(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
Judgment in England?
19th January 2013
Most weeks, I try to publish something encouraging but, once in a while, I think I need to address more challenging issues.
Is the English church under the judgment of God? As I see an increase in the public mockery, and a decrease in respect and affection, for the church in England, I've been praying about this question. Recently I started to re-read the book of Ezekiel. If you want a bigger vision of the majesty and judgment of God, Ezekiel is a good place to go. Perhaps a key to understanding the present situation of the English church is:
Doesn't that describe us? Haven't we conformed to the standards of the nations around [us]? And aren't we doing so more and more? Perhaps the besetting sin of the English church is a desire to be popular, to be liked, to be uncontroversial. Perhaps it's part of the English character; we like to fit in, and we don't like being confrontational. Or perhaps it's a confusion of biblical morality with liberalism. We like to think we're nice and we'd like others to think we're nice, too. But being this kind of nice comes with two problems:
Firstly, it makes us back away from any argument. Those who shout the loudest tend to win the argument. Those who call us "bigots" because we disagree with them, and who find other ways to disparage us, tend to get their way. If we won't stand up for God's commands, who will?
Secondly, we're supposed to get our beliefs from the Bible, not from yesterday's edition of The Guardian.
God calls the church to be different from those around us, but I haven't heard many sermons lately on:
2 Corinthians 5:15-17
For us to compromise God's word in order to be popular, or to avoid confrontation, to do a deal with the world, is something that God absolutely hates! And He will judge us for it. And I believe He's already started. That's why we have less and less influence in our society. But we may still have time to repent before the English church is destroyed.
Strangely, many non-Christians in our society criticise us both for being like those around us and for not being like them. We're criticised for preaching sexual morality, and we're criticised when we commit sexual sin. We're criticised for trying to tell people what we believe, and we're criticised for not speaking up. We're criticised for being hypocrites, but that criticism is itself hypocritical. We're held to a different standard to everybody else *.
Many in the world have a sense (that they might not admit to) that the church should reflect God's character, and they want the church to be different from the world, even though they complain when we are. We shouldn't be surprised that non-Christians are confused:
2 Corinthians 4:4
But Jesus calls us to be
We're supposed to be clearly different. But if we stand up for what God demands, will we be persecuted? Yes we will.
2 Timothy 3:12
but we will be approved by God, and our nation will turn back to Him, when His church lives according to His word.
Where do you stand?
And what does God think about it? let's hear Ezekiel again:
Passages like this should, quite literally, put the fear of God into us. But they don't, do they? Why should passages like this be the only parts of the Old Testament that don't apply to us? Or perhaps the English church in our generation is acting as God's people usually do, assuming that God will never judge us, simply because we are God's people. Scripture and history both tell us different.
Do we grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in the church?
May the church in England turn from our sins. And may God have mercy upon us.
Or am I wrong?
* For example, the Catholic denomination has been hugely - and rightly - criticised for the child abuse
committed by some who work in their organisations. The UK government has also employed many sexual predators,
some of whom work in government-run "care" homes, but the government largely escapes criticism. The BBC has
recently been criticised for child abuse by Jimmy Savile and others, but the criticism has largely been aimed
at the individuals more than the organisation.