Sometimes I wonder if we realise the extent to which our own country has become a mission-field. In reality it is something that we ought never to have forgotten. Has Britain ever been a ‘Christian country’ in the sense that a majority of its people could lay claim to that identity?
The disturbing facts of the present situation were focused in my mind by some statistics published last year. I cannot vouch for their accuracy, but I suspect that they tell a pretty accurate story. For what they are worth here they are.
In 1955 some 83% of adults surveyed said they had attended Sunday school or Bible classes during their childhood. A similar survey taken in 1997 found that only 14% of children were involved in a church-related activity on a Sunday.
When you remember that in both cases all sorts of churches and Sunday schools would have been included, not just those where the teaching would be faithful to the Scriptures, the real picture is quite appalling in its implications.
Certainly, my own experience over the years supports the accuracy of the figures. For example, I can remember my own childhood and youth in the late 40s and early 50s, when the regular attendance at the Sunday school I attended was always over 300. And that was small. Older people, even then, used to speak of ‘the good old days’ when attendances were 800-1000!
Now, don’t get me wrong. It is not the falling numbers that are my primary concern but what inevitably lies behind them. It implies that the population at large now lacks even a basic modicum of knowledge of the gospel.
There was a time – probably twenty to thirty years ago – when parents who themselves had attended a church or Sunday school in their younger days would send their children along even though they themselves never darkened the doorstep. But that is history! Sunday sport, the TV, Sunday shopping, and a host of other alternatives now vie for what used to be a vacant spot in the national diary.
The consequence is a terrible ignorance of biblical truth in virtually all generations, but especially among the young people of our land. Their knowledge of authentic Christianity is likely to be as hazy as their understanding of the many other religions that have taken root in our society. Indeed, knowledge of the latter may exceed that of Christianity, given the way many primary schools place an emphasis on the ceremonies and festivals of those other faiths (and do so at the expense of simple Bible teaching).
As far as we are concerned, this means we can take nothing for granted – people may not even know who Jesus is or whether he ever existed. You may have heard the term ‘post-modernism’ being bandied about, and wondered what on earth it is. It certainly is the buzz-word in some intellectual and pseudo-intellectual circles today.
Basically, it refers to a way of thinking in which there are no absolutes. What is right for you is not necessarily right for me, and in any case God is a figment of weak imaginations. This philosophy is being steadily inculcated by educators and the various mass media. Even more pervasive is the influence of the example set for the rising generation by their elders (and supposedly betters). Indeed, ‘post-modernism’ could be the fashionable philosophical tag that society has been desperately searching for since the 50s, to give intellectual respectability to its increasing abandonment of moral concepts.
The new morality
Across the water, in the USA, this philosophy seems to have spawned a new moral climate. It is now deemed wrong to raise questions about the immoral and illegal things that the captain has been doing in his cabin, so long as he has kept the ship off the economic rocks. And, if the escapades and lifestyles of this country’s politicians are anything to go by, things are not much different here.
This latest ‘new morality’ simply affirms that there is no such thing as a binding moral code, especially if you want to impose it on me! On that basis Christianity, with its claims to be exclusive and universally valid, is simply not even worth considering.
Again, years ago when I was a teenager, I remember hearing my minister preach a sermon for which I would now give him very low marks if it were judged exegetically. It was on the text, ‘And there were also with Him other little ships’ (Mark 4:36). He proceeded to point out, in a quite memorable way, that those other ships suffered the dangers of the subsequent storm, and enjoyed the blessings of the great calm that followed. He illustrated his point by reference to the moral chaos that preceded the Methodist Revival, and the social and legislative improvements that followed that great work of God.
He should have found a better text to prove it, but he undoubtedly had a point! There is always a wider spin-off when God blesses or judges the church.
A cause for concern
A recent article in The Times illustrates what I am trying to say. ‘Is it’, asks the writer, ‘a new moral thing, or an old, that a lesbian couple practising self-insemination should, before breaking up their partnership, have had two DIY babies using a pickle jar and a syringe? Or that another similar couple should purchase the frozen sperm of a stranger via the Internet? And when, until now, would a distinguished surgeon, describing “the prospect of taking a dead person’s face and draping it over the skull of a living man or woman” declare … that “it is simply like changing the cloth of an armchair”?’
The same writer went on, using data from the Office for National Statistics, to claim that ‘As early as the year 2000, nuclear families could be outnumbered by stepfamilies. By the year 2020, with present trends, one in three people in Britain will be living alone and most women will be single, only 48 per cent of them being wives as such. Married couples will be in a minority’. Yes, things are that bad – or they soon will be.
Nothing too hard for the Lord
But although there is cause for deep concern, there is no cause for panic. We have been here before – or at least some of our predecessors have. Our present situation is strangely akin to the lamentable state of affairs recorded in the Book of Judges when ‘there was no king in Israel [and] every man did that which was right in his own eyes’ (Judges 21:25).
God brought his people out of that dark epoch, largely through the ministry of the prophet Samuel. All Israel became aware ‘that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD’ (1 Samuel 3:20).
Our God can do it again. Do we really believe that he is incapable of doing in our own land what history has seen him doing elsewhere, as men have brought the Word of God to hopelessly pagan situations and won the day? ‘Is anything too hard for the LORD?’ asked God of Abraham, when Sarah’s laughter betrayed her lack of faith (Genesis 18:14).
No, we are not to be daunted by the situation, but rather let it drive us to our knees before the same Lord. That means zero self- reliance and total God-dependence. Such a formula, coupled with obedience and faithfulness, spells blessing and victory.
We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day Thy grace to know
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph peeling:
We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.
May God grant that we shall not merely sing these words, but act them out.