Reasons for the Decline and our Response
[I wrote this letter recently to a friend who is now living in Canada, who asked the reasons for the spiritual decline in Europe.]
You ask, “why the decline?”, and have waited patiently for my response. I don’t know the book you mentioned and would not feel it had much to say to me … He is an unfamiliar name, an anonymous man, and I have worked to reform the churches in the heat of the day for 42 years and so trust in known men who have done the same, and much better, who are also publicly identified with our big gospel, attending our conferences, and worshipping in our churches, unashamedly abounding in this calling. I value their assessment more. For me it is not a matter of a detached examination of statistics regarding the state of the church in our land today. It is my life.
There is an interesting summary of the reasons for the decline in Wales at the end of Dr Tudur Jones’ article on Wales in the New International Dictionary of the Christian Church. He lists, “the decline of spirtuality, the loss of a dynamic theology, the temptations of power, the intrusion of anti-Christian philosophies, World War I and the social distress that followed.”
That would apply to all of Europe. The Netherlands have had a robust theology and piety. They are in the strongest state on the continent with large serious-minded congregations, denominations and seminaries, generous to a fault, but there is the limitation of their language. Some of Dr Tudur Jones’ reasons I cannot readily identify with and need to think more about them, e.g. the temptations of power. Maybe that is very important; maybe not. I am not persuaded about World War 1 being that significant in contributing to the decline.
The UK is dominated by the Church of England, and its evangelicalism is basically Amyraldian, as is the best of Australia’s. There have been some notable exceptions, and there are certain hopeful signs that some younger men and seminarians and their teachers have been turning to the whole counsel. They face the challenge of making this a popular movement of church members so that the Puritan books we see for sale on our book tables are displayed in their churches and commended from their pulpits. They need an R. C. Sproul figure to popularize the truths of the 39 Articles.
The Reformed faith in the UK has been kept alive by a network of little churches, publishing houses, seminaries, magazines, camps and conferences. We are singularly without leaders today; for example, there is no one who can fill a church building for a mid-week meeting. God has chosen to work through a crowd of anonymous men within the alternative societies of gospel fellowships. I guess there are 100 plus in Wales. Our Principality has particular problems confronting the huge linguistic decline in the past 100 years, down from 80% Welsh-speaking to 18%. The rural decline has been especially acute, and the loss of what was labour-intensive farming has emptied the north and the country heartland. Socialism has been the religion of Wales all my life. Abandoning God, they have clung to redemption by Caesar, and this has utterly failed. The mentality of state dependence is not a happy one; it creates a grumbling spirit, and the State is increasingly intrusive. The latest circus Caesar offers this very week is a mega gambling casino, and having granted homosexuals civil partnerships (marriages in all but name) and increasing ‘rights,’ and the drinkers 24-hour drinking, then the licensing of brothels, the legalisation of so-called soft drugs and euthanasia are all creeping remorselessly nearer. They will never give up their demands for such things.
We have no prophet to address the nation. There was no major figure in any denomination in Wales at the end of the 19th century to stand up and resist modernism, and so the leaders died in one another’s arms, looking into one another’s eyes, ghoulishly comforted that they’d all found the right prognosis in embracing Higher Criticism.
So you have those accurate evaluations of Dr Tudur Jones which would apply to any European country and to Canada too, but then you must heed what Hudson Taylor wisely stated, that it is imperative always to refer to the First Cause. Calvinists must especially heed that word. You can list the forces dominating the nation, but you must say, why has God permitted this? Why didn’t God raise up another Lloyd-Jones, or many such, in all the denominations? Why did God allow the declension?
You come to the conclusion that God resists the proud; that God spews the lukewarm out of his mouth; that if the Spirit of God is quenched then there can be no life, illumination or sanctification. God gives sinners up to their indulgences. The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness of men and this is what we are experiencing in the UK. We live in a Romans chapter one culture. We are under the divine cosh and deservedly so.
So we have the calling to work while it is day, to intercede (I have met for almost ten years every Friday morning at 7 a.m. with ten men and some women in praying for God to revive his work), preach the whole counsel of God and refuse to let the music deflect that intrusive word getting right inside men and women. We are exhorted to be filled with the Spirit, reform the churches, be instant in and out of season, love the Lord with all our might, be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, follow the suffering Servant in his whole lifestyle, work with double usefulness to get the word out, etc. 100 per cent man.
That’s our high calling. There is no secret at all as to what we have to do. Our weapons and resources are perfectly sufficient for the task that is ours. No one will blame God in that great day that he had failed us, that our supply of the Spirit was inadequate. Yet it is also 100 per cent God; he must arise and bless us. In his wrath towards our cold hearts he must show mercy and revive his work. He blesses his faithful people. Our calling is to work while it is light, rightly divide the word of truth, hate sin, pluck out the right eye if it offends us, love the brethren, test the spirits, despise everything that panders to the flesh, preach from every part of the Bible, build up holy, loving, evangelistic congregations, and all the time, in this daytime work, beseech him to favour us with his blessing.
I am in my 42nd year here and the most difficult question to answer is “How are things going in your church?” How do we judge the state of our congregations? There are a number of men and women with problems of health (body and mind), old age and work pressures. Real problems, and I try to build up their morale with inspirational preaching. That is not easy. Judged by statistics then the score awarded to our congregation would be low, but who ever could judge a work of God’s Spirit by numbers? But judged by this, that here we have a congregation which is united in wanting to hear all the counsel of God and determined to have that and nothing less, who will hear and apply to themselves a 45 minute sermon – or even 55 minutes as was a recent Sunday night’s message – and not a grumble or squeak of protest came while under that Word of God but rather really thinking about the words and then going on to do them – then that, I believe, is a truly great congregation. Or if I judged them by the highest biblical theology, of a people who submitted to the utter sovereignty of God and expected the truths of election and reprobation and heaven and hell and the veracity of creation and the fall and redemption by the blood of Christ to be preached – then this is a very blessed congregation. Or judged by their taste of the great hymns over the last 3000 years, from the psalms until today, then this is a warm and wise congregation. Or judged by its readiness to accede to church discipline without splitting or losing anyone – it is a true New Testament church. Imagine I could do none of that but did have large numbers, and loads of music, and money, and staff, and I could make people feel ‘real good’, but yet I couldn’t preach to them all the counsel of God. Imagine if they were fragile and sensitive and opposed to the testimony of the Bible then what would I have done? I believe I have the better part. So I bless God for the privilege of being a pastor here.
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