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If church leaders will not lead, then the people of God must


WHAT’S going wrong? Scripture speaks clearly of the transformative power of the gospel; we have evidences throughout history of the gospel triumphing even when facing overwhelming odds. Yet look around at the West today, particularly in Europe, and you are confronted with a church in headlong retreat.

In Germany, church membership is in freefall and those remaining seem apathetic. Only 3.2 per cent of the members of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, the main Protestant church, actually bothered to attend services in 2018. In one area, attendance reached a new low of 2.2 per cent of members. In the UK in the 50 years up to 2019, 1,138 Church of England churches were converted for other uses and a further 500 were demolished.

This is not confined to Europe. The percentage of US adults belonging to a church or other religious institution has plunged by 20 percentage points over the past two decades, hitting a low of 50 per cent, according to a 2019 Gallup poll.

Christians are meant to have an impact, influencing and drawing others to Christ. Instead of Christians standing out as salt and light in a broken world, we hide our light under a bushel and allow the world’s beliefs and values to influence us. Too often the pronouncements of mainstream Christian leaders reflect priorities little different from those of the secular world.

The recently retired Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who was the second-highest prelate in the Church of England, praised massed Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Hyde Park who flouted the lockdown regulations as ‘FANTABULOUS’.

At the same time, he was insisting his clergy strictly abide by those same regulations and not enter their church buildings, even to record or transmit virtual Christian services for their parishioners.

The Church of Scotland recently issued a booklet regarding transgender issues. It consists of testimonies from 11 people, all pro-LGBTQ. Suggestions such as a ‘21st century’ update to the ‘patriarchal’ Scriptures and a genderless rewording of the Lord’s Prayer are included. One of the booklet’s essays asserts that ‘some men have vaginas and some women have penises’.

A church spokesman said the guide is aimed at ‘giving people the space to talk about their faith’. Yet there was no space given in the entire 30 pages for anyone speaking in defence of the traditional teaching of Scripture. Whose priorities are being promoted, the world’s or the church’s?

In these days of lockdown, 25 Christian leaders signed a letter asking the Government to trust clergy to reopen responsibly. They argued that the right to worship is given to us by God and not the state. Not one of those leaders holds an official position in a mainstream denomination.

Christian researcher Dr George Barna, with the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University in the US, produces an annual study of the worldviews of Americans. The opening paragraph of the 2020 study, released last week, makes disquieting reading:

‘As our nation’s biblical foundations continue to erode, Americans’ understanding of the fundamental nature of humanity and the value of human life is shifting significantly – with a large majority of Americans today believing that human beings are “basically good,” and less than 40 per cent seeing human life as having intrinsic value or as being “sacred”.

‘Although they conflict with traditional biblical teaching, these views increasingly have permeated well beyond the secular culture to all but the most conservative, deeply religious segments of American society.’

We can expect non-Christians to think non-biblically – that’s what pagans do. But that educated adults claiming to be Christians also have such substandard understanding of basic biblical truths is frightening for the future of the church.

The one encouraging part of the study is that the part of society resisting the secular influence and retaining biblical teaching is the much-reviled ‘conservative and deeply religious’ section.

In a comment on A Grain of Sand’s last post, Grrod, quoting Paul Romans 8:37, remarks: ‘We are “more than conquerors through Him who loves us.” We need to start acting as though we are.’ 

We can agree with him, but how are we to do this?

1. Wake Up: Read the signs of the times. Most Christians do not appreciate just how radical is the cultural change going on around us. If we are not careful, the church is going to be utterly changed along with the culture.

That’s how cultures work: they constantly seek a new cultural consensus, a new normal, so they can say: ‘We move on from here’; and we know the direction of travel. The culture is counting on Christians being asleep at the wheel and failing to respond with coherent, compelling biblical argument.

2. Teach With Application: To resist this cultural revolution with coherent and compelling biblical argument requires very clear biblical preaching and teaching from the pulpit.

We don’t need bare theological lectures. Congregations need to be helped to understand how the biblical teaching impacts on everyday life. When the church was at its strongest, preachers not only taught sound theology, they followed it up with: ‘This is how we should live.’

3. Hard Thinking: Christians in the pew have all the equipment necessary to think through the issues confronting the world today; we have answers. But it requires diligence and very careful thinking to find and express them. If we are to answer the secular world, we need to heed Peter’s advice and ‘always be prepared’ I Peter 3:15 when defending the faith before unbelievers.

If you have any favourite websites you find helpful in preparing Christians to confront our cultural revolution, please share them and help the rest of us.

If leaders are not going to lead, it is up to God’s people themselves. This may be hard, but not impossible. We have more resources to help us prepare to defend the faith than any previous generation. The only question is: ‘Do we have the will?’

This article was first published on the website A Grain of Sand and is reproduced by kind permission.

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Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Campbell is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Stirlingshire. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.

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