commentary: How Little They Know
Biblical Ignorance Is Rampant
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 07-May-11; Sermon #1046c; 12 minutes
John Ritenbaugh, analyzing two articles about the current state of religion in the United States (one from George Barna and the other from a disgruntled Protestant who converted to Roman Catholicism), expresses alarm that universalism, pluralism, and multiculturalism have made significant inroads into mainstream 'Christianity,' indicating that most Protestants or Catholics are not only woefully unaware of their own doctrines, but totally ignorant about the things of God and biblical truth. Consequently, they have no intention of giving God the time of day nor will they do what He says. Americans, though they call themselves citizens of a 'Christian nation,' they show disrespect for God, having no intention of conforming to His directives or coming to know Him, seeking instead to use religion as a cheap emotional outlet. We must escape the influence of our defective culture, sacrificing our time in Bible study and meditation, actively coming to know God, and doing what we already know to do.
With this commentary, I step from the world of politics and economics into the world of religion. And I'm doing this in order to explore two articles that passed across my desk in the past two weeks. Both articles show how abysmally low Americans' knowledge of biblical truth is. It's kind of embarrassing.
The first article is titled, "What Americans Believe About Universalism and Pluralism." The article is a report on a survey of these subjects. It was made by George Barna. You may not recognize that name, but Mr. Barna is the "Gallup Poll" authority for the world of Religion.
The second article was taken from Christianity Today. It is titled, "Why I Left Protestantism for Catholicism." It was authored by one Jeffrey A. Tucker. Mr. Tucker was reared by his family in the Baptist faith. Then, as a young man, he converted to Presbyterianism, and then as an older adult, he converted to Catholicism.
Broadly defined, "universalism" is the belief that all human beings will be saved after death.
One question on that survey asked this: "Do you agree or disagree that it doesn't matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same things?" Remember, this was asked of Americans. 43% agreed with that statement. 54% disagreed.
Another question asked if "all people will experience the same outcome after death, regardless of the religious beliefs?" Just a little twist on that first question. 43% agreed. 55% disagreed.
A third question: "All people are eventually saved or accepted by God, no matter what they do because He loves all people He has created." 40% of Americans agreed. 50% disagreed.
As you might have gathered from these statistics, the larger percentage of American people came down on the correct—"disagreed"—side of the questions asked. But my concern is why they did not overwhelmingly disagree with those propositions if they are truly Christian?
The other part of that survey was on pluralism. "Pluralism" is a condition in a society in which numerous ethnic, religious and cultural groups coexist. This is exactly the condition that exists in America. America is often referred to as a melting pot, and the melting pot metaphor suggests pluralism.
Barna's poll questions were only concerned with religious pluralism. His questions focused on whether Americans believe it was okay to attempt to convert others from groups beyond their own. 51% of Americans believe they have a responsibility to tell others of their religious beliefs.
When everything was said and done on this portion of the survey, 59% of Americans believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God, even though they have different names. 43% of Americans believe the Bible, the Koran, and the Book of Mormon are different expressions of the same truths.
Back to Mr. Tucker. His article was thoughtful and unusually well-written. It certainly was not an emotional rant by any stretch of the imagination. It almost read as though he was choosing between vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Religion, by contrast, tends to be an emotionally charged subject.
What struck me regarding both articles is that doctrine—the teachings of the respective religious organizations—carried little weight. This led me to conclude that the reason for this is because the American people—supposedly a "Christian" nation—know so little about what the Bible actually teaches.
If Mr. Tucker's article is an example as to why this condition exists, it's pretty clear that the specifics of what a church teaches aren't very important to those "seeking" God. He was more concerned about the Catholic Church's long history than what it teaches or did in that long history. To him, the Catholic Church's long historical continuity as "Christian" was more important in comparison with Protestantism than what either group taught. To him, just as the survey showed, the doctrines did not matter. The doctrines, according to him, all taught the same thing—that is, comparing Protestantism and Catholicism. Brethren, they do not! There are wide divergences of opinion and concepts between the two—so wide, those people were willing to go to war against one another. But that's not the way it is now.
To me, both of these articles were highly disrespectful of God. Consider this: We are surrounded by an awesome—and I mean an awesome creation—that is witnessing of the intellect, the loving concern, and the power of the Creator. This witness is a major reason why God says that people are without excuse. Yet people, despite the infinite detail of what He has made, believe that He has no specific purpose and plan for the lives of those made in His image and living on it. My emphasis here is on the term "specific." And so people opine that everybody will be saved regardless of how they live their lives.
Whose opinions are they conforming to? Who are the opinion makers, regardless of their relative immorality? It matters not whether these people—to the average American—are Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or hundreds of so-called "Christian" teachers.
Now, what is the problem? Well, there must be at least a dozen major ones, but there are two obvious ones that stand out to me. One is the overwhelming majority of American people will not give God the time of day. They go to services at Easter and Christmas. What do they do the other 363 days, is what I'm asking or saying by this statement.
The second problem is that when they do give Him some time, they resolutely refuse to take seriously what He says.
These two generalities are a devastating one-two punch against the knowledge of God. Jesus said in John 17:3 that eternal life is to know God. These people say they are going to heaven. They're saying that they already have eternal life—it's guaranteed. "God's going to save everybody." Eternal life, though, Jesus said, is to know God. In order for this to occur, God must be given time and attention, or they will never come to know Him. That truth is not complex.
Paul confirms this in Romans 10:2-3:
Romans 10:2-3 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. [It's all emotional.] For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
This indictment is not complex either. This is for you and me. We can easily become victims of this Israelitish weakness. Brethren, we live here. We are immersed in this national attitude toward God. Seeking God requires time that Americans are unwilling to give Him.
There is one solution: We must sacrifice time and to study and meditate on God's word, and it must occupy second place in our priority list, behind only one other priority. And that is that we are already doing what we know.