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FIRST-PERSON: The lords temporal & spiritual in London

LONDON (BP)–After the killing and the chaos, the streets are empty and the shops are closed.

Wednesday everything was different in London.

You could sense a triumphant spirit on the street. In one week, Great Britain had provided worldwide leadership for the “Make Poverty History” campaign and the “Live 8” concerts. In one day, the UK won the bid to host the Olympic Games in their capital city and at the same time began to host the “G-8” global leaders’ summit on their soil. I was in the House of Lords when the announcement came that London was chosen to host the 2012 Olympics. The atmosphere was electric.

My host for the day, a Peer in the House of Lords, provided an excellent “show and tell” tour of both houses of Parliament at Westminster, which is the heart of British government. It is a fascinating place. We toured the Queen’s Robing Room, the Royal Gallery and the Prince’s Chamber. In addition, he took me through St. Stephen’s Hall and Westminster Hall, where Oliver Cromwell took the oath as Lord Protector, Winston Churchill lay in state, and where William Wallace, Thomas More and Charles I were all condemned to death. Everywhere we went was loaded with historical significance, which I relished.

We especially noticed words and symbols acknowledging God’s word, authority, providence and reign over England through the years. But as we ate lunch in the Peers Dining Room, my host lamented the fact that God has been removed from public discourse in Britain. And even though this Peer is designated as one of “The Lords Temporal,” he pointed out that the bishops in the Church of England, who sit in the House as “The Lords Spiritual,” never mention God when they speak to any issue in debate.

After the meal, we attended sessions in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Commons is famous for the cut and thrust of debate. The Lords provided greater pomp and circumstance as we witnessed the procession of the Lord Chancellor, wig and all. The installation of new Peers also was an impressive piece of theater.

As memorable as all of this was, the most disappointing thing was how the bishops’ performance in the House of Lords debate matched the complaint I heard from the Peer at lunch. When a bishop spoke he never mentioned God, the Bible, doctrine or anything spiritual. His talk was secular.

Less than 24 hours later, London is in shock.

As presently reported, at least four terrorist bombs have rocked the city, killing more than 40 and wounding more than 700. Like 9/11 for New York, 7/7 for London was a day that went from mass transit to mass confusion. People are grieving over death in the city and they need spiritual help. Along with the prime minister and the mayor of London, a bishop (again, one of “The Lords Spiritual”) delivers a prepared statement on national television.

He botches it.

After commending the emergency rescue service and saying something generic about prayer that sounds pious, the bishop assures everyone that he is meeting today with “Muslims and others in the faith community.” There is nothing about God, Jesus, the Bible, the Gospel, heaven or hell. What he says about the EMS and about prayer is no more and no less that what the prime minister said a few minutes ago.

But on the “Tube” (the London subway) there is another story.

One of the survivors has been telling about how people were trapped in the smoke and heat on his subway carriage for 30 minutes. After the initial chaos, they began praying, calling out to God and crying out to Jesus with specific prayers for help and prayers of confession. Another man who narrowly escaped said he thought, “My time is up.”

Make no mistake, a revival this is not — at least not yet. But it is an opportunity. And unfortunately, it is an opportunity missed by the The Lords Spiritual as they are acting more like The Lords Temporal.

When men and women see that life is a vapor, when the wounded and dying are confronted with eternity, The Lords Spiritual ought to speak of the eternal instead of the emergency workers; they should talk about heaven instead of the hospital.

That goes for all of us too. Christians should be ready to talk about death, heaven, faith and Jesus during this kind of crisis — many non-Christians are. Along with 10 of our students from Criswell College’s Distinguished Scholars Term at Oxford, I plan to use this opportunity tomorrow to visit with Englishmen about things spiritual and eternal. Through this time of anxiety and grief, pray that many British people will come to know Jesus as Savior, King of Kings, and LORD OF LORDS.
Jerry A. Johnson is president of Criswell College in Dallas, where he also serves as professor of theology and ethics.

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  • Jerry Johnson