Further signs of the End 1

Persecution

Worldwide persecution is one of the signs of the End Times. (However, our first reaction to it must be to pray for and support our persecuted fellow-Christians).

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  • We have noted the early repeated signs or reminders of the return of Christ: wars, famines, earthquakes etc., which Jesus said “are the beginning of birth-pains” (Matt 24:8). Then Jesus goes on to predict widespread persecution as a further sign. “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me” (Matthew 24:9). There has been persecution throughout history but, in view of other passages about the End Times, it is reasonable to think that persecution will increase towards the end.
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  • Massimo Introvigne told a European Union conference on Christian-Jewish-Muslim Interfaith Dialogue that today one Christian dies every five minutes due to persecution. He quoted the International Bulletin of Missionary Research as saying 160,000 died in persecution in 2000, but in subsequent years that the figure reduced to around 100,000 per year. Some people have said that more Christians were persecuted in the 20th century than in all the previous 19 centuries put together. These figures can be debated because it is very difficult to be precise when much persecution happens in remote areas.[1] But one thing is certain, there is a very great deal of persecution of Christians today.
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  • History of persecution

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  • The church has always been persecuted ever since the early days after Pentecost and the martyrdom of Stephen. David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson claim that some 70 million Christians have been martyred since then.[2] They write that there have been 600 major martyrdoms over the centuries: 76 with 100,000 martyrs each, 27 with over 500,000 and 15 with over 1 million. Most have been Orthodox (42 million) Roman Catholics (12 million) and Protestants and Anglicans (4 million), Independents (3 million) etc. Sadly, Christians have martyred 5,539,000 other Christians, according to Barrett and Johnson. Obviously, many more Christians have been persecuted without being martyred.

  • Has persecution increased?

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  • Barrett and Johnson calculated that 45 million Christians (of the total of 70 million since AD33) have been martyred in the 20th century (and they claim that this excluded those killed for national, ethnic or political reasons who just happened to be Christian but were not killed because of their being Christian).
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  • They also record the following significant facts:
  • ·         61% of the major martyrdoms with over 100,000 martyrs each have been in the 20th century (plus 2 in the late 19th century.
  • ·         87.5% of the major martyrdoms with over 500,000 martyrs each have been in the 20th century and
  • ·         66% of the major martyrdoms with over 1 million martyrs each have been in the 20th century.
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  • Although Barrett and Johnson are experts, these figures are controversial, including averages and estimates, and are incomplete but they probably show a reliable indication that persecution has very significantly increased in the last century or so.
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  • The 2011 report of Aid to the Church in Need entitled “Persecuted and forgotten?” addressed the question of whether persecution has increased. (ACN is an international Catholic charity founded in 1947). The report asks: “Taken as a whole then, is persecution of Christians getting worse?” It continues: “The findings of this report show that the situation is mixed. However, significant developments in key countries point to the inescapable conclusion that – especially in the Middle East and some other countries – Christianity is under threat as never before and could yet disappear. Research into the total number of Christians suffering persecution gives varying statistics but all of them are alarming.”
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  • The report comments on 33 countries and concludes that “in key countries the violence and intimidation of the faithful have manifestly worsened. And this is noticeable even compared with .... 2008”  It asks the question: “Will future historians say of us that we were firsthand witnesses to the extinguishing of Christianity in the very countries where the light of our faith first took hold?”
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  • John Allen, writing in The Spectator in 2013 said: “The global war on Christians remains the greatest story never told of the early 21st century.” Professor Alan Johnson asked: “Why are we so quiet about Christianophobia?”  The International Society for Human Rights is quoted as saying that 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.
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  • In a House of Lords debate about “Christians in the Middle East” on December 9th 2011 initiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury he said that “the position of Christians in the region is more vulnerable than it has been for centuries.”
  •  The Pope warned in September 2007: “Churches in the Middle East are threatened in their very existence.” The AI Monitor in Lebanon commented: “Christians in the Middle East “are victims of a slow and masked form of genocide, one that has been ongoing for some time now.”

80% of all acts of religious discrimination are against Christians according to the International Society for Human Rights (a secular group).

Christians are persecuted in 139 nations (about 75% of the world) according to the Pew Research Center (compared with Muslims in 90 countries and Jews in 68 countries).

Lord Sacks, former Chief Rabbi, said in the House of Lords that attempts to wipe out Christianity in parts of the Middle East and the killing of Christians across much of Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia amount to the “religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing” and is a crime against humanity.

Pope Francis said “I am convinced that the persecution against Christians today is stronger than in the first centuries of the Church.”

In April 2014 David Cameron said: “It is the case that Christians are now the most persecuted religion around the world. We should stand up against persecution of Christians and other faith groups wherever and whenever we can.”

There continues to be an increase in the persecution of Christians worldwide and it is becoming more intense in more countries of the world.

According to Open Doors (an international ministry serving persecuted Christians and churches worldwide) “Overwhelmingly the main engine driving persecution of Christians in 36 of the top 50 countries in Open Doors World Watch List is Islamic extremism. The most violent region is the states of the African Sahel belt where a fifth of the world’s Christians meet one seventh of the world’s Muslims in perilous proximity.”

Open Doors continues: “In 80 per cent of the 50 countries in the [Open Doors] World Watch List, Islamic extremism is a key persecution engine. Islamic extremism has two global centres of gravity: one in the Arab Middle East and the other in sub-Saharan Africa.”

We are all aware of the evil activities of extreme Islamists, Isis, Boko Haram etc. But Open Doors makes the following important statement: “The most violent persecutor of Christians in Northern Nigeria in recent years is the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, who have bombed churches and shot pastors. It’s an unsubtle attempt to smash the church. But in fact, for most Christians, the greatest threat comes from a creeping cultural Islamisation which has been stealthily progressing since the 1980’s, until Christians suddenly realise they are second class citizens in a culture that was once hospitable to them, and is now hostile to them. This ‘squeeze’ is as much a denial of freedom of religion and belief but cannot be tracked by monitoring specific incidents.”

Christians have faced increasing levels of persecution in the Muslim world. Muslim nations in which Christian populations have suffered acute discrimination, persecution and in some cases death include the following according to Emily Fuentes, communications director at Open Doors USA:
•    Countries with extreme persecution: Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Maldives.
•    Countries with severe persecution: Saudi Arabia, Libya, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Kenya, Turkmenistan, Egypt, Djibouti.
•    Countries with moderate persecution: Palestine, Brunei, Jordan, Comoros, Tanzania, Algeria, Tunisia, Malaysia, Oman.
•    Countries with sparse persecution: Mali, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Mauritania, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Morocco, Niger, Bahrain, Chad.

It was disturbing to read a Sky News “British Muslims Poll” dated 20th March 2015 which found that 39.8% of British Muslims (and 46% of women) did not believe it was the responsibility of Muslims to condemn terrorist acts carried out in the name of Islam, while 28% of all Muslims (including 33% of women and 32% of under-35s) said that they had a lot or some sympathy with young Muslims who had left the UK to join fighters in Syria.

In the TV programme “Killing Christians” Nadine, a 13 year old Iraqi girl said very movingly (with obvious depth and sincerity): “The Christian religion is about love and peace. I feel very sad because the devil has taken Islamic State over. I will pray to God to enlighten their minds. Whatever happens, we will not give up our religion. We will not abandon Christianity, never.”

  • What are the reasons for persecution increasing?

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  • There is no getting away from the fact that much of the growing persecution of Christians happens in a Muslim context. Before continuing, let me make a few important preliminary comments: 
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  • 1.      Islamophobia – a persistently negative and suspicious attitude towards Muslims - is not a Christian attitude. There should be mutual respect and understanding between faith groups, however major the theological disagreements are. Interfaith dialogue is important in the modern world and I myself have been and remain involved in it.
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  • 2.      Many Muslims disapprove of the persecution of Christians by fellow Muslims.
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  • 3.      As Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs put it in the House of Lords debate: “Today, the majority of victims of Islamist violence are Muslim, and shall we not shed tears for them, too?” Similarly, the Bishop of Exeter said: “the primary victims of religious extremism in the Muslim world are other Muslims.On the other hand Lord Wood of Anfield referred to “the startling fact revealed by the ‘Aid to the Church in Need’ report earlier [in 2011] that 75 per cent of all religious persecution in the world is carried out against Christians.
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  • 4.      The western world bears major responsibility for the negative attitude towards Christianity by many Muslims.
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  • In the House of Lords debate Lord Parekh said: “By and large, Islam has been tolerant, even respectful, of Christianity. For hundreds of years, its record in the Middle East has been fairly good and in some respects even better than the record of Europe with respect to Muslims. Why, then, have these things [discrimination, harassment and violent attacks against Christians] begun to happen during the past 30 or 40 years?”
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  • He gave five answers: Firstly, countries want unity and so see the country as belonging to the majority faith group.
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  • Secondly, religious minorities tend to relate to the current regime for safety’s sake, so when the regime changes they may be scapegoated.
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  • Thirdly, western foreign policy tends to encourage extremism. Lord Parekh mentioned that the Bishop in Jerusalem had warned Tony Blair a month before the invasion of Iraq: “You will be responsible for emptying Iraq, the homeland of Abraham, of Christians.” Sadly, that prophecy has begun to be fulfilled.
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  • [We might add here that the sub-Christian actions of people like US Pastor Terry Jones’s exacerbate the situation. After he proposed burning copies of the Qur’an some 20,000 Muslims burnt down the Church of North India’s Tyndale Biscoe School, whose students were all Muslim. Several other Christian schools were also attacked. We can also quote Stephen Zunes, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, who says: “It is important to remember that most of the “sectarian” conflicts associated with the Arab world, particularly targeting Christians, are a relatively new phenomenon. With the exception of a few brief periods, Christians lived at peace with their Muslim neighbors in the region for many centuries. Indeed, the Muslim world was generally far more tolerant of religious minorities than Christian Europe. Along with Jews, Muslims considered Christians to be “people of the Book” due to their common worship of the God of Abraham. Indeed, “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for God, spoken both in mosques and in Arabic-speaking Christian churches. The advent of modern Western colonialism in the Middle East a century ago, however, followed by more recent U.S. interventions, has severely weakened this traditional tolerance. As result, it is important to remember that the plight of Arab Christians today comes not out of any intolerance inherent in the Islamic tradition, but as a direct outgrowth of policies by Western powers, including the United States.”]
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  • Fourthly, some governments encourage religious division for their own purposes, no least to give the impression they are the only hope of preventing interreligious chaos.
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  • Fifthly, there are extremist groups such as Al Qaeda. In the same debate Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon himself a Muslim, said: “As much as some in the West equate all Muslims with extremists, there are those in the Middle East who are suspicious of the West. That is prevalent in many Islamic parts of the world. It is based on an extreme hatred of the western imperialism and the perceived unqualified support for Israel. Unfortunately and tragically, this has served on occasion as a pretext to scapegoat indigenous Christians.”
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  • We might also add a sixth reason which is the antagonism towards Muslims converting to Christianity. This can lead to the convert being killed. It also means that Muslims are antagonistic towards ‘proselytising’ i.e. evangelism by Christians. Sometimes the accusation of proselytising is false but used as an excuse to persecute Christians.
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  • ThePersecuted and forgotten?’ report states: “Taken as a whole, a politicisation of religion has widened and deepened the problem of Christian persecution.”
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  • In the table below I have outlined the persecution taking place against Christians in 47 countries of the world. These countries are the ones highlighted by organizations which report persecution, although persecution is relatively less serious in places like Cuba, Lebanon, Morocco and Russia. Most of the 47 countries are Muslim but there is also persecution by Buddhists in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and by Hindus in India.


Persecution of Christians 2012

Afghanistan

Increased media reports of violence and threats against Christians, possibly associated with reports of US soldiers involved in proselytism. Human rights and religious freedom organisations noted a dramatic deterioration in attitudes towards non-Muslims. The government does not intervene when families murder a family member for converting (‘apostasizing’) to Christianity.

Algeria

There has been an upsurge in court cases and acts of intimidation against Christian converts because of allegations of proselytism even though the constitution defends the right to freedom of thought and religious practice within defined limitations.

Early 2008, 30 churches were forcibly closed, but by the end of 2009, at least 20 had reopened despite not obtaining the requisite registration. In December 2009 20 Muslims burgled and desecrated a newly-built Protestant church used by Christian converts. Further attacks took place and eventually everything was burnt – furniture, Bibles, hymnbooks and a cross. In 2012 thousands of Muslims attacked a Coptic church, and demanded the death of its pastor

Azerbaijan

Religious freedom is restricted. All worship gatherings must be officially registered and the registration process can take years. Some denominations are routinely denied.

Religious literature is also censored and this has prevented thousands of Bibles and other Christian literature from entering the country.

Bangladesh 

In 2009 Dipal Barua, one of the region’s most respected human rights activists, declared that “attacks against minorities are increasing at a staggering rate”. Fundamentalists (both Muslim and Buddhist) have been blamed for a growing number of atrocities and acts of intimidation against Christians and other minorities. Incidents include killings, rape, torture, attacks on places of worship, destruction of homes, forced evictions and desecration of items of worship. In February 2010 a Christian worker was beaten by about 20 people for showing a film about Jesus in a private home.

Belarus

Christian meetings have been raided, Christians’ property seized and they have been fined for ‘unauthorised’ religious activities.

Bhutan

There is harassment and discrimination by the authorities. Proselytizing is forbidden, and there are limits on building non-Buddhist religious buildings.

Bosnia–Herzegovina 

Some reports indicated that violence against Christians had declined but other sources showed that harassment of Christians and attacks on churches remains a serious problem.

Burma (Myanmar) 

There is mounting opposition to Christianity with the forced closure of a large number of Protestant churches in 2010, intimidation and outright persecution. In 2009 a new law effectively banned independent ‘house churches’. Many Christian groups were forced underground after the regime repeatedly blocked their applications for churches and chapels. Officials ordered owners of apartment buildings and conference facilities not to rent their properties to religious groups.

China 

Restrictions are enforced at a provincial level and so are inconsistent. Unregistered churches continue to be raided, sometimes with violence causing serious injury, but when they try to register, are prevented by the Religious Affairs Office. Priests and pastors are still being held in prison or forced labour camps. The government harassed, detained, arrested, or sentenced to prison a number of religious adherents for activities reportedly related to their religious beliefs and practice. These activities included assembling for religious worship, expressing religious beliefs in public and in private, and publishing religious texts. Christian human rights activist and lawyer Gao Zhishen was imprisoned and described how officers urinated on him and repeatedly prodded his body, mouth and genitals with electric shock batons. Gao wrote that other methods used were too graphic and “horrible” to describe.

Cuba 

There have been improvements in the situation. Some detainees have been released. The communist government openly recognised the Cuban Church as an intermediary and mediator in social and political issues. The regime also lifted the ban on church services in prisons. However Christians are not allowed to work in education, health and social services. There is harassment of Christian groups not recognised by the state and there is still no major breakthrough in the return of Church buildings confiscated by the regime 40 years ago.

Democratic Republic of the Congo 

Christians have suffered in the violence although religion has played little part in the matter. In January 2009 The Lord’s Resistance Army torched a church crowded with worshippers during a prayer vigil.

Egypt 

BEFORE THE OVERTHROW OF MUBARAK

The government refuses to allow converts to Christianity to change their religious status on state issued identification cards, and they prohibit the building or renovation of churches unless official approval is received. There has been some mob violence and murder. Christians, like other activists and protestors have suffered at the hands of the authorities. On October 9th 2011 Coptic Christians gathered amidst hostile Muslim crowds in Cairo to protest the destruction of a church near Aswan. Violence broke out and 27 Christians were killed, 14 of them being crushed by military armoured vehicles. Three of the drivers were arrested by the Egyptian Army and put on trial. On the other hand five days later it was reported that “At least 2,000 people rallied in Cairo in a show of unity between Muslims and Christians and to express anger at the ruling military council after 25 people died when a protest by Coptic Christians led to clashes with the army." Also “Thousands of Muslims turned up in droves outside churches around the country for the Coptic Christmas Eve mass, in solidarity with a beleaguered Coptic community offering their bodies, and lives, as ‘human shields,’ making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and build an Egypt free from sectarian strife.”

UNDER MORSI

100,000 Christian Copts have fled their native Egypt since the overthrow of the Mubarak regime. Churches have been attacked. Islamists attacked St. Mark's Cathedral (the Coptic papal seat) in central Cairo. Salafist-led attacks on churches have become a weekly ritual for the Islamists who declare Christian churches illegal. Morsi was seen on TV nodding agreement to the prayer: “"Oh Allah, grant us victory over the infidels. Oh Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, disperse them, rend them asunder. Oh Allah, demonstrate your might and greatness upon them. Show us your omnipotence, oh Lord."

However there have been examples of Muslims standing with Christians against discrimination.

SINCE MORSI

The Muslim Brotherhood is still attacking churches. This is obviously linked with political differences. Open Doors which works with persecuted Christians reported an Egyptian Christian leader as saying that there was a furious attack that aims at terrorizing Christians, imprisoning them at their homes.” He added: “We, Christians of Egypt, are facing a severe time of persecution and suffering that we may have not witnessed since the Roman times!”

Eritrea 

In 2009 the US Secretary of State noted: “particularly severe violations of religious freedom”, and it still continues. This includes harassment, indefinite detention without charge, arrests during religious services as well as “forced recantations of faith and torture of religious prisoners”. There are probably more than 3,000 Christians imprisoned for their faith, many held in underground cells or transport containers. Evidence points strongly to prisoners dying from torture and lack of medical attention. Reportedly there are several holes in the desert where Christians are kept, who only receive three pieces of bread, a cup of tea in the morning and three cups of water a day. Temperatures can reach 49°C (120°F). There are no toilet facilities or medical care.

India 

Hindu extremists perpetrated severe anti-Christian violence in 2007 and 2008 in Orissa. 70 churches and other Christian institutions were attacked and 600 homes were destroyed. After a Hindu monk was assassinated Christians were falsely accused which led to the torching of 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions. Up to 500 people may have died. 54,000 were made homeless. Two years later many Christians were too afraid to return home because of threats of renewed violence and forced conversions. In September 2010 after US Pastor Terry Jones’s proposed burning copies of the Qur’an a crowd of up to 20,000 burnt down the Church of North India’s Tyndale Biscoe School, whose students were all Muslim. Several other Christian schools were also attacked. The states of Gujarat, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh enforce anti-conversion laws which restrict the freedom of Hindus to convert to other religions.

Indonesia

Indonesia’s President is seeking to tackle religious intolerance and the rise of militant extremism, but attacks and acts of intimidation against religious minorities have continued. There has been a rise in Islamic fundamentalism since 2009 which is eroding the long-prevailing communal tolerance and religious freedom and there have been many acts of violence, ranging from church buildings burnt to the ground, to authorities cancelling Easter services at very short notice under pressure from local fundamentalists. The Islamists' stated aim is to completely eliminate Christianity in the country. Militia groups are also trying to stop reconciliation efforts between Muslims and Christians in an attempt to further marginalize Christians.

Iran

Iran is ruled by Shia Muslims who place minority groups such as Sunni Muslims and Christians at a distinct disadvantage. However Christians are particularly at risk especially when they are falsely accused of pro-Western sympathies at a time of intense anti-US sentiment. Conversion from Islam is treated very severely.  Sensational and exaggerated reports about mass conversions from Islam (including by Christian leaders overseas) have resulted in arrests among the Christian communities and attacks on churches.

Iraq

Continuing attacks against Christians have prompted successive waves of emigration. According to UN reports in 2010, of the 1.6 million Iraqi refugees abroad, up to 40 percent were thought to be Christians. Between 2003 and 2010 more than 2,000 Christians are thought to have been killed by violence, many targeted primarily because of their faith. Half of Iraq’s indigenous Christians have left.In August 2014 Christians fled from Mosul, the largest Christian town in Iraq, when Isis conquered it. It had a population of 60,000 Christians. Open Doors says: “Christians in Iraq are on the verge of extinction.”

Israel and Palestine 

Many Christians have left, not because of anti-Christian persecution but because of the pressures of life under Israeli occupation. However Christians also face difficulties in areas under the Palestinian authorities, both in the West Bank but more especially in the Gaza Strip. Since Hamas took over Gaza in June 2007, Christians have come under pressure from Islamists to conform to Muslim practices. Christians have been warned against any public display of Christianity. In 2007 a Christian bookstore was attacked and the manager killed.

Messianic Believers (Jewish Christians) are persecuted in Israel (by threat to property rather than life) as traitors to Judaism.

Kazakhstan

Many Christian groups find it difficult to obtain government registration which causes them serious problems and limits their activities. False accusations and negative propaganda are made against Christians. Evangelism is forbidden. There have been attacks on churches.

Kyrgyzstan

Christians are not allowed to worship in houses or public locations, but only in registered church buildings. But only three Russian Orthodox churches – no Protestant or Catholic congregations – have gained registration since the law was established in 2009. Evangelistic literature, including Bibles, is not allowed to be distributed in the country

Laos 

The constitution guarantees religious freedom, but a decree by the prime minister in 2002 requires official approval for most religious activities, including evangelism, printing, building places of worship, and contacts with foreign religious groups. Christians can be arrested and held without trial because they are seen as connected to the West.

Lebanon

In 1926 84% of the population of Lebanon were Christians. The constitution provides freedom of religion and this freedom includes the right of Christian groups to organise schools, associations and courts. However the country is becoming increasingly Islamic and Christians are emigrating (although partly for economic reasons. Also Gallup records that slightly more Muslims want to leave than Christians). Less than 50% of the population is now Christian (one estimate is 39%). In July 2010 Ahmad Hariri, secretary general of Sunni political party the Future Movement, which is part of the ruling coalition, urged Muslims in Lebanon to “nurture the Christian presence” in the region, saying it was an “Arab and Islamic responsibility as much as it is a Christian one”.

Lybia

Converts to Christianity can be imprisoned. Evangelism is illegal.

Maldives

There is increasing intolerance towards non-Muslims. In 2010, Open Doors, a Protestant human rights organisation, released a report listing Maldives as the fifth-worst country for persecution of Christians. The constitution bans all religious practices other than Islam. Non-Muslim foreigners are only allowed to pray in private and must not evangelise.  They may have their luggage searched for “un-Islamic” books, CDs, images, and other religious items.  In November 2009 the parliament approved the primary stages of a bill banning all non-Muslim places of worship.

Mauritania

Conversion to Christianity can lead to the death penalty. Evangelism and the distribution of Christian literature are illegal.

Morocco

Christians may practise their faith openly but evangelism is illegal.

Nepal

Evangelism is illegal.

Nigeria 

The constitution guarantees religious freedom and forbids the adoption of a state religion.  However, Shari‘a law is applied in 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states. Criminals can suffer flogging, amputation of limbs, and even the death sentence. In principle this does not apply to Christians but Christians report widespread discrimination, including false charges of blasphemy against Islam; Christian students and teachers being forced to leave schools; permits to build churches are refused. Over 300 churches have been destroyed in the last four years. Teenagers are abducted and forced to convert to Islam. The extremist Islamist group Boko Haram is a threat to Christians. It is seeking to impose Shari‘a law, and outlaw “western education”.  Christians and Muslims have been killed in inter-religious violence. In some areas Christian and Muslim militias have attacked each other destroying churches and mosques. However Gallup found that 60% of Nigerians reject Boko Haram’s “anti-western rhetoric.” Also in the Jos Central plateau area both Christian and Muslim militias have attacked each other and destroyed mosques and churches.

North Korea 

North Korea is probably the most difficult place in the world to be a Christian. The constitution provides for “freedom of religious belief”, but in practice religious freedom does not exist. Since the communist regime began in 1953, 300,000 Christians have disappeared. People caught praying – especially if involved with foreign organisations – are likely to be executed. Prisoners are being subjected to torture, murder, rape, medical experimentation, forced labour and forced abortion. Religious detainees receive harsher treatment. Possessing a Bible is a crime that can carry the death penalty.

Pakistan 

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is officially a secular country although blaspheming the name of the Islamic prophet Muhammad or desecrating the Quran is punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment. False accusations of blasphemy against Islam and offences against the Quran have led to killings by mobs. Sometimes these accusations stem from personal vendettas. In 2010. Archbishop Lawrence Saldanhana, President of the country’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said: “We are experiencing a Talibanisation of Islam. It is not so much that they are becoming more religious, rather that they are becoming more intolerant of others.” Another bishop said: “We [Christians] always experienced some form of discrimination but what we are seeing now is far more serious. We are living in a state of constant tension. In March 2010 six people were killed in an attack on the office of Christian charity World Vision in the Mansehra district. The charity said it would suspend all operations in the country

Philippines 

There have been bomb attacks on various churches by Muslims.

Russia 

Despite many improvements since the fall of the Soviet Union there continue to be areas of concern. Legal regulations for non-Orthodox religious organisations have become increasingly stringent, using charges of extremism in order to ban religious materials and restrict the right of assembly. However, despite increased regulation, courts have upheld the constitutional rights of Christian communities.

Saudi Arabia 

Saudi Arabia does not allow Christians to practise their faith publicly. Although the government allows non-Muslims to practise their faith privately, security forces continue to raid private religious gatherings and confiscate religious articles. Christians have been arrested. On March 12 2012 Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, declared that it is "necessary to destroy all the churches of the region [i.e. the Middle East]."

Somalia

Somalia: Al-Shabaab Muslims beheaded a 26 year-old Muslim convert to Christianity who had worked for a Christian humanitarian organization that the terrorist organization had banned. He is at least the third Christian to be beheaded in Somalia in recent months.

Sri Lanka

From 2008 the rise of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism has caused religious tensions between Buddhists and various religious minorities, including Christians. Christians were accused of converting Buddhists by unethical means and supporting terrorism, which led to violence and discrimination at a local level. In August 2009 The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka reported that attacks on Christians increased drastically following the government troop’s defeat of Tamil separatists in May. There have been violent attacks on churches and other Christian organisations and on individual Christians.

Sudan 

Some 2.5 million people died in the 1983-2005 civil war. The country split into two countries – mainly Muslim Sudan and mainly Christian South Sudan - in July 2011 after the people of the south voted for independence. Christians had suffered terrible atrocities before the division, with attacks on churches, and even crucifixions by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Christians had been labelled ‘cockroaches.’ 700,000 Christians of southern origin still remaining in Sudan fear retribution.

Syria

Christians are experiencing a level of persecution unprecedented in the nation's modern history.

Tajikistan

Christian converts suffer harassment, beatings and arrest. Religious activity must be approved by the government and churches find it difficult to gain registration. People under 18 are forbidden to participate in public religious activity.

Tunisia

Christians are discriminated against and evangelism is illegal. Salafists have attacked churches.

Turkey

There have been growing concerns about the rise of extremism in Turkey, including religiously motivated attacks and threats. In 2010 a senior catholic bishop was assassinated and evidence emerged of links with Islamists. The government has not given recognition to various religious communities, despite requests. Missionary activity is opposed.

Turkmenistan

The constitution allows freedom of religion but in practice the government harasses religious minorities and restricts freedom of worship. Churches must be registered and registration is difficult to obtain. Even registered churches have been restricted. Religious literature is censored.

Uganda

There have been attacks on Christians by Islamic extremists in what is being described as "a new wave of persecution against Christians in Uganda."

United Arab Emirates

The UAE is among the most tolerant countries in the Gulf  and its constitution allows religious freedom but in practice this only applies to expatriates. Conversion is illegal, as is evangelism and the circulation of non-Islamic literature.

Uzbekistan

The government imprisons individuals on charges of extremism and raids both unregistered and registered religious gatherings

Venezuela

The situation is worsening with President Chavez considering plans to confiscate churches, schools and other religious buildings. There have been attacks on Christians.

Vietnam

There have been improvements in religious freedom recently. However, some Christian groups reported government harassment and excessive use of force. A number of churches claimed government forces had either sanctioned or actually taken part in violence against them. Some Protestant groups reported undue delays in obtaining government registration. In January 2009 the Prime Minister declared that none of the 2,250 properties seized from the Vietnamese Church (before 1st July 1991) would be returned.

Yemen

Islam is the state religion and Sharia law is the foundation of the legal system.

Christians are able to worship with relative freedom in the few places of worship designated to them. The growing influence of Al Qaeda is a problem. It has called on Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula to wage jihad (holy war) against Christians and Jews in the area. In 2009 several expatriate Christians were murdered because of missionary activities.


Are Christians in Britain being persecuted?


Michael Gove, former UK Education Secretary said that British Christians are ‘openly derided’ and ‘coolly dismissed.’ British culture belittles Christianity on a daily basis. He added that “To call yourself a Christian in contemporary Britain is to invite pity, condescension or cool dismissal. In a culture that prizes sophistication, non-judgmentalism, irony and detachment, it is to declare yourself intolerant, naive, superstitious and backward.

“Far from enlarging someone’s sympathy or providing a frame for ethical reflection, Christianity is seen as a mind-narrowing doctrine. Where once politicians who were considering matters of life and death might have been thought to be helped in their decision-making by Christian thinking — by reflecting on the tradition of Augustine and Aquinas, by applying the subtle tests of just-war doctrine — now Christianity means the banal morality of the fairy tale and genuflection before a sky pixie’s simplicities.

“The suspicion was that Christians helped others because they wanted to look good in the eyes of their deity and earn the religious equivalent of Clubcard points securing entry to Heaven. Or they interfered in the lives of the less fortunate because they were moral imperialists — getting off on the thrill and power of controlling someone else’s life and impulses. Or, most disturbingly of all, they were looking to recruit individuals — especially in our schools — to affirm the arid simplicities and narrow certainties of their faith.

“This prejudice that Christian belief demeans the integrity of an action is remarkably pervasive. And on occasion singularly vehement.

“One of the saddest moments during my time as Education Secretary was the day I took a call from a wonderfully generous philanthropist who had devoted limitless time and money to helping educate disadvantaged children in some of the most challenging areas of Britain but who now felt he had no option but to step away from his commitments because his evangelical Christianity meant that he, and his generosity, were under constant attack.

“I suspect that one of the reasons why any suggestion of religious belief — let alone motivation — on the part of people in public life excites suspicion and antipathy is the assumption that those with faith consider their acts somehow sanctified and superior compared with others. ”

Andrew Brown, writing in the Guardian, agrees with Gove and asks why this has happened over Christianity. He puts some blame on militant atheists but adds: “But the real problem is the slow drift of religion into a category separate from the rest of life and thought. Religions that work have nothing to do with faith: they are about habit and practice, and the things that everybody knows. Gove quotes the Book of Common Prayer, which I also was brought up on, and love deeply. But it’s gone now. It will never again be a book of common prayer. The more that any religion becomes distinct from the culture around it, the weaker and weirder it becomes. Of course it can flourish as an embattled and angry sect. But Christianity in England has not been like that for at least 1,000 years. Seventy years ago, TS Eliot could write that dogs and horses were part of English religion, as much as bishops were part of English culture. That’s now very much less true, and it’s hard to imagine a conservatism that could ever bring it back. ”

More recently Victoria Wasteney, a senior NHS occupational therapist, was suspended for nine months for trying to convert a Muslim colleague, Enya Nawaz. Victoria offered to pray for her Enya who spoke of her health problems. Enya agreed and Victoria prayed for her with the laying on of hands. She also gave her a book about a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity. Then Enya complained to their employer. A disciplinary panel accused Victoria of “bullying and harassment.” The case was taken to an employment tribunal which upheld the panel’s verdict.
 
Don Horrocks, Head of Public Affairs at the Evangelical Alliance, commented on similar cases: “There remains a clear reluctance to tackle infringement of freedom of conscience and the emergent hierarchy of human rights, which has left people of faith firmly at the bottom and often wondering whether in practice religion and belief is a protected right at all. There is a long way to go to achieve parity and equality on a fair playing field with other rights. When rights conflict, the test of equality legislation is whether it results in genuinely fair outcomes for everyone. If one group of protected rights is consistently trumped by others then equality is not working. Equality is important, but unless it is expressed fairly in the context of recognised diversity then it can become oppressive and end up being wielded as a blunt weapon to silence those we disagree with.”

In May 2015 two events took place which are serious in terms of  moving the west in the direction of the persecution of Christians. Firstly, a Christian bakery in Belfast was fined £500 plus costs for refusing to make a cake for a customer which bore the logo “Support Gay Marriage.” Secondly, Ireland held a referendum on gay marriage and 62% of the population voted in favour of legalising it. It shows how quickly social attitudes can change. Homosexuality was only legalised in Ireland in 1993 (and divorce in 1996). The main factor is the dramatic loss of influence of the Catholic Church and the other the great improvement in Ireland’s economy since it joined the EU which encouraged secular attitudes.

The great joy and exhilaration expressed at the result on TV by those who voted yes was understandable  but is dangerous because it will have the effect of further marginalising the church and applying pressure to Christians who don’t agree with same-sex marriage. On the other hand, it will lead some Christians to move away from biblical teaching and approve homosexual practice and gay marriage. So, with these Christians it won’t lead to marginalisation but to a partial departure from the faith. Both persecution and departure from the faith were prophesied by Jesus.

I have long felt that approval of homosexual practice would eventually become a test of acceptability in society, failure in which would lead to serious consequences.

But how long will it be before the Christians come into much more serious conflict with the anti-extremism laws planned by the UK government? These, of course, uphold “British Values” (whatever they are) and particularly tolerance and avoiding causing distress to others. I anticipate that before long exclusive claims that Jesus is the only Saviour and even sensitive references to judgment and hell will be deemed illegal. Then we will be getting into deep water over persecution. In March 2015 Sajid Javid, UK Culture Secretary, made a very significant comment when he opposed the governments revived censorship proposal. He said it would be used “otherwise than intended, not least given the difficulty of defining extremism, and the consequent likelihood of the government being seen to be interfering with freedom of speech without sufficient justification”.

We are seeing massive social change at breath-taking speed. The consequences for Christians who uphold the teaching of Scripture will be very serious. We need to watch and pray.

(with Updates at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=179)

  • In that paper I concluded:
  •  
  • ·         That recent high profile cases of Christians being penalised for wearing Christian symbols (including in hospitals where people of other faiths are allowed to do the equivalent), for sensitively praying (as a health professional) with or sharing their faith with patients, for refusing (even as professionals) certain involvement with homosexuals should not have happened.
  •  
  • ·         That the new legislation on equality needs to be reassessed so that religious freedom is not undermined.
  •  
  • ·         That both judges and employers sadly have accepted the propaganda that Britain is no longer a Christian country in terms of public opinion.
  •  
  • ·         That some people in the pro-gay lobby are using the gay issue not just to seek respect and equality for homosexuals but to use the issue as a Trojan horse to marginalize Christians and churches which follow traditional teaching on gay sex. It is proving very effective.
  •  
  • ·         That Christianity is being marginalised in judicial proceedings, employment, as well as in parts of the media.
  •  
  • Finally, I wrote: “Are British Christians being “persecuted”? Well .... no, not yet. But some are being discriminated against and oppressed, including by well-meaning but misled people, and the future is likely to be even more difficult for them.”
  •  
  • I have to add that, in the light of the severe persecution of Christians in many countries of the world, I find it rather difficult when Christians use the word ‘persecution’ of the relatively slight difficulties we Christians face in this country.

  • Conclusion

  •  
  • Neville Kyrke-Smith, national director of Aid to the Church in Need (UK) referred to research showing that 200 million Christians face discrimination or persecution.  Open Doors has said that the persecution of Christians increased worldwide in 2012.  More than three-quarters of the world’s population live in countries which are closed to the gospel and where evangelistic missionary activity is prohibited. The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life reported that Christians were harassed by government officials or organisations in 95 countries in the year ending in mid-2010 and by social groups or individuals in 77 countries.[3]
  •  
  • In conclusion, it seems clear to me that persecution of Christians has grown very significantly over the last century. One could argue that it could subside again but I do not find that convincing. So, although we none of us know how much more extensive persecution could become this ‘sign’ seems well on the way towards fulfilment.
  •  
  • Worldwide evangelism – a pointer towards the End

  •  
  • Jesus made it clear that one of the signs pointing towards his return was worldwide evangelism.  He said:
  • “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14).
  •  
  • What did Jesus mean?
  •  
  • ·         Preaching to every individual? Such a task could hardly ever be completed, even with modern communications.
  •  
  • ·         Preaching to every people group? Researchers say there are between 11,294 and 16,791 people groups.
  •  
  • ·         Preaching to every nation? Yet nations come and go over the centuries, or their boundaries change. Prof C E B Cranfield says it means “that before the End all nations shall have an opportunity to accept the gospel.” Dr Dick France agrees.
  •  
  • It is probably wise not to be too precise geographically in terms of people groups, let alone individuals, in our understanding of Jesus’ words. The gospel certainly has been spread far and wide and we shall look at statistics about the present situation to see how far the world has been evangelised.
  •  
  • Here are some statistics:
  •  
  • ·         The US Census Bureau says there are 7.108 billion people on the planet
  •  
  • ·         Researchers say there are some 2.3 billion Christians (about 32% of the world population) including 748 million Evangelicals and over 524 million Charismatic/Pentecostal (these two figures overlap to some extent).
  • ·         [4]
  •  
  • ·         Estimates of the number of unevangelised people in the world vary from 1.6 billion[5] to 1.75 billion, i.e. 22-25% of the world population..
  •  
  • ·         Researchers say between 32.7% and 56.6% of people groups unevangelised
  •  
  • ·         94% of the world’s population has the New Testament in language they can understand (not necessarily their own local language[6]  - Wycliffe Bible Translators say that 2000 of the over 6,800 living languages do not have any Scripture translated).
  •  
  • ·         Over 800 million adults are illiterate so they would need to have the message conveyed to them orally.
  •  
  • ·         However, Christian radio is available to 99% of the world’s population, assuming good reception and the availability of a radio.[7] Then there are Christian programmes on TV, DVDs etc.
  •  
  • ·         In 2009 alone Campus Crusade for Christ reported that over 10 million internet users came to faith in Christ through their websites. They also received close to 4 million emails.[8] However only about 34% of the world’s population (still a huge number) has internet access and the situation is worse in least evangelised areas.

  • Conclusion on worldwide evangelism

  •  
  • It is impossible to be dogmatic about what in detail Jesus meant about the gospel being “preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations.” 
  •  
  • It is also impossible to be dogmatic about statistics. However
  • ·         The gospel has gone out to all the nations
  • ·         The NT is available to some 94% of the population in a language they understand.
  • ·         Christian radio is potentially available to some 99% of the world’s population.
  • But there could be 1.6 to 1.75 billion or more (some say over 2 billion) unevangelised people in the world.
  •  
  • So, the gospel has certainly gone a long way to being preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations.”
  •  
  • Jesus clearly taught that this was a pointer towards the End, and his return.
  •  
  • Turning away from the Faith

  •  
  • One of the signs Jesus refers to alongside the gospel being preached to the whole world and extensive persecution of Christians is widespread turning away from the faith (much of it resulting from the persecution, but some of it from false teachers).  What Jesus actually said was: “‘…you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
  •  
  • Jesus had in mind people who had faith but who have now turned away from it, either because of persecution or because of the “increase of wickedness.” There are, of course, many in ‘Christian countries,’ some of whom had a Christian background, who have turned away from it, although some may never have had a personal faith. As we shall see, the current “turning away from the faith” is in countries where there is little or no persecution. It is a matter of debate as to whether there is an increase of wickedness in these countries (compared with countries where Christianity is strong and growing) as there is evidence on both sides.
  •  
  • To listen to some people, including Christians, there is currently a massive decline in Christianity with people turning away from the faith. Some take this as an indication that this prediction by Jesus is taking place. But it is important to see the whole picture.
  •  
  • Church Decline

  •  
  • One secular source, Hub Pages, has a section on The Decline and Fall of Christianity which it describes as a series of articles which “will explore the various elements of Christianity's decline into irrelevance on the global scale.”[9] It has articles on the decline of Christianity in America and the West. In America belief in God has declined from 92-98% in World War II to 80% in 2010 (with 12% believing in a ‘universal spirit’). People describing themselves as Christians fell from 92% in 1948 to 78% in 2008. The majority of Americans do not now attend church weekly. In 1958 some 75% of Americans claimed religion was very important to them whereas in 2008 the number was just over half. Even so, Christianity is still a major influence in the USA.
  •  
  • Hub Pages reports that only 38% of people in developed nations say religion is important to them. In 2007-8 eight of the eleven least religious countries in the world were in Europe. Belief in God in Britain declined from 79% in the 1960s to 68% in the 1990s. About a third of French people don’t believe in God.
  •  
  • Hub Pages goes on to speak of the causes of the decline:
  • ·         Cultural factors – secularisation in sexual matters, abortion, gay relationships and gay marriage and divorce; a subjective consumer approach to religion.
  • ·         Political secularisation: they instance the failed attempts to have references to God and Christianity in the 2004 EU Constitutional Treaty and the 2007 Lisbon Treaty.
  • ·         Scientific and intellectual factors (but these comments are only relevant to fundamentalists).

  • Church decline in the Middle East

  •  
  • Sadly there has been serious decline in Christianity in the Middle East largely through people emigrating as a result of pressures and persecution. Prof Habib Malik[10] points out that in 1948 Jerusalem was 20% Christian but now is 2% Christian. For centuries Bethlehem was 80% Christian but now 33%. Lebanon was majority Christian, but now 33%. Syria at independence was nearly 50% Christian but now 4%. In the mid 20th century Jordan was 18% Christian but is now 2%. Sixty years ago the Palestinian Areas were 10% Christian but now 2%. Also before the war in 2003 Iraq had between 800,000 and 1.4 million Christians, i.e. 5% of the population but now the figure is only 500,000-600,000. Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna warned in June 2012: "Religious geography is mobile. And as things go, it may happen that the Near East will undergo the fate of the North African Christianity in the seventh century.”[11]

  • Church decline in Britain

  •  
  • In the UK Peter Brierley records that in 2005 there were 5.8 million churchmembers (12.3% of the population). But in 2010 that number was 5.5 million (11.2% of the population). At that rate by 2015 there will be 5.2 million (10.3% of the population).[12]
  •  
  • The 2011 census shows that Christianity is declining 50% faster than was thought. Initial results from the survey said that the number of people calling themselves Christian had declined by 4.1 million (10%). But then it was discovered that 1.2 million Christians in the UK are foreign born, which, of course, means the decline in the number of UK born Christians is greater. This means that there are 5.3million less Christians, a fall of 15%.  The percentage of people identifying as Christians dropped from 71.7% in 2001 to 59.3% in 2011. There are still 33.2 million people who identify as Christian. Sadly, less than half of British young people describe themselves as even nominal Christians. The majority of British Christians are over 60. The question is, though, how much this decline is due to it not now being fashionable to identify oneself as a “cultural Christian” as opposed to a real Christian.
  • Attendance in the Church of England fell by 0.3% to 1,091,484 in 2011 although 2.6 million attended Christmas services – a rise of 14.5% over 2010.
  • Sadly, trust in clergy has fallen. In 1983 clergy came top of the list, beating even doctors by 3%. Then clergy were trusted by 85% of the population. However, a British 2011 Ipsos MORI poll for the British Medical Association showed clergy are now the 6th most trusted group out of 17. 66% of people trusted clergy to tell the truth (compared with 89% for doctors, 86% for teachers, 83% for scientists, 82% for judges and 69% for TV newsreaders). 27% said they did not trust clergy to tell the truth. Clearly the various clergy sex scandals have done enormous damage (they, in themselves, are a very serious departure from the Faith). It is not just the extensive child abuse in Ireland amongst Roman Catholic priests as it also has included one or two conservative evangelicals. But also clergy are usually given a poor image in soaps and films. In 2014 a survey discovered that 69% of the UK population do not trust religious institutions. The church came in 7th position after the NHS, police, social services, local authorities, judiciary and government/parliament.
  •  
  • Even US Evangelicalism is declining. A report in the New York Times in January 2013 said most young people brought up as evangelicals are leaving the faith.
  •  
  • All too many Christians are turning away from biblical teaching on sexuality. The 2012 British Social Attitudes survey shows that in 1983 31% of Anglicans thought pre-marital sex was ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ wrong. Now only 10% do. In 1989 78% of Anglicans thought people should marry before having children. Now 54% do (for Roman Catholics the figure has declined from 73% to 43%). In 1983 63% of Anglicans and 67% of Roman Catholics thought “sexual relations between adults of the same sex" were "always wrong.” Now the figures are 40% and 35% respectively.
  •  
  • In 1983 34% of Anglicans thought a woman should be allowed to have an abortion if she didn’t wish to have a child and her health was not endangered by the pregnancy. Now the figure is 56%. The corresponding figures for Roman Catholics are 25% rising to 39%.

The majority of UK citizens now believe that religion does more harm than good. The Huffington Post discovered that only 25% of British people think religion is a force for good. Professor Linda Woodhead (Professor of the Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University) commented “This confirms something I’ve found in my own surveys and which leads me to conclude that religion has become a ‘toxic brand’ in the UK.”

There is growing ignorance of the Christian Faith in the UK. The Bible Society discovered that:
•    25% of children have never read, seen or heard the story of the Nativity.
•    43% of children have yet to hear, see or read about the Crucifixion.
•    29% of children don’t know that the Nativity story is part of the Bible.
30% of secondary school children (aged 12-15) did not know the Nativity story appears in the Bible.
  •  
  • All of this is very depressing. But it is by no means the whole story.
  •  
  • It is true that people who called themselves Christians in Europe (some being nominal and not involved in the church) declined from 94.5% of the population to 80.2% between 1910 and 2010. Now, according to the 2005 Eurobarometer Poll, 52% of Europeans believe in God and 27% believe in some sort of spirit or life force, whilst 19% don’t believe in either and 3% don’t know. There is considerable decline in the church in the West, including in Britain. However Christianity is growing throughout the world as a whole, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Charismatic Christianity is growing the fastest. Patrick Johnstone calculates that Charismatics will be a third of all Christians by 2050, 10% of the world population. He believes they will have an important influence on society and politics in Africa and South America.
  •  
  • Growth of world Christianity

  •  
  • The December 2011 Pew Forum report Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population shows this. It states:
  •  
  • The number of Christians around the world has more than tripled in the last 100 years, from about 600 million in 1910 to more than 2 billion in 2010. But the world’s overall population also has risen rapidly, from an estimated 1.8 billion in 1910 to 6.9 billion in 2010. As a result, Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population today (32%) as they did a century ago (35%).
  •  
  • This apparent stability, however, masks a momentous shift. Although Europe and the Americas still are home to a majority of the world’s Christians (63%), that share is much lower than it was in 1910 (93%). And the proportion of Europeans and Americans who are Christian has dropped from 95% in 1910 to 76% in 2010 in Europe as a whole, and from 96% to 86% in the Americas as a whole. [Again many of these will be nominal Christians].
  •  
  • At the same time, Christianity has grown enormously in sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, where there were relatively few Christians at the beginning of the 20th century. The share of the population that is Christian in sub-Saharan Africa climbed from 9% in 1910 to 63% in 2010, while in the Asia-Pacific region it rose from 3% to 7%. Christianity today – unlike a century ago – is truly a global faith.
  •  
  • It goes on to point out that only 26% of Christians now live in Europe (compared with 66% in 1910) and 37% in the Americas. 24% live in Sub-Saharan Africa and 13% in Asia and the Pacific. Christians are less than a third of the world’s population but are the majority in 158 countries (some two-thirds of the world).
  •  
  • These statistics do not support the idea that we are currently seeing many turning away from the faith and betraying and hating each other, although there is certainly a massive turning away from the faith in Western countries, particularly Europe. That does illustrate that such decline can happen quite quickly and dramatically though, and could do so again in the future, including in places where Christianity is currently strong and growing. So this sign of the End Times could come about quite quickly. One of the main causes seems to be materialism.
  •  
  • However, it has to be said that one of the reasons people are leaving the church is the failure of the church itself. It is not only the failure of very many churches to evangelize and to provide ministry and fellowship up to biblical standards but it is the failure of sections of the church to live up to biblical standards of behaviour. There is all too much nominal faith, hypocrisy and ungodly behaviour. Failings amongst clergy, some of it very serious, have done enormous damage.

  • Growth in the British church

  •  
  • It is true that there is widespread decline in the British church but “Church Growth in Britain 1980 to the present,” edited by David Goodhew records encouraging statistics about church growth in the UK:
  • ·         There are now 500,000 Christians in black majority churches in Britain. Black, Asian and minority ethnic churchgoing is not declining; it is rising rapidly.
  • ·         Since 1980 new congregations have been founded at an average of one per year in York.
  • ·         Membership of the Anglican diocese of London, the largest Anglican diocese in the country, has grown by over 70% since 1990.
  • ·         There is substantial church growth in Edinburgh.
  • ·         Cathedral mid-week attendance has mushroomed.
  • ·         Tens of thousands of people attend “fresh expressions” of churches, e.g. Café Churches started in the last 20-30 years.
  • ·         Peter Brierley calculates that 2,950 new churches started between 1989 and 2005. There is some evidence that over 5000 new churches have begun in the UK between 1980 and 2010. He also says that 1248 more churches have opened than closed between 2005 and 2010.
  •  
  • The book also refers to www.yougov.polis.cam.ac.uk/archive, which reports:
  • ·         67% of those aged 18 to 34 said they prayed regularly or occasionally,
  • ·         26% said they never prayed and
  • ·         7% said they didn’t know whether they prayed or not.
  •  
  • It also quotes Professor Grace Davie who coined the phrase ‘believing without belonging’ to describe British people claiming to be nominal Christians but who didn’t worship at a Christian church. She later spoke of ‘vicarious religion” referring to the majority of the British people being content that a minority practice religion for them.
  •  
  • Clive Field, writing in British Religion in Numbers gave a salutary warning that this book wasa necessary antidote to the ‘eschatology of decline’ and ‘ecclesiology of fatalism’ which has consumed some academics and church leaders.”[13]
  •  
  • The London Church Census report undertaken by Peter Brierley states that:
  • ·         Church attendance in London grew by 16% between 2005 and 2012 from 620,000 to 720,000. Most of the growth is accounted for by women and almost 50% of inner London churchgoers are black.
  • ·         Almost 10% of people in inner London go to church each week compared with 5.6% in the rest of England.
  • ·         There are 140 churches with more than 800 members and these attract younger people.
  • ·         52% of London churchgoers are evangelical and 32% Pentecostal.
  • ·         But overall London Anglican numbers are declining.
  •  
  • 60% of Anglican parishes are declining but 40% are growing. Seven diocese grew between 2001 and 2010: Canterbury, Ely, Hereford, London, Newcastle, Southwark and York.

The historian Simon Schama (himself Jewish) believes Britain is becoming more religious. He said recently: “My generation grew up thinking that religion was completely marginal to British life, which, as for the rest of the world, has been proved more and more wrong. We were arrogantly isolated from that, thinking religion was just an ornamental part of Britishness.  Now look at the success of the Alpha Evangelicals, how important Christianity has been to the community of West Indians, the huge place of Islam. Britain is becoming a more religious place, not less.”   A poll conducted by OnePoll in April 2014 found that 35% of non-religious people in Britain believe in God and 43% of them pray at times. Also 32% want a religious funeral.

A 2013 Theos survey reported that:
•    61% of non-religious people believe that “there are things in life that we simply cannot explain through science or any other means.”
•    59% of non-religious people believe in the existence of some kind of spiritual being.
•    52% – think spiritual forces have some influence either in the human world or the natural world.
•    51% believe “prayer works, in the sense that it makes you feel more at peace”.
•    30% believe in God “as a universal life force.”
•    30% believe in spirits.
•    25% believe in angels
•    39% believe in the existence of a soul
•    38% think prayer could heal
•    32% believe in life after death
•    26% believe in heaven
•    16% believe in reincarnation
•    13% believe in hell
•    Only 25% of the non-religious – agree with the statement “humans are purely material beings with no spiritual element”.
•    17%) of people said that prayer works “in the sense that it can bring about change for the people or situation you are praying for.”
•    13% of people say they prayed “daily or more often”, 8% say they prayed a few times a week and 34% said they prayed occasionally.
The Report went on to comment: “For all that formalised religious belief and institutionalised religious belonging has declined over recent decades, the British have not become a nation of atheists or materialists. On the contrary, a spiritual current runs as, if not more, powerfully through the nation than it once did.”

Linda Woodhead said recently: “In culture and institutions Britain is more Christian than not. What is happening is that people are leaving the churches, not faith.”

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, commented: “The evidence is overwhelming that most people in this country by a very substantial margin have religious belief in the supernatural or a deity. To that extent atheism doesn't appear to have made much progress in this country at all …Our state, its ethics and our society are underpinned by Christian values.” He added: “As I go around and look at the way we make laws, and indeed many of the underlying ethics of society are Christian based and the result of 1,500 years of Christian input into our national life. It is not going to disappear overnight. They (the atheists) are deluding themselves.” He also said that he believed people were hesitant to express their religious beliefs because of the “deep intolerance” of religious extremist in British society.
  •  
  • Taking all the evidence into account, the overall picture about the church is positive. The church is growing, despite areas of serious decline especially in the West. This does not support the idea that we are seeing a huge End Time turning away from the faith.
  •  
  • Apostasy

  •  
  • So often the modern church exercises no discipline and tolerates serious false teaching and behaviour on the part of its leaders. One example is The Sea of Faith Network, whose founder member is Don Cupitt, an Anglican priest who was Dean of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. The organisation believes that: “God has no ‘real’, objective or empirical existence, independent of human language and culture; God is ‘real’ in the sense that he is a potent symbol, metaphor or projection, but He has no objective existence outside and beyond the practice of religion. Non-realism therefore entails a rejection of all supernaturalism - miracles, afterlife and the agency of spirits.”[14]
  •  
  • The Rev Anthony Freeman, another Anglican priest, published a book called God in Us in which he said he had experienced a "reverse conversion experience", after which he stopped believing in an literal, objective, personal God. He would claim he does believe in God as “the sum of our values and of our spiritual experiences: the ideal.” In other words, God is merely an idea or ideal in the minds of human beings. He (or rather it) has no objective existence.
  •  
  • “There is nothing out there,” says Anthony Freeman, “or if there is, we can have no knowledge of it.” He appears not to notice that this totally rejects Jesus as the revelation of God and Scripture as revelation. But, then, he denies the divinity of Christ. He continues: “God is not a big Father Christmas. He is not an off-the-shelf supernatural person....God is not a person, not a being at all .... I don't think of God as a supernatural person I can talk to. I don't believe in prayer as a way of twisting God's arm to make him do things. There is evidence, though, of prayer working but it is by human empathy and the power of positive thinking.”
  •  
  • When he published his book he was vicar of St Mark, Staplefield and Diocesan Director of Post Ordination Training: compulsory training for young clergy. The Bishop sacked him immediately from this post, which left him only doing half his job, as vicar of Staplefield. He was given a year to change his views, which did not happen and he became the first Church of England clergyman to be sacked for his theological views in the 20th century.
  •  
  • Immediately 65 clergy wrote to The Independent condemning the sacking. "Mr Freeman is not being offered another post," they wrote, "despite his willingness to make he required Declaration of Assent, and he has been refused Permission to Officiate in [Chichester] Diocese."
  •  
  • The Declaration of Assent is the legally-required statement a clergyman has to make. It states: "I ... declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic [i.e. universal] creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness...” Yet the Scriptures, creeds, 39 Articles etc., clearly teach about an objective God who is three persons and Jesus who is divine and the supreme revelation of God.
  •  
  • Anthony Freeman, speaking of the Church of England's line between acceptable and unacceptable beliefs, said, “If I knew where the line was, I suppose I could decide whether I'm on the right side of it. And if I weren't I would have, with integrity, to leave. But there is no line. The only way you begin to find where the line is, is when you write a book and get into trouble.” The letter to The Independent continues, “The bishop's action reverses a long Church of England tradition that tolerates and values a wide range of views. It poses a danger to freedom of expression within the Anglican ministry.” Despite the Bishop’s disciplinary action, this story, in the context of the Sea of Faith, indicates how far apostate views have spread amongst clergy. It also shows how far the clergy tolerate such apostate views.
  •  
  • There are also dangerous signs in the World Council of Churches. In the 1991 WCC Assembly delegates on their way to the opening worship passed through the smoke of burning leaves - a pagan cleansing ritual. On the second day, with two painted Aborigines dancing in the background, a South Korean theologian Chung Hyun Kyung invoked the spirits of the dead. One delegate, Vijay Menon, a convert from Hinduism, was amongst those who protested. “Pagan culture has infiltrated the WCC. I left that behind to become a Christian.”
  •  
  • Another cause of concern is the change in WCC terminology concerning relationships with other faiths. In 1963 the council spoke of ‘Christian witness to men of other faiths.’ Then ‘witness’ was dropped and it was ‘Christian encounter with men of other beliefs.’ In 1967 this became ‘Christians in dialogue with men of other faiths.’ Then in 1970 ‘Christians’ was dropped and the theme was ‘Dialogue between men of living faiths.’ In 1977, this was renamed ‘Dialogue in Community.’[15]
  •  
  • We have seen some evidence of apostasy but not on scale to be seen as a sign of the End Times.
  •  
  • False prophets and messiahs (Mt 24:11, 24)

  •  
  • In his list of signs of his return Jesus twice mentions false messiahs. In Matthew 24:4-5 he warns: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Messiah,” and will deceive many.” This is in a context where he says: “the end is still to come .... All these are the beginning of birth-pains” (vv. 6, 8). Then later on he says: “False messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (v. 24). However this is in the context of great end time distress: “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Messiah!” or, “There he is!” do not believe it” (vv. 22-23).
  •  
  • It would appear therefore that Jesus says false messiahs will happen from time to time throughout history and they are reminders that he, the true Messiah, is coming back, but the matter will become more serious in the end times. False messiahs will have more influence and be more deceptive.
  •  
  • There have certainly been false messiahs over the centuries. So far I have discovered 81 people who in one way or another have made significant messianic claims:[16]  There does seem to be some evidence of a growth in the number of false messiahs.

 

Century

Number of ‘messiahs’

1st

2

2nd

2

5th

1

7th

1

8th 

2

12th

2

13th

1

15th

2

16th

3

17th

5

18th

4

19th

10

20th

39

21st (up to 2012)

7

TOTAL:

81

 

Conclusion on turning away from the Faith

 

We have seen that the church is growing, despite areas of serious decline, especially in the West. We have also looked at some evidence of apostasy and false messiahs. But overall the present situation does not support the idea that we are seeing a huge End Time turning away from the faith. However the massive turning away from the faith in Western countries, particularly Europe, does illustrate that such decline can happen quite quickly and dramatically, and could do so again in the future, including in places where Christianity is currently strong and growing. So this sign of the End Times could come about quite quickly.

 



[1] Voice of the Martyrs comment on Barrett & Johnson’s figures: “The fact is, much of today's persecution still takes place in remote areas of countries often cut off from or with restricted access to modern communications.  Most martyrs suffer and die anonymously, unknown, forgotten, their deaths unrecorded except in heaven. Even email, which most of us consider a basic everyday tool is a struggle to use in places like Ethiopia, Burma, and much of central Africa.  Even where it is more readily available, it is not secure. Much goes unreported or is reported months, even years later.  For many, persecution is such a part of life that it hardly dawns on the afflicted to tell the world.  They don't know who to tell anyway and there are only so many organizations like VOMC with limited staff to seek them out.  Even then, many are nervous about sharing what they know for fear of retribution.” http://pietist.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/voice-of-martyrs-canada-how-many.html

[3] Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion, September 2012

[4] Barrett, David B., and Todd M. Johnson. 2001. World Christian Trends AD 30 - AD 2200: Interpreting the annual Christian Megacensus. Associate ed. Christopher R. Guidry and Peter F. Crossing. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, p. 20.

[5] Barrett & Johnson, op. cit., p. 427.

[6] Johnstone, Patrick, and Jason Mandryk. 2005. Operation World. Tyrone, GA: Authentic Media, p. 7.

[7] Johnstone, Patrick, and Jason Mandryk. Op. cit, p. 7

[8] Global Media Outreach. About Us. http://www.globalmediaoutreach.com/about_us.html.

[9] http://secularist10.hubpages.com/hub/The-Decline-and-Fall-of-Christianity

[10] http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/11/prweb8958702.htm

[11] http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/cardinal-schnborn-loss-of-mid-east-christians-would-be-tragedy-for-the-region/

[12] http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/2011/06/10/church-membership-in-the-uk/

[13] http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/2012/church-growth-in-britain-since-1980/

[14] Sea of Faith Network website www.sofn.org.uk.

[15] To avoid any misunderstanding I should point out that I favour dialogue with people of other faiths and am

myself involved at the invitation of the Bishop of Norwich in a group of clergy which dialogues with the

Muslims at the University of East Anglia. I firmly believe that Jesus is the only Saviour but I also believe it is

important to reach out in peace and love to our brothers and sisters in other faith groups, and so in a small way

to counter the suspicion, fear and violence which characterises the attitudes of some towards those of other

faiths.

[16] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_messiah_claimants



© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page