TOO many Christians in the UK are living with an illusion. Let me tell you plainly: it’s over. The days of being a Christian country have gone, and they are not coming back any time soon. It is imperative that we grasp this. Instead of pretending we are living in a pale imitation of the past, we have to work out how to live in the present and prepare for the future.
I pray (literally) that there might be a recovery of both church and nation, that the Holy Spirit will sweep through the land and we will have godly leaders in church and state. In the meantime, until God does this, we Christians have to get our own house in order. Merely doing what we have always done in the hope that this time it will work is to embrace failure.
True reform of society will not come about by government edict: politics and attempting to transform the state is not the answer. Hungary has a pro-Christian government which, unfashionable though it may be, I admire, but go to church there on Sunday and you will find very few fellow worshippers. Hungarian PM Viktor Orban once said that as a politician he could provide people with things, by which he meant material help and the creation of a different social structure where people could flourish, but he acknowledged that he could not provide people with meaning.
The thing which should truly worry us is not the future of the Western liberal democracy we are so used to. Political victories and the promotion of policies of which we approve are as nothing without foundational cultural change. The major concern of the Christian should be the future of the faith. Without the faith there will be no hope of recovery and rebuilding that which we have lost.
Those churches which have compromised with and embraced secular culture, especially the LGBTQ-etc ideology and the racialisation of society, are gradually emptying and are mainly sustained by a combination of elderly parishioners and the inherited wealth of earlier years. But are the churches which hold to orthodox biblical beliefs building resilient disciples able to resist the growing pressure against Christianity and counter it with faithful lives?
Comfortable in our fading position in society, we are about to encounter an entirely new situation. Our position is like that of the Israelites who left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea and travelled through the wilderness before encountering the River Jordan. They had to cross it into new territory, dangerous territory, the like of which they had never experienced.
If we are to survive and thrive in this new territory we have to change tactics. Some evangelicals are oriented towards relevance, making the presentation of the gospel ‘seeker sensitive’. Others have a transformational outlook, engaging in the culture wars on behalf of Christian viewpoints. What we need is a third option: we have to become a counter-culture.
This means more than being different from the world; we should be that already. Rather it means that we should be concentrating on building a Christian sub-culture of connected individuals and congregations who are consciously trying to support and encourage each other. We may have to wean ourselves from those institutions we have become accustomed to but which are indifferent, if not opposed, to the faith, and build new Christian institutions in areas such as education. The health and strength of the Christian community should be our main concern as we face the problems to come.
We have to develop at least two new mindsets. First, we have to accept that we are a minority. It is no good telling ourselves that most of the good people in the UK share our basic viewpoints, that it’s just a minority of radical progressives like Stonewall who have infiltrated the institutions and gained control. The reality is that the progressives have gained complete control, and through education and the media they have changed the social outlook of the West. We have to accept that biblically orthodox Christians are in a small minority and that we are on our own.
Then we have to abandon pragmatism and adopt an open mindset. In our churches, whether it is evangelism, influencing society or restructuring our denominations, we try to do the possible. One of the greatest weaknesses of pragmatism is that it doesn’t leave much room for God. We tend to review the situation, make our plans and then ask God to bless what we have put in motion.
We should be practical, but focusing on the possible can produce a failure mindset when our ‘possible’ plans fail to materialise. I am at that stage in life when I can look back over decades of ministry and seeing church bodies producing plan after plan, each of which was going to transform the church and make it ‘vibrant’, ‘exciting’ and ‘relevant’. One by one they have run into the quicksand only to be replaced by another ‘vibrant’ etc plan. This leads inevitably to fatalism.
We have to develop an open mindset, able to trust in God and explore. A couple of centuries ago risk-takers were leaving their comfort zones and going into the unknown, opening up the physical and scientific world. As knowledge grew a managerial mindset took over, a risk-averse mindset focused on control. This is the situation the church knows today. It is the mindset which is failing God’s people today, and it will fail God’s people tomorrow.
There is no panacea which will immediately revitalise the church and open all the doors now closing against us. We start with ourselves, and our reaction to God’s revelation. We cannot impact others until we have been impacted by God personally. Every true church reformation starts at the grass-roots. I’d suggest we start with the Bible and in particular the book of Acts and I Peter, an epistle written specifically to Christians under pressure in a hostile environment. Not trying to replicate the early church but learning lessons for today’s church. We must become individuals growing into unity, prepared to question and support each other, prepared to explore our situation and share our findings.
This article appears in A Grain of Sand and is republished by kind permission.