UPDATED 1st May 2020

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I hope you find the site helpful

You are welcome to keep in touch by:

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 http://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 http://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 http://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

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 http://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

 

 

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 http://christianteaching.org.uk/blog/uncategorized/recognising-the-significance-of-major-events/

 

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 http://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 http://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.

I use the word “Oppression” rather than “Persecution” about the ways Christians are maltreated in the western world because Christians elsewhere are suffering in far worse ways. Nevertheless the trend in the west is a cause of real concern.

Good news

Of course, there is some good news. The police apologised to a street preacher in Bath who was threatened with arrest in May 2018. Another Christian street preacher was cleared of all charges after being falsely accused of making abusive comments towards a homosexual couple. A nurse in Kent who was dismissed for offering to pray with patients was officially allowed to return to her job by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. The Government has ruled that employers must allow staff to wear religious symbols at work as long as it does not interfere with their job. After widespread public opposition, Ofsted (the government’s the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) has abandoned plans to inspect Sunday Schools and other religious groups as to whether they promote extremism.

Then, of course, there is the Supreme Court’s reversal of the High Court’s conviction of the Christian Asher’s Baking Company for not making a cake with a pro-homosexual slogan. However we need to take note of the Equality Commission’s response: “There is a concern that this judgment may raise uncertainty about the application of equality law in the commercial sphere, both about what businesses can do and what customers may expect; and that the beliefs of business owners may take precedence over a customer’s equality rights, which in our view is contrary to what the legislature intended.” This case may be finished but that attitude shows there can be pressure for a different approach in the future.

Discrimination against Christians

However, the situation and trends are still serious. Tim Farron, ex-leader of the Liberal Democrats, said “If you actively hold a faith that is more than an expression of cultural identity … you are deemed to be far worse than eccentric. You are dangerous. You are offensive.” A recent study by ComRes found that up to a million workers in Britain may have faced harassment, discrimination or bullying because of their religion or belief.

In the United States US a report, entitled ‘Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America’, indicated a 15% rise in cases threatening religious liberty between 2015 and 2016. It was based on research by the First Liberty Institute, a legal organisation dedicated to protecting religious liberty. Following complaints by residents, a US apartment complex implemented a zero-tolerance policy over any Bible studies being held in its community space, and sent letters to residents stating the faith-based meetings weren’t permitted there. First Liberty commented: “It’s frightening that a management company would use the threat of eviction to stop residents from meeting together to discuss any issue, let alone their faith.”

Ex-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said: “In recent years, the cultural climate in this country-and in the West more generally-has become less hospitable to people of faith. Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.”

In Australia an Elim church in New South Wales paid for digital Easter signs to be displayed at the local shopping centre. But the authorities asked them to remove the word “Jesus” from the signs because it had been causing offence.

Discrimination and intolerance of Christianity in Europe was debated for the first time in the European Parliament in June 2018. Speakers, highlighted recent instances of violence, marginalisation, and discrimination against Christians across Europe. Nathan Gill, MEP, who hosted the debate, said: “It’s the first time that Christianophobia within Europe has been discussed in the EU Parliament. There has often been a focus on Christian persecution around the world, but seldom do we look at what is happening on our doorstep. It’s important to raise awareness that our rights as Christians are being eroded. We need to stand together as practising Christians to oppose religious intolerance.” Hendrik Storm, Chief Executive of the Barnabas Fund (which assists persecuted Christians), stated, “It’s easy to sit back and ignore the damage because like erosion, it’s not always immediately visible on the surface. But look a little closer and you can begin to see the cracks. You can’t pick and choose which types of freedom you want to defend. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, academic freedom or freedom of religion. You must defend all of them. Those freedoms are only one generation away from being lost.”

Undermining freedom of speech

South Yorkshire Police used Twitter to urge citizens to “put a stop” to hate, by reporting what it called “non-crime hate incidents.” They acknowledged that “police can only prosecute when the law is broken” but added that non-crime hate incidents like an insulting comment “can feel like a crime to those affected.” Someone responded

“Just to be clear: you want me to phone the police when there hasn’t been a crime but someone’s feelings have been hurt?”

Then reports are emerging from universities about speakers with what are considered as minority (but legal) views (e.g. pro-life) being banned because their views were considered insulting. In 2017 the Junior Common Room of Balliol College, Oxford banned the college Christian Union from attending its freshers’ (new students’) fair over concerns at the “potential for harm to freshers.” The vice-president said: “Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.” Eventually the CU was told that a single multi-faith stall would be allowed to display leaflets, though no representatives would be allowed to staff it.  Later a motion was passed unanimously at the college accusing the JCR committee of “a violation of free speech [and] a violation of religious freedom”. The motion prohibited the barring of official religious societies from future freshers’ fairs.

Christian MP Fiona Bruce commented: “University should a place where ideas can be explored and free speech is so important, it’s important from my perspective as a parliamentarian, to protect and preserve democracy, so we need to ensure students, very importantly, honour and respect the freedom of others … There is no legal right not to be offended, people can say things which might offend others but if they don’t, for example, go as far as to incite violence or terrorism under the Prevent legislation then that speech is lawful.”

One of the most worrying trends in western society is the extreme application of laws against extremism! This can easily lead to Christians being legally prevented from appropriately expressing some of the Bible’s more challenging truths.

Freedom of speech over sexuality

It is quite obvious that freedom to express biblical views on sexuality, including homosexual practice, are seriously threatened. There have been many examples of this trend. Here is one.

Matthew Grech, a contestant in a Maltese talent show, described on TV how he left a homosexual lifestyle and became a Christian. He said: “I stopped following my passions to follow Jesus. There can be love between two men and two women, yes – but only friendship love. Everything else is a sin.”  Helena Dalli, The Maltese Equality Minister, commented: “That interview should never have been aired in the first place. It did untold damage to our efforts to change social attitudes towards minorities, including LGBTQ youths. Gay youths don’t need forgiveness or healing, they need understanding.”

One of the sad things is that some of the oppression of Christians in the West comes from fellow Christians. One example is about “gay conversion therapy.” This is, of course, a highly controversial practice and even the Church of England General Synod voted to disapprove of it as an insensitive, harmful, practice which should be avoided. But, as is often the case with such action against harmful extremism, it can be taken too far and hinder helpful action. Basically the effect of what the synod did was to vote to ban anyone praying for a homosexual to be transformed by the power of God into a heterosexual. Who does the synod think it is, voting to ban prayer for a healing miracle! There are claims that homosexuals have been transformed in this way. Other people will have been prayed for and not changed – but that is the case for all healing. Of course, people must be handled with great sensitivity and loving care. They must not be pressurised. But to say that no one is allowed to pray for a miracle for a homosexual person is extremely serious. Homosexual orientation is not a sin, and it shouldn’t be implied that it is. But the Bible teaches that God created humans “male and female.” He did not intend people to have a homosexual orientation. So why can’t Christians pray for it to be changed? The church is selling out to our secular society in this respect.

I have had a good deal to do with homosexuals and have always treated them with respect. They can be subject to major traumas which should be met with real compassion. But to allow the emotional pressure of such traumas to cause us to take the wrong approach to helping them is a serious error.

However, this trend is going further. There is a strong move against what is called “Spiritual Abuse.” Jayne Ozanne is an evangelical on the Church of England General Synod who ‘came out’ as a lesbian. She has become a campaigner against ‘spiritual abuse.’

Ozanne writes: “The most typical incidents involve those in leadership who have frequently achieved a ‘cult-like’ or ‘guru’ status due to their charismatic personality and strong leadership style. This is most evident in large evangelical churches, particularly those with a Charismatic or Pentecostal background, where leaders exercise ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’ and are therefore recognised by their congregations as being ‘chosen and anointed by God’. As a result, their word can become infallible and their authority unquestioned. For the purposes of this document this type of abuse will be called the ‘Individual Leader Model of Spiritual Abuse’” She goes on to speak of unhelpful pressure from charismatic worship and prayer ministry sessions, including teaching on the Baptism of the Spirit in contexts such as the Alpha Course, New Wine, Spring Harvest, Soul Survivor, healing ministries and even the Lydia Prayer Movement, etc. My comment is that obviously there can be unhelpful extremes in anything, but such a blanket condemnation is appalling, set against the amount of good achieved.

She then begins to speak of the damage these experiences can (allegedly) do to homosexuals and says “It is imperative that professional organisations external to the religious institutions call for better safeguarding measures against spiritual abuse. Indeed, they should look to recognise it as a key form of abuse at a national level so as to ensure that some of the most vulnerable in our society are afforded the same protection as those facing other forms of abuse.”

She is calling on the government to recognise the alleged spiritual harm some churches can do to people and claims current church safeguarding procedures do not go far enough to protect them. Since she wrote a major article on the issue in the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Journal the government is likely to take her seriously despite the fact that she has no professional qualifications or experience in either psychiatry or statistical research

The potential serious damage this campaign could do is very clear. I’m not saying it is Jayne Ozanne’s intention but it could lead to real oppression of especially charismatic evangelicals in their worship, prayer ministry, etc. In fact, experience suggests it is highly likely to do so. The church is rightly concerned about safeguarding but it has become OTT in its procedures. The Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service is accepting the sort of opinions Jane Ozanne is expressing so the denominations are likely to follow suit. It is another case of the modern practice: Take proper action against genuine extremism/abuse then go too far and restrict good practices.

Conclusion

We need to be alert to dangerous trends both outside and inside the church which are leading to serious oppression of Christians in the West and particularly to those who still believe the teaching of Scripture on what have become controversial issues. We should take whatever action is appropriate but also remember that these trends show how urgently we need to pray for and to see God bring 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.

Church attendance

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

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

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

Digital religion

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

Unbelief amongst those claiming to be Christians

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

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

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

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

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

Distrust in the church and clergy

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

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

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

The situation in the Church of England

There are good things going on in the Church of England, for example various initiatives reaching out to local communities such as the new Advance 2020 initiative. The organisers hope it will mean “the gospel being taken to the nation on an unprecedented scale.” One of the organisers said “We’re dreaming of seeing the United Kingdom come back to relationship with Jesus.” Evangelistic initiatives like this are very good and should be fully supported. But we have to face up to experience. They have very limited effects and tend to influence only the minority of churches already into evangelism. Also we are dealing with a population which is very resistant to the gospel. It is very important to do evangelism but it will only scratch the surface. We need more. We need revival.

There are also prayer initiatives such as “Thy Kingdom Come” – an international, ecumenical call to 10 days of prayer around Pentecost which grew out of an initiative of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in 2016. It involves over 50 denominations in 85 countries. There is a lot of faithful work going on in parishes, although the overburdening of the reduced number of clergy is a growing problem (however a growing number of younger people want to become ordained). And some churches are growing. At its best the Church of England has a lot to offer.

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

Controversy over sexuality

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

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

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

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

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

Confusion in the House of Bishops and General Synod

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncritical emotional reactions

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

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

Increasing support for homosexual practice in other churches

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

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

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

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

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

Serious division

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Higton