The Suicidal Church in the UK

This is my latest article on Christian Today…

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/the.church.is.dying.because.it.is.committing.suicide.by.turning.away.from.the.word/51110.htm

To my mind it just states the blindingly obvious and yet it has already proved to be controversial…it would be interesting to get your point of view.

It is an adaptation of this earlier article on why the Church of Scotland is dying.

https://theweeflea.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/ten-reasons-why-the-church-of-scotland-is-in-decline/

The text is below but for the video and links go to the CT website –

A lot of words will be spoken and written over this Easter weekend in the UK. Words of hope and new life, resurrection and new beginnings. The churches will be (relatively) full – yet even with that the numbers will not be massive. Just fewer than 1.3 million attended an Easter Anglican service in 2013, down from 1.4 million in 2012. Although other churches may bring that number up to 10% of the population, just over six million, the atheist humanists who are gloating over the death of the church appear to have a point.

In 2014 the British Social Attitudes Survey found that 58.3% of those brought up in a religion never attend services. Overall only 5% of the population regularly attends church. Whilst there are many encouraging exceptions overall the general demographic for the church in the UK is not looking good. And what is even more discouraging is the way that so many within the Church are in denial….whether its liberals who refuse to recognize that Christendom has gone, or evangelicals who tell us that revival is just around the corner, it seems that very few are facing up to the elephant in the room.

The primary reasons for the decline in the Church are not militant atheism, or secularism, or the rise of Islam, or materialism or humanist philosophy. The primary reason for the decline of the church is the church. Indeed the primary reasons for the rise of these other philosophies and faiths are the church.

1) The UK Church is in decline because it is confused about the Bible. I watched in horror this sermon proudly posted by a leading Presbyterian minister:

The minister was asked “Do you believe Jesus died for your sins?” “With grace I replied, no, no, no, no…that’s ghastly theology…you don’t want to go there.”

Paul says “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture” (1 Corinthians 15:3). And yet what Paul calls ‘of first importance’ some clergy call ‘ghastly theology’. I wonder how many people attending church this Easter will hear similar anti-Easter messages? The Church is dying because it is committing suicide by turning away from the Word of life.

2) The UK Church is in decline because it is confused about the Cross. How many Easter sermons will tell us the story of the pathetic Christ who was not doing anything on the Cross? There was no sacrifice, no self-giving, no atonement – just victimhood. This kind of ‘cross’ is not the cross that is the power of God for salvation…it’s a weak, pathetic, parody of the Christian Gospel which is good news for no-one – except preachers who get paid to spout this nonsense.

3) The UK Church is in decline because it is confused about Evangelism. Evangelism is telling the good news. But if you don’t know what that good news is, or worse tell people that the good news is really bad news, then you have nothing to say. The good news is that Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification. That therefore there is forgiveness, renewal, hope, the fruit and gifts of the Spirit, heaven etc. Without that ‘good news’ we have no evangel. To say the least the Church in the UK is sending a confused message.

4) The UK church is in decline because it is confused about Love. Of course everyone is into love. Who could be against love? But what do we mean by love? The Bible says that God is love…it does not say that love is God. Is there a difference? Yes. And not to get that difference results in terrible confusion. When we say ‘love is God’ it all depends on what we mean by love. In reality what we usually mean is some kind of human construct, given meaning according to the current fashion and whims of our culture. We thus end up making both a love and a god in our own image. Which in our current sin-filled and confused world is about as useful as a wet paper bag. On the other hand if we accept God’s self-revelation as love, then we have incredible good news. “This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Of course our culture does not like talk of ‘sin’, although it invents enough sins of its own, but sadly even the church seems to have forgotten what sin is. We think it is ‘love’ to excuse sin and to let people continue in sin. We have forgotten the Love that took sin so seriously that He died for it. We have forgotten that it is the work of the Spirit to convict of sin, righteousness and the judgement to come.

5) The Church in the UK is in decline because it is confused about Christ. Of course everyone is ‘into’ Jesus. And every professing Christian claims to follow Christ – as indeed do many other people. But which Christ? Is it really the case that we each follow our own personal Jesus? Have we lost sight of the glorious Christ of the Bible? Is our Jesus just to be placed on the mantelpiece alongside all the other idols and philosophies of this world?

It if you want to win a battle then the best thing to do is confuse your enemy. The devil has had a field day in the UK Church. We are far too often confused about the Bible, the Cross, God, Christ and Evangelism. The Lord’s people feel battered and bruised and because of the poison within we are often unable to stand up to the battering winds of secularism, Islam, materialism and despair. We are like Cromwell in Hilary Mantel’s wonderful Wolf Hall: “I once had every hope,” he says. “The world corrupts me, I think. Or perhaps it’s just the weather. It pulls me down and makes me think like you, that one should shrink inside, down and down to a little point of light, preserving one’s solitary soul like a flame under a glass. The spectacles of pain and disgrace I see around me, the ignorance, the unthinking vice, the poverty and the lack of hope, and oh, the rain – the rain that falls on England and rots the grain, puts out the light in a man’s eye and the light of learning too.”

We once had hope, but we have been corrupted. We have shrunk inside. We see the sin, and the mist that has fallen seems to have put out the light. And yet….Easter is about resurrection. Surely the solution is blindingly obvious? As we return to the foot of the Cross, to the Word of Christ, to the Love that drew salvations plan, we will be filled with the Spirit, renewed and revived, and in the confidence of the Gospel go out and tell the people living in darkness, that we really do have Good News for them. We will no longer be trying to maintain a dying institution, or creating our own culturally relevant, suitably privatized, irrelevant religion. Instead we will, together with all the saints, be part of that glorious bride of Christ, which the gates of Hell will never prevail against!

Happy Easter. Christ is Risen. And so will His Church.

20 thoughts on “The Suicidal Church in the UK

  1. All 5 points are sound but it is simplistic to say simply that the church is turning from the word. We must ask why is the church turning from the word (other than, equally simplistically, to pamper to the world, in which case I would again ask why it feels this recent need to do so).

    Even when evangelical churches preach the word, they can get it horribly wrong especially on sanctification. The question is therefore how to approach the word. If we do so with an enlightenment, cerebral mindset, we seek to dissect the word and God confuses the wise; He in fact departs the room.

    But if we approach the word as an encounter with a God found in his word, and allow the word to dissect us, then we are more likely to be given the truths therein. And this does not mean a quick prayer before starting a bible study. It is a mind-set, indeed a heart-set, that needs to be nurtured so that we live it as close to all the time as possible.

    As an aside, indeed it is more likely that this is what ‘dying to self’ means (because his yoke is easy and light), rather than self-flagellation. The self putting the self to death is like strangling yourself with your own hands. It is also an arrogant notion straight out of enlightenment pride.

    If evangelicals approach the word with an enlightenment mind-set, we cannot be surprised if liberals do too, and you don’t have to be a liberal long before becoming an atheist.

    I would even caution against the idea above that we follow Christ (even if it is the biblical one). God in Christ comes to us in an encounter; He takes and retains the initiative. The gospel is not an offer to follow Jesus. That turns the initiative over to us, which is straight out of Stoic and then enlightenment thinking. From there sanctification quickly goes awry and we slide into Galatia – heaven forbid.

    1. Richard – sometimes we can try to be too clever. I would not caution against the idea that a Christian is someone who follows Christ. Given that is what the word means and that is what Christ called us to do! Your statement that the gospel is not an offer to follow Jesus is directly contradicted by Christ who said ‘come follow me, take up your cross and follow me”….That is not enlightenment thinking – thats just the Bible!

      1. I’m not trying to be clever, liberal, conservative, fundamentalist or antinomian. I’m trying to ensure that we do not slide from a God-initiated and God-sustained gospel, to a man-cooperating-with-God-view. When we do that, we are no different from any other religion, or indeed from the liberals who are simply taking a less moral stance.

        So I say, the Gospel is not an offer. The Gospel is an Announcement that the King has come. On the back of that, there is not an offer but a Command. The Command(s) Repent, Follow, Learn etc are all surprisingly closely related. But they are not given on the assumption that ‘you’ can obey them, not even ‘with’ or ‘enabled by’ the Holy Spirit. That is the semi-pelagianism declared heretical at the Council of Orange, reappearing as Arminianism some 1,000 years later, and reappearing now as a man-shouldered moralism.

        Instead, as we hear the Announcement and the Command, repeatedly, the new man is called forth and into nurture and growing maturity. God wills and works in us – no wonder we are told to realise that with fear and trembling; we undergo on-going (not once only, quick fix) spiritual surgery

        I know you will agree that the church must preach a gospel of what Jesus has done, not what man must do, whether with the lower standards of liberalism or the ‘higher’ standards of conservatism. But this means we must be careful with our words not to mislead.

        Of course a Christian follows Christ; this is a description. ‘Following’ Jesus does not make us or keep us being a Christian though this is often what is implied. This is the danger of stating it as a prescription. To make the gospel into an offer with the prescription of following Jesus makes man effectively the author of his salvation – will he or won’t he follow Jesus? Okay, so he ‘receives’ the Holy Spirit, but is it up to him whether to keep in step or not?

        To imply that we have any such moral autonomy, that Jesus’ death is necessary but not sufficient, is the sort of ‘man is the master of his own destiny’ that typified enlightenment thinking – which is why I used that phrase.,

      2. And yet Richard…you are trying to be clever. You directly contradict what the scriptures say in order to criticise others and to get everything to fit in with your formula. You reject the free offer of the Gospel despite the clear teaching of Scripture – ‘come to me all ye that labour and are heavy laden”…You accuse almost the whole Christian church of semi-pelagianism because we preach and offer Christ to sinners. I agree we need to be careful that our words do not mislead – and I find your words very misleading. When you say that those who say yes to Jesus are ‘authors of their own salvation’ is absurd. You are out of step with Spurgeon, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Paul and above all Christ. Your denial of the free offer of the Gospel is an old heresy – but just as dangerous now as it ever was. Very very sad….

      3. I don’t know what you think I’m trying to do by ‘clever’ twisting – deny the gospel’s availability to all men? I am in fact keen to maintain that it is free, a free gift (not ‘offer’ in the way that I think you wish to defend) of God and so free that it is not even one that we need to contemplate and decide whether to accept or not. It is given by God to those whom he has chosen before all time – the golden chain in Romans.

        So, as I said, “I’m trying to ensure that we do not slide from a God-initiated and God-sustained gospel, to a man-cooperating-with-God-view”. I don’t know if you are happy with that as an intention? I’m beginning to suspect that you are not. My follow-on point is then that we must not present the gospel as an ‘offer’ which is up to man to accept or reject. I still sense that because you place much emphasis on ‘offer’, you then place too much emphasis on man’s ‘acceptance’ of the ‘offer’

        You cannot find ‘offer’ in Paul (or Luther or Calvin) in the way you imply. Instead you find election. If we deny election and make it up to each man to decide for God or not, then the difference between those going to hell or heaven is between those smart enough to accept the offer and those foolish enough to reject it – this is what I mean by saying that we must not give people the impression that they, not God, are the authors of their salvation. Paul makes it clear that salvation is by faith (ie by grace through faith) so that no man might boast.

        When you quote back at me Jesus’ blessed ‘come to me all ye that labour and are heavy laden’, I’m saying that those words do not imply that man is able to obey even such gentle words. Nor could the rich, young ruler obey Jesus’ command to give up all his wealth and follow. Jesus acknowledged to his disciples that all such things were impossible for man but not for God. There is nothing in what you wrote that suggests you uphold the sole, ongoing power in the sovereignty of God in conversion and the ongoing Christian life.

        It would be one thing for us to disagree but I suspect you still do not understand my point in this. Alternatively you fear that my point might undermine the way that you yourself preach. I am trying to stand by the ‘Reformed’ insights of Luther and Calvin even though many in the ‘Reformed’ church have reverted to semi-pelagianism. I am preaching the free ‘gift’ of the gospel. If you think that I am somehow preaching heresy, please do show me why ‘offer’ is right, and ‘gift’ is heretical

      4. Richard…this is what I mean about trying to be too clever. You say it is a free ‘gift’ not offer. And yet a gift has to be offered….and indeed needs to be accepted. Your hyper-Calvinism does not fit with the historic Gospel of the Bible, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon etc. And yes I do find offer in all of them and election. You say that Calvin, Luther etc do not believe in the free offer of the Gospel. Please cite any passages where they argue against it. I have never come across your reasoning in them (and bear in mind that believing in the sovereignty of God and that salvation is all of God, does not preclude the free offer of the Gospel – I believe in all of them).

      5. A ‘gift’ is ‘given’; that is Irresistible Grace. Irresistible Grace is not hyper-calvinism, but mainstream Pauline and Reformation thought. As soon as you say ‘needs to be accepted’, you are departing from election and moving into semi-pelagianism.

        At least you are not now accusing me of being ‘clever’ on my own, but in company with hyper calvinists. But hyper calvinists believe God works without men; I believe God works through His word and through and in men; you seem to believe that God works in cooperation with men in that men must accept an offer (and no doubt woe betide those who are dumb enough not to).

        When I say “God works through His word and through and in men” this is the language of new birth through the sovereign work of God. When you say ‘man must accept the gift (of grace)’ this amounts to the old man deciding to say yes to something. But the old man never would; he is running from God – that is part of total depravity.

  2. “If you want to win a battle then the best thing to do is confuse your enemy.” I agree that principalities and powers are having this effect.

    It worried me when I read someone recently mention “we are not equipped, nor are we expected, to wage all-out war with Satan.” I hear form that is that Satan is winning and that there needs to be some equipping and strengthening in order that there be fitness for service in Christ, some basic training needed just as someone that joins the military needs basic training.

    Worst of all is when someone comes along who is strong in the Lord who is misunderstood treated as if they need to be nicer or even that they are acting on behalf of Satan. I’ve had both. I hope no-one thinks of me as boasting for being strong in the Lord. It’s what others have said about me with having a strong faith and a presence that I attribute to Christ, something that is available to all if you choose.

    Nevertheless, comfort can be had in the reality that is was always thus and not anything Christ has not experienced, therefore sharing in his sufferings, knowing that undeserved suffering is redemptive.

    There is one point I would like to make David if you will allow this to get past your moderation. It is by way of engaging with your point about confusion with the bible, specifically about Christ dying for your sins. Yes “Christ died for our sins” 1 Cor 15:3. I think it important to consider the context of that. I was written to a church where some were getting drunk, others going without food, there were lawsuits among each other, inappropriate use of gifting, people sleeping with prostitutes and even someone sleeping with his father’s wife. In that context, it is was reminder to Christians about what killed the Jesus that they were claiming to follow that they were continuing to participate in! A word for fellow Christians, not addressed to wider society.

    There’s a difference between that and saying something similar to someone who is not a Christian. I don’t think a so called street preacher talking loudly and doing the same to the public, worst of all about anyone being homosexual, sinning and destined to eternal torment is taking the words of Paul and applying them appropriately. I think that is creating a train wreck and leaving others to clean up the mess. This in a culture where it is hard to do with the Word as a farmer does and plough the ground so that seed can take root.

    1. “Some save with compassion OTHERS WITH FEAR-Pray about how to minister – the prospect of an eternal hell woke me up

  3. You are a brave man, David, to take on the establishment. Yet the Rev. McKenna is preaching such blatant apostasy that someone has to challenge it.
    Yet your reasons 1 and 3 are also IMHO applicable to many evangelical and independent churches where biblical knowledge and preaching are woefully lacking. We seem to be raising a generation who are biblically illiterate. I think the infection of liberal thinking has got in under the wire to a surprising degree, all be it clothed in the right sounding language.
    An obvious example of this is the often proclaimed idea that “God loves us all unconditionally” and much ministry and evangelism is just such a message – “God loves you and wants to bless you so receive Jesus into your heart….” – sloppy sentimentalism! You are right in saying that the church is confused about love.
    Of course it all depends on what you mean by “unconditional”, yet the obvious conclusion is that a God who loves us all unconditionally will never send anyone to hell and we can live how we like. This was exactly what a senior Anglican (? The Bishop) stated in Leicester Cathedral last week when asked by a journalist if he thought Richard III had been forgiven, “Yes a loving God forgives all of us in the end”.
    Pawson is very good on this in his little book, ‘The God and the Gospel of Grace’. He points out that God’s love for us is never mentioned in Matthew, Mark or Luke and that John 3, 16 is the most misunderstood verse in the bible. I was also startled to discover in my Concordance the words love and loved never occur in Acts – the apostles preached about judgement and repentance (10,42 & 17,30-31) – love never mentioned.
    David I know that you love Mantel’s Cromwell (as I do) but take care – remember his fate!

  4. Shall I mention the elephant in the room? Folk are waking up to the fact it’s not true.
    Still, as long as you make excuses, you wont be dealing with the problem and the decline will continue.
    It also appears that those who stick to the “word”, the homophobes, flood apologists, Adam and Evers bigots, busy bodies, sexists etc are the ones putting folk off, so more fundamentalism please.
    Will Jesus tell you to censor this I wonder, and will you actually hear his voice?

    1. Not the elephant in the room…more the mouse that keeps squeaking! Its strange that the church is continuing to grow throughout the world, despite the confident predictions in every generation of fundamentalist atheists who keep telling us we are about to die!

  5. if it was as blindingly obvious as it ought to be to everyone, then I suppose there wouldn’t be a problem.

    An American friend used to refer to the magazine “Life and Work” as “the Kirk’s monthly suicide note”, – and that was back in the 90s

  6. I think one of the biggest problems is salvation has become irrelevant to many because they are happy with their life (for now), thrive off the approval of man (liberal humanist values, virtue signalling), and have no concept of eternal separation from God as the consequence for dying in sin apart from Christ. They have no concept of the narrow way, nor the broad road that leads to destruction, nor the lamb’s book of life and the critical importance of one’s name being in it! On top of that, much which Jesus clearly labels as sin is dismissed by our culture as being absolutely fine, and those who try to say it is sin are dismissed as religious has-beens, bigots, hate-filled, intolerant, unloving, etc.

    In short, the church seems to have permitted the enemy to decide the terms of the public discussion, and the discussion is now so far gone that attempts to put real gospel truth into it are almost pointless. People’s eyes and ears are blocked and blinded; Romans 2 seems to have come to pass in a big way.

    So what is the answer? Well I think the church needs to start preaching, clearly and boldly, the spiritually precarious state people are in without Christ, thus providing the clarity as to why salvation is needed. After all, who wants to be saved from a situation when there is apparently nothing to be saved from? Who will think about eternal consequences if eternity and what is at stake is not clearly presented and discussed? I feel we are in times not disimilar to the OT prophets, where God was delivering clear warnings but the people just did not want to hear. The difference here is that much of the church is not even delivering clear warnings. In the time to come people would be justified in turning to the church and saying why didn’t you warn us? According to Ezekiel, it may be the case that their blood is on our heads, and we should take that extremely seriously.

    I also suspect the UK has reached the point where a big crisis is needed to wake people up to their need for Jesus. I do not believe God takes any pleasure in permitting such things to happen but if a crisis is needed to bring many to their senses and thus eternal salvation, it would actually be a kindness for God to permit it.

    We must not lose sight of the fact that the enemy’s greatest desire is to minimise the number of people who will be saved; he is trying to take as many people with him in to the lake of burning sulfur as he can, because he hates God, he hates Jesus and he hates humanity. One of the church’s key jobs is to make sure people know the truth so they can avoid that hideous eternal consequence and, instead, enter into eternal life and peace with Jesus as their Lord and saviour. We need to make this clear, otherwise salvation makes no sense.

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