Declining Christianity – Clear your head

13 12 2012

Declining Christianity – Clear your head  (December 13th 2012)

A Statistical Bulletin from the Office of National Statistics of the UK included the following in its ‘Key Points’ that has just been published:

“The number of residents who stated that their religion was Christian in 2011 was fewer than in 2001. The size of this group decreased 13 percentage points to 59 per cent (33.2 million) in 2011 from 72 per cent (37.3 million) in 2001.”

What is remarkable about that is not the fact of fewer people declaring themselves Christians but that the figure is as massively high as that. I say this because other figures suggest that less than 5% of the population are in a church on a Sunday morning. Be generous and say there are people who work, can’t be in church or others who are Christians but disenchanted with church and it might be reasonable to say that there are say 7 or 8% of the population who have a faith worth expressing in some corporate form. (In the USA the figures are larger but the same decline IS taking place).

That bastion of liberal thinking, The Times, in its first leader yesterday, under the heading “Change not Decay” had a sub-heading, “The decline in Christian affiliation noted in the Census, is a challenge to the Church. It should respond by embracing, not rejecting, modernity.”

Now of course the Times, in a world where we value free speech, is entitled to pontificate on church matters but whether the editor is qualified to do so is another matter. It’s a bit like saying to Nick Clegg, “You know the Lib-Dems ought to think differently and lose the values they have campaigned on for the last twenty years” and of course papers do just that, but we accept that such political  ‘bodies of belief’ have come to such an organisation after careful thought and, although in Nick Clegg’s case it varies from Labour or Conservatives (or Democrats or Republicans), we accept that that is their way of thinking and their beliefs – and we accept that; we may not agree with it but we accept that that is where they are.

Now when it comes to the Christian faith we are in slightly different ball game because here we have a body of beliefs that start from the fundamental belief that there is a God and He is the One who communicated what we now have as our beliefs. So if we start, as no doubt many of the writers for the Times start, with a belief that there is no God, then you are wasting your time arguing baldly against the Christian faith because you fail to understand the basics.

If we are part of that declining majority, or are someone wanting to seriously think about the real issues here, may I suggest some key points of belief and then make some key suggestions to remedy that declining number.

Key Beliefs

1. Belief in the Bible

The vast majority of critics of the Christian faith, experience shows, have very little or no knowledge of the Bible or of its background. They therefore have never bothered to find our that, contrary to much public opinion, what you read in the Bible is quite reasonable and portrays a lifestyle that is better than most exhibited by modern culture. More over they have never bothered to look into the history of how the Bible came into being, and how it is made up and, therefore, do not realise that of all ancient documents it is the best attested and that there are very good reasons to accept it as it stands and it is not full of errors, contradictions etc., that modern society like to suppose. Modern society is largely ignorant of these things.

2. Lives based on the Bible

Moreover these cultural critics have failed to understand and choose to ignore the facts that:

  • Those with a strong faith, with strong beliefs in the validity and claims on them of the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, are statistically (yes, statistically, surveys again and again show it) likely to be healthier, more conscientious workers, more conscientious parents, more likely to remain in committed relationships, and be more likely to be contributing to the well-being of society.
  • Those churches that hold weakly to those beliefs, are the ones declining and actually they only exist because of the strength and financial well-being of those churches who do hold strongly to those beliefs, and declines in belief come from those have been part of such weak churches.

3. The Uniqueness of the Christian Faith.

As I have recently written elsewhere, let us not have any silly talk, as those in the secular world might assert as they look in from outside, that all religions are the same. That is born out of ignorance; all religions are different. For the outsider, you may look at the claims of the particular ‘religion’ and make your own assessment, but never say they are the same.

Christianity is unique in its claims that:

  • God has come to this earth in human form (Jesus Christ),
  • lived on this earth for some thirty three years in the land of Israel two thousand years ago,
  • the last three of which were spent teaching and performing signs and wonders to reveal who he was to those with eyes to see.
  • At the end of that period he was killed and after three days rose from the dead and a number of weeks later ascended bodily into heaven.
  • The claim is that in his death, the Son of God took the punishment due to the human race so that whoever may come to God and receive forgiveness and enter into a life of love and goodness,  empowered by God, a life that is all about, not trying to win God’s favour but simply receiving it.

Suggestions for Recovery

For those of us with faith, we are to reject the temptation that puts on sackcloth and ashes and bemoans the awful times we live in and declining church figures, and instead reclaim who we have been and who we are, and when we do that, we will find sensible people coming to their senses and returning to God! .

1. A People of Assured Beliefs

Now obviously from what I have said in the earlier part, a starting point has to be a people who are confident in their beliefs and confident that they know WHY those beliefs are valid. Sentimental ‘thoughts’ or mushy ten-minute meditations on a Sunday morning do nothing to equip a people to realise who they are and what they have going for them!  The church needs to return to the historic role of teacher of truth as clearly seen in the New Testament of the Bible. When we do that, the rest can follow.

2. A People of Love and Concern expressed in Goodness

Listen how one historian speaks about the church in the past. He said it was known for its care of widows and orphans, its alms houses, hospitals, foundling homes, schools, shelters, relief organizations, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies and so on.”  Yes, down through the ages it has been the church that has worked into society providing the things that today the Welfare State tends to provide. When there was no Welfare State, when no one particularly cared for the needy, it was the Church who stepped forward, expressing the love of Jesus to his world.

The world looks for a church that is not introspective but moves with the love, care, and compassion of Jesus Christ, to bring God’s goodness into the society round about it.

3. A People of Revelation and Power

The early Church of the New Testament reveals a people who were not afraid to say, “God says,” because they were a people who heard God. We need to teach all new believers to learn to listen to God through the various means He has given us, and then live our lives and perform our serving on the basis of what we hear. That will change the world.

But Jesus and the early church also exhibited the power of God to bring (good) change to lives. Millions of testimonies down through the centuries have been, “I came to God through Jesus Christ and my life has been utterly transformed,” or, “Well, I’m not sure I understand all this but all I know is that He has healed me,” or “All I know was that I lived a life of addiction, and when I came to Christ he set me free, and life is now wonderful,” or “I was lost, lonely, drifting and without meaning in life, but when I came to Jesus Christ I found, love, friendship healing and purpose in life and now I feel utterly fulfilled.  Those are genuine testimonies that have been repeated millions of times – because God IS, and God is ALIVE, and God DOES STUFF when we come to Him – and it is good!

Well there we are. Think on this and see where it take you.