Anybody can claim to be anything. Examples of this can readily be found on the internet. For instance, on occasion, men dressed as decorated war heroes are revealed to have never served in the military. While such behavior is problematic, I would say, that the trouble is even more pronounced in the realm of Christianity.
Jesus tells us in the Bible that the wheat and chaff will grow together and will not be separated until the harvest (Matt. 13:24-30. The chaff is recognizable to those who work the land, but it is easier to harvest everything together and then sift out what is undesirable. However, to someone who is less knowledgeable about farming, the wheat and chaff will appear rather similar. In the same way, there are scores of people claiming to be Christians who, quite simply, are not.
Now, before you go into spasms, contort your face, and call me judgmental, think carefully about my claim. Polls will tell you that more than 70% of Americans are Christians. But, seriously, as you look around to your left and right and across the spectrum of our society, do you sense that 7 out of 10 people are followers of Jesus Christ? Do 7 out of the 10 people you run into act and speak as if they have a relationship with Jesus Christ that informs the way they live. I am not talking about perfection, not at all. Indeed, followers of Christ stumble and fall all the time. Still, I do believe that a true follower of Christ, even in the midst of stumbling, has Christ as his or her goal and will continue to move in a Christ-oriented direction.
Remember, chaff and wheat are similar in appearance. However, only one is acceptable to the farmer. In the same way, a follower of Jesus Christ and someone who simply claims the title of Christian for the purpose of a survey will appear similar in many ways. But, I would say that there are differences that may be noticeable. After all, we should bear fruit according to what we believe.
Now, let me make certain one thing is clear: the laborers can notice that something is amiss, but it is only at the harvest that judgment takes place. In other words, I may have a hunch that a lot of people who claim to be Christian for cultural reasons are not, in fact, followers of Jesus Christ. But, Jesus says to let the wheat and chaff grow together until the time of harvest. There will indeed be a time of sifting at the judgment, but that is not for me.
So, why do I write this? Is this all just a rant? Possibly. I am certainly not above that. A nice rant feels good from time to time. But, I do not feel that this is a rant. Instead, this is a warning to all those in the body of Christ that take comfort in the idea that 70% or more of Americans are Christian. I believe that number has far more to do with people being “cultural Christians” than being any kind of a true indicator of the beliefs of our fellow Americans. As the “nones” and other religious or irreligious demographics grow, I feel that the 70% figure will begin to dramatically decrease. Simply put, nonreligious people that presently claim to be Christian will feel more comfortable identifying as such. Historically, when Constantine came to power over the Roman Empire, approximately 10% of the population was Christian (and I am quite convinced they were true believers). After Constantine made Christianity legal and identified himself with the faith, the number of Christians in the empire exploded. Suddenly, Christianity was culturally valuable. But, what happens when the tide turns? I believe that people will bail out and much of the chaff will voluntarily remove itself.
The consequence of this is that Christians should not sit around on their hands, but instead should actively engage the world around us. Invite folks to church, have a home Bible study and ask neighbors or friends if they would like to attend, get engaged in the religious upbringing of your children or grandchildren, the options are manifold. In short, as followers of Christ, we should be actively engaged in carrying out the great commission to preach the gospel to the world.