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Over a third of senior pastors believe 'good people' can earn their way to Heaven: survey

Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

At least a third of senior pastors in the United States believe one can earn a place in Heaven by simply being a good person, according to a nationwide survey.

The findings were among several surprising responses as part of a survey conducted earlier this year by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University.

The American Worldview Inventory 2022 examined more than three dozen beliefs held by pastors. Researchers found that in addition to believing that people can merit salvation based solely on their good works, one-third or more of senior pastors surveyed also believe the Holy Spirit is not a person but rather “a symbol of God’s power." Others said that moral truth is subjective; sexual relations between two unmarried people who love each other is “morally acceptable" and biblical teaching on abortion is “ambiguous.”

At least a third of those surveyed also said they believe “socialism is preferable to capitalism and that allowing property ownership facilitates economic injustice,” which researchers say could point to the “increase of cultural and political influence into the church.”

After data reported earlier this year found just 37% of Christian pastors have a biblical worldview, the latest CRC report analyzed that research across all major U.S. denominations, and found that a “loss of biblical belief is prevalent among pastors in all denominational groupings.”

The current report focuses on roughly half of those beliefs, revealing that a shockingly large percentage reject biblical teaching on some of the most basic Christian beliefs.

Among Evangelical pastors, for example, around 43% said they do not believe that the personal accumulation of wealth is provided by God for the individual to manage those resources for God’s purposes.

Another 39% of Evangelical pastors surveyed said there is no absolute moral truth and that “each individual must determine their own truth.” Roughly the same percentage (38%) didn't answer in the affirmative when asked if "human life is sacred," while 37% said having faith, in general, is more important than in what — or more specifically, Whom — one has faith.

Perhaps most startlingly, three in 10 Evangelical pastors (30%) didn't answer in the affirmative if their salvation is based on having confessed their sins and accepting Jesus Christ as their savior.

George Barna, CRC's director of research, said the results could be linked to another trend he observed in the data.

“While studying the spiritual behavioral patterns of pastors, it became evident that a large share of them do not have a regular spiritual routine,” Barna said. “There was a correlation between possessing biblical beliefs and a consistent regimen of Bible reading, prayer, worship and confession.

“In some of the denominational groupings, a majority of pastors do not engage in those foundational spiritual practices on a regular basis,” he added. “Yet, among the pastors who have the most consistently biblical beliefs, there is also a daily routine that incorporates all of those disciplines.”

The data from this latest report came from a nationwide study of about 1,000 Christian pastors across several segments of churches and/or denominational families and wasconducted between February and March of 2022.

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