In the month of May a video called The UK Blessing, produced by 65 churches from all over the UK, went viral, reaching more than 2.5 million views within just a couple of weeks. Its main director, Tim Hughes, received an award from the Prime Minister, who called the video a ‘sensational singing masterpiece’.
‘Churches from around the UK,’ the white-on-black text reads, as the music fades in, ‘have come together at this time to sing a blessing over the nation.’ And then amazing vocalists from all over the UK (from Catholic Charismatic, England, to Vineyard, Northern Ireland) start to sing:
The Lord bless you and keep you
Make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace
As we receive, we agree, amen
Amen, amen, amen
May his favour be upon you and a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children
May his presence go before you and behind you,
And beside you, all around you,
And within you, he is with you, he is with you
In the morning, in the evening
In your coming, and your going
In your weeping and rejoicing
He is for you, he is for you
He is for you, he is for you
He is for you, he is for you
He is for you, he is for you…
What could possibly be the problem with that?
Let me start by saying what I appreciate about The UK Blessing. This is an excerpt from an email I sent to Tim Hughes: ‘May I add my thanks for all your hard work on The UK Blessing, which has turned out beautifully and touched many. It is a fine sentiment to wish a blessing on the nation at this time, and stands as a great example of “thinking outside of ourselves” when we can be tempted to hibernate until the storm has passed. I am writing to ask whether you would be so kind as to consider adding to your message a very important clarification?’
Before I go on, let me be clear, as I sought to be clear in this correspondence with Tim: this is not an attempted judgement on the people contributing to this video, whom I love as brothers and sisters in Christ, nor am I calling into question their motives, which were probably as generous and sincere as human motives can be. At one level, God’s people simply wanted to bless the nation, and they did so with enthusiasm and from the heart.
However, ‘…in its present form the message — quite unintentionally I am sure — dangerously misleads the lost as to their spiritual standing before a holy God by insisting and repeating, without qualification, “He is for you.” Of course God loves all people (Psalm 145:9), but is his message to lost sinners one of affirmation only? “He is for you” unaccompanied by anything else suggests that God is pleased with unrepentant sinners as they are — there is no hint in this song that people need to turn to this God and change their ways, in order to experience his full blessing.
‘The Bible repeatedly states, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (e.g. James 4:6). The truly humble are not those who care for the vulnerable, or NHS workers (by means of paid work or voluntary service), but those who acknowledge their sin and turn to God. Those who do not accept this truth, regardless of whether they are doing kind and compassionate things at this time, remain enemies of the living God, cut off from him, and condemned to death for eternity if they don’t repent.
‘Jesus’s opening words were not “bless you” but “repent and believe the good news”. Please could you consider adding in the description section underneath, for example, one of the following verses, perhaps with a brief explanation? Acts 3:26; Isaiah 55:6; Romans 8:1. I hope and pray that you receive this message in the spirit in which it is intended. I desire to see Christ exalted, the church purified, the lost saved.’
The problem arises from the fact that the words of this song are lifted out of context. In Numbers 6:23 it is expressly the people of Israel that are the recipients of this blessing, not the pagan nations. Moreover, even for God’s own people the blessing is not exactly unconditional. By chapter 14 of the same book God has judged this entire generation of Israelites.
I am not saying that it is wrong to wish a blessing upon a pagan nation (see Jeremiah 29:7). But I am saying that this message needs clarification, qualification, or it can mislead. When a toddler is running towards a road, a ‘Well done, look at you go!’, even if sincerely meant, is inappropriate — irresponsible, in fact. Spiritually, a godless nation is on the road to destruction, and our affirmation merely speeds them along that road, suggesting that they’re in no danger whatsoever. This is spiritually irresponsible.
Intended or unintended, this message from the UK church to the nation — ‘You’re ok’ — is problematic in and of itself: it deviates from the authentic gospel which declares that no-one is righteous and we all need Christ. But the problem is intensified when we consider the context.
The state we’re in
Civilised though this nation may appear to be — the police are generally quite polite, most people obey traffic lights, we’re rather good at queueing and saying ‘sorry’ to strangers when we’ve done nothing wrong (e.g. looking at the same item on a supermarket shelf) — in reality we are one of the most wicked nations on earth.
We kill more unborn babies proportionally than any other country in Western Europe – last year it was 1 in 4 babies in the womb, more than 200,000. More than that, we are global accelerators of this worldwide genocide, pumping hundreds of millions of pounds into killing babies abroad. Is this really the time for a word of affirmation?
Many have offered Christian responses to Covid-19 — what God is doing and how we are to respond: for my money the most helpful ones have settled on the lessons of Luke 13:1-5. At the very least, what we are seeing in this moment in history is a wake-up call from God, a call to repent while we can. Are we muting God’s wake-up call to the nation? With a song (and more generally an approach to public engagement) like this, lulling the nation back to its slumber? ‘It’s ok! Go back to sleep!’ This leads us to consider ourselves and the health of the church.
Dead or alive?
There is also in The UK Blessing (found in the description below the video) a message about the UK church herself: ‘Many of the churches included in this song have assisted with supplying over 400,000 meals to the most vulnerable and isolated in our nation since COVID-19 lockdown began. This alongside phone calls to the isolated, pharmacy delivery drops and hot meals to the NHS frontline hospital staff. Our buildings may be closed but the church is very much alive!’
Is it coincidence that the only causes cited here are of the kind that are likely to impress the secular world around us? Can you imagine here, ‘Proudly defending the lives of thousands of unborn children from abortion’? Of course not. For one thing, it wouldn’t be true (we’re hardly doing anything at all to defend the babies), but for another, even if it were true, can you imagine it being trumpeted on a video like this? No. Because the whole point of this pronouncement is to earn brownie points with popular culture, exalting the church according the criteria of the world, rather than exalting Christ according to the criteria of the Bible. Seeking to win favour in the world’s eyes, rather than in God’s eyes. There is a big difference. This is worldly church-proclamation in the place of godly Christ-proclamation.
Again, it is especially out of tune when we consider the context. Is this really the time to be trumpeting our own vitality? To name but one issue, for 50 years now we have turned a blind eye and walked by on the other side as a baby genocide has raged on our watch. Moreover, by refusing to teach on abortion within our churches, we have created environments hospitable to in-the-womb child abuse; we tolerate child sacrifice within the Body of Christ. Our churches — not only our land — are soaked in the blood of innocent children. Is this really the time for triumphalism, when we won’t even admit this problem? I’m reminded of Amos 5:23-24, and wonder whether Revelation 3:1-3 might be a more appropriate assessment.
Repentance is the only way forward
What then should the response of the church be in the present crisis? In a word: repentance. I fear that repentance has all but dropped out of the vocabulary of the UK evangelical church in 21st century. We expand, rebrand, amplify, multiply, but do we ever repent? Does it ever occur to us? What if it’s because of us that our nation is in such a state?
It’s on our watch that unrighteous law after unrighteous law has been passed and we’ve hardly said a thing. It’s on our watch that sexual perversion and destruction of the family have been promoted, and it is the teenagers and children that suffer for it. It’s on our watch that God’s precious image-bearers, 9 million of them, have been cruelly killed before they even saw the light of day.
What would be a real blessing to our nation at this time? It would be to repent of the fear of man that renders us so spiritually impotent and irrelevant in this generation, unable to truly proclaim Christ and confront sin and stand up for real justice, and then to call the nation to come back to God through Jesus Christ, in whom alone there is life. Only then will we be singing a song that’s truly in tune and a blessing.
This is a reduced version of an original article written by Dave Brennan. The full version can be read at brephos.org/post/the-trouble-with-the-uk-blessing.
Dave Brennan is Director of Brephos, a ministry that helps churches to teach about abortion.