Don’t plan any funerals for religion just yet, Baylor scholars say. Statistics and trends show that in the U.S. and around the world, faith is on the rise. Reports about the imminent death of religion, the rise of secularization and the growth of atheism largely ignore facts or rely on faulty research, scholars from Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion said during a recent conference. Reports emphasizing the rise of “nones” and the massive flight of Millennials from organized religion greatly exaggerate — and sometimes misinterpret — hard data, said Byron Johnson, distinguished professor of the social sciences at Baylor and founding director of the Institute for Studies of Religion.

“Some people want to believe that religious faith is on life support — but it’s just not true,” he asserted. Surveys that report Millennials have left the faith of their parents often really mean they have stopped attending church for a few years or identify with a nondenominational church rather than a Mainline denomination — not that they have abandoned Christianity, he said, pointing to findings from the Baylor Religion Survey. While Mainline Protestant denominations declined 49 percent from 1960 to 2000, other religious groups — including evangelicals — registered dramatic growth, he said. Some researchers and reporters fail to consider the phenomenon of religious “switching” — moving from one Christian group to another, he said.

Johnson sees “switching” as evidence of religious health and vitality, rather than decline. The Baylor Religion Survey — with more than 350 religion-related questions — explores the nuances and complexities of how people self-identify in terms of faith, he said. In contrast, some of the hype surrounding the growth of “nones” is based on one question on the American Religious Identification Survey or a misinterpretation of data from the Pew Religious Landscape Survey, Johnson said. For example, he noted the Baylor study asked follow-up questions of people who indicated “no religion,” and many of those same people identified with specific congregations.

“When they do list a church, it’s often high-octane religion” such as nondenominational evangelical congregations, he added. The rise of “in-your-face, confrontational” atheism as personified by authors Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins represents unbelievers’ reaction to atheism’s failure to gain a wide following, said Gordon Melton, distinguished professor of American religious history at Baylor and director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion. “Religion is alive and well,” he said. “Neo-atheism is a reaction to stagnant atheism.” Melton provided context for contemporary discussions of atheism by tracing the history of unbelief and scepticism in America.

The rise of neo-atheism is a reaction to stagnant atheism’s failure to gain a wide following, according to Gordon Melton, professor of American religious history at Baylor. Three strains of European unorthodoxy — Unitarianism, universalism and deism — found a following in the American colonies, including among some of the founders such as Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, he said. By the mid-19th century, the “freethought” movement gained some measure of popularity, as evidenced by the creation of Robert Owen’s utopian New Harmony community in Indiana and by the founding of freethought settlements by German immigrants, including Comfort and Boerne in South Central Texas.

By 1944, American atheists numbered about 4 million, and atheists created multiple organizations in the post-World War II era. Even so, atheists consistently numbered 4 to 5 percent of the total U.S. population, Melton noted. “People have been predicting the end of religion for more than three centuries,” said Rodney Stark, distinguished professor of social sciences at Baylor and co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion. Worldwide, eight in 10 people belong to one of the major organized faiths, and about three-fourths say religion has an impact on their daily lives, he said.

“The world probably is much more religious than a century ago,” he said, pointing to data from the Gallup World Poll of 163 nations. For centuries, when Latin America was considered a monolithically Roman Catholic continent, no more than 20 percent of the people — usually closer to 10 percent — attended Mass, Stark said. However, the growth of evangelical Protestantism there in the latter half of the 20th century sparked a charismatic renewal movement within Roman Catholicism. Today, he said, more than 60 percent of the people in Latin America attend Mass weekly, in addition to those who attend various Protestant traditions. “What wasn’t a Catholic continent in fact is now very much a Christian continent,” Stark said.

The growth of evangelical Protestantism in Latin America sparked a 20th century Catholic charismatic renewal movement that has greatly boosted religious participation, according to Rodney Stark, professor of social sciences at Baylor. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 10,000 independent, indigenous Christian movements, and in some areas there, 80 to 90 percent of the people attend weekly worship services, he said. Based on a 2007 survey, researchers estimate about 73 million Christians in China, compared to 10 million in 1980, he said. In Europe, often cited as “the poster child for secularization,” religion continues to thrive in some places, such as Poland and Slovakia, said Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of history at Baylor.

“Migrant religion” brings vibrancy to religious life in some places where secularization has advanced, such as Great Britain”, he noted. “The four largest megachurches in Great Britain are pastored by black Africans,” he said. Jenkins also noted in Scandinavia, the year continues to be structured around religious holidays, and throughout Europe, religious shrines attract record numbers of visitors on pilgrimages. “There is this spiritual element even in the oddest places,” he observed. Culturally, Jenkins asserted the most significant films with serious religious themes have been produced in Europe. He cited Michael Sheen’s The Gospel of Us, along with the Russian film The Island and Finland’s Letters to Father Jacob as prime examples.

Source: Intercessors Network

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A new record in Bible translation may have been set in 2014 for the highest number of new translations published in one year. According to the Global Scripture Access Report, published by United Bible Societies, last year there were complete translations in 51 languages spoken by more than 1.3 billion people. Some of these were launched in countries facing significant challenges. In Nigeria for instance, the Bible Society launched four new Bible translations. One of them, the Bura Bible, was launched in December 2014, despite a Boko Haram bomb attack on the translation office in September. All of these were first-time translations, potentially giving 2.1 million Nigerians access to the full Bible in their heart language for the first time.

Liberia, too, faced enormous difficulties last year, losing more people to Ebola than any other country, but the Bible Society there launched two first-time full Bible translations. The Bible in Kpelle and Southern Kisi, spoken by nearly a million people, arrived at a time when people needed God’s Word in their language more than ever before. But Southern Kisi speakers, most of whom live in the worst affected area of Liberia, delayed their celebrations until January 2015, when the situation had stabilized. “That day they forgot about Ebola and came out in great numbers to march in celebration of the first Bible in their language,” notes Paul Stevens, who leads the Bible Society of Liberia.

These launches in Nigeria and Liberia were among 30 ‘first-time’ translations published across the world last year in languages spoken by nearly 10 million people. 18 language groups received their very first full Bible, 10 received their first New Testament, and two received shorter portions of Scripture for the first time. The full Bible is now available in 542 languages spoken by 4.9 billion people, while the New Testament is available in 1,324 languages spoken by a further 673 million people. 1,020 languages have shorter portions of Scripture, while 4,015 languages spoken by 460 million people are still without any Scripture at all.

Source: Intercessors Network

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Pope Francis has given his catechetical reflections on the nature and purpose of marriage in the order of creation and in the Divine plan of salvation. He has focused specifically on Christian marriage as a Sacrament: an efficacious sign of God’s love for each and every person, for all humanity and for the whole world, a means of grace, and a genuine way of living our common baptismal call to holiness. “Christian marriage is that sacrament which builds up the community of the Church and of society,”  explained Pope Francis. “Marriage has been inscribed in creation’s design by God, and, by his grace, countless Christian men and women have lived married life fully,” he continued.

The Pope went on to describe marriage as an act of faith in God’s plan for humanity and an act of selfless love. Drawing on the writings of St. Paul the Apostle, the Pope focused especially on the duties of husbands to their wives, saying that married love is an image of the love between Christ and his Church, and that a husband is therefore to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, by giving himself completely for her. “When a man and a woman marry in the Lord, they participate in the missionary life of the Church, by living not only for themselves or their own family, but for all people,” explained Pope Francis.

“Therefore,” the summary continued, “the life of the Church is enriched through every marriage which shows forth this beauty, and is impoverished when marriage is disfigured in any way.” Pope Francis concluded his remarks by saying that every couple which faithfully and courageously lives the grace of this sacrament assists the Church in offering the gifts of faith, hope and love to all people, and helps others to experience these gifts in their married lives and their families. He prayed that married couples everywhere live this mystery ever more fully, trusting in God’s tenderness and the Church’s maternal care.

Source: Religion News Service

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Canon Andrew White, also known as the Vicar of Baghdad, recently called the Islamic State extremist group (ISIS) an “evil regime” which is “totally against reconciliation” and at one time threatened to cut off his head after he invited them to dinner. The minister, who is widely respected for his peacemaking efforts between Christians and Muslims, was ordered by the Archbishop of Canterbury to leave his church in Baghdad last December as Christians in Iraq came under increasing threat from ISIS. However, White revealed that during his time serving as head of St. George’s Church—the only Anglican church in Iraq—he invited members of the extremist group into his home to share with them the love of Christ.

“They said, ‘If we come, we’ll chop your head off.’ I didn’t invite them again,” said White. “There is no hope of discussion or moving forward with ISIS. They are totally against reconciliation.” White also expressed concern over some Christians who have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the fight against ISIS. He recounted a conversation with one of his Iraqi Christian guards. White asked him ‘What would you do if ISIS came towards us?’ He said, ‘I would rip off my uniform and run.’ So I said, ‘Why do you do this job then?’ He said, ‘Because I need the money,'” said White.  “Christians are not good at being soldiers. If going to join the new militia makes them feel good, great. But it will achieve absolutely nothing. We are dealing here with an evil regime.”

Source: Gospel Herald

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As relations between the United States and Cuba begin to thaw a surprising spiritual reality is emerging, the Cuban Church is thriving. In the midst of opposition and incredible poverty, several denominations are reporting amazing growth in their churches throughout the country. In the past 20 years, Baptist churches have grown from several hundred to more than 7,000. Assemblies of God churches that once numbered less than 100 members now have more than 10,000 attendees. “The Church not only survived, but in the midst of those pressures and difficulties it grew” Cuban Pastor Moises De Prado said. At the core of Cuba’s church growth are house churches springing up across the island. 

Twenty years ago the Cuban government told churches they could not build new Churches. As a result church growth became easy, as Christians began meeting in homes. Cuba’s poverty has also fuelled church growth. Many Cubans existing on less than $30 a month, so there is not the money to pursue other pursuits that would pull them from the Gospel. One church leader said, ‘People spend more time evangelizing their neighbours because they’re not distracted by a lot of material goods.” One fruit of all this is an emerging missions movement. Hundreds of believers are planning to head overseas as missionaries. Given their single-minded focus and experience with hardship, they are uniquely qualified to travel to new lands to spread the Gospel.

Source: CBN News

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The Military Religious Freedom Foundation wants a two-star general court-martialled because he spoke about his relationship with God. Major General Craig Olson was a speaker at a recent National Day of Prayer gathering. He described himself in that speech as a “redeemed Believer in Christ.” Mikey Weinstein called the general’s remarks a “brutal disgrace.” Mr. Weinstein is the president of the MRFF. He fired off a nasty letter to the Secretary of Defence calling for the Air Force general to be severely punished. He alleged that airmen were “utterly disgusted and shocked by the brazenly illicit and wholly unconstitutional, fundamentalist Christian proselytizing recently perpetrated on international television.” Mr. Weinstein demanded the general be court-martialled and “aggressively and visibly brought to justice for his unforgivable crimes and transgressions.”

If the Military Religious Freedom Foundation thought General Olson was a brutal disgrace, A Fox News commentator said “It would be easy to dismiss this guy as a two-bit gadfly. Unfortunately, we cannot. Time and time again, Mr. Weinstein has proven that when he complains about something—the Pentagon listens. Far too many Christians have been bullied by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s thuggery. It’s time for the Pentagon to put a stop to this nonsense. If Mr. Weinstein and his stooges have a problem with the General’s televised remarks, maybe they should just change the channel.

Source: Fox News

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Franklin Graham has announced he will embark on a 50 state tour of the United States next year. Mr Graham said “At 62 years of age, I’ve lived long enough to learn that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans can turn this country around; no political party or politician is the answer. The only hope for this country is Almighty God and His Son Jesus Christ. Next year I will travel to all 50 states to conduct prayer rallies to challenge Christians to pray for our nation and its leaders. I want to encourage Christians to get out and cast their ballots for candidates who uphold Biblical principles. I want to urge Christians to run for public office. We will not be endorsing any political candidates, but will proclaim the truth of God’s Gospel in every state.

Source: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

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