Churchgoing on Its Knees in Britain

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Projections of historical and current trends tell us that by 2035 more Muslims will attend mosques than Christians will go to churches in Britain. And by 2050 there is even a possibility that the Hindu faithful will outstrip the Christians in religious attendance. British Christianity is well on its way to becoming a minority religion.

Several years ago it made the news when it was reported that more people attended mosques weekly than attended the Church of England, showing that Muslims had already overtaken Anglicans in attendance. Soon, it appears, they will overtake all churchgoers.

While this shows the growth of Islam in Britain, it also shows that plainly the present generation of churchgoers is dying out. Times columnist Ruth Gledhill lamented, “The decline forecast for the Church of England is so severe that its position as the established church of the nation with the Queen as Supreme Governor can no longer be tenable” (May 8, 2008). Only 5 percent of the 20 million registered, baptized Anglicans actually attend church services.

According to a front-page article in the Daily Mail, the Anglican bishop of Rochester (Michael Nazir-Alli) recently warned, “The collapse of Christianity has wrecked British society… It has destroyed family life and left the country defenceless against the rise of radical Islam in a spiritual and moral vacuum” (May 29, 2008, emphasis added throughout).

These baleful predictions and observations have also been published by Christian Research as Religious Trends, a comprehensive statistical analysis of religious practices in Britain.

Church buildings also in dire straits

This sharp decline in Anglican Church attendance is naturally matched by both a fall in numbers of church buildings and by the structural decay of existing buildings. Projections tell us that in the space of a generation one in five such edifices will close. Every week two Anglican churches close their doors. The repair bill to staunch the decline and restore church buildings to health is thought to be astronomical.

Observers fear that church parishes will be devastated and deprived. The desecrating social effects are being projected as incalculable. So a Save our Churches Campaign designed to “resurrect our suffering churches” has been mounted.

A Sunday Telegraph lead editorial expressed the national legacy well. “The churches of Britain are one of its chief glories. They have been since the first great phase of medieval church-building began almost a thousand years ago. But we take our churches—and there are nearly 50,000 of them in Britain as a whole—for granted assuming they will always be there. Unfortunately, they will not. Our churches are fragile. They will disappear unless we take action to preserve them” (May 11, 2008).

Our increasingly fragile society

Far more disturbing than the fragility of Britain’s church buildings is how fragile its society is becoming. It is being built on the shifting sands of secularism rather than the solid foundation of God’s Word.

The biblical proverb tells us, “The curse causeless shall not come” (Proverbs 26:2 Proverbs 26:2As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come.
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, King James Version). What are some of the symptoms and root causes of the present plight of church buildings and churchgoing?

Writing more in terms of the Judeo-Christian ethic, London’s chief rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks stated: “We have become less religious, and religion was the classic source of our belief in a revealed morality, commandments engraved on tablets of stone [the Ten Commandments]. We have become more culturally diverse, and we now know that what seems wrong to one group may be permissible in a second, and even admirable in a third” (Faith in the Future, 1995, p. 17).

Another author wrote bluntly: “Children growing up today know nothing of the central tenets of Christianity: the Ten Commandments, the four gospels, the Sermon on the Mount… We are living in a religiously illiterate society …so ill informed about the religion which built our civilization” (Leo McKinstry, Turning the Tide, 1997, p. 6).

Said a recent article in the Daily Telegraph: “The [Anglican] Bishop of Rochester…claims that the social and sexual revolution, that began in the 1960s led to a catastrophic decline in the influence of Christianity over society, which church leaders failed to halt” (May 29, 2008). According to a similar article on the same day in the Daily Mail, “Church leaders have capitulated to Marxist revolutionary thinking.”

So some religious and secular leaders have not helped the cause of Christianity. Consider this unbiblical comment from an Oxford professor: “Some people think that the Ten Commandments are a set of universal moral rules, which everybody should obey. But they are not. They are addressed to the Jews… Again these are not universal moral rules for the whole world” (Keith Ward, God: a Guide to the Perplexed, 2002, p. 73).

Yet the New Testament reaffirms every one of the Ten Commandments—several of them many times. (Please request or download our free booklet The Ten Commandments.)

Where do situation ethics inevitably lead us?

Abandoning the Ten Commandments has inevitable consequences. What are some of them?

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation Fund states, “Society has lost its ‘moral compass’ with government, big business and religion sharing the responsibility” (Scotland on Sunday, April 20, 2008). This foundation has correctly identified some of the symptoms, causes and effects of today’s immorality. Some of them are “the decline of community…consumerism and greed, a decline of values, the decline of the family, young people, as both victims and perpetrators, drugs and alcohol…crime and violence” (ibid.).

But the effects don’t stop there. Now we are beginning to see newspaper headlines actually saying such things as, “Religion is the new social evil” and “Might our religion be killing us?” Current verbal attacks are principally leveled at Christianity and the Judeo-Christian ethic in particular, meaning the Ten Commandments.

Mostly in response to the recently published findings about decreasing church attendance, Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society in Britain, has stated, “Britain has had it with religion” (The Sunday Times, April 20, 2008).

One journalist countered by stating in her headline that “Britain Is Still a Christian Country.” But media debates about the plight of mainstream churches will not solve the attendance problem one way or the other.

Threats to basic British identity

Ruth Gledhill wrote in a recent commentary: “The crisis facing Britain’s churches is linked directly to the crisis of British identity now being addressed by the government” (The Times, May 8, 2008). She writes of “a God-shaped hole at the heart of our society.” Clearly this constitutes a threat to Britons’ basic British identity as a Christian nation.

The Anglican bishop of Rochester also declared, “The decline of Christian values is destroying Britishness and has created a moral vacuum that is being filled by radical Islam” (The Daily Telegraph, May 29, 2008).

Yet there remains a residual Christian identity still present in the country. It is stronger in some parts of the British Isles than in others. The 2001 census showed that “seven in ten people [in England] considered themselves Christian” (ibid.).

In the midst of the overall decline in churchgoing, some encouraging trends exist, especially among young people. Ms. Gledhill writes: “As the [Religious Trends] report notes, the decline in attendance coincides with a surge of interest in religion reflected in the growing number of children opting for religious studies at GCSE and A level [somewhat equivalent of American high schools]. There are also increasing numbers of students at theological and Bible colleges” (ibid.).

But in their quest for truth, they should first understand the basic nature of the biblical Church of God itself.

What is the Church?

The Church is not a building. The glossary of the Translator’s New Testament clearly tells us: “Church in [the New Testament] never means a building. It always represents either a group of committed Christians in any given locality [who] meet to practice their religion, or the totality of these groups scattered throughout the world” (pp. 557-558).

The apostle Paul defines the Church as “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12 1 Corinthians 12:12For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
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). It is a spiritual organism, not a physical edifice or even a corporate organization, but surely those few Church organizations who “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17 Revelation 12:17And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
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) have most of the true membership within them.

So members of the Church go to the building where they meet. Or a small congregation may gather together in a member’s house (see Romans 16:5 Romans 16:5Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the first fruits of Achaia to Christ.
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; 1 Corinthians 16:19 1 Corinthians 16:19The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
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).

A true and false Christianity

Frankly, in the last three paragraphs we have been speaking of the true Body of Christ, which has always been relatively small in terms of sheer numbers. Jesus spoke of the “little flock” to whom the Father was pleased to give the Kingdom (Luke 12:32 Luke 12:32Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
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).

The idea of a religion calling itself “Christian” yet holding teachings and traditions different from what Christ taught may strike some as shocking. Yet Jesus Christ Himself told His disciples to “take heed that no man deceive you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5 Matthew 24:4-5 [4] And Jesus answered and said to them, Take heed that no man deceive you. [5] For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
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). Religious imposters are everywhere today—not only in other religions, but also within Christendom itself.

How can you tell the difference between the true Body of Christ and the false imitation? For some fundamental guidelines based on the Bible itself, request or download our free booklet The Church Jesus Built. This eye-opening publication shows the true nature of a spiritually transformed people, the genuine mission and responsibility of the Church, how a counterfeit Christianity came to hijack it and where the true Church of God can be found today.

You cannot afford to be without this crucial free booklet. Request or download The Church Jesus Built today. WNP


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