The recent Australian census results have revealed that fewer Australians than ever before have stated that they are religious. How should the Christian Church take that message? A slap in the face? A challenge? A cause for reflection? A sign of the times?
Probably all of these.
The church has been “on the nose” for a while. Abuse of children, high-profile pastors abusing their position and other bad press have all been on a steadily growing the list of Christless behaviour.
However, in all this, we should not lose sight of the faithful adherence to the gospel and its calling by many who have quietly, worshipped God, cared for, served and loved their neighbour as an outworking of their faith in Christ – people who have faithfully served and loved despite the appalling behaviour of some.
However, that doesn’t mean there is not much to repent of and seek forgiveness for.
For many decades, if not centuries, church adherence has been tribal. As Michael Jensen pointed out in a recent article (https://tinyurl.com/y93hc8pa) different tribes belonged to different churches. Scots were Presbyterian, and Irish, Catholic and so on. This demise is not something to cry about. It was too often more about a culture and ethnicity, than Christ. Today we see something similar in the US with belief and politics morphed in a very unholy collaboration. A return to a church that is fundamentally anchored in Scripture is to be encouraged and applauded.
Also, Barny Zwartz points out in The Age,(July 10th) ( https://tinyurl.com/4rnuxjww ) “We don’t yet have full figures for the 2021 Census, but in 2011, when 6 million Australians claimed no religion, only 59,000 identified as atheists. There were more Jedi knights.” The point is that people are reluctant to disavow a belief in the existence of a higher being yet they have, as Michael Jensen points out, opted out of the club the family may have belonged to in the past.
Zwartz also compares the census data with the National Church Life Survey, “Research by the National Church Life Survey shows that by far the most hostility to Christianity comes from people aged 50 to 65 – as director Dr Ruth Powell observes, the people who hold the microphones right now. NCLS research suggests that only 21 percent of Australians go to church at least once a month – but that figure rises to 32 percent among 18 to 35-year-olds.” There are points of light and hope in these figures.
The census is, however, a cause for reflection. What does it mean to be church in C21st Australia? How do we reflect Christ and His Kingdom in a winsome way? How do we represent God and the gospel in a way that encourages Australians to think beyond the tribal connections of the past and to reflect on the true meaning of life in a way that honours the God of eternity? Also, how do we repent genuinely, for the poor behaviour of the few who have dishonoured the name of Christ so publicly, while acknowledging humbly that none of us live as Christ calls us to live?
This is a challenge. How do we convince people they are spiritual beings with a soul as well as a body and that in this life, and the next, there is a God who desires the best for them and calls them into a relationship with Him?