UPDATED 6th June 2020

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I hope you find the site helpful

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I have various purposes in this blog and my associated websites:

1.TO ENCOURAGE SERIOUS PRAYER FOR REVIVAL

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. Meanwhile British society is increasingly turning away from belief in God, seriously ignorant of Christianity and rejecting biblical morality. The church and country desperately need a special supernatural movement of the Holy Spirit in revival, bringing many to faith in God. We need to pray in depth, in faith and in holiness. There is some relevant material on this blog but for more information see my website Network for Revival.

2. TO ENCOURAGE A SENSIBLE APPROACH TO ESCHATOLOGY (THE DOCTRINE OF THE END TIMES, THE RETURN OF CHRIST, ETC).

Many Christians (including Christian leaders) neglect this, either because they don’t feel competent to deal with it or because they are embarrassed by unbalanced extremists. I want to help rectify this by providing Christian teaching and also comment on current events and trends, with particular reference to anything relevant to Jesus’ teaching on the signs of the End Times. I try to take a constructively critical, extensively researched approach. I have completed the main (systematic) section with teaching on the subjects listed below. See https://www.christianteaching.org.uk/eschatology.html for both a Full (more detailed) Version and a Summary Version.

However you will find Updates on Eschatology on the blog below (which have also been incorporated into the main website above) and you are welcome to comment on them here.

3. TO INFORM PEOPLE ABOUT THE ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT

For a number of years I lived and ministered in Jerusalem, leading an international organisation whose aim is to share the gospel sensitively with Jewish people and leading Christ Church, Jerusalem. Since then I have been seeking to inform Christians about the need, pain and fear on BOTH sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, because God loves both sides. See http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk/index.html. My recent newsletter on the Israel-Gaza conflict is at http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk/newsletter.html.

4. TO MAKE CONSIDERED PROPHETIC COMMENT ON CURRENT EVENTS AND TRENDS.

See below on the blog.

5. TO PROVIDE FREE, PRACTICAL, USER-FRIENDLY RESOURCES FOR CHURCHES AND INDIVIDUALS

These include apologetics (defence of the faith), biblical material, church development, church issues, devotional articles, doctrinal resources, evangelistic, interfaith and pastoral issues. Additions will be made to these materials. See https://www.christianteaching.org.uk/

ESCHATOLOGY (END TIMES) SUBJECTS COVERED
The signs of the End
Will there be a sudden, secret “Rapture” of believers to heaven?
The ‘Great Tribulation’ and the Antichrist
Secular eschatology – What secular scholars are predicting about the future of the world
The Battle of Armageddon & Cosmic signs
Old Testament Eschatology
The return of Christ
Will there be a literal Millennium?
End times judgment
Approaching death
Resurrection
The destruction of world
The truth about Hell
The hope of Heaven
Appendix: Understanding the Book of Revelation
Appendix: The Place of Islam in the End Times

What about the Good News?

I am aware that, in focusing on eschatology and prophetic comment on the news, I frequently major on bad news rather than good news. Does that mean I’m only interesting in doom and gloom? No, not at all. However, there is a lot of doom and gloom in New Testament eschatology, and we must take it seriously alongside the love, joy, peace and eternal life which results from the gospel.

Jesus himself told us to watch for negative signs of the time: wars and rumours of wars, famine, disease, earthquakes, persecution, church decline and apostasy, false prophets and messiahs, great distress (tribulation) and worrying events in the heavens. The rest of the NT has a fair amount of doom and gloom about the End Times. After all, the Book of Revelation is hardly light-hearted

So I major on giving updates on some disturbing “signs of the times”: artificial intelligence, church decline, genetic engineering, global warming, Islam, oppression & persecution of Christians, secularisation & societal decline, matters of sexuality, significant political developments, terrorism and war, world poverty, etc.

We have to take note of such things if we are to obey Jesus who said: “Watch out that no one deceives you … keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matt 24:4, 42-44).

Having said all this, I do come across Christians who take eschatology seriously but read almost everything in society and the church negatively – it’s all doom and gloom. And I don’t believe that is correct. There is a huge amount of good in the world (theologically-speaking, it is the result of God’s “common grace” or the “general work of the Holy Spirit”). We need to maintain the balance and I do seek to share some good news amidst my main emphasis of keeping watch and noting the “signs of the times.”

What is on this site?

AUDIO SERMONS BY TONY & PATRICIA HIGTON

Tony and Patricia met at theological college and have spoken together in many places around the world for many years.

Go to https://www.christianteaching.org.uk/sermons.html and click the appropriate link.

BLOG POSTS

RECENT POSTS

Update on Abortion

INDEX TO THIS BLOG

ATHEISM (SCIENCE & RELIGION)

Relevant articles include:

Secularisation and non religious spirituality/   2015

Religious people are less intelligent than atheists/

Richard Dawkins speaks favourably about Christianity/

BIBLE

Relevant articles include:

The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture

The nature of God in the Old Testament

An outline of the Old Testament

Revival and the end-times/

Oppression of christians in the west/

The threat to the family part 1-the importance of the family/

The threat to the family part 2-attacks on marriage and the family/

How do we recognise God’s judgment?

The Bible predicts Jesus will rule over Israel

CHURCH

Relevant articles include:

CHURCH DECLINE & DEVELOPMENT

Update on the church – May 2020

Oppression of Christians in the West

The church desperately needs Revival

Update on Church decline

Update on decline in Christian belief

Update on secularism

Update on the Church of England

Update on homosexual issues

Secularisation and non-religious spirituality

Church growth and decline

Bishop encouraged Osama bin Laden

Update on Signs of the End “Turning away from the Faith”

ESCHATOLOGY (END TIMES)

When asked about the signs of his coming and the end of the age, Jesus told his disciples to take note of the “beginning of the birth pains [of Messiah]” (Matt 24). These are early, recurring signs – rather like signposts on a motorway, each one closer to the destination. He specified wars and rumours of wars, famine, earthquakes, pestilences, persecution, apostasy, false messiahs, false prophets, worldwide evangelism, “fearful events and great signs from heaven.”  So, Jesus wants us to note the often negative trends and events in society and the world which point towards his return. (These posts include detailed updates on such trends and events in society and the world, which are informative in themselves quite apart from their eschatological significance).

[For more teaching on Eschatology see https://www.christianteaching.org.uk/eschatology.html]

 

Why the church fails to teach about eschatology

Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?

Some thoughts on the Book of Revelation

Jesus preached the present and coming rule of God

John the Baptist said Jesus would baptise in the Spirit and judge the impenitent

REVIVAL

The church desperately needs Revival

Revival and the End Times

RECURRING POINTERS TOWARDS THE END TIMES

“Birth pangs of the Messiah”

Why we should take notice of wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilences

Update on “Birth pains of the Messiah” – Global warming

What is God saying about Coronavirus?

Recognising the significance of major events

TURNING AWAY FROM THE FAITH

Update on Signs of the End – Turning away from the Faith

PERSECUTION & OPPRESSION (Recurring pointer towards the End Times)

Update on persecution

Serious trends in the present situation

Update on Signs of the End – Persecution & Oppression

“Street preachers must not preach about morality”

Tory MP says anti-terror laws against teachers who say gay marriage is sinful

Ex-MI5 Boss warns counter-extremism bill could be used against Christians

Anti-Christian attitudes in Britain – Tim Farron

PANDEMICS (Recurring pointer towards the End Times)

Update on the danger of pandemics

Update on the Signs of the End – Pestilences

WAR (Recurring pointer towards the End Times)

Update on terrorism and war

Update on war and terrorism

Update on war and the threat of war

Update on the serious implications of terrorism

Update on the Signs of the End – Nuclear terrorism an war

Queen’s speech on nuclear war having broken out

DANGERS OF WORLD GOVERNMENT

Update on trends towards world government

Christians and others under antichrist rule

Movements towards World Government

Update on World Government and Oppression

Update on World Government and Political Oppression

RESTORATION OF ISRAEL & THREATS TO ISRAEL

Update on the Signs of the End (Anti-Semitism)

The Bible predicts Jesus will rule over Israel

World Council of Churches statement on the Middle East

An update on anti-semitism and some dangers in combatting it

DANGERS OF EXTREME VIEWS

Will Jesus return by 2070?

“Jesus may return this month”

What should be our attitude to the European Union?

SECULAR ESCHATOLOGY

Alongside seeking to take seriously biblical teaching on eschatology it is instructive to take notice of what is sometime called secular eschatology, i.e. secular predictions by scholars of serious disasters which the future could hold.

Update on secular eschatology

Will Artificial Intelligence be the end of the human race?

Update on Global Warming

ABORTION

Update on Abortion

HOMOSEXUALITY

My attitude to homosexuals

We are called to love our neighbour and that includes our homosexual neighbour. If we do not love our homosexual neighbour we are being sinful. We are to love our neighbour but that doesn’t mean loving his/her wrong behaviour. The old saying is relevant: “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” And that applies to all sinners, including sexual sinners – heterosexual or homosexual.

I address the subject, not because it is the only sin or the worst sin facing the church, neither because of any hang-up about God’s wonderful gift of sexuality, but because it is strategically important. It is the sin the church is beginning to justify, with dire consequences.

The basic issue is whether homosexual practice is God’s will for human beings. I conclude that the Bible says it isn’t. You can read my detailed reasons for this conclusion in the following three articles

What does the Bible say on homosexual practice?

Homosexuality and the Church (a study guide)

What about gay marriage?

Here are my blog posts on the subject:

The undermining of God’s plan for the family

The threat to the family – Part 1 The importance of the family

The threat to the family – Part 2 Attacks on marriage and the family

Update on societal decline

What about the Irish referendum on gay marriage?

The wrong attacks on freedom of belief and speech

Oppression of Christians in the West

Update on the oppression of Christians

I agree with Peter Tatchell over Asher’s bakery!

The Belfast gay cake controversy

The decline of the church partly over this issue

Update on the decline of Christian belief

Update on church decline

The church desperately needs revival

SECULARISATION OF SOCIETY

Secularism and populism undermine the foundation of society

Update on secularisation

Update on secularism

Secularisation and non-religious spirituality

Update on the Signs if the End – “Turning away from the Faith”

Richard Dawkins speaks favourably about Christianity

So the government wants to relax the Sunday trading laws

Is the UK more Christian than the rest of Europe?

·         DISCRIMINATION AGAINST CHRISTIANS

Discrimination against British Christians

Discrimination against British Christians: Update 1

Oppression of Christians in the West

Iraqi Christian leader refused entry to US to advocate for persecuted Christians

See also above “Church Decline & Development

ISRAEL & MIDDLE EAST

My attitude towards Israel and the Palestinians

The decline of Christianity in the Middle East

World Council of Churches statement on the Middle East

Is the UK more pro-Israel than the EU?

Update on the Signs of the End (Anti-Semitism)

Update on Anti-Semitism

The Bible predicts Jesus will rule over Israel

The Middle East situation and its effects on Christians and Israel

ISLAM

We must love and respect our Muslim neighbour but that is not incompatible with expressing disagreement with the teachings of Islam.

Christians and others under antichrist rule

Serious trends in the present situation

Chair of Islamic Society of Great Britain says the next coronation should be Christian

Good News: Palestinian rescues 5 Jewish students under attack in the West Bank

Former Imam who attacked churches converts to Christianity

Muslim Imam raises money for church vandalised by young Muslim

Thank God for this Muslim leader’s comments

Homosexual baker strongly disapproves of homosexuals bullying Christian bakers

Update on Middle East tensions

GENERAL TOPICS

Issues of Morality  Transexualism, polygamy, divorce, abortion, gene-editing

World inequality

 

 

The motive for this paper is not to wallow in the bad news (of which there is plenty) but to do something positive about it – in particular to pray, especially for Revival.

Every day I thank God “for the good things in the church: where there is faith in you, love for you, sincere worship, biblical teaching and true discipleship, unity and love, evangelism and outreach, prayer, spiritual and numerical growth.” It is important to realise that there is a lot of positive information about churches, especially when we remember that the media tends to focus on the negative news. Please bear this in mind as you read this paper which majors on the negative news. The reason for majoring on it is that much of it is very serious and damaging and we need to pray against the negatives and for the positives. And we particularly need to pray for revival – on a scale that happened in the 19th century Wesleyan Revival. Revival always begins with the church. I start with a positive.

The good effects of the Covid 19 crisis

One of the good effects is that many churches are using electronic communication to reach people during the lockdown and it seems they are reaching people who would not go to a church building (in normal circumstances). Obviously, it is important for Christians actually to meet together in fellowship, including for Communion. But if it is a choice between an individual having no contact with the church or being in contact via electronic media then, of course, the latter is preferable. In an age dominated by electronic communication it is important that the church uses electronic means in evangelism and teaching the Christian Faith, and in enabling people to experience Christian worship. It is likely that this increased use of the media will continue after the crisis, which is a good prospect.

Sometimes virtual reality is used, perhaps via a headset, which produces a 3D image, creating a completely immersive experience of an online church community. Then there is chatbot, an Artificial Intelligence device which can answer thousands of questions about the faith.

There was a huge increase in downloading of Bible Apps in the early days of the lockdown. One was installed almost two million times. Eden Bible Stores saw the sale of physical Bibles rise by 55%. American publisher LifeWay Christian Resources said sales were up 62% compared with last year.  Tyndale House Publishers recorded an increase too.

 

There has also been a massive increase in Google searches for “prayer” and “Christianity.” Since the lockdown people involved in online Alpha Courses have doubled in numbers.

Use of electronic communication prior to the crisis

Electronic communication was in increasing use before the Coronavirus crisis.

Wycliffe Bible Translators now have a Bible translation method – Mobilised Assistance Supporting Translation – which enables nationals, even in remote and dangerous countries, to translate the Bible into their own language. It uses computer tablets with translation software and high-speed printing. Instead of taking years translation of the New Testament can be done in months.

Church growth

Between 2007 and 2107 10% of Church of England parish churches have experienced significant growth in regular Sunday attendance. St George’s, Gateshead began in 2016 with 20 members and now has 200. 72 other new churches are growing in Co Durham.

Independent churches such as FIEC, Brethren, New Churches (e.g. Vineyard and New Frontiers) the Salvation Army and many immigrant churches have growing membership – an average of 2.4% between 2012 and 2019. However 10% of them grew at an average rate of 6.4%. They include Immigrant Churches, (mainly Black) Pentecostal Churches.

Dr Peter Brierley records that a group he calls Mainstream Anglican Evangelicals, grew from being 16% of all Evangelical Anglicans in 1990 to being 33% by 2010. Mainstream Evangelicals are also growing in other denominations.

Chelmsford Diocese plans to set up 101 new worshipping communities by 2025. Oxford Diocese plans to set up 750 new congregations (e.g. Fresh Expressions) for people untouched by traditional church. Stephen Hance, the new National Lead for Evangelism and Witness in the Church of England heads up a project to prepare 1000 new evangelists by 2025.

However, there is also bad news.

Church numerical decline

Church of England regular worshippers overall declined by 10% in the last decade. 39% of parishes reported a decline but 50% of parishes didn’t provided sufficient data. Membership of Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches is also declining. The number of Evangelical churchgoers (across all denominations) was 1.4 million in 1990 but is declining to an estimated 1.2 million by 2030.

A Gallup poll recorded that US church membership had declined from 70% to 50% since 1999.

Church spiritual failure

A LifeWay study found that only 15% of British regular churchgoers read the Bible every day. 45% read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40% only read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 20% say they never read the Bible.

A Scripture Union study of over 1,500 Christian ministries found that many of their leaders and volunteers set aside “no or minimal” time for prayer.

Church theological failure

Dr John Shepherd was appointed in January 2019 as interim director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. But the previous Easter he said in a sermon “The resurrection of Jesus ought not to be seen in physical terms, but as a new spiritual reality. It is important for Christians to be set free from the idea that the resurrection was an extraordinary physical event which restored to life Jesus’ original earthly body….Jesus’ early followers felt His presence after His death as strongly as if it were a physical presence and incorporated this sense of a resurrection experience into their gospel accounts. But they’re not historical records as we would expect history to be written today; they are symbolic images of the breaking through of the resurrection spirit into human lives.” He subsequently released a statement seeking to give the impression that he was orthodox, saying he believed in the empty tomb. But it is difficult to see how that squares with the above statement. Did someone steal the body?

The Resonate Christian research organisation discovered that whereas 90% of Methodists believed in heaven only 56% believed in hell.  This is strange since Jesus clearly taught about Hell and had more to say about it than anyone else in the New Testament.

St Matthew and St Luke’s Church, Darlington invited local Muslims to pray in the church and told them that a cross and a picture of Jesus as The Light of the World would be covered up.

A Muslim scholar was invited to preach at a Communion service in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford.  Yet Islam denies everything the Communion service stands for. After protests, an Oxford diocesan spokesperson said the scholar would preach following the Communion Service.

Church desecration

In 2019 Southwark Cathedral hosted the London Fashion Week which featured very scantily-clad women parading up the aisle. For example, two were wearing bikinis.

Gloucester Cathedral allowed Sky to film a drama majoring on witchcraft in which one character seeks to connect to her witch heritage and a second seeks a witch to tutor a third character.

On a lesser level but totally inappropriate, Norwich Cathedral incorporated a huge helter-skelter on top of which the Bishop of Lynn preached a sermon before sliding down in his robes and mitre. In his sermon he said “God wants to be attractive to us… for us to enjoy ourselves, each other and the world around us and this glorious helter-skelter is about just that. Enjoying ourselves is a good thing to do and God will be revelling in it with us and all those people who have found fun and joy and laughter here.” Now I’m certainly not against fun and laughter but simply entertaining people who are not yet believers is not appropriate for the church.

Rochester Cathedral installed a miniature golf course and Peterborough Cathedral hosted “creative yoga” under a giant model of the planet Earth, titled “Gaia.” Gaia was, of course, the mother goddess who presided over the earth.

The Archbishop of Canterbury commented: “The first thing I want is for people not to be bored. I want them to have fun … If you can’t have fun in a cathedral, you don’t know what fun is.”

Church sexual abuse

Sexual abuse within the church has done enormous damage to the church’s reputation and the cause of the Gospel. There is a great deal of very damning evidence. For example, as I normally do, I read the Church of England Daily Media Digest (summary of secular news items related to the church) on January 14th 2020. Every item in the Digest was about serious crime amongst leaders in the Church of England:

  • Coverage of the documentary on BBC 2 the previous evening of the Bishop Peter Ball case. This was a shocking two-part documentary about the extensive and blatant sexual abuse carried out over years by a previous Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, for which he was imprisoned. He was convicted of abusing 17 teenagers and young men – one of whom took his own life. The present Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek said “I am utterly ashamed that a so called Bishop in the Church of England committed such horrific abuse.” There was serious criticism of how the church dealt with the situation. Peter Hancock, the Church of England lead safeguarding bishop said “It is a matter of great shame and regret that the Church did not act to address the behaviour of Peter Ball at the time and that survivors were left to fight tirelessly for justice.”
  • Report of an 81-year-old former priest convicted of sex offences from the 70s and 80s in Chichester Diocese.

 

The other two items were non-sexual but very serious:

  • Coverage of a Channel 4 documentary about a former deputy church warden jailed for 36 years for murder.
  • Coverage of the discipline of a priest who had pocketed £6000 from sham weddings

Other serious matters were reported in the media during 2019:

  • “Warwickshire vicar Christopher Goble admits child porn charges”
  • “19 abuse allegations against former Bishop of Chester who died in 1987”
  • “Clergy and staff from Lincoln Diocese were referred to police in 2015 after church leaders had allegedly ‘turned a blind eye’ to claims of child abuse, an investigation has revealed.”

There were reports of sexual abuse in other denominations in 2019-2020. Here are some headlines:

  • ‘Feared’ pastor convicted of rapes which left some child victims pregnant” [This was the same day as the above Media Digest].
  • Dozens of Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing 166 children
  • Birmingham [Roman Catholic] Archdiocese let children be abused and harboured paedophile priests ‘to protect its own reputation’
  • Jesus Army will ‘cease to exist’ [because of sexual abuse].

All of this will have done enormous damage to the church and the Gospel. Little wonder a recent Ipsos Mori survey found that only 62% of people say they trust clergy to tell the truth. That compares with 69% in 2016 and 85% in 1983.

The homosexual issue

The Church of England bishops’ 2016 report

The Church of England bishops produced a report in 2016 entitled “Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations.” It was a typical Anglican document where the bishops wanted to avoid undermining the traditional view of sexual relations whilst giving maximum freedom to clergy to deviate from it without deviating from it! (No, that is not a typing mistake but a brief description of what the report says). It said there was little support for changing the traditional teaching but they wanted to “affirm the place of lesbian and gay people in the life of the Church.” If clergy are approached by couples wanting to enter a civil partnership “it would not be right to produce an authorised public liturgy” for the purpose. But “in contrast, forms of service may be “Commended” by the House [of Bishops] without Synodical approval [by the General Synod].” But “clergy may not use forms of service which are contrary to, or indicate any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.” If the reader is confused that is a very sensible reaction! This is Anglican waffle at its worst. But there’s more.

The bishops went on to say “the House of Bishops has affirmed that stable, faithful homosexual relationships can ‘embody crucial social virtues’ of fidelity and mutuality. One challenge is therefore to explore how that affirmation in the case of both celibate and non-celibate [emphasis mine] relationships might be more fully articulated in our theological ethics and better communicated in our pastoral and missional practice, while maintaining the current doctrine of the Church of England on marriage and relationships. …. To maintain an unambiguous position on doctrine in this matter while enabling a generous freedom for pastoral practice that does not directly and publicly undermine it is entirely consistent with our traditions and is a perfectly coherent approach to take.” 

This report was submitted for consideration by the General Synod in February 2017 but the synod refused even to “take note” of it. In other words, it totally dismissed it.

The Church of England bishops’ 2019 report

In December 2019 the House of Bishops produced a pastoral statement “Civil Partnerships – for same sex and opposite sex couples.” This was a largely good statement which clearly stated a traditional biblical understanding on the homosexual issue. It said

“The introduction of same sex marriage, through the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, has not changed the church’s teaching on marriage or same sex relationships. A major study of this and other areas of human sexuality is underway (the Living in Love and Faith project). This work, which is expected to be completed in 2020, will then inform further deliberations of the House of Bishops. In the context, however, of the introduction of opposite sex as well as same sex civil partnerships, the teaching of the church on marriage remains unchanged … There is no theological consensus about same sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorisation of such rites’…. While clergy are fully entitled to argue, in the Living in Love and Faith process and elsewhere, for a change in that teaching, they are not entitled to claim the liberty to set it aside. With opposite sex civil partnerships, and with those for same sex couples, the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged. For Christians, marriage – that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows – remains the proper context for sexual activity.”

There followed a huge outcry against this biblical statement. Prominent Anglicans produced an open letter which said “The Church of England has this week become a laughingstock to a nation that believes it is obsessed with sex. More importantly this statement has significantly damaged the mission of the Church and it has broken the trust of those it seeks to serve… it seems our trust has been misplaced and we feel badly let down.”

In response the bishops of Gloucester, Worcester and Reading said they were upset at the hurt caused by the statement (although the first two were involved in producing it). Other bishops responded less than positively. Then the Archbishops of Canterbury and York apologised “We are very sorry and recognise the division and hurt this has caused.”

The Evangelical Group on General Synod divides over homosexuality

19 members of the group voted against a statement that marriage is “between one man and one woman” and that unmarried people should be committed to sexual abstinence. Some resigned from the group. 83 voted in favour.

The Lambeth Conference divided over homosexuality

Some senior overseas archbishops will not attend the Lambeth conference because of the presence of pro-homosexual bishops. In 2008 the Lambeth Conference excluded homosexual bishops (in sexual relationships) but they will be included in the next conference. However they may not bring their same-sex partners. The Bishop of Liverpool decided not to bring his (female) wife in protest. People in same-sex sexual relationships have been appointed bishops in Wales, Canada, the USA and New Zealand. The new Archbishop of York, Stephen Cotterell, has said that we need “to look again at those [biblical] texts [on homosexuality] to see what they are actually saying to our situation, for what we know now is not what was known then.” (He is mistaken in thinking this). He added that the biblical texts are merely “part of our story and our inheritance.” He believes it is acceptable to have a communion service for same-sex civil partnerships.

Other denominations

David Hull, chair of Methodist Evangelicals Together, commented on the Methodist Conference resolution supporting same-sex marriage which is likely to be finally approved at the next conference. When asked if he thought people will leave the denomination if the resolution is approved he replied: “I’m urging people not to leave just yet. I’m urging people to stay and to make the case for remaining faithful as long as we can. I don’t believe in division within the body of Christ but I do believe that we need to stand firmly on biblical teaching and so what I will be doing is, when asked the question, whether I continue to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the Methodist Church, if it changes I will have to say no at that point.” But other evangelical Methodists have said they will remain in the church. (You can see my papers about the Methodist statements on same sex marriage at Critique of Methodist study guide on same sex-marriage report and more extensively in Critique of Methodist report on homosexual relationships).

St Silas, Glasgow and Westhill Community Church, Aberdeen have voted to leave the Scottish Episcopal Church over its acceptance of homosexual practice.

Churches Together in England is facing serious division because a woman in a same-sex marriage has been appointed one of its presidents.

On the other hand, William Love, Bishop of Albany in the US Episcopal Church is being disciplined by the denomination for not permitting same-sex marriages in his diocese.

Gender issues

In July 2017 the Church of England General Synod voted to welcome and affirm transgender people. Trans people with gender recognition are already able to marry in Anglican churches and they can offer themselves for ordained ministry. In 2018 the bishops produced a document on pastoral guidance as to “how to use the rite of Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition.” It said that “elements including water and oil can be used with the prayers and makes clear that trans people should be addressed publicly by their chosen name.” Then “As a central part of the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith the minister lays their hands on the candidate or candidates, addresses them by name, and prays for them.”

However there was a strong reaction against this guidance. Several senior clergy say they would refuse to conduct such services. They included the Bishop of Wakefield and the Bishop of Maidstone who said the Church of England needed to consider the theological basis for the “unconditional affirmation of trans people”. The Bishop of Blackburn who chaired the committee which produced the guidance eventually said that it “both highly divisive and theologically and pastorally questionable.”

One clergyman said “The Church of England would be declaring liturgically on behalf of God its acceptance of the claim that someone who is biologically male is in fact female or that someone who is biologically female is in fact male.”

Later an open letter signed by over 1600 clergy and lay leaders called for the advice to be reconsidered because it was an apparent “rejection of physical differentiation between male and female” which as well as being an “almost universal biological reality” is also “the basis of the Church’s understanding of Christian marriage.” They also said it was a misuse of the Baptismal liturgy.

In 2019 my wife wrote to the two archbishops asking if they could make a statement publicly disapproving of children being encouraged to consider changing sex, but she received waffly replies.

Conclusion

It is encouraging that there is an increasing amount of electronic communication by churches, including in evangelism. More people want Bibles and there is some church growth.

However there is serious numerical decline and serious spiritual weakness (many Christians not praying or reading the Bible very much). There is serious theological error – interfaith compromise, lack of belief in fundamental truths such as the resurrection, lack of belief in hell. Then there are the serious moral errors – very serious sexual abuse (including by clergy), widespread undermining of the traditional biblical teaching on sexual relations, and inappropriate action about the transgender issue.

The church desperately needs a major revival which will revitalize spirituality and promote holiness.

Tony Higton

Tim Farron resigned as leader of the UK Liberal Democratic party in 2017. He said he was “torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader” and later said “I put Christ ahead of my career.”  He also said he had been the “subject of suspicion” because of his own beliefs. On the one hand, this is a very sad comment on modern politics. On the other, Tim is to be congratulated on his choice.

In 2019 he gave an interview in which he said: “I’m somebody who believes in a secular society; I’m very much strongly opposed to a clerical state – I even think the Church of England should be disestablished. But just as I oppose Christianity being the State faith, I also 100 per cent oppose atheism as the State faith, and that appears to be where we’ve got to in reality. A real liberal society is one where different worldviews hold together in the same space. Not one dominant one telling all the other ones they’ve got to genuflect towards them.”

He is right in saying that British society is becoming increasingly secular and de facto atheist in the sense that some politicians are real atheists and others feel their faith is a personal and private matter, not something that should govern their political opinions and decisions. He is also right that different opinions and different religious views should be tolerated.

But his statement ignores a very important factor – the influence of Christianity in the establishment of the rule of law, democracy and human rights.

Tom Holland – “I was wrong about Christianity”

Tom Holland is a very accomplished and respected historian. He was brought up in a Christian family but turned away from the faith. He came to believe that Christianity brought about “an age of superstition and credulity.” He accepted the popular view that Christianity held back culture until the Enlightenment. He was fascinated with the ancient Romans and Greeks.

However, after much study, although still an agnostic, he came to realise that it was Christianity that shaped much of what we value in Western society in terms of human rights, culture, and rule of law. He eventually wrote an article in the New Statesman in 2016 entitled “Why I was wrong about Christianity.” In it he said “It took me a long time to realise my morals are not Greek or Roman, but thoroughly, and proudly, Christian.

In a later article “Why even atheists think like Christians,” written in 2019, he said “For a millennium now, to live in Britain has been to live in a society saturated by Christian concepts and assumptions. Prime ministers today – even the devoutest – may shrink from publicly “doing God”; but across the political spectrum, the motivation of politicians and voters alike remains impossible to understand without also recognising the enduring influence on this country of Christianity.”

Atheists agree with Holland

In 2006 Jurgen Habermas, an atheist philosopher wrote “For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or catalyst. Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love.”[i]

In 2001 atheist philosopher Jacques Derrida wrote “The concept of crime against humanity is a Christian concept and I think there would be no such thing in the law today without the Christian heritage, the Abrahamic heritage, the biblical heritage.”[ii]

John Gray is an atheist political philosopher with interests in analytic philosophy and the history of ideas. He reviewed Tom Holland’s book Dominion.[iii] He wrote about “the equal intrinsic worth of all human beings or the inherent preciousness of individual persons” and commented “These values – which secular thinkers nowadays take for granted – were placed at the heart of the Western world by Christianity. He added “Secular liberals will immediately point out that slavery was practised throughout Christendom during much of its history. Of course this is so, but the fact does not alter Holland’s central point. Even if Christianity in power sanctioned all manner of evils, it set a standard of goodness that simply did not exist in the pagan world.”

Later he writes “Holland seems to be suggesting that liberal values cannot survive the collapse of their Christian foundations … It may well be that liberal values as they were understood in the past are on the way out … If they read Dominion, as they certainly should, secular liberals might pause to reflect that they acquired their deepest values by chance from a religion they despise.”

Other supportive comments

Prof Howard Tumber says, “human rights is not a universal doctrine, but is the descendent of one particular religion (Christianity).”[iv]

Prof Brian Z. Tamanaha of Washington University points out that it was Christianity which established the rule of law, declaring all human beings to be equal in the sight of God. He wrote “The absolutist monarch inherited from Roman law was thereby counteracted and transformed into a monarch explicitly under law.”[v]

The church, particularly Archbishop Stephen Langton, was very influential in the production of the English Magna Carta in 1215.  It stated, for the first time that the monarch was subject to law and that citizens had legal rights. There was a strong Protestant influence in the establishment of the English Bill of Rights in 1689. It limited the powers of the monarch and set out the rights of Parliament and established the freedom to petition the monarch, the freedom from cruel and unusual punishments, the freedom from being fined without trial, etc. It also inspired the US Bill of Rights which was ratified in 1791.

Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States wrote “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”

The dangers of secularisation

Dr Augusto Zimmermann, an internationally known legal scholar, wrote an article in 2005 entitled “The Christian foundations of the rule of law in the West: a legacy of liberty and resistance against tyranny.” In it he warned about the dangers of secularisation.[vi] He wrote “The Bible has been historically recognized as the most important book for the development of both the rule of law and democratic institutions in the Western world. However, we have seen over these last decades a deep erosion of individual rights, with the growth of state power over the life and liberty of individuals. If the future we want for ourselves and our future generations is one of freedom under law, not absolute subjection to the arbitrary will of human authorities, we will have to restore the biblical foundations for the rule of law in the Western world. As such, the rule of law talks about the protection of the individual by God-given liberties, rather than by an all-powerful, law-giving government endowed by god-like powers over the civil society.”

However in the 19th century, secularists concluded that Darwin’s theory of evolution removed the idea of God and so they replaced the law of God with the supremacy of the state. The state became the new absolute, in their opinion.

David Alton, Lord Alton of Liverpool, was the Liberal Party’s spokesman on Home Affairs. He was appointed as Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University in 1997. In 2017 he wrote an article entitled “Western democracy needs Christian values.” In it he said “

“Democracy needs more than votes to sustain it. Without the solder of commonly held values welding together its constituent parts, democracies can easily disintegrate into competing interest groups and warring factions … We have seen crucifixes removed from classrooms; Christian midwives lose their jobs because they refuse to abort a child; universities deny free speech to Christian speakers; political leaders forced from office because they are told their beliefs are incompatible with ascendant angry atheism – like a secular illiberal mirror image of Sharia law … A democracy that simply depends on who gets the most votes leaves itself open to populism, opportunism, xenophobia, fake news and manipulation – especially in the era of social (or rather antisocial) media and the Twittersphere.

An inherent weakness of majoritarianism is that with the adept ability to affect election results through manipulation, fake news, scaremongering, appeals to greed, self-interest and the lowest common denominator, the interests of society as a whole can easily suffer.

But as we have disassociated religion and liberty, democracy and faith, we have unstitched the fabric that holds a society together and endangered its future. Too many of our Western elites preen themselves like peacocks while they reject and ridicule the values that offer the best defence against self-serving populism.”[vii]

The dangers of populism

There are different forms of populism and it can have different effects. But it is based on two principles:

  • A country’s ‘true people’ are locked into conflict with outsiders, including establishment elites.
  • Nothing should constrain the will of the true people.

Is populism the much-needed antidote to secularism? On the face of it, this may seem to be the case with a lot of populism. It can seem to be, to some extent, a religious backlash. Some of the populist leaders claim a link to religion and a reaction against secularisation. Donald Trump is a case in point. He maintains huge support from American Evangelicals. They support his opposition to a liberal attitude to abortion and his fairly radical support of Israel. His statements are sometimes Christian but much of his behaviour isn’t.

Vladimir Putin seeks partnership with the Russian Orthodox Church. Viktor Orban in Hungary claims to be Christian Democrat. Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil has support from Pentecostals and other Evangelicals. Matteo Salvini, who is aiming to be prime minister of Italy, used Catholic symbols in an election campaign and claimed the Virgin Mary was willing him to victory. Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in Holland refer to “Judeo-Christianity” as the pillar of western European civilisation.

However, are populist leaders really committed to the Christian faith or are they using it to gain support from Christians because they want to take over from the secularists?

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University, wrote an article in 2019 entitled “The populist right is forging an unholy alliance with religion.”[viii]  The article stated “we fail to see the global theological counter-revolution taking place right before our eyes. This dimension of our political moment might go a long way to explain why rightwing populists have scored so many victories in recent years: populists have proven very adept at hijacking religion.”

Olivier Roy is a Political Scientist and Professor at the European University Institute in Florence. In 2018 he wrote an article entitled ‘A kitsch Christianity’ [kitsch means poor quality]. He sees populism as a vehicle which appropriates Christian symbols for political ends while discarding the religion’s core values.  Roy states “When the populists refer to Christianity it is as an identity, with the explicit goal of excluding Islam from Europe. Christianity is for them a cultural factor, not a value system … Due to the Church’s lack of credibility and clarity, Christianity has been taken hostage by the populists and is turning into a kitsch Christianity.”

Ben Ryan is Head of Research at the Theos Think Tank. He speaks of the use of Christianity by populists as ‘Christianism’. He wrote “The challenge facing Christian groups … is to be able to differentiate themselves from those who have been using their religion for a crude political ideology.” He adds “In this new Christianism a string of populist leaders … have taken Christianity as a defining feature of national purity … this has little, if any, theological depth to it, but it is the application of Christianity to a political ideology, one that establishes the pure people against outsiders.”

The Bishop of Liverpool, in a sermon at St John’s College, Cambridge in 2018, gave a critical summary of Populism:

  • The language of populism assumes that society is divided between, on the one hand, ‘the people’ (noble, innocent, hard done to and pure) and, on the other hand, ‘the elite’ (corrupt, greedy, unaccountable, ignorant of life on the ground, detached from most people’s reality) – and the elite are always ‘the others’.
  • Populism feeds, and feeds off, emotion, not rational analysis.
  • Populism is more about style than substance – feeling rather than policies.
  • Populist leaders claim the ‘will of the people’ and quickly disregard democratic norms on the grounds that we are in crisis. Disruption is the name of the game: fearmongering, the promotion of conspiracy theories, the undermining of trust (in, for example, media and institutions).

He warned of the danger of populism, drawing a parallel with the support of German Christians for Hitler’s Reich and saying that “we have to learn to pay attention to those things in our society that need to be encouraged (kindness, generosity, justice and humaneness) and identify and challenge those that are destructive.”

Jan-Werner Müller Professor of Politics at Princeton University said that populism may claim to be based on democratic principles, but what it fosters is a kind of ‘deranged democracy’.

Dr Benjamin Moffitt, Research Fellow in Political Science at Stockholm University wrote a book in 2016 called “The Global Rise of Populism.” In it he describes the approach of populists as including “the demonstration of bad manners … a rejection of the conventions of political or even polite discourse; and the advancing of a narrative of crisis, breakdown or threat.” He adds that “populism uses media to construct political cultures.” More serious he writes about “populists flaunting their democratic tendencies at the same time as undoing democratic guarantees.”

Robert Kagan served in the US State Department and is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, which conducts research and education in the social sciences, particularly in foreign policy, global economy, and economic development. In 2019 he wrote an article in the Washington Post entitled “The strongmen strike back.”[ix] In it he expressed deep concern over the growth of authoritarianism in today’s world. He said that we were lulled into a false sense of security after the end of the cold war and “did not notice” that authoritarianism was regaining its power. Russia and China were obvious examples but “an authoritarian “backlash” spread globally, from Egypt to Turkey to Venezuela to Zimbabwe … curbing free expression and independent media.” He was referring to populists.

In 2018 Jordan Kyle, Senior fellow at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, and Yascha Mounk, a political scientist and assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University, produced a paper called “What Populists Do to Democracies.”[x] In it they stated “According to our research, populist governments have deepened corruption, eroded individual rights, and inflicted serious damage on democratic institutions.” They added “many populists are using positions of power to weaken democratic norms and institutions that are needed to safeguard liberal democracies over the long term.”

Conclusion

As always, we need to see the bigger picture about what is going on in the political world. There are of course genuine Christians (and people of other faiths) in politics but the overall trend is secular. Also the Coronavirus crisis has “brought the best” out of many people, but often that doesn’t include faith. Secularism is not just a movement seeking to separate church and state, keeping religion out of public education and preventing discrimination on the basis of religion. As David Alton puts it, in dissociating “religion and liberty, democracy and faith, we have unstitched the fabric that holds a society together and endangered its future.” Secularism undermines individual rights by replacing the rule of law over everyone, including political leaders, with the growth of state power. Instead of all citizens (and leaders) being equal under God and divine law, we become subject to an increasingly secularised, more and more powerful state. And the populist reaction is no better with its divisive, emotive, xenophobic, fearmongering approach and its attacks on the media and institutions, its fake news, etc.

We need to recognise that what is happening through secularism, populism and the growth of authoritarianism is a trend towards a godless dictatorship. There have, of course, been dictators in the past but we now live in the global village and whatever the present reactions against globalism, it will not go away. We are very interdependent economically and in many other ways. We are also deeply affected by powerful electronic media and very extensive surveillance.

The New Testament makes it clear that the End Times will be marked by rebellious, godless, authoritarianism (2 Thess 2:3-4). And we need to remember that Jesus (and Paul) told us to take note of this. Looking at the effects of secularism and the behaviour of some populists, it is not difficult to believe this. None of us knows the timescale of such a prophecy but we can recognise relevant trends.

The undermining of society through secularism and populism may not be corrected by political action. What is needed is revival which can bring a fundamental restoration of the church and a widespread transformation of society which can replace godless leadership.

The New Testament prophetic view of the future is that in the medium term the devil will appear to be winning: the Antichrist, persecution etc., but in the long term the Lord will win.  However in the short term, despite trends towards the medium term, we can pray for deliverance and correction of wrong trends, especially for revival, which is also a sign of the End.

Tony Higton

 

[i] Jürgen Habermas, (2006) “Conversation about God and the World.” Time of transitions. Cambridge: Polity Press, p. 150-151. Source: https://quotepark.com/quotes/1771824-jurgen-habermas-christianity-has-functioned-for-the-normative-self/

[ii] Jacques Derrida, “To Forgive: The Unforgivable and Imprescriptable,” in Questioning God, ed. John D. Caputo et al. (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001), 70.

[iii] https://www.newstatesman.com/dominion-making-western-mind-tom-holland-review

[iv] Tumber, Howard; Waisbord, Silvio, eds. (2017). The Routledge Companion to Media and Human Rights. New York: Routledge. pp. 412–414.

[v] On the Rule of Law; History, Politics, Theory, Cambridge University Press 2004 p. 23

[vi] https://creation.com/the-christian-foundations-of-the-rule-of-law-in-the-west-a-legacy-of-liberty-and-resistance-against-tyranny

[vii] https://www.gisreportsonline.com/western-democracy-needs-christian-values,politics,2419.html

[viii] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/11/populists-right-unholy-alliance-religion

[ix] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/opinions/wp/2019/03/14/feature/the-strongmen-strike-back/

[x] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/hard-data-populism-bolsonaro-trump/578878/

 

Our hearts go out to those suffering from Covid 19 and we pray for their healing. We also need to pray for and care for our neighbours facing the effects of the crisis. We need, where possible, to help them as they face anxiety, loneliness, job loss, financial crisis, frustration and boredom. We need to pray for the government and NHS as they face huge demands and inadequate resources. I don’t for one moment minimise this suffering and self-sacrifice in what I am going to say now.

But we also need to ask about God’s perspective on the crisis. What is he saying? What is he doing? This may not become the worst pandemic in terms of the number of deaths. Some 200 million died in the Black Death and 40-50 million in the Spanish Flu epidemic following the terrible losses in World War 2. But it is having a very dramatic effect on society. Sky News referred to a week in mid-March as “frightening and bewildering.” The Chancellor of the Exchequer said “We have never in peace time had such an economic fight as this one.” One commentator said “The world will never be the same despite all technology because a very tiny invisible object can bring us down.”

This huge worldwide crisis comes at a time when there is also profound concern about the environment – and some scientists believe the spread of Coronavirus resulted from abuse of one aspect of the environment. It is also a time when persecution of Christians is worse than ever; when the Western world has largely turned away from its Christian heritage and when, as we noted recently, the church is officially abandoning important teaching of God’s Word. It is likely to result in the global economic system being under very serious threat (it doesn’t take much imagination to think it could at some stage collapse in a day as the Book of Revelation describes in chapter 18). It also comes at a time when there are significant events happening with respect to Israel. All of these things are matters which Jesus said were signs of the End. Although some of them are early recurring signs, the coinciding of them all is surely intended to make us prepare for his Return, as Jesus taught his disciples.

The serious effect and the context of Coronavirus show that it is an act of redemptive judgment, i.e. it is one of God’s warnings intended to lead us to repentance. It is making people think about their mortality and the meaning of life. Doubtless many outside the church will turn to prayer. People are likely to be more open to God than they have been. We trust also that leading Christians will use the media for evangelistic purposes.

The Coronavirus crisis is also God calling the church back to him. We now cannot even worship together! Yet we have seen the church develop endless, largely prayerless, committees, synods, reorganisations, regulations, administrative procedures, etc over recent decades. But God is calling the church back to himself – which primarily means extensive individual and, where feasible, corporate prayer. Jesus felt the need to major on prayer. How can we soft-pedal it? How many churches have prayer meetings? During this crisis many Christians will have time on their hands. We need to use that to major on prayer. It is vital to do so, not least because the Book of Revelation teaches that redemptive judgment, if unheeded, is followed by eternal judgment.

God is also calling the church back to his Word – not just renouncing liberalism but living biblically i.e. being radically biblical in the power of the Spirit. How many modern disciples match up to the standards Jesus taught “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple … In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Lk 14:26, 33). Obviously the word “hate” is not literal but it is Jesus’ dramatic call to put God way before all loved ones.  How many churches correct persistently sinful members as Jesus said they should? How many churches proclaim the sternness of God as well as his kindness, as Jesus did?

I have no delusions of grandeur – I am a tiny piece in God’s jigsaw picture. But I know that, out of the blue, in November 2015 he gave me a strong sense of call to major on prayer and preparation for Revival. He called me initially to invite people local to us to join in, then, to my surprise, to create a national mailing list, which he has blessed (see http://networkforrevival.co.uk/. The four years since then have been probably the most spiritually rewarding I’ve ever known. Now almost 600 people, mainly clergy, ministers and church leaders in the UK, are members of Network for Revival. This is significant and now we are confronted with this Coronavirus mega-crisis. I believe it is not a coincidence but a God-incidence.

Coronavirus is a call to redouble our prayer and preparation for revival. I believe God is calling us to pray that many, many people who feel vulnerable and therefore more open spiritually will turn to the Lord. The Coronavirus crisis is not just a difficult event. It is a powerful divine call to pray for Revival now. It is intended to give us a sense of urgency as we see remarkable events and trends in the world. I am very sympathetic to those affected by Coronavirus and, as a family, we are seeking to reach out to neighbours pastorally and evangelistically. But the fact that people feel vulnerable, sense their mortality and therefore are more open spiritually is, I believe, an answer to prayer. We need to pray they will concentrate on eternal realities and the need to be ready to meet God and that this will be a permanent change, not just whilst the crisis rules

We need to pray for revival to happen now. The way it comes about may be different from earlier revivals. Pray that this crisis will turn into revival. We must not miss this opportunity – for the sake of humanity – and for God’s sake. God is calling us – the matter is urgent!

NOTE: N T Wright has written an article entitled “Christianity offers no answers about the Coronavirus. It’s not supposed to.” I have a real respect for him as a theologian but believe he is mistaken in this article. I have written my response at https://christianteaching.org.uk/blog/uncategorized/recognising-the-significance-of-major-events/

 

Tony Higton

I read an article by N T Wright (for whom I have  a lot of respect) entitled “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To” (https://time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity/). In it he writes “No doubt the usual silly suspects will tell us why God is doing this to us. A punishment? A warning? A sign? These are knee-jerk would-be Christian reactions in a culture which, generations back, embraced rationalism: everything must have an explanation. But supposing it doesn’t? … perhaps what we need more than either is to recover the biblical tradition of lament. Lament is what happens when people ask, “Why?” and don’t get an answer.”

I don’t have a problem with the idea that we do sometimes have to cope with things we can’t understand. That’s part of faith. But Wright goes on to say “It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead.” I believe this statement is mistaken.

Yes, some Christians do jump to naive and embarrassing conclusions about the significance of current events. But, as is often the case, these people are going too far about events which we ought to be seeking to explain sensibly.  Extremism is often a valid truth taken to excess. It is baby and bathwater.

It is clear in the New Testament that Jesus does expect us “to be able to explain what’s happening and why” even though we will not be able to explain everything. He tells his disciples to “watch out” for “the beginning of birth pains” (rabbinic language for the sufferings which would precede the coming of Messiah) Matt 24:4-8. These are recurring signs – wars and rumours of wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution, people departing from the faith, false prophets, false messiahs. Luke adds “pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven” (Lk 21:11). No, we cannot predict the time of Jesus’ return, but we should be recognising the significance of the events which are birth pains of the Messiah.

It also seems reasonable to expect that these signs will increase in intensity as the time of the return of Christ approaches. In fact, Jesus goes on to later signs: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:25-28). There could be literal signs in the heavens. After all NASA is constantly watching out for near-earth asteroids.

The Coronavirus crisis comes at a time when persecution of Christians is worse than ever; when the Western world has largely turned away from its Christian heritage and when the church is abandoning important teaching of God’s Word; when a religion which proclaims a false christ is growing more and more dominant worldwide. It is likely to result in the global economic system being under very serious threat (it doesn’t take much imagination to think it could at some stage collapse in a day as the Book of Revelation describes in chapter 18).

It also comes at a time when there are significant events happening with respect to Israel. Luke records Jesus’ prophecy about the future of the Jewish people “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Lk 21:24). It is quite clear that the falling by the sword, being exiled to all nations and Jerusalem being dominated by Gentiles was literally fulfilled. And then in the 20th century Israel was re-established after 2000 years and the Jewish people regained control of Jerusalem. Are we to conclude that we should not “to be able to explain what’s happening and why” with respect to Israel. With 75% of the prophecy clearly fulfilled in history and the State of Israel being re-established after 2000 years, I find it impossible not to see prophetic significance in the re-establishment. It would have to be a massive coincidence if it is not significant (and I’m well aware of the political problems and justice issues, having ministered in Jerusalem for some years).

Jesus clearly doesn’t want his disciples to be surprised by these events but to “be always on the watch” (Lk 21:36). All of these things are matters which Jesus said were signs of the End. Although some of them are early recurring signs, the coinciding of them all is surely intended to make us prepare for his Return, as Jesus taught his disciples.

Since Jesus told us to watch out for pestilences as a “birth pain” of his coming, I think it is, to say the least, strange not to see this massive Coronavirus crisis as relevant and therefore “to be able to explain what’s happening and why.”

However, its significance is not just a sign of the End (which, according to Jesus, it is). We also need to remember that a very important aspect of God’s work over the centuries has been through prophets. Surely the very essence of prophecy is “to be able to explain what’s happening and why.” After all Amos says “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Am 3:7). God called the prophets to see significance which many other people didn’t see.

God’s usual way of working, including in judgment, is through natural/human events. We need to seek insight into the significance of events and trends. That means we have to make prayerful judgments/assessments, but obviously we are not infallible.

It seems to me that N T Wright is dismissing the whole prophetic ministry which is prominent in Scripture. He is throwing the baby of genuine, prayerful prophetic discernment out with the bathwater of naïve, embarrassing jumping to false ‘prophetic’ conclusions.

 

Tony Higton

Human beings have an unhelpful tendency to believe what they want to believe. One example of this is to imagine that aborted babies are just blobs of jelly without awareness or feeling. However:

The remarkable early development of the human embryo

  • 5-6 weeks after conception the unborn baby’s first electrical brain activity begins[i] and his/her heartbeat can be detected.

 

  • 7 weeks after conception the unborn baby’s eyes (cornea, pupil, iris, lens, and retina) start developing. He/she can see light from about 16 weeks after conception.

 

  • 8 weeks after conception the unborn baby can feel pain (Maureen Condic, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, told the US congress: “The neural circuitry responsible for the most primitive response to pain, the spinal reflex, is in place by 8 weeks of development. This is the earliest point at which the foetus experiences pain in any capacity.” She added “There is universal agreement that pain is detected by the fetus in the first trimester [12-14 weeks].”[ii] Dr Stuart Derbyshire, research psychologist, who is pro-abortion, wrote in 2006 that “foetuses cannot experience pain”, but now acknowledges there is “good evidence” they can.[iii] Two other scholars state: “Sensitivity to touch, develops from 8 weeks” (Viola Marx and Emese Nagy, School of Psychology, University of Dundee).[iv]

 

  • 11 weeks after conception the unborn baby can move his/her face and even smile; responds to light, noise and pressure.

 

So, even in the first three months of pregnancy, the unborn baby has remarkably human characteristics: brain activity, heartbeat, developing eyes, ability to smile and respond to light and noise. He/she can also feel pain. This is not a blob of jelly but very clearly an embryonic human being.

When does an embryo become a human being?

But is such an embryo really a human being? Some say no, the unborn becomes human later. I have always found this a totally unconvincing argument – but a very convenient one for proponents of abortion. To argue that an embryo is not human until some stage after conception is arbitrary wishful thinking. The only argument which makes sense is that an embryo is human from the point of conception – as soon as the male and female elements from the parents come together. That union of male and female elements makes sense as an important enough development to mean the creation of a new human being. Nothing else which happens during the pregnancy logically warrants the idea that the embryo suddenly becomes human.

The idea that separation from the mother’s body is the point at which an embryo becomes human is also unconvincing. An embryo could be successfully separated from the mother’s body quite early in the pregnancy and could survive. The two youngest babies to survive premature birth are thought to be James Elgin Gill (born on 20 May 1987 in Ottawa, at 21 weeks and 5 days gestational age), and Amillia Taylor (born on 24 October 2006 in Miami, at 21 weeks and 6 days gestational age).[v]

So the embryo must be human (or ‘potentially human pending the separation’) at this quite early stage in the pregnancy. And we are back to the question at what stage in a pregnancy does an embryo become human? We also have to remember that a new born baby remains very dependent for some considerable time. How do we decide on the level of dependency which causes a baby to be human? Again, all of this is clearly arbitrary wishful thinking.

The fact of the matter is that an embryo is human from the point of conception and this is confirmed by the remarkable early developments listed above. So to kill an embryo is morally wrong. It can only be justified if it is definitely the lesser of two evils, i.e. an unavoidable way to save the mother’s life.

In February 2020 the Bishop of Carlisle made the following statement at the General Synod on behalf of the House of Bishops: “The General Synod resolved in 1983 that ‘in situations where the continuance of a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother a termination of pregnancy may be justified and that there must be adequate and safe provision in our society for such situations’ and in 1993 that ‘In the rare occasions when abortion is carried out beyond 24 weeks, ‘Serious foetal handicap’ should be interpreted strictly as applying to those conditions where survival is possible only for a very short period.”[vi]

On what grounds do abortions take place in Britain?

Britain has one of the most liberal abortion laws. Most countries allow abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation, while some allow it up to 18 weeks (Sweden), 22 weeks (the Netherlands), or 24 weeks (United Kingdom). The government in its “Abortion Statistics, England and Wales: 2018”[vii] speaks of seven grounds:

A. Where there is a risk to the life of the mother.

B. To prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother.

C. To prevent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother (up to 24 weeks of pregnancy).

D. To prevent injury to the physical or mental health of any existing children in the family (up to 24 weeks of pregnancy).

E. Where there is a substantial risk the child would be seriously handicapped.

All the above must be certified by two registered medical practitioners but abortion on the following emergency grounds can be certified by one registered medical practitioner:

F. to save the life of the mother (cf A above).

G. to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother (cf B above).

This government report states that in 2018, there were 205,295 abortions notified as taking place in England and Wales in 2018 (23.8 per cent of pregnancies), of which 200,608 were to residents of England and Wales. (The following figures relate to the latter figure). 97.7% of abortions (196,083) were performed on Ground C, i.e. to prevent risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the mother. NOTE: This is not Ground B: to prevent GRAVE permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother. These were abortions to prevent harm to the mother which were NOT SERIOUS OR GRAVE PERMANENT INJURY. The word ‘harm’ has been very loosely interpreted, in many cases meaning against her wishes to have the child thereby causing her deep upset.

A further 1.6% (3,269) were carried out on Ground E:  to prevent substantial risk the child would be seriously handicapped. Another 0.6% (1,104) were carried out on Ground D: to prevent injury to the physical or mental health of any existing children in the family

Only 145 abortions were carried out on Grounds A and B together (the government don’t separate the figures) i.e. where there is a risk to the life of the mother or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother. Another 7 abortions were carried out on Grounds F or G which are emergency versions of Grounds A and B.

So only 0.076% of the 200,698 abortions carried out in England and Wales in 2018 were to save the life of the mother or prevent permanent injury to her. On the basis of abortion being morally justified only as an unavoidable way to save the mother’s life, this means that some 99% of abortions were morally unjustified. Since this involves ending the life of unborn human babies this is a VERY serious matter.

Abortion is a huge moral issue because in 2019 there were over 42 million abortions in the world, the single largest cause of death. Also new research from the National University of Singapore, reported in the New Scientist indicates that sex-selective abortions may have resulted in the deaths of more than 23 million girls around the world.[viii]

Since 1967 there have been 9 million abortions in Great Britain. David Steel, who spearheaded the 1967 Abortion Act, says he didn’t anticipate there would be so many and added: “I still think there are too many, and [that it is] wrong to use abortion as a contraception.”[ix]

Moves to decriminalise abortion

Britain has one of the most liberal abortion laws. Most countries allow abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation, while some allow it up to 18 weeks (Sweden), 22 weeks (the Netherlands), whereas the UK allows it up to 24 weeks. But there are moves to make it even more liberal.

The Labour Party manifesto for the 2019 election included plans to decriminalise abortion, without a time limit. The Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Medical Association support decriminalisation. Supporters argue that women, not doctors, should have control over their own bodies and should not be forced to carry “foetuses” to term against their will. One slogan is: “Reproductive freedom is a basic human right.”

In May 2018 the Observer newspaper published an editorial which said: “Access to reliable contraception and safe abortion has unshackled women from the burdens of unwanted pregnancy. Our abortion law remains stuck in Victorian times: abortion is still a criminal offence and a woman is only permitted to have an abortion if two doctors confirm that continuing with the pregnancy poses a greater risk to her physical or mental health, or that of her existing children, than terminating it. This is demeaning, paternalistic and out of step with public opinion: 70% of the public believe a woman should be able to access an abortion if she does not want to proceed with the pregnancy.”[x]

Such callous comments ignore the unborn baby’s rights.

Even worse comments were recorded in a BBC Panorama programme “America’s Abortion War” in 2019 which interviewed Dr LeRoy Carhart, a proud late-term abortionist in Maryland.  He said: “To the foetus it makes no difference whether it’s born or not born. The baby has no input in this as far as I’m concerned.” The interviewer asked “And you don’t have a problem with killing a baby?” Dr Carhart responded: “Absolutely not. I have no problem if it’s in the mother’s uterus.”[xi] Dr Willie Parker is a Christian doctor in the US who practises obstetrics and gynaecology, specialising in abortions and is a reproductive justice advocate. In a newspaper article he described how he changed his mind about the compatibility of abortion with his faith. He included the comment “The Bible says nothing about abortion.”[xii] This ludicrous statement shows Dr Parker should stick to medicine. The Bible has strong things to say about taking the life of innocent people.

However the good news is that several US states have recently signed a bill making abortion illegal in most cases.

Abortion harms women

In 2011 a report published in the British Journal of Psychiatry concluded that: “Women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81% increased risk of mental health problems”.[xiii] It said that more than 50% of women who have abortions, do so because they were put under pressure to abort by family, friends and partners.

The Northern Ireland situation

Northern Ireland had an almost total ban on abortion until in 2019 the Westminster Government decided, whilst the Northern Ireland Executive was not meeting, that abortion should be permitted in Northern Ireland.

The decision

– Removes from law all explicit protection for the unborn child up to 28 weeks of pregnancy.

– Offers no specific protection for unborn babies with disability.

– Does not prohibit abortion based on the sex of the baby.

The majority of people in Northern Ireland do not support the Westminster decision and there is strong criticism of the ignoring of devolution. Conservative MP Fiona Bruce described the proceedings as “unconstitutional, undemocratic, legally incoherent and utterly disrespectful to the people of Northern Ireland”. She also criticised the government for proceeding “with just a derisory one hour’s debate”.[xiv]

This is an example of the very strong commitment to liberal abortion in Britain.

Conclusion

Opposition to abortion is strong in the US but tends to be largely ignored in the UK. Yet it is a huge moral issue which involves taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of unborn babies. It is clearly something which brings the nation under God’s judgment and we need to be very concerned.

Tony Higton

[i] https://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/19/books/chapters/the-ethical-brain.html

[ii] https://ethicscenter.nd.edu/Whitepapers/testimony-before-the-subcommittee-on-the-constitution-and-civil-justice/

[iii] https://www.christian.org.uk/news/unborn-babies-may-feel-pain-from-12-weeks-says-pro-abortion-researcher/

[iv] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4460088/

[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fetal_viability

[vi] https://christianconcern.com/ccpressreleases/church-of-england-says-that-over-98-of-uk-abortions-are-morally-wrong/

[vii] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/abortion-statistics-for-england-and-wales-2018

[viii] https://www.christian.org.uk/news/over-23-million-girls-killed-by-sex-selective-abortion/

[ix] https://www.christian.org.uk/news/author-of-1967-abortion-act-there-are-too-many-abortions/

[x] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/20/observer-view-on-abortion-donald-trump-gag-rule

[xi] https://www.christian.org.uk/news/panorama-documentary-exposes-abortion-practices/

[xii] https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/catholics-choice-ireland-abortion-law-repeal-the-eighth-a8366831.html

[xiii] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/abortion-and-mental-health-quantitative-synthesis-and-analysis-of-research-published-19952009/E8D556AAE1C1D2F0F8B060B28BEE6C3D

[xiv] https://www.fionabruce.org.uk/news/fiona-speaks-northern-ireland-executive-formation-bill

A YouGov/Times poll in 2013 found that only 4% of Britons believe Jesus will return to earth by 2070. This is similar to another YouGov poll in 2010 which found that only 5% of Britons believe the Second Coming would happen before 2050.

However more do believe there will be another world war (28%), there will be a major terrorist attack in the UK involving a nuclear weapon (28%) and that an asteroid will hit earth causing massive loss of life (9%). If they happen, these would all be what Jesus calls “the beginning of birth pains” of the Messiah.

Belief that Jesus would return by 2070 came at the bottom of a list of 39 results which also included:

  • The world will face a major energy crisis        71%
  • China will overtake the United States as the world’s main superpower            59%
  • Astronauts will land on Mars   48%
  • We will find evidence of life elsewhere in the universe          42%
  • The member states of European Union will become one unified country        20%
  • We will make contact with alien life    15%
  • The British Monarchy will be abolished          14%
  • Jesus Christ will return to earth            4%

We don’t know when Jesus will return but we should be looking forward to it and speeding its coming (2 Peter3:12). These statistics could encourage people to ignore it.

Under the 30-year rule, a draft Queen’s speech from 1983 which would have been broadcast if nuclear war broke out, was published in 2013. The speech said:

“Now, this madness of war is once more spreading through the world and our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds …. Not for a single moment did I imagine that this solemn and awful duty would one day fall to me. But whatever terrors lie in wait for us all, the qualities that have helped to keep our freedom intact twice already during this sad century will once more be our strength. My husband and I share with families up and down the land the fear we feel for sons and daughters, husbands and brothers who have left our side to serve their country …. As we strive together to fight off the new evil, let us pray for our country and men of goodwill wherever they may be. God Bless you all.”

My comment is: “Don’t throw the speech away. The terrorists and rogue states could still use nuclear weapons. ‘You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.’” (Matt 24:6).

“RELIGIOUS PEOPLE ARE LESS INTELLIGENT THAN ATHEISTS”

So claims a recent research report. Most intelligent people will conclude that this is self-evidently untrue. Dr. Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent is an atheist and he thinks the report is invalid. He calls it “‘scientism’ at its worst.” He points out that comparing the intelligence of different groups is very difficult. He adds:

“At most what the majority of papers reviewed in this analysis show is that because smart people spend more time in education and because high schools and especially universities tend to be secular institutions they will produce proportionally more atheists people than those who drop out. Secularism and atheism is part of the cultural script of higher education to which a significant minority readily conform.”

He goes on to point out that the report is significantly motivated by anti-religious prejudice and concludes: “I don’t think that atheism can be equated with intelligence any more than religion with stupidity. Why? Because the experience of life shows that the ranks of atheists have their fair share of idiots.”

See http://www.independent.co.uk/biography/frank-furedi-8192062.html

The doctrine of the “End Times” (eschatology) is, sadly, controversial, with some Christians polarising over different views and (many) others avoiding the subject, perhaps regarding it as a happy hunting ground for extremists. Yet nearly 10% of the New Testament is about eschatology. It is not a fringe subject. We should not neglect it.

The problem is that some people have a natural tendency towards naivety – readily believing assumptions about what prophecies mean and how they relate to current events. Others have a natural tendency towards rationalism – being rather cynical about the subject. I am more like the latter group but because of the importance of the subject in Scripture I seek to overcome it. However we do need to be careful in our approach.

Yes, there are those who jump to naïve conclusions about the eschatological significance of current events. Nevertheless I do find an approach which regards prophecies as totally symbolical, rather than referring to literal events unconvincing in the light of the evidence. For example, it is difficult to see Jesus’ prophecy of the End Times return of the Jewish people to Israel as symbolical in view of the remarkable event which has happened 2000 years later. In addition, so many of the Old Testament prophecies have come to pass.

One of the main areas of disagreement is over the biblical prophecy of the millennium (the future thousand year reign of Christ on earth). Some believe that happens after Jesus returns, others before he returns and others that it is symbolical about the on-going influence of God in the world. Some years ago, we brought together 75 clergy, ministers and teachers from various denominations for three days of intensive discussion on eschatology. Initially, there was a good deal of tension and apprehension. But, as we listened to one another, that disappeared and, whereas there were respectful disagreements, the conference put out a united statement as to what it agreed over (we must avoid falling out over secondary disagreements over eschatology). You can find the statement on my Christian Teaching website at https://www.christianteaching.org.uk/ChurchLeadersAgreeReturnofChrist.pdf. It ended with the words “We urge all Christians to recognize that eschatology is a vital context and incentive for growth in holiness and for evangelism.” I personally would now add “and as a motive for prayer for Revival” but that was before the Lord spoke to me about Revival.

We are called to live in the light of the Return of Jesus

On several occasions Jesus says this.

“Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matt 24:42; 25:13). “‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. ‘Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”’(Mark 13:32-37).

“‘Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will make them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or towards daybreak. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’(Luke 12:35-40).

Similarly, Paul writes:

“The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober” (1 Thess 5:2-6).

Unfortunately many Christians seem to ignore this teaching. But, the Lord says we need to be eschatological in outlook.

We are called to take note of the “signs of the times.”

It is also clear that Jesus wants us to note the signs of the End Times.

The disciples askedWhat will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Messiah,” and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth-pains” (Matt 24:3-8).

He is speaking here of long term, repeated signs pointing towards his return – false messiahs, wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution. They do not mean the End is imminent. They are like motorway signs repeatedly pointing towards a distant destination. But he goes on to refer to later signs which are closer to the destination – the ‘abomination that causes desolation,’ antichrist, the great distress (often called “tribulation”), cosmic signs – and he adds “Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it [the End] is near, right at the door” (Matt 24:33). He also speaks of the fall of Jerusalem, the exile of the Jewish people to the nations and their eventual return to Jerusalem. (See the footnote for comment on the controversies surrounding Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians).[i]

So Jesus wants us to take note of what is happening in society and the world and to understand its significance vis a vis the End. In other words, we have to be prophetic (although we need to be careful and properly critical, rather than jump to conclusions). But many of us never stand back to see the bigger picture. We have our eyes down on the details of everyday life, including church life.

The interesting thing is that some secular scholars do stand back to see the bigger picture in connection with the threats to the future of the world and they speak about it in the ways prophets should do. So there is a secular eschatology over such things as dangers from global warming, viruses, war (nuclear and cyber), genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.

Many Christians need to wake up to what is going on. And we need to be discerning because often something developed for good reasons can go wrong and have bad effects. Here are some concerns very briefly:

  • The dangers in globalisation in our ‘global village’ becoming oppressive. (The current moves against globalisation could misfire and are very likely to be reversed by the pressures of inevitable international interdependence in trade, security, etc).
  • The dangers of the development of dictatorships (including through the growth in populism, political leaders on the extremes of politics, surveillance etc).
  • The growing influence of a major world religion, Islam, which believes in a Christ who is not divine, didn’t die on the cross or rise from the dead but who will come to earth in power.
  • More widespread worldwide persecution of Christians than has ever happened previously (Jesus foretells an increase in persecution).
  • Huge problems with water sources, extreme weather, mass migration, starvation, conflict caused by global warming, pollution etc (which seems relevant to New Testament prophecies)
  • The possibility of sudden global economic collapse (foretold in the New Testament in the End Times).
  • Israel becoming more central to world affairs and the nations (particularly the UN) becoming more negative towards her (also prophesied in Scripture). There is also a growth in antisemitism.
  • (I might also refer to the serious concern that NASA etc., have about the possibility of a large asteroid or meteorite colliding with the earth which seems to relate to the prophecies about cosmic signs, even though some of the language may be symbolical).

See my Christian Teaching website for detailed teaching on eschatology in both a full version and a summary https://www.christianteaching.org.uk/eschatology.html.

I find no difficulty in seeing the relevance of all these issues to biblical prophecy about the End Times and I think this is justified by reasonable thinking, not naïve jumping to conclusions.

We are called to hasten the return of Christ by praying for revival

We have noted that the New Testament makes it clear that we are not to ignore the “signs of the End.” Nor are we, as some do, just to be excited by the subject. We are to “look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:12). The apparent delay in the coming of the day of God is because God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Similarly, in Acts 3:19-20, Peter says: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus.” Hence in the predominantly eschatological Book of Revelation Jesus called the church not just to take an interest in the End Times but to come to repentance (Rev 2-3).

So praying for Revival (alongside evangelism and living “holy and godly lives”) is a very important way of speeding the coming of the day of God, the return of Christ.

What Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost is very significant:

“This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:16-21).

He uses the term “the last days” and we need to remember that the last days began at the time of Jesus’ first coming. When we use the term we often mean “the end of the last days.” But Joel’s prophecy about the outpouring of the Spirit is definitely related to “the end of the last days” or what we call the End Times. It is associated with cosmic signs of the End e.g. by Jesus in Mark 13:25 and Luke 21:25. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that there will be a major outpouring of the Spirit (Revival) in the End Times.

Some Christians who are interested in eschatology focus on doom and gloom and almost seem to be excited about it. Others are fascinated by eschatology but it doesn’t affect their lives or motivate them to greater obedience and witness. But if we are truly eschatological we will seek to do something positive in the light of the doom and gloom, including living holy lives, doing evangelism, but also praying and preparing for revival, which is much more far reaching, in terms of the numbers affected, than our evangelism. In that way, we will be speeding the return of Christ.

When the Lord spoke to Patricia (my wife) and me about Revival he seemed to be underlining Luke 1:17 “Make ready a people prepared for the Lord” which was John the Baptist’s calling. And that is an excellent motive for prayer and preparation for Revival. We are praying for the formation of a people prepared for the Lord – a more numerous people than can be achieved by evangelism (although evangelism remains an important priority).

So, by the grace of God, we are seeking to hasten the return of the Lord by making ready a people prepared for the Lord through Revival.

However we are also seeking to have a positive impact on society and the world by praying and preparing for Revival. It is a historical fact that the Wesleyan Revival had a profound positive effect on 18th century society which previously was described as a spiritual and moral quagmire. How we need that again.

Conclusion

Prayer and preparation for Revival is properly related to eschatology. We Christians are not only called by God to live in the light of the End Times and to take note of the “signs of the times.” We are also called to pray and prepare for Revival in order to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord,” for his return and to seek to counteract the negative “signs” in society and the world.
Tony Higton

 

[i] I am very aware of the justice issues in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. I was General Director of the Church’s Ministry among Jewish People and Rector of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem and had contact both with Jewish Israelis and Palestinians/Israeli Arabs. I have seen the conflict first hand (and heard the bombs going off). For years I have encouraged Christians (via a mailing list and website http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk) to pray about the needs, pain and fears of both Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides act wrongly at times. But we must not ignore Jesus’ prophecy about the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem (plus Old Testament prophecies on the issue) as a sign of the End Times.