Thursday, October 6, 2016
Where 2, 3, or 16 are gathered. . .
So begins an article in The Economist on the demise of Christianity in Britain. As if this were merely anecdotal, the story is fraught with disappointing statistics. In 2009, showed Britons without religion slightly outnumbered those saying they’re Christians (now increased to 49 percent vs. 43 percent). And since 2004 baptisms are down 12%, church marriages down 19%, and funerals down 29%. Nowadays a quarter of Sunday services are attended by 16 or fewer worshipers.
In 1979, 5.4 million Britons attended church. That dropped by a million in 10 years and then to 3.7 million in 1998. Fast forward and in 2020 it is anticipated that fewer than 2.3 million will be in church on any given Sunday. Now it is certainly true that in a few places the church in Britain is thriving but in most parts of the country it is dying. Gallup found in polling that The UK was pretty much at the bottom of the religious fervor of some 65 nations surveyed. Though woven into the fabric of life in Elizabeth's realm, Christianity is becoming merely a memory, an aspect of heritage that seems to have little impact or influence on the character of British life on the whole.
So what does this matter? First of all, Europe has been a fairly reliable barometer of the direction of things in the US. That is not to say that everything that happens in Europe happens here but, without taking pains to avoid it, it is a trend that we will encounter in America sooner rather than later. In addition, the relative poor health of Christian faith and life in the so-called developed world only further distances us from the mission fields that we once planted -- areas where Christianity is not only living but growing. Finally, it is testament to the legacy of civil religion in which doctrine takes second place and a spiritualized version of moral progress takes over the preaching. We would do well to take note of that last point. Christianity in America cannot survive as a civil religion rich in spirituality but devoid of actual doctrines nor can it survive as a voice for the moral improvement of man and society apart from the center of the creed -- the God who has revealed Himself in flesh in His Son and paid the cost of our redemption so that we may be forgiven and restored to Him who created us.
The example of the British is also poignant in the fact that just as ceremony cannot be separated from actual doctrine, neither can doctrine live apart from the worship life wherein that doctrine is confronted, confessed, and carried forth in daily life. We have witnessed first hand evangelicals who have abandoned all catholic ceremony and ritual and with it the very tenets of the orthodox Christian faith and in Britain we have witnessed the ceremony and ritual carefully preserved and eloquently executed but completely empty of its meaning. Neither can be a refuge for faithfulness and both are key, along with orthodox catechesis, or the faith in lands once well known as Christian will be a memory in a few generations.