially among teens. There has been a 34% increase among boys, and an 80% increase among girls since 2009.
- LGBT+ identification has GREATLY increased, from 3.8% of Gen X to 15.9% of Gen Z.
- Over 55% of American teenagers have had sex before 18, the highest number since 1998.
- Views on “acceptability” of pornography have also changed. The percentage of Americans who find pornography acceptable has increased from 30% in 2011 to 36% in 2017 to 43% in 2018.
It certainly seems as though morality is decreasing as church attendance is decreasing. The importance of local church as a means to thwart social immorality cannot be understated.
Principle of First Mention
The first mention of the word, “church” is found in Matthew 16:18, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
It is a common misconception that “this rock” is referring to Peter. It is not. In fact, Catholics use this to “prove” that Peter was the first Pope of the “universal” (Catholic) church. However, it is referring to Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2 refers to Christ as the “stone,” “corner stone,” and “rock” upon which the spiritual Church is built.
We know this is the spiritual Church. Many local churches have opened and closed – the “gates of hell” have prevailed against the local church many times through financial difficulties, immorality, church splits, and lockdowns. The Church is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:24).
The early Church began in Acts 2 after the ascension of Christ, when the Holy Spirit entered the disciples as tongues of fire and rushing wind. Local churches were established by the disciples and by Paul on his mission trips (the epistles).
Early Church persecution
From the earliest days of the Church, our Christian forefathers were attacked physically and doctrinally.
Physical Attack – Martyrs
- Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death (Acts 7)
- James, son of Zebedee was beheaded. So was Matthias (after being stoned), and Paul.
- Philip, Jude, Bartholemew, and Simon were crucified. Peter was crucified upside down (he said he was unworthy to be crucified like Christ). Andrew was crucified on an x shaped cross (known as “Andrew’s cross).
- Matthew was stabbed with a halberd (pole with an axe head) and Thomas was run through by a spear
- James, author of James, was beaten, stoned, and clubbed to death
- Mark was dragged until he died
- Luke was hanged on a olive tree
- John was exiled to Patmos after surviving a cauldron of burning oil. He might not have been martyred like the others, but it was not for lack of trying.
Spiritual Attack – False Doctrines
- Jewish Legalism: Pharasaical appeal to tradition over Scripture
- Gnosticism: a collection of “special knowledge” that included several heresies.
- Asceticism: the practice of punishing the body for sin; e.g. self-flaggelation.
- Docetism: the false belief that Christ did not have a physical, human body; thus, He could not have truly died on the cross.
The Baptist Trail of Blood
Some teach that what we now call “Baptists” were actually just the First Christians, mainly because of a common line of doctrines that are now considered “Baptist.” These groups had many names throughout the centuries, but their doctrine is the same. These include Messalians, Montanists, Novationists, Donatists, Paulicians, Waldenses, Albigenses, Lyonists, Arnoldites, and Anabaptists.
“Anabaptist” was actually a condescending term applied by the Roman Catholic Church for “re-baptizing,” because many were baptized as children and again as adults. The anabaptists rejected infant baptism for believer’s baptism, and were persecuted by both the Catholics and Reformed Protestants
Contrary to popular belief, Baptists are not Protestant, because they were never part of Roman Catholic Church. The first official Baptist church was led by John Smyth in Amsterdam in 1606, before he established churches in England in 1612. The first Baptist church in America was founded in 1638 in Providence, RI by Roger Williams.
Many would say that Baptist is not a denomination, but a set of “distinctives”:
- Biblical Authority (KJV is the Final Authority; 2 Tim 3:16)
- Autonomy of the Local Church (no “centralized” church; Col. 1:18)
- Priesthood of the Believers (we are all priests and ministers; 2 Peter 2:9)
- Two Ordinances (Believer’s baptism by immersion and Lord’s Supper)
- Individual Soul Liberty (it is up to each person to repent and be saved)
- Separation of Church and State (the state has no power over the church)
- Two Officers (Pastor and Deacon)
- Separation and Personal Holiness (separation from the world and living a holy lifestyle; 2 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Peter 1:16)
I personally adhere to the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) tradition.
- Independent = autonomous
- Fundamental = Bible believing
- Baptist = follow the Baptist distinctives
The American Church
There are roughly 1,200 “Christian” denominations in the United States. There are a total of about 350,000 congregations, but only 3,600 or so are IFB. There are around 29,000 “Evangelical” foreign missionaries, but only about 5,000 are sent from IFB churches.
American churches were originally founded on traditional “mainline” protestant churches – Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian etc.
Throughout Christian history, there has been a division between “low-tension” and “high-tension” churches. The tension is two-fold: tension with the outside world and tension (rules for participation) within the church.
For instance, a high-tension church would likely sing hymns and use a King James Version of the Bible because it is a way to resist compromise with culture. They would also require church membership and advocate for members to serve in the church in order to be considered in good standing within the church.
Research shows that the unsaved and new Christians seek high-tension churches, because they desire to separate from the world in which they live. However, the longer they are in church, the more they desire low-tension.
Mega churches filled with “recovering fundamentalists” and others who begin to reject “old religion” for more contemporary music, clothing, and Bible versions.
In the United States, the founding Mainline churches lowered tension, while high-tension “upstarts” took over. These “upstart” sects began with Baptist and Methodist (practically cousins), and later Catholic
Prominent Methodists include John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield. Some prominent Baptists are C.H. Spurgeon, Jack Hyles, Peter Ruckman, and Lester Roloff. Of course, the most prominent Catholics are the Popes, but historical theologians include Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, among others.
These are STILL the three largest “denominations” in American today.
There are about 51 millions Catholics, 14 million Methodists, and 34 million Baptists. However, there are significant difference amongst Baptists. The largest sect is the Southern Baptist Convention, which boasts over 16 million members, while IFB account for merely 1.5 million.
If there are 3,600 IFB congregations and 1.5M members, that is an average of 416 per church. I do not know of many with that many members sitting on the pew, which leads me to believe that either there are a lot of IFB mega churches skewing the average, or church attendance FAR under-performs membership.
This is your legacy as a Christian – a trail of blood and martyrdom, as well as legends and giants of the Faith who stood strong against false doctrines and satanic States in the face of torture and death. Persecutions are happening to our Christian brothers and sisters around the world right now in the Middle-East, China, India, and Afghanistan. This should inspire you to put on the whole armor of God and stand up against the spiritual wickedness in high places like those who came before us.
In the next installment we will delve deeper into our discussion of the Church (and the church) by examining “types” and characteristics of the ideal local church.