(TCW is staging a debate tomorrow evening on the future of Christianity in Britain. Leading writers Peter Hitchens and Tim Stanley will take opposing viewpoints, with Hitchens a pessimist about its chances of survival and Stanley an optimist. Here Rev Julian Mann gives his opinion on this vital subject.)
Christianity grew rapidly in the teeth of bouts of vicious state persecution in its first three centuries before Constantine established it as the official religion of the Roman Empire. It is now growing in many countries around the world, where it is not privileged by the State or even enjoys much toleration, including some Muslim ones.
The Lord Jesus Christ does not need the active support of secular governments or secular cultures to build His Church. Clearly though, if Britain did fall to political Islam in, say, the middle of this century, then that would create serious difficulties for public Christianity in what was this country.
Authentic Christian martyrdom, the sort that intends no harm to anybody else, could be what the living God is calling Christ’s followers to on this island under such dire political circumstances. Certainly, Christian history provides plenty of examples of the enduring public witness of Christians who have been faithful unto death.
But if the sovereign Lord God Almighty does choose to revive by His Word and Spirit the declining local churches of this country in the coming decades and to create many more new, thriving, Bible-teaching congregations, then that could help buttress parts of the British Isles against political Islam. Provided these non-Islamist regions had the wherewithal to defend themselves with a morally robust and disciplined military, they could be spaces where Christianity could grow under some kind of rule of law.
Under such a fragmented political scenario, it would of course be redundant to talk of ‘Britain’ as an identifiable nation for Christianity to have a future in, which itself suggests the motion of another TCW debate – ‘Britain has no future without Christianity’.
On the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem in the 1st Century AD, when the Lord God first bestowed the gift of His Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the prediction of the Old Testament prophet Joel came true: ‘And it shall come to pass that in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy’ (Acts 2v17- 18 – Authorised Version).
Joel’s prophecy continues to be fulfilled as the God of the Bible by His Holy Spirit enables Christian people, young and old, male and female, to testify to the reality of the risen Lord Jesus Christ in their local communities. That is happening through many local evangelical churches around the country today but it certainly needs to happen more for Christianity to have a public future in Britain.
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