After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him.
There are so many things left unsaid and unexplained in the Gospel accounts of Christ: Why are there no descriptions of what our Lord looked like? Why are the accounts of His childhood so sparse? The child Jesus’ life must have been fraught with danger, for surely King Herod did not stop trying to kill the remarkable infant who had inspired the three Magis to journey from afar with precious gifts for the baby born in a humble manger. And why was Jesus’ public ministry so brief, lasting but three years?
Knowing His time would be brief, Jesus began His public ministry by gathering a small group of followers — the Apostles — whom He deputized to be “fishers of men” who would continue His ministry and spread His word far and wide.
Though most of us are not priests, ministers and preachers, as believers we each had heeded His call and, as followers of Christ, are asked to spread the good word (which is what “gospel” means).
Our task is all the more urgent because the Light of Christ is dimming in America, one of the more religious countries in the world.
In a report for Breitbart, Jan. 3, 2018, Dr. Thomas D. Williams alerts us to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, which found that:
- The United States has experienced an alarming dip in Christian religiosity over the last decade, whereas Islam, Hinduism, and “other religions” show no decline.
- Mainline Christianity and Catholicism have fallen 3.4% and 3.1%, respectively.
While there are Christians who reject and dismiss organized Christianity, arguing that faith alone is suffice, without need of attending and belonging to a church, the plain fact is that we have decades of data that regular church attendance confers beneficial effects on both individuals and society. As John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, put it, the advantages of regular religious practice are so well documented that people would be foolish not to consider them.
Personal and societal benefits of regular church attendance include:
(1) A longer and healthier life: Religious people live longer than the non-religious by 2 to 3 years. One reason is that religion encourages a healthier lifestyle: Compared to non-churchgoers, regular churchgoers tend to drink, smoke and use recreational drugs less, and are also less likely to be sexually promiscuous.
(2) Psychological well being: Regular church attendance strengthens social ties and create communities where people take care of one another. A study of 15,738 Americans between the ages of 18 and 60 by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, found that:
- People who attend religious services on a weekly basis are happier: They are nearly twice as likely (45%) to describe themselves as “very happy” than people who never attend (28%).
- Conversely, those who never worship are twice as likely to say they are “very unhappy” (4%) as those who attend services weekly (2%).
- Higher levels of church attendance predict greater life satisfaction.
- Not just church attendance, but self-reported “religiosity” and religious “affiliation” are also linked with happiness levels.
(3) Children who are high-achieving, social, and well adjusted. According to sociologist Robert Putnam in his book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis:
- A child whose parents attend church regularly is 40% to 50% more likely to go on to college than a matched child of non-attenders.
- Children involved in a religious organization take tougher courses, get higher grades and test scores, and are less likely to drop out of high school — which means they also have better employment prospects.
- Religious youth have better relations with their parents and other adults, more friendships with high-performing peers, and are more involved in sports and other extracurricular activities.
(4) It goes without saying that America as a society reaps benefits from healthy, happy, high-achieving and social individuals. A recent study by Brian and Melissa Grim of Georgetown University and the Newseum Institute, even placed a dollar value on the benefits of regular church attendance. The study concluded that the “value of the services provided by religious organizations and the impact religion has on a number of important American businesses” totals $1.2 trillion.
One troubling aspect of regular church attendance is an increasing class gap or division:
- Contrary to a commonly held belief that irreligiosity tends to rise with education and income, regular church attendance among college-educated families has remained more or less the same since the late 1970s, but has fallen by almost a third among families with a high school diploma or less. According to Putnam, this disparity has created “a substantial class gap” that did not exist 50 years ago.
- Statistics from the Pew Center’s comprehensive 2015 report on religion in America confirmed that most religious “nones” tend to be:
- Less educated: only a small portion have a college degree; 45% have a high school diploma or less.
- Poorer: earn less than $30,000 a year,
- White males.
And so, with Matthew 4:19’s injunction of making fishers of men in mind, how do we spread the good word in our time of declining faith and church attendance, in a culture of increasing hostility and enmity toward Christianity and Christians?
May the peace and love of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you,