When the Church becomes a fixed part of the local landscape, it ceases to preach repentance and conversion, and instead “reaches out” with social programs. Are we seeing intimations of this with the embrace of much of American Orthodoxy with the sodomist zeitgeist?
Mainstream churches, Catholic, Anglican and most of the Protestants have allowed themselves to become too closely identified with the surrounding society – even if not formally “Established” they are established to all intents and purposes.
Contrast this with the Old Testament, where there is the ever present fear of assimilation by pagan neighbors, and a determination to keep Israel separate from them at all costs. The prohibition against homosexuality is a key part of Israel’s identity: it distinguishes Israel from the idolatry taking place in Egypt, Greece, Babylon or Rome.
A Church which is established slips imperceptibly from being a Great Commission Church to a Church which thinks of itself as providing a pastoral service to the local community or to the State. It loses the will to evangelize, the sense of purpose which energizes the Gospels. It becomes a function of society, rather than the divine instrument for mission.
The Church of England long ago slipped into this fatal frame of mind. It has been declining since the end of the 19th century, but the 1851 religious census reveals that it only held 50% of the nation even then.
It has however maintained the facade of the medieval church, to which everyone belonged prior to the Reformation, pretending ever since that England is a Christian nation state even in the face of the evidence to the contrary.
In the 19th century there was a great impetus for mission abroad, led by the missionary societies, Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic, which produced the flourishing churches we see today in Africa. But since England was ostensibly a Christian country, there was “no need” for mission at home.
We simply serve as the Church of the Nation, without asking too many questions. The great act of surrender came in 1944. When we should have been more concerned with the progress of the war, the government was fixing a deal with the Church of England to take over its national school system, which the Church was struggling to fund.
In return for a sellout to the secular state, the state promised to maintain religious education in schools. It has not done so, and the rate at which religious education has declined since 1944, on an accelerating slope, is the rate at which Christianity has declined in the UK.
We are now on the third or fourth generation which has never learned about the Christian faith. When the Church becomes a fixed part of the local landscape, it ceases to preach repentance and conversion, and instead “reaches out” with social programs.
In the UK, the (small) Orthodox Churches are bucking the trend. There is no syncretism of any kind, no compromise with the immorality of western society – and the churches are full of young people, gathered to hear the liturgy in a variety of languages, including some they do not understand. Partly this is due to the Orthodox faith forming part of their cultural identity, like the Irish clinging on to Rome throughout the generations. But partly it is because their bishops and priests really do intend to hand on the faith received from the Apostles, no more and no less.
At root, the problem for North America, UK and Europe is the rampant materialism which has overtaken us. Everything is reduced to a price tag, and the consumer is king. If the consumer wants gay marriage, the consumer must be given it. Christmas has been Disneyfied into oblivion.
It is a feast of the devil in much of western society, where Christ is not just obscured but blotted out by the rush to spend money, to party decadently, drunkenly and ostentatiously, to fill the mind with a whole panoply of sentimental claptrap ranging from Bing Crosby to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
It is a feast for Hallmark Cards and brewers and turkey farmers. The hospital accident and emergency departments are overflowing with blood and vomit and violent drunks. Obama and Cameron and the EU are literally hell-bent on exporting this consumerism to the world. I see this trajectory all around me in UK and Europe, and in the USA. The end result is Gotham City, or Dean Swift’s Yahoos. It is a world given to drink, drugs, violence and fornication. While we remain rich, we will continue to slide into the abyss.
THE WEST IS A MINORITY IN THIS WORLD
Most of the world does not see it this way especially in Africa, India, Russia, etc. The infection has taken root in the western cultures, weakened by 200 years of liberal Protestantism (much of it quietly adopted by Rome) and by the experience of wealth beyond the dreams of Croesus. There may be any number of crises ahead of us – economic meltdown when the current generation becomes too spineless to work, and chooses to rely on handouts. The UK is well down this road.
The continuing large-scale migration of Muslims, unchecked into our societies, who will one day rise up against us as surely as that all too similar ideology known as Nazism. As soon as they consider themselves to be strong enough to do so, they will start to make demands which secular society does not know how to resist, because it “does not do God”.
There is the very real possibility that the rest of the world will gang up economically against the West, which no longer wants to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, and put us out of business. In the past, the UK, the British Empire and the USA were strengthened by the experience of going to war against godless enemies in Germany and Japan. But war will not have this effect in future in populations which are divided already against one another, when the enemy will be within, not across some ocean.
There is a distant hope for Christendom in the west, but only a faint hope. If the coming crisis is sufficiently great and dangerous to make people think back to the unity which they once shared as Christians, then they may perhaps return to hear what we have to say. But I am doubtful. I think things have become so far corroded and destitute, spiritually speaking, that we will be forced to watch a whole generation, perhaps several generations of western society completely lost to Christ, not least because the churches have failed them.
If Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis are able to change the course of Christian history, then I, along with others will rejoice. But the damage is extensive and deep, and I see little evidence so far of any willingness to confront the decision which really matters – will the church speak prophetically, challenge society and state to change and politicians to repent? Or will it cling on to the vestiges of power and continue to masquerade as a national church, whose pews echo to the sound of the few worshippers who still remain?
Pope Francis gets two marks out of ten for some key symbolic gestures to date.
But I see no sign of Archbishop Justin being prepared to call the Church of England into independence from the grotesquely sexualized state over which Cameron currently presides. No disestablishment here in my lifetime.
The author has written this article under a nom de plume to protect his identity in the Church of England