By Hans Zeiger
There seems to be a proliferation of television ads for Viagra, Cialis, and the other mass-market impotence drugs. There are nearly three times as many Google hits for "Viagra" as for "George Bush." Then there is the most frequently deleted spam title from my email box, something about potions that one can order online to restore vitality. I suppose with the market as it is, Bob Dole's crusade against E.D. is moving toward a victorious end. Yet the question remains, what about the vitality of the soul?
It is a question neglected by an age that wants to feel good in the flesh, but has systematically and painstakingly ignored the overwhelming questions about the spirit. The greatest plague of our time is a drastic spiritual impotence that we might say requires a heavy dose of spiritual Viagra.
It seems that the church would be the source of America's strength, but a new survey shows that a smaller proportion of Americans are going to church than ever before.
According to the Barna Group, the number of American adults who do not attend church has doubled from 39 million to 75 million in the past 13 years, despite a 15 percent rise in the American population. While 21 percent of adults never attended church during a six-month period (with the exception of weddings, funerals, Christmas, or Easter) in 1991, 34 percent are un-churched today.
Churches have particularly alienated men. 55 percent of the un-churched are men. And only 38 percent of Americans who consider themselves "born again" are men. 9 million American men use Viagra. Fewer men have joined churches in the past decade combined.
The un-churched are radical individualists. According to the pollster George Barna, they are less likely to vote, contribute financially to non-profit organizations, or become involved in community activities. Nearly 40 percent of the un-churched are single, never-married adults, compared to 26 percent of the general adult population.
The un-churched are also younger, at 38, than the median age of Americans, 43. Combining the Barna information on age and gender, church demographics are seriously lacking in young and middle-aged men. The face of the American church in 2004 is the elderly woman.
The sissification of the American church has been occurring for over a century now. The release of the Barna survey coincided appropriately with my reading of J. Gresham Machen's 1923 landmark treatise Christianity and Liberalism. "The greatest menace to the Christian church today comes not from the enemies outside, but from the enemies within; it comes from the presence within the Church of a type of faith and practice that is anti-Christian to the core," Machen declared.
Liberalism has so infected American churches since Machen wrote that it is now impossible to speak of churches being entirely Christian. Christianity is not dead, and in fact cannot be. Christianity is dependent on grace that transcends the weakness of humanity. But churches, which can be either churches of God or churches of man, have too often chosen the latter course and find themselves dying.
The reason that so few Americans attend church is that so few churches are Christian. Liberal pastors speak much of unity and peace and social justice and harmony and the like. The human condition and the Cross are seldom preached in many churches. And if the claim seems too vague, I will name names (generally speaking): Presbyterian Church USA, United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and the Episcopal Church USA, to name a few.
The decline of the American church is reason enough to despair about the future of America.
Yet there are some signs of hope amongst young Christians. I spent last week on the shores of Lake Huron with hundreds of fellow college students at an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship conference. There seems to be a newfound passion and drive amongst young Christians for evangelism and Biblical doctrine, a theme I will further explore in an upcoming column.
Whatever the trends, the key to our national survival is clear: a new generation of American Christians must seek the grace of God for the renewal of America's religious and cultural foundations.