Christianity is growing around the world and some churches in Britain are growing. But one of the main motives for praying for Revival in Britain is the widespread decline of the church numerically, spiritually and morally.

Church attendance

 

Church attendance in Britain is declining but what does that tell us about religious belief? Dr Peter Brierley, an expert on religious statistics, pointed out recently that in 2000 72% of British people said they believed in God and 5% attended church. In 2015 the figures were 60% and 4% respectively and he estimated that, at this rate, in 2020 they would be 50% and 3% respectively. So, despite the decline in church attendance, many of those who have left the church still have religious beliefs. Some may be genuine Christians but disenchanted with the church. Some may be nominally Christian. Some may believe in God as creator. Some may be adherents of other religions.

 

Steve Aisthorpe, Mission Development Worker for the Church of Scotland, published a book in 2016 called “The Invisible Church.” He did a survey of people who no longer attend church and reported that, of the 2000+ people who leave churches each week, the majority remain committed to their faith. He added that many meet up with others informally or online.

 

The important question is how much Christian belief amongst those who have left the church is purely nominal and not a saving faith.

Digital religion

 

It is interesting that smart phones and social media are playing an increasing role in Christianity. The Rev Pete Phillips is director of the Codec Research Centre for Digital Theology at Durham University. He has said “A new kind of mutated Christianity for a digital age is appearing. One that follows many of the ethics of the secular world.” It is focused more on the charitable and moral side of the Bible – the underlying tenets of religion, rather than the notion that the Universe was created by an all-seeing, all-powerful leader. This very individualistic approach means that people can pick and choose what doctrine they believe and avoid doctrines they don’t like. Phillips wrote “Millennials prefer this generalised picture of God rather than an interventionist God, and they prefer God to Jesus, because he’s non-specific. He stands behind them and allows them to get on with their own lives rather than Jesus, who comes in and interferes with everything.” But this pick-and-mix religion is hardly Christianity. True Christians who have left the church are missing out on Christianity as essentially corporate, as the New Testament makes clear. For example, at the heart of the faith is meeting together for Communion.

Unbelief amongst those claiming to be Christians

 

A Com Res survey in 2017 found that 28% of people who identified as Christians (including 5% of those who identified as “active” Christians) did not believe in the resurrection. Yet a third of people who identified as non-Christians believed in the resurrection. 10% of “active” Christians didn’t believe in life after death.

 

A 2017 YouGov poll about the importance of the 10 Commandments found that less than one third of Christians believe in preserving Sunday as a day of rest, only 38% were against using the Lord’s name in vain and only 43% disapproved of the worshipping of idols.

 

So, again, although there are people claiming to be Christians who don’t attend church, their beliefs sometimes conflict with Christianity.

 

Then there was the 2017 Christian Greenbelt Festival which invited participants to “Experience dhikr (remembrance), meditation, and poetry, and witness the sacred movement of the whirling dervishes. Participants can learn basic universal Sufi chants that are rhythmic, healing and a unique form of mystical worship.” I am thoroughly in favour of interfaith dialogue and respect but such worship in a Christian context is unbiblical and conflicts with the fundamental belief that Jesus is the only way of salvation.

 

Also in 2017 there was a controversial reading from the Quran at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral Epiphany Service in Glasgow. A Muslim law student went beyond the reading included in the order of service and added verses explicitly denying Jesus was the son of God. The dean, Kelvin Holdsworth, commented “This same Quranic reading has been given before in services and no outcry has happened. Is it because this is in a cathedral run by a gay man?” Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali commented “Christians should know what their fellow citizens believe and this can include reading the Qur’an for themselves, whether in the original or in translation. This is not, however, the same thing as having it read in Church in the context of public worship. It is particularly insensitive to have this passage read in Church on the Feast of the Epiphany when we celebrate not only Christ’s manifestation to the gentiles but also his baptism and the divine declaration, ‘You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.’”

Distrust in the church and clergy

 

A survey in December 2016 by nfpsynergy found that 56% of the British population had very little or not much trust in the church. An Ipsos/Mori poll found that 25% of people did not trust clergy or priests. 69% said they did trust them compared with 93% trusting nurses, 91% doctors and 88% teachers.

 

One of the worst factors which has damaged the church is, of course, sexual abuse by clergy. This has seriously affected the Church of England. But more recently the Roman Catholic Church has been the focus of concern. In Ireland sexual abuse has seriously damaged the Catholic Church. Twenty years ago 90% of the population were regular attenders at mass. Now the figure is about 18%. In America, after a two-year investigation, Jos Shapiro, Attorney General of Pennsylvania discovered 1000 victims but said there are likely to be many more. He added that in some cases, “the cover up stretched all the way up to the Vatican” and that bishops “protected their institution at all costs”. His colleagues believe that, even today, bishops are working hard to protect themselves. All of this has done enormous damage to the church and to the cause of the gospel.

 

On a different level, the apparently uncritical support of American Evangelicals for Donald Trump has undermined their credibility and some are dropping the description “Evangelical” accordingly. In fact, there is a support group on Facebook called “Exvangelical”! Inevitably people in Britain will conclude that British Evangelicals are Trump supporters too, which is not helpful.

The situation in the Church of England

 

There are good things going on in the Church of England, for example various initiatives reaching out to local communities such as the new Advance 2020 initiative. The organisers hope it will mean “the gospel being taken to the nation on an unprecedented scale.” One of the organisers said “We’re dreaming of seeing the United Kingdom come back to relationship with Jesus.” Evangelistic initiatives like this are very good and should be fully supported. But we have to face up to experience. They have very limited effects and tend to influence only the minority of churches already into evangelism. Also we are dealing with a population which is very resistant to the gospel. It is very important to do evangelism but it will only scratch the surface. We need more. We need revival.
There are also prayer initiatives such as “Thy Kingdom Come” – an international, ecumenical call to 10 days of prayer around Pentecost which grew out of an initiative of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in 2016. It involves over 50 denominations in 85 countries. There is a lot of faithful work going on in parishes, although the overburdening of the reduced number of clergy is a growing problem (however a growing number of younger people want to become ordained). And some churches are growing. At its best the Church of England has a lot to offer.

 

However it is facing enormous problems. There is serious numerical decline in many churches and many have small elderly congregations which doesn’t bode well for the future. The number of people identifying with the Church of England has more than halved (from 31% to 14%) in the last 15 years according to a recent British Social Attitudes survey. One Christian commentator said: “The Church [of England] is becoming less and less embedded in the public consciousness as representative of their own spiritual identity. It has become strange.”

 

Controversy over sexuality

 

The main issue it is struggling with is controversy over sexuality. There has been extensive bad publicity over sexual abuse by clergy and even one bishop. The Church of England has been facing 3,300 allegations of sexual abuse. It has been made worse by the fact that the issue has not been handled well by some bishops – a fact which has hit the headlines.

 

The other prominent aspect of the sexuality controversy in the C of E is the issue of homosexual practice, gay marriage etc. Officially the church is committed to the biblical view that sex is a gift of God to be enjoyed only within the context of heterosexual marriage. Anglican Canon Law states: “the Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is a union permanent and life-long, of one man with one woman…”

 

However, in an interview in October 2017, the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked “Is gay sex sinful?” He replied: “Because I don’t do blanket condemnation and I haven’t got a good answer to the question. I’ll be really honest about that. I know I haven’t got a good answer to the question. Inherently, within myself, the things that seem to me to be absolutely central are around faithfulness, stability of relationships and loving relationships.” In just a few words the archbishop seriously undermined the biblical stance of the Church of England.

 

In addition Canon Giles Goddard, chair of the Human Sexuality Group of the Church of England’s General Synod, said the church could not maintain its traditional position. He wrote an open letter on behalf of 240 of the 483 synod members, saying: “Marriage between a man and a woman is the majority stance of the Anglican Communion, but just because so many people say something does not mean it is right.”

 

A recent British Social Attitudes survey found that 73% of Anglicans don’t think premarital sex is wrong, and 55% don’t think gay sex is wrong. 62% of Roman Catholics support same-sex relationships. In 1985 only 9% of Christians in Britain supported same-sex relationships.

 

Confusion in the House of Bishops and General Synod

 

There is huge controversy over the issue in the General Synod which has a strong pro-gay lobby led by such people as Jayne Ozanne, an Evangelical who recently ‘came out’ as a lesbian.

 

Hereford Diocesan Synod passed a motion calling for “official prayers and a dedication service for gay couples after their civil partnership or marriage.” This has not been discussed in General Synod but it does not take much imagination to see that the church is moving towards such a position.

 

One of the problems is the confusing messages coming particularly from the House of Bishops. On the one hand they say they are maintaining the biblical teaching on marriage. On the other they appear to be moving towards accepting homosexual practice.

 

A 2017 report from the House of Bishops supported the official definition of marriage but also backed a greater role for practising homosexuals in the Church. The archbishops have promised “radical new Christian inclusion” in the church. The bishops were accused of “looking both ways” in sexuality.  The house is working on a report on sexuality to be presented in 2020.

 

In August 2018 Ely Cathedral flew the “Pride flag” to support the local pro-gay organisation held its first festival. The bishop defended this and said it did not represent a shift away from traditional church teaching on sexuality and gender. But the festival was not just supporting the correct idea that homosexuals should be treated with full respect as people. It was affirming that homosexual practice is acceptable.

 

On the 50th Anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in the UK the archbishops made a public statement which included the words “Sin is not a characteristic of a particular group of people. Sin is the same for all of us. And the challenge to take onto ourselves the obligation to be yoked with Christ, to bear the load he gives us, is the same for all of us.” This statement is true but anyone who follows events in the Church of England knows that the intended implication is that the church should therefore tolerate homosexual practice. The correct implication is that the church should not accept any unbiblical behaviour – in any of us – but urge repentance on everyone. This is certainly not the message the church is giving.

 

Uncritical emotional reactions

 

Another serious problem is the tendency of the church to act on a purely emotional level. Take for example the tragic case of 14-year old Lizzie Lowe who committed suicide because she did not believe she would be accepted as a Christian because she believed she was gay. Who could not be deeply distressed at such a tragedy? It shows the importance of the church making it clear that it accepts and respect homosexuals as people just as much as heterosexuals. But, sadly, in addition to this, her traumatised church has radically changed to accept homosexual practice. For example, it invited the first Didsbury [Gay] Pride event to take place in its grounds. It has also joined with 11 other neighbouring churches to become the first “inclusive” Deanery in the Church of England. The area Dean is gay.

 

The church must warmly welcome all human beings but it should not necessarily welcome their behaviour.

Increasing support for homosexual practice in other churches

 

The Scottish Episcopal Church decided in 2017 to approve same-sex marriages taking place in their churches. One third of its clergy have asked to be licensed to take them. However St Thomas’ Edinburgh has left the Episcopal Church because of the decision. The rector, David McCarthy, said “We have not done it easily. We have had many tears and many sleepless nights. It is a tragic necessity. But it is the Episcopal Church who are leaving us. They are leaving orthodoxy.”

 

A few months later, in a meeting of Anglican Primates in Canterbury, a decision was made to exclude the Scottish Episcopal Church from ecumenical and leadership roles in the Anglican Communion.

 

In September 2018 the head of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange gave a presentation on same-sex marriage to the Church in Wales. Afterwards the governing body stated: “It is pastorally unsustainable for the Church to make no formal provision for those in same-gender relationships.”

 

Meanwhile the Presbyterian Church in Ireland decided against allowing same-sex marriages and not to allow those in same-sex relationships to be full members. This resulted in 232 senior members of the church writing to express their “profound sense of hurt, dismay and anger” at those decisions.

 

In May 2018 the Anglican Church in New Zealand voted in favour of blessing couples in same-sex relationships. But it does not permit same sex marriages to take place in churches.

Serious division

 

In view of all this, it is hardly surprising that the Church of England and the Anglican Communion are facing serious division (and will face more in the future). The Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) is a new organisation which seeks to establish Anglican Churches in England outside the Church of England. However it also supports Church of England churches which are seriously struggling with the way the Church of England is going. AMiE grew out of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) which involved archbishops, bishops, clergy and lay leaders. The first conference happened in 2008 and its aim was to take a “united stand against the moral compromise, doctrinal error and the collapse of biblical witness that were becoming prevalent in parts of the Anglican Communion.” The conference said that the Episcopal Church of the USA, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Scottish Episcopal Church had departed from the Christian faith (over the issue of homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage). They called on the Archbishop of Canterbury not to invite representatives of these churches to the Lambeth Conference in 2020 and said if he didn’t the archbishops in GAFCON would not attend.

 

AMiE has recently taken the very controversial step of arranging the consecration of an English clergyman as a bishop outside the structure of the Church of England. He is Andy Lines and is legally the Missionary Bishop to Europe of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which is outside the Anglican Communion. He has ordained people as Anglican clergy (again outside the Church of England). In addition Jonathan Pryke, a senior minister at Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle, has been ordained bishop without Church of England authorisation.

 

If the Church of England approves of homosexual relationships and same-sex marriages the division is highly likely to spread.

What should be the attitude of biblical Christians to homosexual people?

 

As Christians and churches we should welcome sinners (there is no one else to welcome – we’re all sinners) but we should NOT welcome sin. So homosexual people should be warmly welcomed and respected as much as everyone else. But we should not welcome either their sins or anyone else’s, including our own. Jesus died bearing the penalty for their sins and ours. We all fall to temptation sometimes but if we repent, i.e. express sorrow and seek to mend our ways, God will forgive us. Christians should always forgive the penitent sinner. But if people persist in sin, we should treat them with love but we should in no way give them the impression we approve of their sin. Many people can fall to sexual temptation, which can be a powerful temptation for most of us, but we need to exercise self control. This is the conviction of “Living Out”, a Christian organisation run by same-sex attracted people committed to homosexual celibacy. It is run by three same-sex attracted Anglican Ministers who say “We experience same-sex attraction and yet are committed to what the Bible clearly says, and what the church has always taught, about marriage and sex. See http://www.livingout.org/

 

Tony Higton

“Britain is unusually irreligious” what the polls say

 

There is a lower proportion of religious people in Britain than in 58 other countries according to a 2015 poll.[1]

 

The number of Britons identifying as Christians has fallen by almost 5% between 2011 and 2016 according to a Lord Ashcroft poll. In August 2016 the percentage stood at 51.4%. The number self-identifying as having no religion has risen from 35.8% to 40.5% in the same period.[2] A YouGov poll put the percentage of Britons with no religion at 47%.[3] In January 2016 weekly Church of England attendance fell below one million for the first time.

 

However, the polls do not all agree with one another. The 2016 British Social Attitudes Survey shows that the decline of religion in Britain has levelled out. They actually show the percentage is lower, but also shows that there was a 1% rise in Britons describing themselves as Christian (42% to 43%) and a 1% reduction in those claiming to have no religion (49% to 48%). It added that, according to its research, the proportion of Britons describing themselves as Christian is the same as seven years ago. However experts say that this is a temporary halt before the oldest and most religious generation dies out. The number of people claiming to be Church of England dropped from 22% in 2006 to 17% in 2015.

 

Whichever poll one looks at, the percentage of nominal Christians is very low, and polls of church attendance show a far lower percentage of the population.

 

Theresa May stirs up controversy over her Christian faith

 

In a recent interview, Theresa May was asked by a journalist how she dealt with the difficult decisions a prime minister has to make. She responded: “It’s about, ‘Are you doing the right thing?’ If you know you are doing the right thing, you have the confidence, the energy to go and deliver that right message … I suppose there is something in terms of faith. I am a practising member of the Church of England and so forth, that lies behind what I do.” Her father was a vicar. She attends church regularly.

 

Bob Morgan “a commentator on society and politics” wrote an article criticising the prime minister for speaking in favour of Christianity. The main significance of the article was to show his embarrassing ignorance of Christianity. It was entitled “Theresa May’s Christianity – Another Way Of Dividing The Country.”

 

Stephen Evans, Campaigns Director of the National Secular Society commented: “The Prime Minister would do well to remember that she governs on behalf of everyone, including those of minority faiths and of course the majority of citizens who are not religious. While it is fine for Theresa May to have a faith, what she mustn’t do is abuse her position to promote Christianity or impose her own religious values on others.”

 

Ignorance and uneasiness about Christianity

 

On the other hand, Baroness Warsi, who was Minister for Faith in a previous government, urged Theresa May to reinstate the post of faith minister which was quietly dropped after the last election. As a Muslim, she said that the decline of Christianity in Britain was having an adverse effect on other faith groups. “I said back in 2012 Europe needs to be sure about its own Christian heritage for me to be able to understand my minority faith and for that heritage to be accurately reflected. It was an argument I consistently made in government. It wasn’t particularly popular in an ever secular society – an ever secular government.”

 

Sadly, she added a comment showing the hostility towards religion in Whitehall circles. “When I was the minister for faith there was a great catchphrase, they used to call me the minister for fairies, goblins and imaginary friends.”

 

David Isaac, chairman of the Equalities and Human Right Commission, recently encouraged employers to allow Christmas parties and decoration, sending Christmas cards etc., rather than thinking this was offensive to people of other faiths. He said: “Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and it shouldn’t be suppressed through fear of offending.”

 

An editorial in the Guardian laments the fact that people such as David Isaac (and Theresa May) feel they have to say that people should be able to speak freely about their faith and to celebrate it. It says it is a symptom “of a deep unease and confusion about the role of Christianity in British life.” It adds: “The nervousness over Christmas, or even over expressing religious belief, is an absurd expression of a real void at the heart of soulless technocracy [i.e. society controlled by technical experts].”[4]

 

UN moves to remove compulsory school worship

 

In June 2016 The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child produced a paper recommending that the government repeals the requirement for compulsory attendance by children at school worship at publicly funded schools. The Rev Nigel Genders, Chief Education Officer for the Church of England responded: “Children flourish when they can develop spiritually and emotionally as well as academically.  We believe time set aside daily to be still, contemplate life’s challenges and learn about faith in action is crucial. It is possible to opt out of collective worship but in our experience this very rarely happens not least because children themselves enjoy this time of the school day.” I am aware that some schools do not really hold public worship and others may not hold helpful worship. But it is sad if children have no experience of worship as part of their education. They are being deprived of an important aspect.

 

Paranormal activity

 

Sadly, although there has been decline in religious observance, there is widespread superstition in British society. The growing popularity of Hallowe’en shows this. A recent survey revealed that half of Britons clam they have experienced paranormal activity in their home. One third say they have been frightened by it and one in eight have moved out of a house because of this. One in six claim to have seen a ghost. 62% won’t buy a house near a graveyard.[5]

 

Atheist beliefs

 

It is interesting that some atheists believe in life after death.

 

A survey conducted in 2013 by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture found that 32% of atheist or agnostic Americans believe in life after death and 6% believe in bodily resurrection. (Also 79% of those who are spiritual but not religious also believe in life after death and 17% believe in bodily resurrection).[6]

 

Also Andrew Singleton, a sociologist of religion at Melbourne’s Deakin University in Australia, did a survey in 2015 and reported: “The analysis reveals that afterlife belief is varied, individualistic and mainly arrived at with little to no reference to orthodox religious teaching. People variously believe in heaven, reincarnation, life on another plane or something more abstract. Those who follow faithfully a religious tradition are largely ignorant of detailed theological doctrines about life after death and like other kinds of believers, exercise their own authority and judgment over matters of belief.”

 

He found that some believed in heaven, others that some aspect of their being survives death and others believed in reincarnation either as a human or other species.[7]

[1] http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21704836-britain-unusually-irreligious-and-becoming-more-so-calls-national-debate

[2] http://lordashcroftpolls.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/The-New-Blueprint-Full-data-tables-Sept-2016.pdf

[3] https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/08/14/funding-farmers-lose-memory-personal-importance-re/

[4] Editorial: The Guardian view on Christianity in Britain – neither here nor there, Sunday 4 December 2016.

[5] http://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/724495/Haunted-British-homes-paranormal-activity-research

[6] http://relationshipsinamerica.com/religion/do-people-still-believe-in-life-after-death

[7] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13576275.2015.1099521?journalCode=cmrt20&

Sughra Ahmed, chair of the Islamic Society of Great Britain, wrote in the Spectator that he might be expected to support the opinion that the next Coronation should not be a Christian ceremony. He wrote: “
I support the idea of a Christian coronation. Only 19 per cent of people [in a recent ComRes poll] thought that a Christian coronation would alienate people of non-Christian faiths from the ceremony, while only 22 per cent of people from a religious minority agreed that it would alienate them. I believe that many British Muslims feel the same way as me. We, like others, respect the traditions of our country, and would not see it as alienating if that Christian tradition continued.” He added: “The idea of Christian traditions being at the heart of the coronation is an affirmative sign that religious traditions play an important role in our nation’s key ceremonies.” He does think that the ceremony could involve representatives of other faiths.

Recently, the US gave visas to Sunni, Shia and Yazidi delegates to advocate for persecuted Muslims and Yazidis but refused a visa to the only Christian delegate Sister Diana, a leading Iraqi Christian. Yet she had been granted a visa in 2012.

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, responded: “I hope that as it gets attention Secretary Kerry will reverse it. If he doesn’t, Congress has to investigate, and the person who made this decision ought to be fired.”

Eventually Sister Diana was given a visa.

In 2014 when the US Institute for Peace brought together the governors of Nigeria’s for a conference in the U.S., the State Department blocked the visa of the region’s only Christian governor, Jonah David Jang.

Yet, more Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East than ever and some people point out that the increase in persecution is not just because of ISIS but also as a result of the US-UK invasion of Iraq. This puts a solemn responsibility on the US (and the UK).

I am definitely not anti-Muslim but it is a cause of concern when Christians, whether in the US or the UK, seem to have to play second fiddle to Muslims. Persecuted Christians and Muslims should be treated equally, i.e. well.

As I said before, although I have serious problems with Islamic belief (which I shall return to in the future), I will publish significant positive news about Muslims when it arises. It is part of loving our Muslim neighbour. I want nothing to do with hateful attitudes towards Muslims.

Hamid Slimi, imam of a mosque in Mississauga, Canada, asked his congregation to donate towards the repairs of a nearby Roman Catholic Church which had been seriously damaged by a young Muslim suffering from schizophrenia. They gave $5000. The Catholic priest said Slimi was “a very, very gracious man.”

I have often said that I believe we should love and respect our Muslim neighbour whilst we disagree with his religion. So I will publish significant positive news about Muslims when it arises – and it just has.

I commented recently about the very serious implications for Christian freedom of the Belfast pastor being prosecuted for saying Islam was satanic (see http://christianteaching.org.uk/blog/oppression-of-christians/belfast-pastor-to-be-prosecuted-for-saying-islam-is-satanic/). It was therefore encouraging to read the comments on the matter by
Dr Muhammed Al-Husseini, a Senior Fellow in Islamic Studies at the Westminster Institute. He said:

“Against the flaming backdrop of torched Christian churches, bloody executions and massacres of faith minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is … a matter of utmost concern that, in this country, we discharge our common duty steadfastly to defend the freedom of citizens to discuss, debate and critique religious ideas and beliefs – restricting only speech which incites to physical violence against others … In a free and democratic society, we enter into severe peril when we start to confuse what we perhaps ought or ought not to say, with what in law we are allowed to, or not allowed to say. While those of us who hold clerical office as Christian pastors and priests, Jewish rabbis or Muslim imams, should rightly have due care and regard to the leadership role we exercise when we make public speeches, nevertheless our foremost duty remains to express theological ideas in good conscience before God.”

He spoke of his “deep concern and opposition to the criminalising of theological disagreement, at a time when our society should in fact be fostering better quality disagreement.” He added: “I further undertake that if Pastor McConnell is convicted and sent to prison, I shall go to prison with him.”

 

Our attitude towards Muslims in Britain is a sensitive issue and so I want my position on the matter to be very clear.

I believe we must treat Muslims with respect and kindness. In other words, we must love our Muslim neighbour. It is wrong to be anti-Muslim. Islamophobia is to be deplored and racism is contemptible. I have had a lot to do with Muslims:

·         I have been involved in dialogue with Muslims on several occasions at a British university. I observed their worship and found it quite moving at times.

·         I spoke by invitation at the Muslim College in Ealing, London.

·         Whilst Rector of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem I reached out in reconciliation to local Muslims, inviting them to a reception and on another occasion sending many of them a card marking the Muslim New Year.

·         I have had dialogue with an imam who is a Professor of Islamic Studies.

·         I also run an international mailing list which encourages prayer for justice for the Palestinians (most of whom are Muslims) alongside prayer for Israel.

 

I mention all this to back up my statement that I am not anti-Muslim. In fact, I respect Muslims and enjoy conversation and dialogue with them. It is true that there are Islamist extremists but most Muslims are peaceful people.

 

However, respecting Muslims does not rule out making reasonable criticism of Islam. To try to forbid such criticism as Islamophobic is wrong. I am well aware that right wing and right of centre sources criticise Muslims and Islam from political, Islamophobic and sometimes racist motives.  I do not approve of that and would feel profoundly unhappy about being associated with it.

 

Obviously, Muslims and Christians disagree. We disagree over fundamental issues such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the fact that Jesus died on the cross and rose again. The Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) is fundamentally contradictory to the Christian view. It is true that Muslims believe Jesus will return one day, but this is the Muslim Jesus not the Christian Jesus. Therefore, from a Christian point of view, this is a false Christ. That is a theological disagreement not an anti-Muslim (let alone Islamophobic) comment.

 

Similarly it is not anti-Muslim (or Islamophobic) to express concern that Christianity and its influence on society is waning seriously and Islam and its influence on society is growing quite strongly. Clearly, as a Christian I want society to be influenced by a Christian view of Jesus (and eternal salvation through him) not a Muslim view. That is a theological disagreement with Islam, not a statement against Muslims. As a Christian evangelist I would also love Muslims to come to know the true Jesus and salvation through him.

 

This position does not, of course, rule out friendship and co-operation on community issues. Nor does it rule out respectful and honest dialogue.

 

I don’t believe Christians are called to be unduly negative, or to be paranoid or to jump to critical conclusions about society whilst longing for the ‘good old days’ which actually weren’t quite so good.  But nor do I believe we are called to be naive and undiscerning.

There is much that is good in the world: creation itself, human love in all its manifestations, much of human culture and human research. Science, medicine and technology often makes our lives better than the ‘good old days.’  Good government, national and international, as well as NGOs and charities make the world a better place. The church is growing in many non-western nations and there are bright spots even in the west. There is some good Christian leadership and a lot of courageous, even sacrificial, Christian discipleship.

However, there are also some very serious trends and developments which Christians, who are amongst other things called to be prophetic, cannot ignore. [I recommend that this article be read with my article “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?” which is at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf].

Post-Christian Britain

 

Britain is an increasingly post-Christian country. We are seeing massive decline in Christian belief. We need to remember that turning away from the faith is a sign of the End Times. That doesn’t mean that the End is about to happen because other things have to take place too. But we need to keep watching for the signs and reminders Jesus taught about.

A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times in March 2013 found that:

·         Only 30% believe in God (although 21% who don’t believe in God believe in a higher power) [The 2012 ComRes/Theos Cathedral Study figures were 36% and 14% respectively]

·         66% of Britons think religion is not important

·         Only 29% think the UK is a religious country

·         Only 7% only say they attend a place of worship weekly [The 2008 ComRes/Theos Darwin study said 10%]

·         Only 30% believe Jesus was the Son of God

·         Only 31% believe in the resurrection of Jesus (cp some 50% in the 1990s and 2000s)

·         69% think the Church of England is out of touch (including 53% of Christians).

Other research revealed that 5.3 million fewer British-born people called themselves Christians – a decline of 15% in a decade.  The 2011 National Census 2011 found that between 2001 and 2011 the number of people calling themselves Christians fell by 4.1 million. Peter Brierley’s research has the number of people calling themselves Christians reducing by 6% i.e. a third of a million per year.

Gay marriage

 

Little wonder, then, that we have crossed a Rubicon by approving gay marriage. (Some people think the decision could still be torpedoed, but this seems unlikely). I am not getting involved in the debate over homosexual sexual behaviour (having campaigned about it for some 15 years in the 1980s and 90s). My views are recorded in http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/biblehomosexualpractice.pdf and http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/homosexualityandthechurch.pdf. But this decision is a very serious error as I have pointed out in http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=237.

It is contrary to the fundamental meaning of marriage because it is obvious that marriage is related to procreation. Children need a father and a mother. Even though there are many single parent families where the parent does an excellent job that is not the ideal situation. Children need the input of both loving male and female role models. Research shows that children benefit most from being in a family led by biological parents of both sexes who are in a loving relationship. Approval of ‘gay marriage’ will undermine the institution of marriage. It re-defines marriage as basically about emotional fulfilment of adults rather than about procreation and the care and nurture of children. And such an emotional definition of marriage will lead to even more marital breakdown – when the positive feelings decline.

These considerations are bad enough but the worst thing is the breathtaking and ill-thought-out arrogance of our politicians in rejecting the “givenness” of marriage which has been recognised by society and by all religions through the millennia. Marriage is ordained by God and David Cameron and the majority of MPs and Lords have taken it out of God’s hands and radically changed it. I wonder what they will say, especially Cameron, when they meet God, as they will one day have to answer to him for their behaviour (as we all will).

It is clear from recent history that such legislation tends to lead to new evils. Divorce law was changed because women were so oppressed but the long term effect is divorce on demand and massive breakdown of marriage. Abortion law was amended to prevent women having to go to dangerous back street abortionists. But the long term effect is abortion on demand with hundreds of thousands of unborn humans being killed. Homosexuality was merely legalised in 1967 but it has led on to the serious situation in which we are now.

Now marriage has been radically changed despite it being wrong, and unnecessary (as even some of the gay lobby have said) and it will lead not only to the damage outlined above but to calls for legitimization of multi-partner sexual relationships or “small group marriages.” There are people practising and advocating “polyamory [several/many loves], polygamy, polyandry, ….  multipartner relationships, sharing their mates with others, open marriage, and/or group marriage.” Judith Stacey, Professor of Sociology and Streisand Professor of Contemporary Gender Studies at the University of Southern California advocates polyamory and group marriages (of any number or gender). If gay marriage is approved on the basis of removing discrimination, why should these other practices not be approved, to remove discrimination from those who want them?

UPDATE

I have already said the same-sex marriage decision will have very serious consequences including being a major cause of oppression – even eventually persecution – of Christians who oppose it (a good eschatological theme). Today I read the Independent newspaper which is very supportive of same-sex marriage. They cover a new Centre for Social Justice report:

“Some of the poorest parts of the country are becoming ‘men deserts’, the report found, because there are so few visible male role models for children …. One of the problems is the dearth of male teachers in primary schools …. For children growing up in some of the poorest parts of the country, men are rarely encountered in the home or in the classroom … This is an ignored form of deprivation that can have profoundly damaging consequences on social and mental development …. There are ‘men deserts’ in many parts of our towns and cities and we urgently need to wake up to what is going wrong.”

Yet the need of both a male and a female role model being important for children is one of the main reasons for rejecting same-sex marriage. What planet are people like the editor of the Independent living on?

Serious oppression of Christians

As if all that was not enough, there are other very serious results which will flow from this decision. It has long been clear to me that approval of gay sexual relationships will become a social ‘password’ without which individuals will be rejected, excluded and oppressed. 

It may be that certain safeguards will be put in place, just as the Church of England has been legally exempted from taking same-sex weddings. But these will not last. We shall see legal action being taken against churches, clergy facing demands to celebrate same-sex weddings and restrictions on church activities. We shall see Christian teachers facing a crisis of conscience over endorsing gay marriage in the classroom (Labour is proposing an amendment calling for teachers to teach about gay marriage and same-sex relationships). Christians who cannot say they favour homosexual relationships will also be unable to foster children. Christians will be excluded from becoming registrars, etc.

I do not believe we should use the word ‘persecution’ of the current oppression of Christians in British society but this decision (and others) will ultimately lead us to where the word ‘ persecution’ will be appropriate. And persecution is a sign of the End Times. It is, of course, already happening in numerous countries.

The failure of the church

 

I hold the Church of England to be significantly to blame for this crisis. To quote Paul “if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”  And there has not been a clear call by the Church of England trumpet. Church leaders seek to have their cake and eat it. They say they disapprove of gay sex but always some say they approve. They use unclear language which confuses the uninitiated, i.e. the vast majority of the population. Take the events surrounding the decision in the House of Lords over same-sex marriage.

 

26 bishops sit in the House of Lords but only 14 turned up to vote on the issue and five of them abstained.  The Bishop of Salisbury broke ranks with the House of Bishops and spoke strongly in favour of gay marriage. Then the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has spoken against it, said in his Lords speech: “The House of Bishops of the Church of England has also expressed a very clear majority view –  although not unanimous, as has been seen by the strong and welcome contribution by the Bishop of Salisbury.”

He added: “And I have to say that personally I regret the necessity of having to deal with the possibility of a division at this stage, on a bill passed by a free vote in the other place [the Commons]…. It is clearly essential that stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage.” He then made criticism of the bill before saying the church was “extremely hesitant about the Bill.” He ended by saying he couldn’t support it.

Hang on a minute: the House of Bishops is against same-sex marriage but are only “extremely hesitant” about it. They’re against same-sex marriage but only half of them turn up to vote, and five of them abstain. They’re against same sex marriage but one bishop who breaks ranks gives a “strong and welcome” contribution. Same sex marriage is wrong but “stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage.” Boy – am I confused and I was on General Synod for 15 years. Actually, I’m not confused. I’m used to this poor leadership. The bishops have failed the church and the church has failed the nation.

Little wonder the church is declining. We seem to be living in cloud cuckoo land with declining congregations, priests having to look after, say, ten parishes and 40% of the stipendiary clergy retiring in the next few years. Try as I have, I can’t find any plan as to how the Bishops are going to deal with this challenge. The C of E will see massive decline and retreat into increasing irrelevance, the way things are going. All of this relates to the Jesus’ words about the End Times “Many will turn away from the faith” and the church is contributing to this.

Then there are the bigger issues:

The Middle East situation

 

The Arab Spring has turned to winter. The Syrian civil war continues. Iraq is very corrupt and everywhere there are violent Islamists. The strife between Sunni and Shia takes many lives. Now Turkey seems to be facing a dangerous situation as is Egypt. In the midst of it all is Israel, the sixth most powerful military state in the world, and a nuclear power. Israel feels threatened at the best of times but now almost all around her it seems that Islamists are coming to power or regimes are unstable. Syria seems dangerously close to drawing Israel into conflict. Hezbollah, regarded by many as a terrorist group in Lebanon, is involved in the Syrian conflict and could obtain weapons which could seriously threaten Israel. Already Israel has attacked arms convoys in Syria to prevent the arms reaching Hezbollah and has threatened to attack future Russian attempts to provide weapons. An international attack on Israel is part of the End Times scenario and it is not difficult to imagine it, given the present and developing situation.

The rise of Islam

 

I am not anti-Muslim and I believe it is wrong to be so.  Islamophobia is to be deplored and racism is contemptible. It is true that there are Islamist extremists but most Muslims are peaceful people. I have had a lot to do with them, and reached out to them in reconciliation in Jerusalem. I have been involved in Christian-Muslim dialogue. I also encourage prayer for justice for the Palestinians (most of whom are Muslims) alongside prayer for Israel.

 

However, we must be discerning and honest. Muslims respect Jesus as a great prophet. But the Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) is a false view. For example, the Islamic Jesus is not divine and did not die on the cross. This is a false christ. They expect this false christ to return and to further the cause of Islam around the world.

Islam is already a powerful and growing force in the world.  It is also growing rapidly in the UK. In the same period that people calling themselves Christians declined by 15% the number of Muslims in England and Wales increased by 75% (including almost 600,000 Muslims moving here from overseas). Between 2001 and 2011 the Muslim population grew by 1.2 million.

 

Almost half of British Muslims are under the age of 25, whereas a quarter of Christians are over 65. The average age of a British Muslim is just 25, not far off half that of a British Christian. The implications of this for the future are clear.

I am well aware that right wing and right of centre sources warn of this from political, Islamophobic and sometimes racist motives.  I do not approve of that and would feel profoundly unhappy about being associated with it. But we do have to be realistic and to face up to the fact that the religious future of Britain will be increasingly Islamic.

Prof David Coleman, Professor of demography at Oxford University, said of these statistics: “This is a very substantial change – it is difficult to see whether any other change in the census could have been remotely as big.” He added: “The ethnic transformation implicit in current trends would be a major, unlooked for, and irreversible change in British society, unprecedented for at least a millennium.”

Coleman also said that Christianity was declining with each generation: “Each large age group, as time progresses, receives less inculcation into Christianity than its predecessor ten years earlier.” But he added: “We have a Muslim faith where most studies suggest adherence to Islam is not only transmitted through the generations but appears to get stronger. Indeed, there seems to be some evidence that the second generation Muslims in Britain are more Muslim than their parents.”

From the point of view of the Christian gospel that is a serious problem because Islam promotes a false christ and a false gospel and expects this false christ to return. This has to be significant in terms of the End Times.

Hints of ‘Big Brother’

 

I am well aware of the paranoia which is associated with the idea of World Government and the Antichrist, etc. Recent American statistics show that:

·         13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ!

·         4% of US voters say they believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power!

·         15% of voters say the US government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals!

·         5% believe the vapour trail seen in the sky behind planes is actually chemicals sprayed by the US government for sinister reasons!

 

This all brings talking about the dangers of world government into disrepute. Also international co-operation obviously benefits the world in many ways.

 

However, I repeat what I said above about decisions and legislation, which may be perceived as made for  good reasons, and which may lead to good results, but which also tend to lead to new evils. We cannot turn the clock back and escape from the global village. It would be a profound mistake to opt out of the United Nations and many other forms of international co-operation as we face enormous problems: world poverty, global warming, terrorism, economic recession, etc. But we would be very foolish not to be aware of the dangers inherent in such co-operation.

Another statistic is that 28% of US voters believe a “secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order.” These statistics were published at a time when the Bilderbergers were meeting in England, and they are the focus of conspiracy theories.  We may react cynically to all this but I would ask two questions:

·         Do we really think that there are no private power groups seeking to influence world affairs?

·         What do we make of the New Testament predictions of “man of lawlessnesswhowill oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped” only to be destroyed by the returning Christ?

 

I think it would be very naïve (and cynical) not to believe there are private power groups seeking to influence world affairs. I also believe that, whilst avoiding paranoia and simplistic conclusions, we should take note of moves towards world government, discerning the sinister from the beneficial.

 

I am writing this a day or two after the publication in the Guardian newspaper of a top secret document about the US National Security Agency’s Prism programme which allegedly has allowed officials to monitor the internet via Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Skype, Yahoo, Facebook etc since 1995. This includesemail content, search history, chat (video, voice), videos, photos, stored data, internet phone calls, file transfers, video conferencing, social networking, etc.   The Guardian also alleged that GCHQ (the UK security agency in Cheltenham) has used the Prism programme to spy on thousands of Britons.

 

Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, wrote to the Home Secretary (who is currently seeking to introduce her own “snooper’s charter”) “I am astonished by these revelations which could involve the data of thousands of Britons. The most chilling aspect is that ordinary American citizens and potentially British citizens too were apparently unaware that their phone and online interactions could be watched. This seems to be the snooper’s charter by the back door.” I note in passing that there is a huge amount of surveillance – CCTV and the like – in Britain anyway.

Even if the organisations claim they have not done what is alleged many will be unconvinced because they are organisations which act in secrecy. In any case, it is clear that they have the ability to do what is alleged and this has disturbing prospects for the future.

Again, we have another example of the principle of decisions and legislation, which may be perceived as for good reasons, and which may lead to good results, also tending to lead to new evils. The first motive for surveillance is to combat crime and terrorism, but it can turn into an unwelcome and dangerous invasion of the privacy of innocent individuals.

UPDATE

As good citizens Christians should be concerned about government surveillance because of the danger of it leading ultimately, in the long run, to a world dominated by “Big Brother” which relates to some of the predictions in the New Testament. Obviously, some surveillance is important to combat the threat of terrorism and other crime. Putting it rather negatively, such surveillance is the lesser of two evils and we have to accept that. However, surveillance must be controlled and must not cross the line into becoming Big Brother. That is not an easy line to draw. A former chief of GCHQ (the UK government surveillance centre) has written in the Guardian today giving six ethical principles on which surveillance should take place. He says it must be for the right motive, with sufficient cause, proportionate and with reasonable prospect of success. It must be a last resort and be governed by lawful authority. This is good.

However he writes that surveillance “involves computers searching through a mass of material, of course, and that might include your and my emails and data on our web traffic, but it is only the legally requested material that ever gets seen by a human being. These computers are not conscious beings: they will only select that which they are lawfully programmed to select. To describe this process as monitoring all our communications or ‘the surveillance state’ or a ‘snooper’s charter’ is wholly misleading and a perverse reading of the situation.” He concludes: “Let us respect the work of our intelligence agencies in keeping us safe, and be glad that in our democratic societies they are subject to the rule of law.”

The problem is that we live in a world of sinful human beings where “money, sex and power” have great influence. We live in a world of dishonest politicians, dishonest business leaders, dishonest bankers, dishonest media moguls, etc. So the reassurances of surveillance chiefs and their politician colleagues leave serious questions.

 

[For my detailed article on trends towards world government see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf pages 23-32]

Conclusion

 

The rapid decline of Christianity in Britain (and in Europe), the increasing number of laws which are inconsistent with traditional Christian morality, the increasing discrimination against Christians, the failure of the church to speak with a clear voice, the rise of Islamism in the Middle East and the increasing spread of Islam, including in Britain, and the trends towards intruding on the freedom of individuals all pose serious threats to society and also reflect biblical warnings of End Time trends.

 

Tony Higton

Round about the time the very foolish and offensive American pastor was planning to burn the Koran I was involved with a dialogue with the Muslims at the local University. As always, we were given a warm, friendly welcome and treated with courtesy.

We observed the men having their prayers. I always find it quite moving to experience the reverence of their bodily actions and silences and the sense of the greatness of God, even though I don’t understand many of the words. There is more of a sense of the greatness of God in their worship than in many churches. Nevertheless I also feel a great desire for them to know and trust Jesus, not just as a prophet but as Saviour.

I am under no illusion about the major, even fundamental theological differences between Christianity and Islam on vital issues. But there is no justification for treating Muslims with antagonism and contempt. Jesus calls us to love our Muslim neighbour.

We sat on the floor for the meal which began with milk and various kinds of sweet dates. They also served very tasty savoury cakes. Then the full meal was served: curried chicken, rice, vegetables, potatoes, salad and other tasty but indefinable foods.

We chatted happily both with students and with older men (we only meet the “brothers”; the “sisters” are accommodated in a separate room). I have talked with people from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Egypt and Pakistan. On this occasion I spoke at length with an older man who is an Iraqi Sunni Muslim and a diplomat in Saddam’s time. He is now exiled to Britain. He was not very positive about the aftermath of the war for ordinary Iraqis, including the Christians.

How sad that some Christians express contempt for Muslims and even threaten to burn their sacred book publicly. How sad that my friend Canon Andrew White, Vicar of St George’s, Baghdad reports planned attacks on his already vulnerable church because of the American pastor’s threat to burn the Koran. (Yes, Islam has its extremists as well as Christianity).

Next time we meet with our Muslim friends it is planned that we have a dinner and discuss “Jesus in the Bible and the Koran.”  What could be more important than that discussion?