A New Years Message for the Church and Society…
New Year is as good a time as any to think about new beginnings. As we reflect on the past year and look forward to 2019, whether at an individual, community or government level, many of us would love to start anew again. Renewal is a great idea. And so is re-formation. I would love to see the following in this New Year.
A re-formation of politics –
To say that 2018 has been a turbulent year in politics is to make somewhat of an understatement. The Brexit bourach is an indication not so much of the divide between political parties, but rather the divide between politicians and a significant number of the population. The majority of people in the UK voted to leave the EU; 75% of MPs want to remain in the EU. Whatever one thinks of Brexit, this is just an illustration of how our representative democracy has become both less representative and less democratic. In the 2017 election Labour became the party of the middle-class Remainers, the Tories the party of the blue-collar Leavers.
In Scotland we have the problem of an SNP government that is becoming increasingly ‘socially progressive’. In this regard both the UK and Scottish governments are deeply out of touch with their electorates (but not their elites) on the question of the Gender Recognition Acts proposed in both parliaments. When governments adopt Queer theory and seek to enforce a doctrine through the legal and educational systems that is against both rationality and biology, we know we are in trouble. The idea that children can choose their own gender or adults can just self-declare they are a different gender is a recipe for disaster. When I met with a Scottish government minister to discuss this they admitted that the majority of parents would agree with me, but implied that that was because they were ignorant! This is the gulf that exists between our politicians and the people they are governing.
But it’s not just politics that needs reformation. The economy is in a perilous state. Household debt on average makes up 175% of our personal income and it is expected to continue to rise in 2019. Total household debt has now soared to £1.6 trillion. And that is not evenly distributed. In cash terms the top 10% now own £5.5 trillion of UK total household wealth. They have 43.8% of the wealth. The bottom 50% have 8.7%. In our current economic system it is guaranteed that the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer – to paraphrase Churchill, never has so much been owed by so many to so few. Without a reformation of our economy, the Humpty Dumpty of free market, globalised, corporate capitalism will be heading for another great fall. And all the Queen’s horses and all the Queen’s men won’t be able to put it together again.
A re-formation of the education system
– Scotland’s education system, once the envy of the world, is still in many places good. I pay tribute to the teachers, lecturers and administrators who in general do a great job. But there is no doubt that the system is in decline. A monolithic, one-size-fits-all, state education system is failing. Especially the poor. The rich are able to send their children to private schools, whilst often publicly endorsing a public system that they don’t use. The State schools are far too often being used for social engineering rather than education.
As a more militant secularism seeks to remove all traces of Christianity from Scotland’s Christian State education system, it is clear that there needs to be a rethink and radical reevaluation of the whole school system in Scotland. I agree entirely with the Catholic Church’s Peter Kearney, who called for a more diverse system and an increase in the number of faith schools. I don’t have a problem with the secularists having an atheistic secular education system for their children. It’s when they insist on that being for everyone else’s children as well that it becomes a problem. It’s time for diversity and equality in the education system. It’s time for more Christian schools.
A re-formation of the family
– For a couple of centuries it has been the dream of ‘liberal’ atheists to seek to reshape humanity in their own image – and particularly the family. But they have found this remarkably difficult. However, with the development of Queer theory, easy divorce, sex without consequences and an increase in materialism, the family is now under attack more than ever. Indeed, humanity is under attack. We have moved from sexuality being perceived as ‘fixed’ (God made me this way) to sexuality being seen as fluid. In the past year we have seen a rapid move to the notion that gender is also fluid. We can be whoever we want to be. In a free market society, human autonomy is the absolute on which all other values must be based. The impact of this on Scotland’s families and communities is devastating. Broken families ultimately mean a broken society. It’s time for healing for Scotland’s families and children.
A re-formation of Islam
– One of the most significant differences between Christianity and Islam is that Islam has never had a reformation. Maybe now is the time? There are many serious questions that Muslims need to ask about the nature of their ‘scriptures’, their view of God, and most significantly for Western society, their view of the relationship between religion and the state. Islam is a monolithic system that does not clearly differentiate between politics and religion. To those brought up in a Western political tradition where the state and the church are not synonymous, that is a difficult position to understand. But it is why, wherever there is a Muslim country, you will find that religious (and political) liberties are curtailed. Until Islam reforms so that it permits people to freely change their religion, and those within areas it controls to freely live different lives, then we will find that the recent tensions and divisions within European society will only be exacerbated.
A re- formation of the church
- And finally, in Scotland, we do need another re-formation of the Church. The old has gone – or is going – and it’s time for the new to come. This is especially true in the Reformed churches, of which the Church of Scotland is by far the largest. The Church of Scotland has been, and in many areas continues to be, a blessing to the people of Scotland, but it is not shipshape enough to cope with the current stormy waters that the Christian church finds itself sailing in. It is an outdated institution, seeking to hold onto an establishment Christendom, by going along with what the current secular establishments want. Although they are doing this in order to stay afloat, the fact is that taking in the world (in terms of its views, values and methods) is only causing the ship to sink faster. Without a thoroughgoing reformation and a return to the faith of their forefathers, the Church of Scotland will not survive as a vibrant biblical church.
What about other churches? I don’t have time to comment on them all, and it is probably not my place to do so, but suffice it to say that there are some signs of green shoots and new alliances being formed. Some Gospel churches of whatever denomination are beginning to grasp the importance of not competing, but instead working together for the renewal of the Church in Scotland.
During the first decade of the 21st century the Free Church stepped back from the precipice and even began to grow and develop. However, for a number of reasons, I suspect that there has been a stalling and stumbling over the past few years. We need to wake up and repent as much as, if not more than, any other denomination. We need a renewed vision, new churches, new ministers and most importantly of all, new Christians – as the Good News is proclaimed and people respond, like thirsty people being given the purest water. And ultimately that is what Scotland needs more than ever. In a land where there has been a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord, we need more faithful preachers, more gospel churches and more reborn Christians, of whatever denomination. May the Lord grant reformation, renewal and revival in this coming year. I wish you all a happy, blessed and prosperous New Year.
Here is the intro and contents page:
Welcome to the January Record
Many older readers will remember a time when Christmas was hardly celebrated in Scotland. New Year was the main festival in Scotland. We had January the 1st and 2nd off – and Hogmanay was a bigger night than Christmas Eve. I remember going to the watchnight service at midnight in the Brethren in Dingwall, then having a wee open-air at the Dingwall town hall, before making our way home, ‘first footing’ all the way to Tain – where we usually ended up at a home for breakfast, then climbed a hill, then went to the Free Church for their noon service. Now it seems that watchnight services are for many a thing of the past. I hope that the New Year’s Day service continues. Here in St Peter’s, Dundee, we have both a watchnight and a New Year’s Day service – we are very traditional!
One of the reasons for so doing is that it is great to begin the year with worship. The hearing of God’s Word, the singing of his praise, the fellowship of his people and the cry of our prayers are vital. We begin the year as we mean to go on. We need to. No one knows what the new year will bring. Our country is in a state of mass confusion and delusion, the church is weak and the greatest danger is largely unnoticed and cared about. I speak of course of the danger of climate change – spiritual climate change. We’ve gone almost imperceptibly from summer (warmth) to indifference (autumn) to hostility (winter). We need to pray that there would a thaw and that we would be entering a new springtime for the Gospel in Scotland and beyond.
This month’s Record is full of material to help thaw the spiritual frost, warm your heart and stimulate your mind. Whether it’s a creative writer from Armenia, a doctor from Harris or a blogger from the US – we are more than happy to enlist our brothers and sisters throughout the world to aid and guide us. As usual, please let us have your feedback….
The January edition of The Record, the official magazine of The Free Church of Scotland, is now available online via the Free Church website
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The Church in Scotland – The Record Editorial for January (2018)