"Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37, 38, KJV).
o you have an absolute certain belief in God? Do you have a deep and personal relationship with God? Is the Bible the expressed Word of God? Should it be interpreted literally? Are your religious beliefs and practices an essential part of your everyday life?
These questions are just a few of the benchmarks that characterize the religious landscape in the United States, according to a landmark study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released in February. Researchers for the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey questioned more than 35,000 people
in the United States. Though the survey included a wide range of religious traditions such as Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and other religious traditions, nearly 80 percent of the sample were Christian, including 135 Seventh-day Adventists. The study even included atheists and agnostics.
Newly released findings from the groundbreaking report show that most Americans are not dogmatic about their religious beliefs. Many don’t believe that their tradition is the exclusive path to salvation and eternal life, or that there’s one correct way to interpret the tenets of their tradition.
While it’s expected that adherents of different world religions will hold differing views about God, Holy Scripture, and the afterlife, I noticed the wide range of views within the Christian community. For example, while the nearly 100 percent of the Christian sample believed in God, 21 percent of Protestants, 33 percent of Catholics, and 38 percent of Orthodox members were not absolutely certain about their beliefs or did not believe in God at all.
Among those who were certain about their belief in God, only 65 percent of Protestants, 48 percent of Catholics, and 43 percent of Orthodox Christians believed in a personal God who interacted in human lives every day. The others believed in an impersonal God or universal spirit force.
When asked about the authority of the Holy Scriptures, only 77 percent of Protestants, 62 percent of Catholics, and 59 percent of Orthodox Christians believed that the Bible is the Word of God. For others, the Bible was written by man and is not the Word of God.
On the subject of life after death, only 62 percent of Protestants were absolutely certain about an afterlife and fewer than half of Catholics and Orthodox Christians (45 percent and 47 percent respectively) held similar views.
Regarding the topics of heaven and hell there was greater unanimity of belief. Eighty-four percent of Protestants, 82 percent of Catholics, and 74 percent of Orthodox Christians believed in heaven. Only 46 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses believed in heaven. At the same time, 73 percent of Protestants, 60 percent of Catholics, and 56 percent of Orthodox Christians believed in the concept of hell. Only 9 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses believed in hell.
As I viewed the findings, I’m struck by the fact that so many Christians are not settled into their beliefs. There are many Christians who believe there are several pathways to salvation and many valid methods of interpreting Holy Scripture.
Implicit in the findings is the dire need for more earnest Bible study. Only through consistent study of God’s Word will Christians nurture an assurance of salvation and a clearer understanding of this world’s future.
The findings, while troubling, also offer an opportunity for Adventists. The study shows that there are thousands of people who may be receptive to the hope and assurance that the Adventist message offers. Here’s more evidence that there’s a harvest of souls ready for reaping.
Carlos Medley is online editor for the Adventist Review.