For a printable PDF version of this article please click here.
This is a summary of a longer article called The Question Christians are not Asking which I wrote recently. See end of this article for details of how to access a copy of the full paper. Readers will appreciate that it is impossible to include all relevant detail in this abridged version.
I was motivated to write that article because Christians in Britain are becoming increasingly concerned by the way legislation has been changing. To many people, equality laws seem to be demanding that Christians either bend before them or accept being squeezed out of society. To underline this, David Cameron is driving his Same Sex Marriage [SSM] Bill through parliament. Many Christians cannot believe the changes which have taken place in this country in the last twenty years. Even before the SSM bill is passed, local authorities have already begun sacking staff who are unwilling to accept homosexual practice as the equal of heterosexual behaviour, and teachers could soon be disciplined if they do not teach the acceptability of homosexuality as a valid family relationship.
Below I ask whether there are Biblical reasons why Christians should have seen this coming, what these changes mean for the nation and the questions they raise for all sections of the Church. The answers all revolve around another question which in my experience Christians are not asking.
Most Christians know of Bible passages warning against immorality of all kinds, including homosexuality. For example, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18. If we read only small sections of the Bible it is possible to think that The LORD’s wrath fell on them because of the homosexuality of their residents. However, through the prophet Ezekiel, our God made clear why He had become angry with the inhabitants of these cities. “Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.” (Ezk. 16) It was their pride, full larders and gross idleness which resulted in them ignoring the needs of the poor. This collective hedonism then led them into widespread immorality, including aggressive homosexuality. This raises the question of whether their end was due solely to human depravity, or if a divine hand pushed them along the way.
It is important to answer this if we want to understand what is happening today. Are Christians in Britain able to face up to the reality of the last half-century or so? Through these decades there have been many expressions of Christian concern for the nation including both private prayer and exercising a public presence. When we have been so involved in efforts to turn our society ‘back to God’, it is hard to stop and ask a very difficult question. Why has The LORD not honoured our efforts? Even in the wake of the SSM Second Reading debate, I have not heard Christians asking this or anything similar.
In the New Testament there is a very clear description of what happens to societies which choose to turn their backs on the God who created them. Romans was written to Christians who were living in a culture steeped in paganism. At the start of his letter (1:16-32) Paul makes plain the inevitable end of the society in which they lived. To do this he needed no special revelation, he simply had to learn from past history and to have the confidence that nations do not rise and fall by their own hands. He expressed a similar conviction on Mars Hill as he drew the Athenians’ attention to the God they did not know (Acts 17:22-31). Both passages are about the Creator who remains in charge of national and international affairs even when men refuse to worship Him as such.
His knowledge of events in places like Sodom enabled Paul to assure his readers that their Saviour was not turning a blind eye to the corruption which surrounded them. His insight has been preserved so that subsequent generations of Christians could understand how The LORD’s wrath is experienced in a society which chooses to ignore Him. Appreciating this will enable us work with Him that His will may be done on earth. Because Rom. 1 closely resembles today’s newspapers, many Christians tend to wave it in society’s face as a warning that He will judge them if they do not repent. That was not Paul’s message. Whilst there will always be opportunities for individuals to repent, here he described what happens when The LORD has already had enough of a society and in His wrath screws it up and throws it in the bin!
This passages begins with Paul highlighting how God reveals His righteousness through the Gospel, but he immediately turns his attention to how The LORD reveals His anger “from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”. Paul warns of the type of judgement which He sends upon a society when it has become arrogant towards Him. He was not being prophetic; he was simply reminding his readers of what The LORD had done in the past and will repeat whenever a society shuns Him.
I expand his argument further in the full article, but simply note here the route it describes. Paul has no doubt that everyone is without excuse because, “What may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.” What He made has always revealed His power and nature to mankind. In spite of this testimony some refuse to glorify Him as God, and thus begin a process of leaving wisdom behind until “they become fools”. At that time it was pagan religions which led them into immorality. Since the so-called Enlightenment, which returned to favouring pagan Graeco-Roman philosophies, human arrogance has again begun to imagine that mankind can escape from the rule of God. Paul shows that once this process has begun and if the majority do not repent, that The LORD gives men and women what they collectively want. This leads to rampant immorality spreading throughout any society that finds itself judged in this way. Twice Paul states that God “gave them up” to immorality, specifically mentioning homosexual and lesbian behaviour.
We must not lose sight though of the fact that Paul is here describing the end of judgement, not the start of it.In Britain we have spent at least 200 years “exchanging the truth of God for the lie” (v25). For several decades this nation, along with the rest of what was once called Christendom, has been reaping the fruits of The LORD pouring His wrath on us. Another aspect of increasing judgement is when He gives a society over to “a debased mind”. Paul states that The LORD’s anger reaches its climax when “knowing the righteous judgement of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practise them.” There can be little doubt that this is the place where British society now finds itself. Civil partnerships and now same sex pseudo-marriage are both ways of calling good that which He declares sin.
It is important to recognise that Britain is not alone in seeking to cast off The LORD’s restraints from its laws (Psalm 2). Since 2001 eleven countries have legalised SSM, most of these found in once ‘Christian’ Europe. Besides Cameron and Salmond, Presidents Hollande and Obama have now joined the international race to embrace sin. Others will no doubt join them as soon as they dare. What we are living through today is the wrath of God being seen in action throughout Western nations. All this should be very obvious to British Christians given the events of the last 60 years, but we seemingly choose to ignore the testimony of Romans 1. There is no Biblical evidence that Britain is any more special to The LORD than other Gentile nations. If God poured out His anger on Sodom for its pride, plenty and passivity (especially towards the poor), why should this nation or any other be exempt when we have followed a similar course for many decades?
It is hard to identify exactly when The LORD began to pour out His wrath on Britain and other Western nations. 1951 saw the repeal of the 1653 Witchcraft Law and since then the nation’s leaders have steadily passed further measures approving behaviour which God has decreed are “deserving of death”. Whilst this agenda was being pursued by our government however, the majority of Christians have carried on wilfully ignorant both of why these changes in society were happening and where they were leading. It is only in the past few years that most Christian heads have begun to pop out of the sand due to the growing fear that Christianity is becoming extremely costly in our post-Christian society.. We must not now allow ourselves to think that the 1950’s and 60’s are what brought this divine judgement down upon us. From His perspective those two decades are best described as the first throes of wrath. During them society was reaping what had been sown in earlier decades as both world and church had embraced unbelief in many ways.
The widespread acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution is seen by many as significant in all this, because it relates so directly to Paul’s description of a refusal to acknowledge Him as Creator. Whilst Darwin’s work has played a significant role, it should be remembered that his doctrine with actually had its roots in Greek philosophy, which was then resurrected in the Enlightenment. Many authors, including his grandfather Erasmus, were promoting what we now know as ‘evolution’ decades before “On the Origin of Species” was published and the thinking of these and other sons of the Enlightenment has now become the guiding principle of most of today’s establishment.
For some reason the message of Romans 1 is not taken seriously by most Christians. In part this is due to our doctrines of end time events which distract us in various ways from thinking carefully about what The LORD is doing today in the light of what He has done in the past. We must guard against the very human desire that “Tomorrow will be as today, And much more abundant” (Isa. 56:12), especially when Biblical signs warn that tomorrow will be very much harder than today! Since the 1970’s there has been an increasing number of ‘prophecies of revival’ circulating amongst Christians. None of these has been fulfilled. Instead, the moral condition of Britain and other Western nations has spiralled down and down
In response to this some are now predicting that ‘revival will follow judgement’ but this too is a false hope. Making light of The LORD’s anger with Britain is not limited to the revivalist margins of the Church; even the most reformed can think that we will be able to rebuild something worthwhile from the rubble of judgement. Even amongst those Christians who accept the fact that God has been angry with Western nations for many decades, there is a reluctance to face up to the consequences of our nation being under the judgement of a righteous Creator. We keep praying and hoping that He will ‘turn the tide’ and that by some miracle the government will become godly again. I know that suggesting we should consider stopping praying for the nation will be shocking for some, but we need to remember that The LORD warned Israel that a time could come when He would not hear their prayers because of their iniquities (Deut. 31:16-18). Isaiah told them that such a time had come (59:2), and Jeremiah was told three times “Do not pray for this people”! Whilst promises like 2 Chron. 7:14 should not be claimed by the Church, they have become popular model prayers in seeking the reformation of Western societies. Yet despite their popularity, the principles even in these are not taken to heart by Christians today. The campaigns organised by Christians against SSM have called for the government to change its plans, but not for Christians to “turn from their wicked ways” of unbelief.
This failure to connect what is happening in the corridors of political power with what has been happening and still is happening in the Church at large is most significant. If the nation is now under God’s judgement because it has refused to glorify The LORD as God, and has worshipped the creature (in this case ourselves) instead of acknowledging Him as Creator, why did it not heed the cry of the watchmen when this danger first appeared? The answer is simple; the majority of the Church were not on the walls listening to The LORD (Eze. 3:16-21) nor watching out for approaching dangers (Eze. 33:1-9). Instead, most were making friends with the world and enjoying its prosperity. Rather than being students of the Scriptures and attentive listeners to the Holy Spirit, church leaders became preoccupied with the power and prestige which comes from friendship with the world.
Some thirty years before Darwin published his book Charles Lyell, a close associate of his, wrote to a fellow sceptic expressing confidence that some (Anglican) bishops were ready to abandon Genesis as a reliable record. Since then unbelief amongst Christian leaders of all persuasions has spread so that now the majority of those who identify themselves as evangelicals, normally defined as “Bible-believing”, no longer believe The LORD to be the Creator He describes Himself to be. Having walked in the steps of others’ unbelief, many Christians now find themselves caught between the plain reading of Scripture and trying to please the world whilst not denying Christ – an impossible position to maintain. The roots of the argument about women bishops which is churning up the Church of England are also those of the SSM debate, which will split it irrecoverably in the not-too-distant future. Evangelical and Charismatic churches also find such unbelief prominent amongst their leadership. For example Steve Chalke told the Guardian in 2004, “My personal belief is that... those who wish to read into Genesis chapter one that God made the world in six days... are not being honest and scholarly.” He then added, “I think it’s rubbish. It’s a bizarre thing to claim the Bible suggests that.” (It was not long after that he caused a stir with his views on the atonement.) In January this year in an article published in Christianity Today, he argued in support of monogamous same sex relationships. In it he asked why, if we can adjust the Bible’s teaching on women in leadership on the grounds of culture, can’t we do the same with homosexuality? What Chalke did not point out is that the New Testament’s teaching on women in leadership is based on events in the first three chapters of Genesis. It was the increasingly widespread unbelief amongst evangelicals about the work of Christ described in those chapters which had already opened the door to ignoring New Testament teaching on leadership, and is now seeing Chalke and others wanting to approve that which their Creator says is sin.
The last three chapters of Judges are not Sunday School material. They describe how ungodly Israel had become and how one tribe in particular had descended into collective immorality. If Sodom tells us of the horror of God’s wrath on an arrogant society, the fate of Benjamin in Judges warns those who are called by His name of the awfulness of His judgement upon them when they too “exchange the truth of God for the lie”! JB Philips translated Rom. 12:2 very meaningfully: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within.”Western Christians have largely failed to connect this with Paul’s earlier promise that God will not ignore human arrogance, but will pour out His wrath on those who choose not to honour Him as the Creator God. Those who wish to be friends with the world through compromise will find, as others have already done, that unbelief will make more and more demands of them to deny the clear teaching of Christ. In such times the question the Holy Spirit asks us is this: do we value friendship with Christ more than friendship with the world?
In closing I want to make it very clear that I have not written this comment because I believe Christians can turn the tide in British society at this time. I believe the events of the last half decade or so are the outworking of divine judgement in this nation, but I do not see any evidence in the world or the Church of a widespread will to repent. The start of Hosea 4 describes the sad condition of Israel at the time. The prophet was told, “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land,” a description which is increasingly appropriate to Britain today. It is worth reading on to note the parallels with what is in our newspapers today.
Despite the seriousness of the hour many hold on to a false hope of revival, which then influences their prayers and lifestyle. There are very few voices warning that a night is approaching in the West when no one will be free to work for Christ in the way we have been able to in the past. Jesus expected His disciples to be persecuted for trusting Him and warned them (and us) about the dangers of denying Him before men (Mt. 10:33). Rather than crossing our fingers and hoping for revival, we should be seeking The LORD for the strength, wisdom and understanding that we might remain faithful to Him as this nation reaps what it has sown. Loving darkness rather than light, previous generations turned their backs on their Creator. Now that same Creator, who still desires to have mercy on those who seek Him, will give men and women all the darkness they desire as they continue in their arrogance towards Him.
The signs in nation and Church are that The LORD’s judgement is heavy upon both. We too can ignore the wrath of our Creator and hope for better times to come, or we can humble ourselves before Him and ask Him to keep us safe through the evil which lies ahead.
© Randall Hardy – April 2013
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