â€œFor it is written in the Book of Psalms: â€˜May another take his office.â€™ Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.â€
This week the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life released its annual survey of religious affiliation in the United States. As with any survey result the pundits began to make predictions, some in churchy circles rang the alarm bells.
The Study tells us that: â€œThe Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing… Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among all ages. A large majority of Americans â€“ roughly seven-in-ten â€“ continue to identify with the Christian faith. But, the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated â€“ describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or â€œnothing in particularâ€ â€“ has jumped more than six points.â€
The pundits note the decline of Christianity and are ready to sound its death knell. Christianity is irrelevant. Churchy folks, in response, try to make themselves more relevant, looking for ways to draw in the young. Some others see this as the great winnowing, the driving out of imperfect Christians leaving behind only the perfect.
These groups are missing something very important. They attempt to define adherence and faithfulness in light of relevancy and perfection. That is something Christianity is not attempting to achieve.
Living the life Jesus has called us to live makes us quite irrelevant by the worldâ€™s standards. The worldâ€™s criteriaâ€™s are never the measure of our success. In the same way, perfection is not the yardstick by which we are to measure being a good Christian for as St. Paul told the Romans: for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God. If the imperfect are to be driven out every church will be empty.
Our true measure is our willingness to mature in faith and to stand up to declare our faith in ways both big and small. Our call is to witness to what is truly relevant: Jesusâ€™ community â€“ the Church â€“ guides us to eternal life. Now thatâ€™s really what is relevant for everyone.