Actions Run on the Rails of Beliefs

Certain surveys appear to show the actions and moral values of Christians similar to those who don’t attend church.  I’ve seen stats on divorce saying it is as high as 50% both inside and outside the church.  The reaction of many pastors is to preach more sermons aimed at what the Bible says about proper moral behavior.  And yet overall actions of individuals that comprise the church hasn’t changed.  Should the programs of the church or preacher aim at behavior or is the problem much deeper?

Dr. JP Moreland once wrote: “Beliefs are the rails upon which our lives run.  We almost always act according to what we really believe[1].”  Could the behavior problem be weak beliefs?   Researcher George Barna 10 years ago put out a survey and his conclusion was yes[2].  He writes:

Citing the findings from a just-completed national survey of 2033 adults that showed only 4% of adults have a biblical worldview as the basis of their decision-making, researcher George Barna described the outcome. “If Jesus Christ came to this planet as a model of how we ought to live, then our goal should be to act like Jesus. Sadly, few people consistently demonstrate the love, obedience and priorities of Jesus. The primary reason that people do not act like Jesus is because they do not think like Jesus. Behavior stems from what we think – our attitudes, beliefs, values and opinions. Although most people own a Bible and know some of its content, our research found that most Americans have little idea how to integrate core biblical principles to form a unified and meaningful response to the challenges and opportunities of life. We're often more concerned with survival amidst chaos than with experiencing truth and significance.”

Barna said our attitudes, beliefs, values, and opinions are the foundation of our actions.  If Jesus is the best moral model for society, then we should be acting more like Him.  He wrote the major reason we don’t act like Jesus is because we don’t think like Jesus.  Only 4% of the population has a Biblical Worldview.

For purposes of his research Barna used certain criteria to identify a person who held a Biblical Worldview.  Obviously, this list of beliefs could be expanded.

For the purposes of the research, a biblical worldview was defined as believing that absolute moral truths exist; that such truth is defined by the Bible; and firm belief in six specific religious views. Those views were that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life; God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He stills rules it today; salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned; Satan is real; a Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people; and the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.

The next question is, what about the church?  How many people who identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ have a Biblical Worldview?  The results exposed what I think is a major problem facing the church.

The research indicated that everyone has a worldview, but relatively few people have a biblical worldview – even among devoutly religious people. The survey discovered that only 9% of born again Christians have such a perspective on life. The numbers were even lower among other religious classifications: Protestants (7%), adults who attend mainline Protestant churches (2%) and Catholics (less than one-half of 1%). The denominations that produced the highest proportions of adults with a biblical worldview were non-denominational Protestant churches (13%), Pentecostal churches (10%) and Baptist churches (8%).

Clearly our churches are filled with people who don’t know what or why they believe what they believe.  Barna reported the impact this has on behavior based on questions he asked concerning key moral issues.

People's views on morally acceptable behavior are deeply impacted by their worldview. Upon comparing the perspectives of those who have a biblical worldview with those who do not, the former group were 31 times less likely to accept cohabitation (2% versus 62%, respectively); 18 times less likely to endorse drunkenness (2% versus 36%); 15 times less likely to condone gay sex (2% versus 31%); 12 times less likely to accept profanity 3% versus 37%); and 11 times less likely to describe adultery as morally acceptable (4% versus 44%). In addition, less than one-half of one percent of those with a biblical worldview said voluntary exposure to pornography was morally acceptable (compared to 39% of other adults), and a similarly miniscule proportion endorsed abortion (compared to 46% of adults who lack a biblical worldview).

Among the more intriguing lifestyle differences were the lesser propensity for those with a biblical worldview to gamble (they were eight times less likely to buy lottery tickets and 17 times less likely to place bets); to get drunk (three times less likely); and to view pornography (two times less common). They were also twice as likely to have discussed spiritual matters with other people in the past month and twice as likely to have fasted for religious reasons during the preceding month. While one out of every eight adults who lack a biblical worldview had sexual relations with someone other than their spouse during the prior month, less than one out of every 100 individuals who have such a worldview had done so.

My conclusion is the majority of churches needs to raise the bar and begin focusing on changing beliefs rather that behavior.  Both are important but if we primarily aim at behavior, according to the work of Barna, we will see little or no change in the actions of our people.

If pastors continue to preach topical sermons, such as how to have a happy marriage, it seems likely we will continue to watch the church to follow the morality of society.  The Bible exhorts pastors to preach the word in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2).  I believe this means rightly dividing the word through primarily book studies.  A change in preaching will not likely be enough without the individuals spending time in study (2 Tim. 2:15).  The Scriptures are the foundation of beliefs and if we want to be more like Jesus in our values and opinions we need to be continually impacted by the Word of God.  In other words we need to learn to think like Jesus in order to act like Him.


[1] Moreland, J.P. Loving God with all Your Mind, Navpress Colorado, 1997, pg. 73-74

[2] Barna, George, https://www.barna.org/barna-update/5-barna-update/131-a-biblical-worldview-has-a-radical-effect-on-a-persons-life#.Uic3JD9_b-s

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