As someone who has been teaching theology for the past twenty years in different cultures: East Africa, Israel, Jordan and now South Africa, I look at the present Western social development with a mixture of bemusement and sadness. Scientists and politicians are the ruling bodies and between them appear to have no sense of danger with respect to the rapid moral slide of what is termed secularism. Governments, apparently acting on behalf of, and in respect of, the secularists are slowly but surely arising as the unsuspected enemy and persecutor of Evangelical Christians; whom, it appears, they will not tolerate.
Major social changes concerning the very definition of what constitutes a human being itself, such as the redefinition of marriage and gender are championed by politicians, who many people believe don’t ever tell the truth. Theologians, philosophers and Church leaders are bypassed, in the rush to install the latest wave of postmodern devaluation of previously solid historical traditions. The Bible, long set aside by progressive enlightened, intellectuals and emotionally mature and free Western societies, (including some liberal churches) as the fount of truth and ethics, is now to be considered as an ancient mythical document to be discarded by the Church as a matter of obedience to the most recent laws of the state. In the UK there have been court cases, and still are, which seek to prosecute Christians whose conscience will not allow them to disobey a normally accepted interpretation of Biblical teaching.
Consider the resignation of Tim Farron, the highly reasoned leader of the Liberal Democrat Party in the UK; his statement that his Christian beliefs were incompatible with the constraints of political leadership, marks a watershed in State/Church relations. He felt that he could not be a political leader and a Christian at the same time. Where are we going with all of this? Is Christianity heading back to the Early Church’s status in the Roman State as religio illicita (illegal). This begs the question, do we need a second Emperor Constantine to champion Biblical Christianity’s return to respectability in postmodern Britain? (In the 4th century Constantine was converted to Christianity and as a consequence Christianity became not only legal but highly respected).
I wonder what power motivates postmodern secularist societies towards the negation of Christianity and, in reality, the disintegration of moral values which used to be universally held cultural standards. It is a fearful thing when the collapse of value is spurred on by the political leaders of the age who believe that they are doing the opposite. We ask also in this climate, where is the prophetic voice of the Protestant Church? Are the only prophets the passionate leaders of Brexit and Donald Trump? Or perhaps the most distinguished scientific mind of the 21st century, Stephen Hawking, who proclaimed that we no longer need God; all knowledge is now available to us apart from God.
Is there no hope? Of course, there is hope. Hope is staring us in the face. If the Holy Spirit can convert a Roman Emperor at the height of the worst recorded time of persecution of the Church by the State, He can do something to revive the UK in the 21st century. Jesus led the Jews, who would follow, out of their law-bound Old Testament culture into the glorious freedom of the gospel of grace. We must apply universal love and forgiveness through being the salt and light of our life context. Our proper action is to do good to those who do evil to us. We must forgive and not condemn since we are a forgiven people. Our currency is certainly not hate speech nor a violent imposing of our values on our neighbours; who ironically sometimes impose their bitterly held views on us.
There is nothing new happening here. Christians have been persecuted in every century since their beginning. Jesus prophesied that they would be. The early persecution came at the hands of the state. To be persecuted to any degree by the postmodern state, who represent the people of a post Christian perspective is not difficult to understand. Nor is it difficult to understand the effect in the Church of the division of its members, some accommodating the new lifestyle and merging with the world and the others holding fast to the Biblical tradition. Division within the Church is always a very sad and painful thing, again calling for restraint and the application of grace.
The roots of hope for humankind are not in the thrills of the increased materialism made possible by science through rapid high-tech development. We are not saved by science alone, through technology alone, but “by grace alone through faith alone” as we are reminded by the celebration of the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation. We should always remember that the grace that we are saved by is the essential principal and ground of our new life in Christ. The application of grace was taught to us in a context of severe persecution by perhaps the greatest statesman of the twentieth century, Nelson Mandela; not himself a Christian? In his building of a new unity of black and white in South Africa, through forgiveness and non-violent reintegration of the opposing factions, Mandela led the way into the only real hope for the future of the Country.
We must continually decline our rising self-righteousness which judges and condemns. We must remember that the Church is Christ’s and not ours. Ultimately the opposition of the state, secularists, neo humanists and negative world powers cannot prevail against it. Its destination is glory through many trials and its path is that of suffering. From this absolutely secure ground we must apply our faith to the service of our neighbours in the world both outside and inside the Church. Grace is common and common grace is taught to us by the Parable of the Good Samaritan; the wounded man lying grievously assaulted on the road may have been a God hater. It would have made no difference to the Samaritan. The Apostle Paul, himself, was a Christ hater whose integrity as a great Christian is universally acknowledged 2000 years later! I am saying that in our dark life situation we must apply the principles of grace using the wonderful, supernatural teaching of Jesus to atheists and secularists and those who hate us, including those still within the Church who sadly denounce Biblical authority in favour of their own wiser opinions!