Archive for December, 2017

Why has the church in the West declined?

December 20, 2017

The church is prospering in many parts of the world, but in the West in general, and in the UK in particular, the church seems to be in decline. In fact there has been a steady decline over the last one hundred years. Apart from a few bright spots, and a certain amount of ‘whistling in the dark’, the prospects for the visible church in Britain seem, humanly speaking, rather bleak.

Why has this happened? There may be a variety of reasons, but three stand out to me.

  1. The church has become too worldly, and individual Christians seem almost indistinguishable from their non-Christian neighbours. They follow the same fashions, often even when such fashions border on immodesty, they listen to the same music, even when the lyrics are, to say the least, risqué; they enjoy the same entertainments, even though the New Testament warns against enjoying the portrayal of sin (Romans 1:32); they read the same books, even though some books describe evil deeds in detail; they unthinkingly follow the current fashion for disfiguring their bodies with piercings and tattoos, and they are often vague or unsure of their beliefs. That they go to church perhaps once a week seems to be the only outward evidence of their Christian belief. Non-Christians often match or exceed some Christians in their friendliness, kindness and compassion. Sometimes workmates and neighbours do not realize that those close to them are even professing Christians.

Yet the Bible is very clear that Christians should stand out in society. They are to be in the world but not of it. (e.g. Matt. 5:13-16; Ephesians 5; Philippians 2:14, 15; II Corinthians 6:14-18; I John 2:15-17).

Apart from some, often vague, beliefs about God and a future life, there is sometimes little to distinguish Christians from unbelievers.

  1. A second reason for the decline of the church is academic compromise in order to be thought ‘scholarly’. This includes not only accepting critical and rationalistic views of Scripture, but also surrender to the atheistic beliefs of evolutionary so-called science. Macro-evolution has enormous implications for our Lord’s teaching and indeed the teaching of the whole New Testament. This compromise has been going on for over one hundred years, steadily increasing year by year.
  2. A third reason is failure to obey the command to ‘go on being filled with the Spirit’. (Eph. 5:18). The denial of any work of grace beyond conversion is understandable for at least two reasons. First, the dislike of any idea of two classes of Christians. Second, the heretical views and ungodly behaviour of some who claim to have been ‘baptized in the Spirit’. But to react against the biblical teaching of progress in the Christian life is to leave the church powerless. While we must acknowledge that every Christian born of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3, 5) has the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9; I Cor. 6:19), nevertheless we must not ignore the command of Ephesians 5:18, nor the promise of Christ in Luke 11:13. It is quite undeniable that the early Christians, though filled with the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, were filled again, and again (Acts 2:4; 4:31; cf.6:3; 7:55,etc).

This point is well expressed by George Smeaton: “[N]o more mischievous and misleading theory could be propounded, nor any one more dishonouring to the Holy Spirit, than the principle that because the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, the Church has no need, and no warrant, to pray any more for the effusion of the Spirit of God. On the contrary, the more the church asks (for) the Spirit and waits for his communications, the more she receives.” [The Holy Spirit, Banner of Truth, p. 255].

I believe that these three failures, worldliness, compromise with unbelief, and lack of Holy Spirit power, are some of the main reasons foe the weakness of the church in the West.