Is Christianity dead? In this video, learn the Bible’s answers about two end-time groups—a false church and a true church—and the meaning of “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
[The text below represents an edited transcript of this Tomorrow’s World program.]
In 1882, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously declared “God is dead.” Today, more than 140 years later, some might argue “THE CHURCH IS DEAD.” Or… at LEAST churches are DYING. And who could blame them for thinking that? Look around. In the Western world, church attendance is plummeting. Society is changing. Biblical morality is being ridiculed. And a sense of shared values seems to be evaporating before our very eyes.
The news feeds reflect this trend—and NOT just in America. Here are some recent headlines:
For many of us, these headlines might resonate. In cities and towns all over the Western world, church attendance is down. More churches are closing each year in the United States than are opening—in some years by a margin of almost 1,500 (“Study: More churches closing than opening,” ReligionNews.com, May 26, 2021).
And some predict that 1/3 of Canada’s churches may close in the coming years. (“Secularization: A Third of Canada’s Churches Will Close,” WorldReligionNews.com, March 17, 2019).
So, what does the future hold for the modern Christianity of our Western nations? Will it die out altogether?
There are answers. All we have to do is open our Bible to find them. And along the way, we might even uncover some surprising things about this topic you’ve not heard before.
So, let’s dive right in and find the answers to this question: “Are Churches Dying?”
I’ll be right back.
Welcome to Tomorrow’s World, where we help you make sense of your world through the pages of the Bible.
Look at traditional American churches today. As secularism makes massive inroads, it’s clear churches are in decline. In October of 2019, The Pew Research Center ran an article entitled, “In [the] U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace.” Here’s what the article noted:
“In 2018 and 2019, 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular,’ now stands at 26% up from 17% in 2009” (“In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace,” PewResearch.org/religion, October 17, 2019).
In real numbers that shift represents tens of MILLIONS of people. That’s a huge change in the American religious landscape, in just ten years.
What will the nation look like after a few more decades? Here’s one estimate, again by the Pew Research Center:
“The Center estimates that in 2020, about 64% of Americans, including children, were Christian. People who are religiously unaffiliated, sometimes called religious “nones,” accounted for 30%…. [T]he projections show Christians of all ages shrinking from 64% to between a little more than half (54%) and just above one-third (35%) of all Americans by 2070” (“Modeling the future of religion in America,” Pew Research Center, September 13, 2022).
Churches in America are on a downward trend. But again, it’s not just happening in the U.S. only. The trajectory is the same in other Western nations. Consider this report from Australia, from The Canberra Times, on June 28, 2022:
“The Christian churches in Australia currently find themselves in a perfect storm. The recently released data from the 2021 census makes the reality clear. The future of Christianity in Australia will be as a minority. Just 44 percent of Australians now identify as Christians, down from 52 percent at the 2016 census” (“Is Christianity dying in Australia? Here’s how to redeem it from the bottom up,” Canberra Times, June 28, 2022).
Again, an astonishing drop, in a short period of time, in Australia.
What about England and Wales? In a 2021 census taken there, for the first time ever those who identify as Christians were a minority, down from 59.3% around 2012, to 46.2% in 2022 (“Losing My Religion: How the UK is leaving the Church and gaining conspiracy theories,” Euronews.com/culture, December 4, 2022). This is in a nation where the reigning king has as one of his official titles, Defender of the Faith. Think about that. The political ramifications for this new cultural shift are staggering.
Canada has been on the cutting edge of woke culture in recent years. And not surprisingly, the number of church-goers there has taken a massive hit. In 2001, 77% of the population identified as Christian. But by 2021, that had dropped to only 53% (“How Canada’s religious makeup has shifted over the past 20 years,” The Star, October 26, 2022).
What’s behind this shift? Why is it happening? Many have tried to answer the question. And certainly, one factor that has quickened the pace of falling church attendance was the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost overnight, businesses, government buildings, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and yes, even churches—were shut down. People were told to worship from home. And technology made it possible. Many churches streamed their service[s]. And for a short-term crisis, this certainly kept people at least somewhat connected.
But fast forward to the present. For many, the temporary emergency measure has become a long-term condition. For those on the fringes, it’s become easier to simply drift away. Others have discovered they can be a church member in the comfort and privacy of their own home, without ever having to attend a service. The advent of online worship has fundamentally changed how many people look at going to church.
The online experience has undoubtedly been a blessing for churchgoers who are infirmed or otherwise can’t physically attend in person. But for those who CHOOSE to be disconnected from an actual group, that’s a disturbing trend in itself. In how many ways are we as a society becoming more disengaged and more disconnected from each other as each week goes by?
We’ve discussed where we are as a culture, our present situation. But where is it heading? What does the future hold for the churches in the Western world?
And more importantly, what does Jesus Christ think about all this? After all, He’s the Head of the Church, isn’t He?
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said,
“I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
The word “Hades” just means the unseen place of the dead. A pit or a grave. So, this statement means that Christ’s Church, His Church, would never die out. The grave would not consume His Church. There would always be someone, somewhere who was a living, breathing, and faithful disciple of Christ, all the way up to His return. Notice further, in Matthew 28:18:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations… teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).
Will Christ’s Church die out? No way! What this passage tells us, again, is that Jesus Christ will be personally involved in directing His Church, right up until His return. Notice one more passage that shows this, in Matthew 24:14:
“And this gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
Christ’s church will not die. We don’t have to be concerned about that. But there IS something that we should be concerned about. You see, Bible prophecy predicts not just the presence of one church that calls itself Christian, but two, in the end-times.
Now, you might say, “that’s no big deal, there are hundreds and even thousands of Christian denominations.” And that’s true. In fact, according to the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, as of 2014, there were 45,000 denominations that identify as Christian around the world.
But when the Bible describes the church, it doesn’t list 45,000 groups. It lists two. It breaks down all the different churches that have multiplied through the centuries into two groups. And the future of those two groups is foretold in the Book of Revelation.
The Book of Revelation is full of symbols. Floods represent armies and horns represent kings or kingdoms. And the Book of Revelation uses women to represent churches. What we find is there are two distinct women identified in the book.
Let’s look at one of them. We find a description of her in Revelation 17:1:
“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.’ So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns” (Revelation 17:1–3).
This is one of the women identified in Revelation. But it’s a harlot woman, committing fornication, making inhabitants of the earth drunk with spiritual error. And she is riding on a beast. In other words, she is a politically powerful church, directing the actions of a corrupt government or kingdom. Going on in verse 4:
“The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS and of the abominations of the earth. I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus…” (Revelation 17:4–6).
John describes this woman, or church, as being fabulously rich. She also has harlot daughters—other churches that essentially teach the same thing, but have spun off from her. He also notes she is also responsible for putting to death true and faithful followers of Christ. The Book of Revelation shows this church will exercise great power for a period of time, but then its demise will be sudden. Notice verse 15,
“Then he said to me, ‘The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:15–18).
This powerful church—symbolically a woman—will in the end be devoured by the beast power she rode. And we are warned to not be a part of this system! Notice this in Revelation 18:4:
“And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities” (Revelation 18:4–5).
So, should we be worried about declining church attendance today? Well, there is a much more urgent concern. That is, that we don’t fall prey to a false church that is not Christ’s church at all, no matter how good it looks on the outside.
Notice more detail about this woman, this church, in Revelation 13:11:
“Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon” (Revelation 13:11).
What do the two horns symbolize? Well, Jesus is identified as the Lamb. So, this leader will appear to be like Christ, that he’s a man of God—a Christian. But clearly, there’s something amiss, for he speaks like a dragon. Who is the dragon? Satan the devil. So this leader is speaking not the words of Christ, but the words of the devil. And he will deceive millions, and perhaps billions of people.
Notice verse 13:
“He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast…” (Revelation 13:13–14).
So, what do we see here? Bible prophecy shows a great religious revival in the future. But don’t be fooled. It will be a counterfeit. And it will deceive great masses of people into THINKING they are following Christ.
The first is a harlot woman, representing a rich, politically active and corrupt church. What is the identity of the other woman? She is identified as the faithful and obedient church following Christ. Revelation 12:1 speaks of her:
“Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth” (Revelation 12:1–2).
In other words, this is talking about the Old Testament congregation. The faithful men and women during that period, who were God’s people, from the time of Adam and Noah and Abraham and Moses. It grew into a nation, and from that nation came the Messiah. He was born as a baby, and grew, and eventually gave His life for the sins of the world. Going on in Revelation 12:5,
“She bore a male child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron” (Revelation 12:5).
That’s speaking of Jesus Christ. His destiny is to rule all nations on earth, when He returns. Going on in verse 5,
“And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days” (Revelation 12:5–6).
Now it speaks of the woman again. And it’s talking about what happened to Christ’s faithful followers within a few hundred years after the first century.
You see, early in church history, there arose a branch of the church that was not faithful to Christ’s teachings. And that branch grew so powerful it eventually outnumbered the true followers of Christ. In the booklet, Dr. Meredith explains this. He quotes from Professor Rufus M. Jones, in The Church’s Debt to Heretics. Mr. Jones states:
“If by any chance Christ Himself had been taken by His later followers as the model and pattern of the new way, and a serious attempt had been made to set up His life and teaching as the standard and norm for the Church, Christianity would have been something vastly different from what it became. Then ‘heresy’ would have been, as it is not now, deviation from His way, His teaching, His spirit, His kingdom.… What we may properly call ‘Galilean Christianity’ had a short life, though there have been notable attempts to revive it and make it live again, and here and there spiritual prophets have insisted that anything else than this simple Galilean religion is ‘heresy’; but the main line of historic development has taken a different course and has marked the emphasis very differently” (The Church’s Debt to Heretics, 1924, pp. 15–16, emphasis added).
What we find is Christ’s true followers had to flee into hiding during those intervening centuries, to escape persecution. That’s what’s represented in Revelation 12 by the 1,260 days—symbolic for 1,260 YEARS—in the wilderness. Fast forward to the time of the end, in Revelation 12:7:
“And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:7–9).
Notice this. Satan has deceived the whole world. This is critical to understand. Not only will there be great, massive deception by a false church in the last days. But when you come to understand it, the bulk of nominal Christianity has been operating under a great deception for centuries. Most people who call themselves Christians simply follow traditions of men, not the Christianity of the Bible.
So, what about those who really DO follow Christ? The Bible shows God offers them protection, on earth, through the Great Tribulation. Notice in Revelation 12:13:
“Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent” (Revelation 12:13–14).
Some people think this refers to the church being raptured. No, it’s simply taken into a wilderness. Heaven is not a wilderness. The children of Israel came out of Egypt symbolically on eagles’ wings —that’s mentioned in Exodus 19:4. But we know they just walked. It’s the same concept here. Going on, verse 15,
“So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:15–17).
Notice this—the indication is that those who are faithful and protected will also have been people who had the testimony of Christ and were keeping the commandments of God. That’s not the Jews, that’s God’s genuine church.
For you and me, if we really are followers of Christ; if we obey His commandments—all ten of them—and are covered with the blood of His sacrifice, and are led by His Holy Spirit, He says He will watch out for us in the coming dark days.
So, is the church going to die out? Well, Christ’s church will never die. By the same token, there are sobering warnings about not being taken in by a persuasive but false version of Christianity in the future, and frankly, right now as well.
Notice in Revelation 19:7:
“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, ‘Write: “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!”’” (Revelation 19:7–9).
The faithful woman, the church—those who have given their loyalty and their allegiance to Christ—will actually be granted immortality at His coming. What a fantastic destiny for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Let’s ALL strive to make sure WE are part of that faithful and forgiven Church that will marry Christ at His return.
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If Jesus of Nazareth were to return to the earth today, would He recognize the religion that is using His name? Not at all! Mankind has twisted Jesus Christ’s teachings so that the religion bearing His name has practically no relationship to what He and the Apostles actually lived and believed.
Can you find a Church that strives to live by the original teachings of Christianity? Can you prove for yourself what God’s Truth really is? This booklet will give you the all-important answers to those questions!