Christianity Decline In The UK (4)
The church glibly declares that the gospel changes lives, but it seems that there is no power to effect that change. Little wonder that Lloyd-Jones spoke of “our ignorance of the power of God, especially in our own lives”. The power lies not in the belief, nor the doctrine, nor the theology; not even in the gospel itself. For, as Willard points out, it is not the gospel that saves a person, but Jesus; it is not believing in Jesus that proves someone to be a Christian, but a living relationship with Jesus. This is the otherness of Christianity.
The believer’s union with Christ was a theme on which Spurgeon reflected, preached and at times rhapsodized, and I have absolutely no doubt that Spurgeon did so because the union was real. But today we do not preach, teach, live or show union with Christ; we preach for a decision, we teach for conformity, we live for meetings and we show mere religion. The power and the reality – the otherness – are gone, and with them went our credibility.
No wonder Wright declared that “we are more likely to gain a proper hearing for our faith (in the Western world at least) if we adopt a position of modest advocacy rather than of strident dogmatism.” If we will honestly examine the past, then “the Christian church must learn to return to where she once started from, in order that she may go forward into the future.” Will we dare to accept the challenge?
The uniting of state and church had effected a change in the way that Christianity is viewed by the world at large, and Christianity is increasingly described as irrelevant, archaic and out-of-date. As Bruce put it: “The greatest damage done by science and technology to religious world-views is not in displacing religiously sanctioned ideas about the world (though they have done that) but in subtly altering the way we think about the world so as to make religious beliefs and rituals ever more irrelevant.” The tragedy is that “secular values have imperceptibly eroded and replaced Christian values and some people have not even noticed the difference.”
If Christianity is to reverse the decline that is endemic in the United Kingdom, then the otherness that marked the New Testament church needs to be recovered. “If the Church is to move forward with joy and power in this age she will need to be filled with fresh infusions of God’s Spirit, proclaiming and receiving the Real Presence of God in the individual and corporate lives of her members.” Surely it is that Real Presence which marks out God’s people in this world; not theological conformity, doctrinal ‘purity’ or ecclesiastical agreement.
As Tozer lamented: “How empty and meaningless is the average church service today. All the means are in evidence; the one ominous weakness is the absence of the Spirit’s power.” Many things have been tried, and all have failed, as Tozer knew. “More education, better organization, finer equipment, more advanced methods – all are unavailing. I think there can be no doubt that the need above all needs in the Church of God at this moment is the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Likewise, Lloyd-Jones “felt very strongly that a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit was the only answer to the moribund state of the church in his day.” Cymbala, too, recognised how the church could again be filled with life: “The answer is not in any human methodology. The answer is in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Lloyd-Jones expresses his frustration over Christianity’s decline and, at the same time, pointed to the answer: “We are so decorous, we are so controlled, we do everything with such decency and order that there is no life, there is no warmth, there is no power! But that is not New Testament Christianity. Does your faith melt and move your heart? Does it get rid of the ice that is in you, the coldness in your heart, and the stiffness? The essence of New Testament Christianity is this warmth that is invariably the result of the presence of the Spirit.”