This article is printed in The Free Church Record out this week.
Hugh Dalton, Labour Cabinet minister, wrote in his diary on the birth of Prince Charles in 14th November 1948: “If this boy ever comes to the throne it will be a very different country and Commonwealth he’ll rule over”. As a result of Queen Elizabeth becoming the longest reigning monarch in British history last year, the 67-year-old prince is still waiting! And it is needed a very different country he will inherit, if and when the time comes.
I was reminded of this by an elderly Free Church elder, who coming towards the end of his life expressed bewilderment at the world we now live in. He is an intelligent man, well read and with a good grasp of both the Bible and general knowledge, but even he finds it difficult to grasp just how much the United Kingdom and Scotland has changed. As we head into yet another year it may help us to seek to understand something of how our society has changed. I would like to address three areas where there has been significant change that we must come terms with, if we wish to communicate the gospel in 2016. Sailing on the Gospel ship its good for us to know the waters we must navigate. (In this respect can I commend the Solas magazine which is a high quality magazine designed to enable Christians to better understand the world we live in.you can get it from www.solas-cpc.org, or just ask your church!).
Humanity – GK Chesterton pointed out that once we lose our faith in God, we would lose our humanity as well. We are seeing that happen rapidly before our eyes. Our society is changing from being based upon a Christian worldview that is rational, coherent and works; to a Gnostic view of humanity which is irrational, incoherent and devastating. What do we mean by gnostic worldview? It is the notion that you have a real inner self that is not your body, your culture and your religious traditions. What you feel is what you are. Knowing this inner self is everything. And what this inner self wants is everything.
This is seen especially in the area of family life and human sexuality. Having got Same Sex ‘Marriage’ in 2014, our reshapers of the humanity, moved on to a new shibboleth issue, transgender. We are being bombarded with newspaper articles, government funded propaganda and television soap operas, informing us that if a five-year-old boy feels that he is a girl, then yes he is a girl. Having got homosexual rights accepted on the basis that in the words of Lady Gaga people are ‘born that way’, we are now being told that we must accept ‘gender fluidity’ as well as sexuality fluidity. Whereas God made us male and female, Facebook tells us that there are 26 different genders and we can be whatever we wish to be.
The Telegraph had an astonishing article in which it was claimed that all women are either lesbian or bi-sexual, none are ‘straight’. It’s little wonder that those who were brought up in a more sane time are wondering what on earth is happening. And it is likely that it will only get worse, because our schools are being handed over to the re-makers of humanity, so that they can indoctrinate our children with their poisonous ideology. One politician argued that all primary schools should have transgender days when boys should come dressed as girls and vice versa.
Education – Education is a key area. We are moving from a system of education for educations sake to one of education for the purpose of social engineering. Having rejected Christianity as the foundation for our laws and morality, those in control of society are seeking to replace it with their own laws. In order to do this they need to use the education system so that it becomes a means of indoctrination, rather than education. Those who disagree with the new morality will increasingly find themselves sidelined and marginalised. In 2016 we must continue to pray for those who are teachers, pupils and educators. As a church we must look seriously at how we can be salt and light in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. And we must cry out about the declining state of Scottish education, especially for the poor.
I love the prayer of that well-known hymn, Abide With Me
- Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
- Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
- I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
- I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
- Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Church – There are also great changes occurring in the church. Some of these of course are negative. Declining attendance, the increasing acceptance of heretical theology as normative, the confusion of extremist health and wealth teaching, leadership struggles, church politics and the ongoing outworking of our own personal sinfulness, could easily cause us to despair about the church as well. As Martin Luther said, “I had utterly despaired had not Christ been head of the church” (Luther). But Christ is the head of the church, and as a result, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Hebrews 13: 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.
These are days of great opportunity for the whole church in Scotland, and for the Free Church of Scotland. There are new congregations being added, Edinburgh theological seminary is training up many new ministers and there is a dynamism and new life that is being expressed in many different creative ways not least seeking to reach out with the Gospel of Jesus Christ to this nation. I don’t just see ‘change and decay’, in the church, I also see ‘change and new life’.
Of course we have many problems, but Christ is still head of his church and has given us the ordinary means of grace: prayer, the word, the church and the sacraments, in order that we may be built up. I find it so encouraging that many ordinary Christians are living extraordinary Christian lives. “And how beautiful a fight it is to see Christians shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation! The world is a sea and every particular person in it a drop: now to see a drop of water in the sea carrying a counter motion to the tide, is marvellous.” (John Flavel). We are the marvelous drops of water that go contra tide!
The great thing for us as Christians is that no matter how stormy the sea, for us it is not the harbour. We are heading for a destination which, when we arrive, will make all our troubles and sorrows appear trivial. John Flavel has for me been a source of great comfort and strength as, in his own pithy way, he has taught me the Word of Christ. I leave you with this lovely thought from him for 2016.
“It is no small comfort to the saints that this world is the worst place that ever they shall be in: things will be better every day with them. If the traveller have spent all his money, yet it does not much trouble him if he know himself within a few miles of his own home. If there be no candles in the house, we do not much matter it, if we are sure it is almost break of day; then there will be no use for them. This is your case. “your salvation is nearer than when you believed,” Romans 13:12
If you are a Christian be comforted with these wonderful words from Flavel, and if you are not yet a Christian, isn’t it about time you got on board?