Might Does Not Make Right: Identifying Jesus’s Righteous Remnant in the Modern Christian Landscape

In the landscape of modern Christianity, evangelicalism consistently towers among the largest denominations worldwide, currently accounting for an estimated 386 million of the more than 2.2 billion professing Christians on the globe.[1] It is particularly popular in the United States, where evangelicals represent at least a quarter of the population, making evangelicalism the largest denomination in the country.[2] Many mistakenly interpret evangelicalism’s magnitude as evidence of its legitimacy; they figure that if such a large proportion of the population would subscribe to a certain belief system, then that system must be bona fide. To such people, it seems unlikely (or even impossible) that so many independent minds could be simultaneously deluded by a false doctrine (“Why would so many people believe this if it’s wrong?). Some will even go so far as to suggest that the relatively smaller size of other denominations or groups constitutes evidence that they must be in error (“No one else believes what they believe, they must be wrong”). As we will see in this article, the mere fact that many endorse a certain fact or adhere to a certain belief system in no way constitutes proof that it is true. Might does not make right. In fact, the Scriptural evidence makes clear that legitimate Christians will most likely not be found in the majority but, instead, in the minority.

Argumentum Ad Populum

This lemming mentality that ails so many is a form of logical fallacy known as argumentum ad populum (or “appeal to the people), in which a claim is supported as true on the grounds that many think it is true. This pattern of thinking, while not exclusive to evangelicals, is particularly common within their circles.[3] Regardless of its causes, this bias is patently illogical and leads many into heresy. Though superficially, it may seem plausible to find strength in numbers, in reality, a large group can err just as easily, if not more easily, than an individual.[4] A given position is not necessarily true simply because it is held by many, nor necessarily false simply because it is held by few.[5] Thus, popularity is not adequate evidence to substantiate claims or prove the truth. As your mother might ask, “Would you jump off a bridge just because all your friends were doing it?”. Only a malleable fool accepts something as truth simply because it’s the popular thing to do.

Conversely, one mark of an intelligent mind is its resistance to the bandwagon effect—its ability to consider information objectively and arrive at an accurate conclusion based on the evidence. In Acts 17, Luke praises this “noble” scientific quality in the Berean Jews, who scrutinized Paul’s preaching and continually measured his words against Scripture “to see if these things were true” (Act 17:10—11). Such intellectual honesty is vital for Christians. Those who fail to be Berean become instead like the unmoored individuals in Ephesians 4:14 who are “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” It is paramount, then, that we determine truth not based on popularity, emotion, or appearances but only according to objective fact.

The consequences of bandwagon thinking are self-evident. If biblical truth is, in fact, determined by majority rule, then whatever is in vogue at the moment can be accepted as what God truly desires. This is an obviously absurd strategy for determining truth. Truth belongs to God, and it is determined by Him and Him alone (not by popular vote). He has created the objective reality we live in, and that objective reality is not subject to our whims and delusions. So, instead of jumping on the bandwagon, let’s throw out the ad populum fallacy and instead consider the objective biblical evidence.

The Righteous Remnant Pattern of Redemptive History

The Bible’s pattern of salvation, from the Old Testament to the New, directly contradicts the idea that truth is found in the majority. Instead, we see exactly the opposite: since Genesis, saints embracing and enacting sound doctrine have always belonged to a very small minority. For example, Noah’s family, the sole righteous group spared in the Genesis deluge, represented eight people out of an estimated 750 million, or 0.0000012% of the global population at the time.[6] Similarly, Abraham’s family of twenty-five stood alone among an estimated 5 million, making them 0.0005% of the population.[7] Even the entire nation of Israel only amounted to about 2.5% (at most) of the global population in its day.[8] This pattern is not unique to the Old Testament—the early church, established by Christ Himself, constituted less than 0.002% of those on earth at its inception and remained a minority for hundreds of years to come.[9]Throughout Scripture, then, God’s true people, those considered righteous in His eyes, are always a small remnant and never the majority.

As the prophet Isaiah says of Israel, “For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return” (Isa 10:22a). This prophecy originally foresaw that only a splinter of the already relatively small nation of Israel would be saved. The same prophecy is later applied in a new inspired context by the apostle Paul, who uses it asexplanation for the small numbers of Jews converting to Christianity in his day.

27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” (Rom 9:27-28)

To Paul, it is no surprise that only a minority of Jews would accept and follow Christ. He views the unpopularity of Christianity in his day as another application of Isaiah’s prophecy, a continuation of the “remnant” pattern seen throughout redemptive history.[10]

The idea that majority rule can serve as a determiner, or even a reliable indicator, of truth, runs counter to the divinely ordained pattern of redemptive history. Not only is it inconsistent with the past, but it is also contradictory to the future we are promised in Scripture. Consider Christ’s words regarding the kingdom of heaven to come.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Mat 7:21—23)

23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” (Luk 13:23—24)

Jesus views the biblical, saving truth as something that only a small number will grasp. Only a remnant of Christians (i.e., those who call Him “Lord, Lord”) will successfully attain eternal salvation and enter into heaven. Moreover, the criterion for their salvation will not be their alignment with popular opinion, but rather their faithful obedience to God’s Law (see again Mat 7:21—23; cf. Heb 4:4—13; Rom 2:13; 13:8—14; Mat 5:17—19; 19:16—17; Luk 10:25—28; 1Co 7:19). Our Lord does not view truth as something that can be determined based on majority rule. Just the opposite—He is certain that the righteous, those legitimate Christians who adhere to and enact the true saving gospel, will be found among the unpopular remnant.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus does not highly value popularity; He Himself was incredibly unpopular during His lifetime, so unpopular that He was ultimately murdered by an angry mob. He requires that His followers earnestly seek and readily align themselves with objective truth, regardless of its popularity (Joh 18:37-38). His Word tells us that as long as they are on earth, legitimate followers will always be “small and despised”—unpopular, disliked, and persecuted by those who represent the religious majority, just as Jesus was (Joh 15:18-25; 2Ti 3:12-14). We are warned that as human history approaches its end, the faithful’s numbers will dwindle even further as the world becomes increasingly debased until those who have endured are surrounded on all sides by wickedness and persecution (2Ti 3:1-7, 2Pe 3:1-10, Rev 20:7-10). Given these teachings, we should consider popularity a warning sign, not a mark of legitimacy. Not only should we expect to find the world’s legitimate Christians in the minority, but we should also expect to see their numbers decrease as the lawlessness of our world increases.

Simply belonging to a minority group, however, is not in itself proof of legitimacy. Being unpopular does not necessarily a true Christian make. How, then, should we distinguish the legitimate from the legitimate, the true Christians from the false? To answer this question, we must look not to the mere fact that a certain group is a minority but instead to what makes them a minority. The defining characteristic of the righteous remnant, the thing that distinguishes its members from the surrounding world, is one thing: obedience.[11] The true followers of God have always been those willing to submit to and obey His Law—this is true throughout Scripture without exception. God’s people are known by their fruit: their faithful obedience and loyalty to their King (1Jo 3:7-10, Rev 17:14, 19:7-8, Mat 7:17-20). Their staunch insistence on this obedience and their unwillingness to defy their Lord is the very thing that makes them unpopular.

It is indisputable, then, that of the over two billion people currently professing to be Christians, only a vanishingly small sliver can be the genuine article. That sliver is home only to those who believe in the necessity of obedience unto salvation and faithfully practice such obedience. These true Christians are a rare breed, just as their spiritual ancestors before them, and they will become increasingly rare as we approach the end of human history. We can identify them not by their popularity, nor even by their words, but by their faithful obedience to their God’s Law, the attribute which has distinguished the legitimate and saved from the illegitimate and condemned since Genesis.

 

[1] Todd M. Johnson, “Evangelicals Worldwide,” Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, March 25, 2020. Accessed March 26, 2024. https://www.gordonconwell.edu/blog/evangelicals-worldwide/.; “The Global Religious Landscape,” Pew Research Center, December 18, 2012, 9.  https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2012/12/18/global-religious-landscape-exec/#:~:text=The%20demographic%20study%20–%20based%20on,the%20world%20as%20of%202010.

[2] “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” Pew Research Center, May 12, 2015, 3-5. https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/. Some estimates place it higher, at over 40% of the country’s total population; see Frank Newport, “5 Things to Know About Evangelicals in America,” Gallup, May 31, 2018. Accessed March 26, 2024, https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/235208/things-know-evangelicals-america.aspx.

[3] This is highly ironic when we consider that the same evangelicals who are quick to arm the ad populum defense against their opponents were themselves born a minority. The Reformation began with a single man and remained very small for some years. It wasn’t until long after the sixteenth-century that Protestant teachings gained significant traction and ballooned into the massive global religion that it is now. Thus, the ad populum argument that evangelicals are prone to using, if applied to their own religion, renders it false. If it is true that might makes right, and the popular school of thought at the time of the Reformation was Catholicism, then Protestantism was heretical from the very start. But since Protestantism has now become the majority view (or at least, a widely popular view), then it has become valid because of its popularity. So, if ad populum logic is to be believed, then what was once heretical and false suddenly becomes legitimate simply because it has gained a sufficient following. In other words, objective reality changes as a result of subjective views. This is clearly nonsensical.

[4] Groups are notoriously bad at making sound, objective decisions. They are prone to psychological stumbling blocks like groupthink, group polarization, and illogical conformity. Consider, for example, the famous Asch conformity experiments, wherein a significant proportion of participants conformed to an incorrect majority opinion, even when they knew it was objectively wrong. S.E. Asch, “Studies of Independence and Conformity: I. A Minority of One Against a Unanimous Majority,” Psychological Monographs: General and Applied 70, no. 9 (1956): 1-70, https://doi.org/10.1037/h0093718.

[5] It is estimated that as many as 3 million Americans believe that the earth is flat. Are we to believe that as well, simply because millions of others do? Lawrence Hamilton, “Conspiracy vs. Science: A Survey of U.S. Public Beliefs,” University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy, April 25, 2022. Accessed March 26, 2024, https://carsey.unh.edu/publication/conspiracy-vs-science-a-survey-of-us-public-beliefs.

[6] This figure is based upon relatively conservative estimates of the world’s antediluvian population. Some estimates put the number as high as four million, in which case Noah’s family would have been an even smaller minority.

[7] This, too, is a conservative estimate. Other estimates of the global population at the time reach as high as 100 million.

[8] Calculation based off the estimated peak population of the nation of Israel prior to the destruction of the second temple as well as a conservative estimate of the global population at the time. Amiram Barkat, “Study Traces Worldwide Jewish Population From Exodus to Modern Age,” Haaretz Daily Newspaper, April 29, 2005, https://www.haaretz.com/2005-04-29/ty-article/study-traces-worldwide-jewish-population-from-exodus-to-modern-age/0000017f-e7d1-d97e-a37f-f7f53ba50000?v=1711492144007; “Historical Estimates of World Population,” United States Census Bureau, last modified December 5, 2022. Accessed March 26, 2024, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/international-programs/historical-est-worldpop.html.

[9] This estimate was calculated using the five hundred brothers Christ appeared to after His resurrection (1Co 15). Again, this is a conservative estimate, given that the technical beginning of the early church was earlier and with a much smaller group (we can mark the beginning of the early church as the moment when Christ empowered His apostles with the authority to bind and loose, given that this was the beginning of the church’s earthly reign (Joh 20:22 w Mat 16:18-19, 18:15-18). The global population estimate used for this calculation can be found in Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (Germany: Princeton University Press, 2020), 7.

[10] In fact, Paul himself was a devout Jew who chose to convert to Christianity at a time when it was exceedingly unpopular, especially for Jews. He clearly did not put much stock in the idea that truth is found among the masses.

[11] While it is important to have faith, we know that faith cannot be the distinguishing factor given texts like Mat 7 and Luk 13 above (the unsaved groups in these texts were people that had faith—they believed in Jesus and trusted in His ability to save them).