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Living a Public Faith

We live in a culture where “personal” faith is synonymous with “private” faith. As long as you keep your religion to yourself, you’ll be just fine, or so people tell us. As long as churches keep their activities confined within the four walls of their buildings, life can go on in peace. But what if Jesus, the One in whom many claim to believe, doesn’t call us to have a private faith? A personal faith means we personally believe in the Person who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, including our own (John 1:29). A private faith means there is no place for what I believe to enter the public arena. It appears this is the faith preached by the clergy of our culture.

In the book, The Day America Told the Truth, authors Patterson and Kim surveyed Americans on the relevance of their religious belief. In a chapter entitled, “Who Really Believes in God Today,” they wrote:

What is going on in congregations, parishes, and synagogues across America? The news is good—and bad. God is alive and very well. But right now in America, fewer people are listening to what God has to say than ever before.

Ninety percent of the people we questioned said that they truly believe in God. It would be the logical conclusion then to think that God is a meaningful factor in today’s America. But we reached a different conclusion when we dug deeper with our questions.

In every single region of the country, when we asked how people make up their minds on issues of right and wrong, we found that they simply do not turn to God or religion to help them decide about the seminal or moral issues of the day.

For most people, religion plays virtually no role in shaping their opinions on a long list of important public questions. This is true even for questions that seem closely related to religion: birth control, abortion, even teaching creationism and the role of women in the clergy.

On not one of those questions did a majority of people seek the guidance of religion in finding answers. Most people do not even know their church’s position on the important issues….

Only one American in five ever consults a minister, a priest or a rabbi on everyday issues. Half of us haven’t been to a religious service for a minimum of three months. One in three haven’t been to a religious service for more than a year. More than half of us (58%) went to services regularly while growing up, but less than half of those (27%) do so today.

Yes, indeed, many claim to believe in God, but few draw the connection between faith and how we view and live within the world. Is it any wonder, then, how this privatization of faith has impacted our churches today? Charles Colson described this when he wrote:

People flit about in search of what suits their taste at the moment. It’s what some have called the “McChurch” mentality. Today it might be McDonald’s for a Big Mac; tomorrow it’s Wendy’s salad bar; or perhaps the wonderful chicken sandwiches at Chick-fil-A…. Spiritual consumers are interested not in what the church stands for but in the fulfillment it can deliver…. The result is an age of mix’em, match’em, salad bar spirituality (The Body, 42-43).

It’s time for those of us who profess personal faith in Jesus Christ to live that faith in the public arena. According to surveys, the number one reason given by young adults who have left church after high school is not because of the preaching, programming or even the music. The number one reason young adults leave the church after high school is because they didn’t see that believing in Jesus made any difference in their parents’ lives. Do you have a personal faith in Jesus? Maybe it’s time to take your personal faith and go public (James 2:15-17).