In the landscape of modern Christianity, Evangelicalism is one of the largest denominations in the world, representing an estimated 30-50% of the more than 2.14 billion professing Christians in the world.1 Various estimates suggest that around 40% of the United States’ professing Christian population is Evangelical, making Evangelicalism the largest denomination in the country by a long shot.2 Many mistakenly interpret Evangelical Christianity’s popularity among the masses as an indication of its legitimacy, drawing the conclusion that if so many would subscribe to a certain belief system, then that belief system must be bona fide. After all, how could so many independent minds believe in a common false doctrine? Many in the same camp will go so far as to suggest the theological beliefs of smaller denominations or groups must be wrong (or at least partially wrong) given their much smaller comparative size. This bandwagon mentality is a form of a common logical fallacy known as ad populum, in which a claim is supported as true on the grounds that many think it is true. In fact, this particular fallacy is what is known as a material fallacy, meaning that it is always illogical, regardless of the specific circumstances or application.3 Popularity, therefore, is not adequate evidence to substantiate claims and prove the truth (e.g., over 3 million people in the United States believe that the Earth is flat according to recent polls, are we to believe that as well4The Changing Religious Composition of the U.S., Pew Research Center?) As millions of mothers across the country might ask: Would you jump off a bridge just because all your friends were doing it? Simply put, might does not necessarily make right. Only a fool accepts something as truth simply because it’s the popular thing to do.
Modern Evangelicalism has its roots in the Protestant Reformation, which began in 1517 when Martin Luther, a single man, published a document entitled 95 Thesesin which he disputed the teachings of the very powerful and widespread Catholic Church. Only later did his teachings gain traction and balloon into the massive global religion that we now call Protestantism. At its inception, the Reformation was a small minority of individuals that boldly chose to go against the grain of popular belief. But applying our logical fallacy of ad populum to these facts, we find that if the popular school of thought at the time was Catholicism, then the Reformation (and therefore Protestantism) was heretical from the very start. But if Protestantism is now the undisputed majority in the modern United States, it has become valid because of its popularity. So what was once heretical and false suddenly becomes legitimate simply because it gained enough followers? 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. Clearly, this is an absurd strategy for determining truth. Biblical truth has always been determined by God, not by men. So instead of jumping on the bandwagon, let’s throw out the material fallacy of ad populum for a moment and consider the biblical evidence.
The pattern of salvation we see in the Bible, from the Old Testament to the New, contradicts the idea of the majority holding the truth. Since the fall in Genesis, those in the Bible who embrace sound doctrine and are thereby approved by God have always been a very small minority. For example, Noah’s family, the only righteous human family spared from the flood in Genesis, represented merely eight people out of an estimated 4 billion, or 0.0000002% of the global population at the time. Similarly, Abraham’s family of 25 stood alone among 2.8 million, making them 0.00089% of the population. Even the nation of Israel made up about 0.074% of the world in its day. And the early church, established on earth by Christ himself, constituted about 0.002% of all those earth at the time.* From Genesis to the New Testament, those considered sanctified and righteous in the eyes of God are always a remnant, never the majority. As is said of Israel in the book of Isaiah: “For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return.” (Isa 10:22). This prophetic statement, originally foreseeing that only a righteous minority of the generally wicked nation of Israel would be saved, is later applied in a new context by Paul in the book of Romans, who uses it as justification for the small number of Jews converting to Christ 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.” (Romans 9:27-28)
The idea then that majority rule can serve to determine or indicate truth is contradictory not only to the pattern of salvation we see in biblical history but also to the future we are promised in biblical prophecy. This can be seen in Christ’s words regarding the kingdom of heaven to come in Matthew 7 and Luke 13:
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.’” (Matthew 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.” (Luke 13:23-24)
Clearly, Christ is teaching that only a small number of those who attempt to enter heaven will be able to do so, and most will instead find themselves condemned to hell. Only a remnant of Christians (those who call Him “Lord, Lord”) will be saved, and 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; cf. Heb 4:4-11; Rom 2:13; 13:8-14; Mat 5:18-19; 19:16-17; Luk 10:25-28; 1Co 7:19).
Christ does not teach us that we should determine truth by popularity or majority rule. Since Noah’s time, the majority has been home to the wicked and unfaithful who are destined for condemnation. He instead teaches us that we should identify and align with the objective truth (Joh 18:37-38). The truth, according to Christ and Scripture, is this: legitimate disciples will always be despised and persecuted by those who represent the majority in the Christian Faith (Joh 15:18-25; 2Ti 3:14). In the last days, the faithful’s numbers will dwindle as the world becomes increasingly sinful until those who have endured are surrounded on all sides by wickedness (Mat 24:21-23; 2Pe 3:1-10; 2Ti 3:1-7; Rev 20:7-10). Given this teaching from our Lord, we should expect that the number of legitimate Christians in existence today would be decreasing as the lawlessness and wickedness of our world increases.
How, then, should we distinguish the legitimate from the illegitimate, the true Christians from the false? Neither majority nor minority should be the determining delineation. If the answer were to be determined based on the biblical record (see above), the win would go to the minority. However, what makes them the minority(versus the fact that they are the minority) is the place to look. And when queried, the answer that repeatedly comes back is one thing: obedience. The true followers of God have always been those willing to submit to and obey God’s laws. That is the consistent and dominant pattern witnessed throughout redemptive history. The true followers of God are known (or identified) by faithful obedience (1Jo 3:7-10; Rev 17:14, 19:8b).
What then can we conclude? Not all of the 2 billion people who profess to be Christians today are legitimate followers of Christ (as evidenced by their disobedience – the consequence of their belief in such obedience as unnecessary to salvation). Rather that number is much smaller, a minority – identified by their obedience to God’s law – the attribute that has distinguished the legitimate from the illegitimate throughout redemptive history.
The final question for those who seek comfort in numbers, desire to determine biblical truth via the court of public opinion, and delude themselves into thinking that “might makes right”: Will you jump off the bridge simply because all your friends are?