Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 27, 1961
NUMBER 12, PAGE 1,12

K. A. Sterling, Napa, California

Survey Has Most Protestants Vague On Church Beliefs

(The following article is quoted verbatim from the Vallejo News-Chronicle, Friday, April 21, 1961 — Author is Louis Cassels)

Washington (UPI) John and Ellen Jones are "active" church members.

They get up early every Sunday morning to bring their three children to the 9:15 family worship service at the Suburban Heights Presbyterian Church.

John was raised a Baptist, and Ellen grew up in the Episcopal Church. But they joined the Presbyterian Church when they moved into their new neighborhood, because it is close to their home, and most of their children playmates go to Sunday school there.

They have become, in their Pastor's favorite phrase, deeply "involved" in the life of their congregation. John is an usher and was chairman of the every member canvas last fall. Ellen teaches a Sunday school class, and never says no when she's asked to help with a church supper or a bake sale.

Pastor Joins Vigil

Recently one of the Jones' children was seriously injured in an accident. The pastor joined John and Ellen in their anxious vigil at the hospital. It was the first time he had had occasion to talk with them, on a deeper level than polite conversation, about life and death and the meaning of the Christian faith.

He was startled to discover that John did not believe in life after death, and that Ellen was strongly attached to the idea of reincarnation. Neither of them had more than a vague conception if the Christian teaching about resurrection and eternal life.

The Jones are not an actual couple. They are a composite of 1,000 typical American Protestant families whose religious attitudes were studied in a four year, nationwide survey initiated by the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

Depth Interviews

The survey was based on depth interviews conducted by professionally trained workers under the direction of Profs. Roy W. Fairchild of San Francisco Theological Seminary and John Charles Wynn of Colgate Rochester Divinity School. The findings just have been published by Association Press in a book entitled "Families in the Church: A Protestant Survey."

This is the most careful and comprehensive effort yet made to answer a question that long has haunted clergymen: How real and how deep is the Christian commitment of the millions of Americans who have joined churches in the postwar "religious revival?"

In the words of Profs. Fairchild and Wynn, the findings are "sobering."

The people covered by this survey were mostly young or middle-aged parents who had, in a classic American pattern, followed their .... (rest not printed, K.A.S.)

Not Casual Members

They were not casual members on the fringe of parish life. They were unusually faithful in church attendance and willing workers in all kinds of congregation activities. Many were church officers or Sunday school teachers.

In such a group, if anywhere, one would expect to find thorough knowledge and profound personal commitment to the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.

But the researchers encountered mature and articulate faith in relatively few of the persons interviewed.

The vast majority were "vague and confused about the church and its beliefs."

"Misunderstandings about the distinctiveness of Christianity were rife," the authors report. "For many, if not most, the Christian faith was either co-incidental with moralism, or else about the same as communion with nature."

Many equated Christianity with "the American way of life." And there was a prevalent view that it is important to "have faith" but that it doesn't matter much in what or in whom.

A large majority looked upon the church as "a building with an employed staff and a scheduled program... engaged in the same basic business as other character-building agencies." Some said they joined the church because they wanted "a sense of belonging," or wanted to get their children into wholesome activities. Others gave their time and effort to the church in the civic-minded belief that it was "a good thing for a community to have — like substantial banks, swim clubs or a city dump."

Education Needed

The authors summed up the lesson of the survey in one sentence:

I am afraid that we don't even need a survey to answer this question But notice also that this survey indicated that:

"It graphically showed how much additional Christian education is needed by even the active adults of our parish churches today."

There was almost unanimous agreement that churches are making too many demands on the time of their lay members for a frantic round of activities that have little or nothing to do with religion. And there was much support for the idea that churches should cut out most of this busy-work in favor of vastly improved programs of adult religious education. (emphasis mine — KAS)

"Though there was much argument over what should be the nature of adult education in churches," the authors report, "two preferences achieved some recognizable consensus:" -

"Parents were interested in neighborhood groups that could meet in homes. And they felt a need for short-term content courses that would cover such issues as theology, social questions, parent education and Bible study."


There are several things worthy of note in the foregoing article. We mention a few:

(1) What, do you, suppose, would be the results of such a survey in the Lord's church today? Would we find many who were not considered "casual members" but "unusually faithful in church attendance and willing workers in all kinds of congregation activities," who did/do not have "mature and articulate faith?" Would we find many Bible class teachers who do not know the Bible? Would we find even elders and preachers who are not really conversant with the scriptures? In the Lord's church?? Alas,

(2) "A large majority looked upon the church as a building with an employed staff and a scheduled program...." Again, I wonder if we would not find many in the Lord's church with this idea? I wonder if it would not he particularly prevalent in some of the modern "on the march" congregations with their many secretaries, youth directors, educational program directors, etc., etc. Notice also ....

(3) The conclusion of the survey (see emphasized paragraph above), showed that more Bible education was needed and less recreational and social activities! Oh that brethren would learn from the Presbyterians here! In many congregations of the Lord's church today they are indeed.... "making too many demands on the time of their 'lay' (KAS) members for a frantic round of activities that have little or nothing to do with religion." Yet many, many brethren sincerely believe that the best way to build up the Lord's church is to have more and better recreational and social activities. Well the Presbyterians have been doing this for years and have now discovered that while it has operated to increase the membership numerically, they know little — and in some cases nothing, about the Bible — in short, they have grown numerically, but not spiritually!

Brethren, why oh why, can we not learn from the experts? The Presbyterians, and many other denominations, if not most, have tried every trick in the book along the line of social and recreational activities to increase their membership. And what is the result? The people are so weak spiritually that they can't even have a mid-week service, in many cases no Sunday evening service, and sermons not over 15 or 20 minutes! Again, the conclusion of this survey was that.... ''....there was much support for the idea that churches should cut out (emphasis mine-- KAS) most of this busy-work in favor of vastly improved programs of adult religious education." And so while some of the denominations (the Presbyterians at least) want to start DROPPING these things, some of MY brethren want to start INCREASING them! Listen, brethren, these people have been doing these things for years; they are "experts" as it were, and they say in effect, "Let's have NO more or LITTLE more" while some of my brethren are saying "Let's have LOT'S MORE!"

(And incidentally, along the line of failing to learn from the experts, in regard to child care the state of California along with many other states, has been using the "Foster-Home" method of caring for orphan (and other homeless) children for some time now. In other words, the experts, those who have been engaged in welfare work for years, who have skilled, trained, well educated personnel, are tearing down the orphanages, while many brethren, who are not experts, and who know little or relatively nothing about child care, are building them as fast as they can! Now, brethren, aside from the vital fact that there is no scripture for the church building and maintaining an orphan home, it doesn't even make good sense!)

Well, there are many other things which could be said along these lines, but suffice it to say that we sincerely hope the Presbyterians have learned something as a result of this survey. And though we could have saved them a lot of time and trouble in taking this survey by telling them some of these things beforehand, perhaps some of my more "advanced" brethren will learn from it and perhaps now the Presbyterians themselves will begin to study the Bible and find that there is no mention made therein of that body!