A week or so ago a shocking statistic was mentioned in a TV programme. In 1950 70% of the UK population attended church on Christmas Day; in 2013, only 4% went to church on Christmas Day. Oh, I know, all sorts of excuses and mitigating factors might be advanced, such as, many of those attending in 1950 only went to church on Christmas Day. But that is probably true of the 4% in 2013 as well.
Whatever we may say or think, there has undoubtedly been a astonishing downward drift ever since the Second World War, and even earlier. This is evident not only in church attendance figures, which are simply one significant indicator, but also in morality, attitude to sexuality, Christian practice and also doctrine. Think of the millions of babies slaughtered in the womb, the negative changes in certain laws, the promotion of homosexuality and now even transgenderism. Consider also the emphasis upon toleration, which produces an attitude of toleration of every aberration but is militantly intolerant of biblical and Christians views and standards.
Sadly, there has also been a downward slide in the Christian church as a whole and in individual Christian beliefs and behaviour also. False doctrines are ignored and erroneous religious practices meekly tolerated, heresies and practices, which, for opposition to, our forefathers suffered fines, imprisonment and even death. What our ancestors died to oppose, many Christians meekly accept or ignore today. Even some churches that profess to be ‘Reformed’ are filled with heresies and ungodly behaviour. Worldliness is endemic among many churches and holiness is rarely mentioned and even more rarely taught.
We all know that there are sparks of fire and gleams of light here and there in this now pagan land of ours. But unless we bury our heads in the proverbial sand the wider outlook is very bleak. It is only too easy, if we find a ‘good’ church, to settle in comfortably and more or less ignore what goes on elsewhere. But even if we are aware and concerned about the situation in the land, it is not enough to “tut, tut”, shake our heads, point the finger at others and bury our heads in a ‘sound’ book, and listen to ‘good’ preaching. Much, much more is needed of true, faithful, obedient, sensitive Christians. Obviously what is needed is a mighty outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, in other words a revival. But what can we do? We can repent for a start.
One of the biggest mistakes that Christians can make is to imagine that repentance is something only unbelievers need to do. In the Book of Revelation, chapters two and three, seven letters are written by the glorified Christ to seven real churches existing at the time the apostle John recorded his visions. Five of those churches are urged, no commanded, to repent. Repentance is not just to be sorry or feel remorse, though sorrow is undoubtedly included (See 2 Cor. 7:8-11). Repentance means a turn around. It means stopping what we have been doing wrong and starting to do what is right. It means also being very sorry that we have failed to do the right things and to start doing them zealously. It means abandoning false doctrines and unbiblical practices and beginning to obey the Scriptures fully, and not only the bits that are convenient. So many Christians practise a ‘pick and mix’ procedure with the New Testament. We must study the Word of God as revealed in the New Covenant and put it into practice.
The other thing desperately needed is earnest, zealous, faithful, prolonged prayer. This is not just saying prayers. It is not repeating a liturgy. It is crying to God in sincerity and truth and earnestness and compassion and love for God and for the honour of Christ.
Is it not amazing that some of the most uplifting and inspiring parts of Scripture were written by a Christian suffering imprisonment for his faith (the Prison Epistles of Paul). It is perhaps no accident that some of the most inspiring non-biblical writings were also written by a Christian suffering imprisonment for his faith (John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, etc). Yet so often today we want to stay comfortable, and in order to do so, tolerate unbiblical practices and doctrines. We ignore them or label them ‘peripheral,’ ‘unimportant,’ or ‘non-essential.’ No wonder the world does not take many of us seriously.
Two books to stir and challenge: Battle for the Church, by David Gay (Amazon), and Revival Sent from God, by Raymond C. Ortland (IVP).