A recent study has shown that the United Kingdom is one of the least religious countries in the world. A mere 30% of the population consider themselves religious – to set that in context, the figure for Armenia is 94%. This figure includes, of course, all religions, and not only Christianity, which would indicate that the profession is at a very low ebb in this country.
These statistics, like all statistics of this kind, have provoked some reaction from experts, pundits, and religious leaders. There’s satisfaction expressed in some atheistic and humanistic quarters that the scourge of religion is on the decline. Among professing Christians, the reaction has been mixed: some have been gloomy, some have been fearful, and some have been optimistic. This last school of opinion suggests that these things are cyclical, and that a great revival is just around the corner.
Throughout this corner of Christendom, however, I believe there’s a consensus among those who have any sort of firm conviction. That consensus is that things have become more difficult, and are likely to be increasingly difficult, for Christians in the UK. Undoubtedly, it’s become increasingly taboo for a believer to speak about their faith publicly – in the workplace, for example. Politicians come under particularly intense scrutiny – witness the demise of evangelical Christian and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron. British Prime Minister Teresa May is a regular church-goer, and yet she won’t be drawn into speaking about her faith in publicly. Not so long ago, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had no such qualms and faced no such pressure to keep her light under a bushel. In today’s world, even for the private individual there’s a sense that speaking about one’s faith makes others uncomfortable, and amounts to a vaguely antisocial act.
That is the subtly introduced constrictive atmosphere which has arisen in this country – one that tries to stifle the public expression of Christian faith. Apart from that, there are times when militant secularism has come into direct conflict with faith. We would be reminded of the attempts to force bakers and hoteliers to compromise their principles to appease the homosexual lobby. Force isn’t required in the case of other religious professors – I recently heard “the secularisation of religious institutions” referred to. That is, the principles of the world coming in, displacing divine principles, and governing companies of professing Christians to their incalculable harm. Even the most empty and unspiritual professors of Christendom seem to be concerned that the institutions of Christendom are losing what makes them distinctive: churches are more and more resembling secular charitable organisations or political think-tanks. There is a fear that they’ll lose what makes them distinctive as religious organisations, alienate members, lose revenues, and fade out of existence.
Yes, a bleak picture. The believer can’t fail to be moved by the sad situation of the people of the United Kingdom – the decline even of the profession of Christianity in a country which was once called Christian. We would pray that the gospel would be fruitful, that there would be a revival and many turning to Christ as Saviour. This is not something we can take lightly – that isn’t what I mean why I say that this decline doesn’t worry me. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t worry me in relation to my own personal circumstances as a believer in Christ. On the contrary, I see in it a field of opportunity.
Not so long ago, it would’ve been relatively easy to be a Christian in the UK. The majority of the population would’ve professed Christianity, and even been church-goers. To confess the name of the Lord Jesus publicly wouldn’t have been seen as an odd thing to do, as it is now. There’s a distinct stigma attached to that confession now. As the Lord warned His disciples, “Ye will be hated of all for my name’s sake.” (Luke 21 v 17). In many parts of the world at the moment the fires of persecution are burning against the people of God, and all those who are identified with that Name are openly and violently hated of all. The enemy is taking a different approach in this country – the hatred isn’t expressed in outbreaks of physical violence, but rather in the form of a more subtle, pervasive discomfort with the expression of faith, and attempts to stifle it. In this atmosphere, any fearless confession of the name of Jesus becomes all the more distinctive.
To be a believer in the UK today is becoming, more than ever, an exercise in swimming against the tide. The gulf between what are rapidly becoming societal norms and values and what we know to be true and of true value is ever-expanding. More and more, the truth is becoming unacceptable – unsavoury, even – to society at large. Any believer who upholds scriptural truth and won’t compromise divine principles will increasingly find that society has no place for them – no room at the inn. Perhaps it’s been comfortable for believers to sit on the fence to some extent – not anymore. We would be reminded of the divisions of Reuben, in which there were “great resolves of heart” (Judges 5 v 15). Perhaps we’ve gone on in indecision for some time, treading a careful line between fitting into the world and being identified with the name of Jesus. Joshua’s challenge is ringing in our ears: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve…” (Joshua 24 v 15).
For me, this challenge is exceedingly testing, yet I welcome it. The fact that my faith is increasingly unacceptable in society doesn’t worry me – I see, over all, the hand of the Almighty, Who is ever in control, and can use adverse circumstances to further His own blessed purposes. The heat is of the furnace is increasing, but the fire is used by the Refiner: “Take away the dross from the silver, and there cometh forth a vessel for the refiner…” (Proverbs 25 v 4). In the addresses to the seven assemblies in Revelation, the Lord speaks to the overcomer. In the United Kingdom at the present time, as well as in other places, a distinct opportunity is being given to believers to overcome in the face of increasing pressure, using divine strength and resources. With Joshua, we can say, “As for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah.”