Last week I received a phone call asking me if I would be willing to write the Mail’s Easter essay! Is the Pope a Catholic?! It was actually a difficult task (2,000 words) and to be honest I was not sure if they would take it. Apart from a few edits to the first paragraphs they have printed it in full! I am so thankful for this opportunity to proclaim the Good News in the national secular press. As men that dreamed were we!
My original article is below – but I would suggest you buy the Scottish Daily Mail today (Easter Saturday) – and thank them – if you enjoy the article!
Scotland needs an Easter Revolution (They changed the headline to the above).
It’s Easter. Time for Easter bunnies, crowded roads and of course Easter chocolate eggs. But as regards the latter, not for long. Sainsbury’s, Nestle and Cadbury’s have apparently removed Easter from our seasonal chocolate. Why? These are commercial companies and they obviously think that the term Easter is either meaningless or indeed offensive. It is a classic indicator of the decline of Christianity in what our Prime Minister calls ‘Christian’ Britain. Do the chocolate companies have it right? Perhaps it is time to get Christianity out of Easter and out of Scotland? Are we not after all a ‘progressive’ society that has outgrown the outdated and outmoded religion of our past?
Blame Religion – This week that view was further reinforced with the response to the Brussels’s attacks. Many journalists and commentators were careful to speak of religious terrorists and religious motivation. This was reflected in the various social media outlets used by secularist and humanist groups. You could hear plenty vox pox of the ‘man in the street’ proclaiming ‘its all these religious people’. And thus a form of extremist Islamic terrorism in Belgium suddenly becomes a reason to close Catholic schools in Scotland! Mother Teresa and Osama Bin Laden have morphed into the same figure. Together with John Lennon, people imagine that if only there were no religion then there would nothing to kill or die for.
The Shrinking Church – That is a message that seems to be getting through. Despite brave words and desperate massaging of figures the mainstream churches in Scotland appear to be in terminal decline. The Church of Scotland is hemorrhaging more than 20,000 people per year and its demographic is largely elderly. Polish and other immigrants are keeping the Roman Catholic Church from an equivalent collapse. Virtually every town and city in Scotland has boarded up church buildings and others that are only being kept open by legacies from the past. Government pays lip service to the establishment of Christianity, and the churches respond by supporting the Establishment. Politicians seek to keep the churches on board knowing that they provide a great deal of the ‘Big Society’ which fills in the increasingly large holes caused by austerity, poverty and family breakdown. But the churches continue to shrink and the number of people professing ‘no-religion’ will soon be a majority. How can it be otherwise when many of our schools and media are increasingly being used for indoctrinating secular humanist values and philosophies into our children?
And how do the churches respond? Some are in despair and like the last Mennonite community in Britain, which closed this year, have almost given up. Others are in denial. There was a discussion on BBC Radio Scotland this week in which it was stated that whilst only 10% of the population regularly attend church, ‘research’ has shown that another 20% maintain an active and living Christian faith. In the words of the prophet Victor Meldrew, “I don’t believe it’. Apart from the fact that 10% of the population in most areas do not attend church (remember that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics!), it is a myth that there are more than a million plus Christians ‘out there’ in Scotland who have just disconnected from the church and just waiting for us to reconnect with them. Desperately clutching at straws we speak of ‘the invisible church’ and comfort ourselves that there are far more Christians than we suspect. It is a mirage that makes professional clergy feel better about their jobs. Personally I think those who minister to the invisible church should get invisible salaries! You can state ‘I minister to 10,000 people in my parish’ whilst knowing that barely 100 of them ever bother to cross your door. The fact that you get to bury someone does not mean that they are part of Christ’s flock, or yours. Despair, denial and delusion are in deep.
Trivia and Heresy – But this Easter will give us plenty other examples of why the churches are declining. The message from many pulpits will be mercifully short but nonetheless feel like an eternity, as ethereal waffle and meaningless verbiage is spouted. I hope that there will be no ministers this Easter eating daffodils to illustrate how unbelievable the resurrection is. But the trivialization of Christianity is not our only problem. It is the undermining from within that is killing the church. Whether it is bishops pontificating from pulpits about the resurrection being ‘a conjuring trick with bones, or ministers writing in church magazines and national newspapers about the ‘myth of resurrection’ and the ‘deeper spiritual meaning’ before breaking into ‘all you need is love’ and making sure we all get the usual sound bites and buzzwords, the effect is still the same. The message of the Christian gospel comes across as sweet as Easter chocolate, as fluffy as Easter bunnies and as useless as a wet paper bag.
Why does this matter? It matters to those of us who are Christians, because like Christ, we love his church and we hate to see it in such a state. And it matters to those who are not Christians because if Scotland loses Christianity, it loses its heart and soul. The root of Scotland’s identity has been in Christian teaching. Our education, democracy, morality, liberty, equality, justice and values have stemmed from Christianity. Our anti-Christian secular humanists like to think that we will be able to retain the fruit of Christianity without having the roots. Theirs is an untried and untested faith that is as dangerous as it is delusional. The removal of Christianity from the public square in Scottish life will be a disaster, not just for the Church, but also for the whole of the country, especially the poor.
But all is not lost. This week the BBC had a fascinating programme entitled The battle for Christianity in which Robert Beckford looked at the state of the Church in the UK. His conclusion was that immigration; radical social action, conservative morality and charismatic worship are changing the church. In the church in Scotland we can see these same trends. Immigration has brought great benefit to many of us…I think of my own church, St Peters in Dundee, where we have members who are Australian, Malaysian, French, German, Dutch, African, American, Brazilian, Italian, Chinese, Polish, Estonian, English, Irish and even some Scots! Last night I met a student from Thailand who had just become a Christian. Radical social action such as the work of the Trussell Trust, Christians Against Poverty and the Bethany Trust, are showing the church works in our communities. Traditional morality is something that unites Christians of different denominations as we take our stand against the confused and confusing new morality of the liberal elites who seek to reshape us in their own image. Last month I spoke at a Catholic church on the issue of abortion. A Free Church moderator speaking at a Catholic church even twenty years ago would have been considered unthinkable, but now we are being compelled to stand together. Of course there are professing Christians who just want to go along with the morality of the age, as there are those who neglect to serve the poor, but they forget the old adage that he who marries the spirit of this age, will be a widow in the next. And there have been many changes in worship styles, allowing a diversity of styles and worship traditions.
But we need more. It is exactly one hundred years since the Easter revolution in Ireland. Now Scotland needs its own version. Not an armed uprising or rebellion, but rather a recovery of the Christian Good news, the radical message that truly turns the world upside down. Matthew Parris, my favorite atheist writer, puts it superbly: “Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” We need that rebirth.
There is a spiritual vacuum in Scotland today. An Australian family who recently moved to Scotland told me how astounded they were at the effects of militant secularism in our land. That shook me a bit as Australia is hardly a bastion of Christianity! We have fallen a long way, very quickly. In Scotland we used to be known as the people of the Book, but as we have largely departed from our Christian roots, it has left a spiritual hole that will not be filled by materialism, secular humanism or any other ‘ism’. There is a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord. A famine for which the church is largely responsible. We have turned away from the Word of the Lord and served up our own spiritual equivalent of junk food. In starving ourselves we have also starved others. It is time for the church in Scotland to experience another reformation and renewal.
The centre of the Christian faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – that is why half of each gospel is taken up with these last few days of his life. This Easter Sunday we will celebrate the astonishing fact that Jesus is risen from the dead. The Anglican Michael Green summarises the importance of this: “The resurrection is the place to begin if you are looking for a satisfying faith on which to base your life. Do not waste a lot of time investigating every religion under the sun….examine the evidence for Jesus instead. If he is risen you need look no further”. Once you grasp the resurrection, you grasp the significance of the cross. As Paul told the Italians – he was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection. Once you grasp who Jesus is, then you can understand why he died (as the atoning sacrifice for our sins) and how his resurrection is the guarantee of ours. The message of Christianity is forgiveness, rebirth and eternal life. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies: and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) The Easter message for Scotland today is that Christ is dead for you, and Christ is risen for you. The forgiveness, renewal and love that come through the cross is also the message for Brussels today.
It is a great message to preach. We don’t need to add to it. And we don’t need to take away from it. I have been preaching this message and its implications for over 30 years and we are now beginning to see the fruit. We have seen the church grow from a handful to more than 250 and we have seen new churches planted in St Andrews and Montrose and are planning to start more in Dundee. We are not the only ones. There are other churches of different denominations like this in Scotland today. In reliance on the Holy Spirit they proclaim Jesus through his word; like their Father they serve the poor, care for the sick and welcome the stranger. They remain faithful to the Bible. And they are growing. I guess if God can raise Jesus from the dead, he can even revive and renew the church in Scotland!
I leave you with the words of a contemporary Easter hymn that will ring out across many churches in Scotland this Sunday. Happy Easter!
And we are raised with Him,
Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered;
And we shall reign with Him,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead! (Townend/Getty).
Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland
St Peters Free Church