Editor’s note: An audio version of this column is available here.
RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The discouraging news headlines just keep coming for Christians in London (profiled in today’s edition of Baptist Press) and the rest of the United Kingdom:
— “Government plays down Christmas for fear of offending minorities”
— “Active Muslims to outnumber Christian church members by 2049”
— “Planned London mega-mosque would be biggest religious building in Britain”
— “Archbishop calls incorporation of Muslim shariah law into British legal system ‘unavoidable'”
— “Britain ‘no longer Christian,’ says influential think tank
That last item isn’t exactly stop-the-presses news, given the long, slow death of the Church of England. But it jars nevertheless.
“It’s time for Britain to recognize that it is no longer a Christian nation and should embrace multiculturalism,” a news article reported in summarizing conclusions of a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research in 2007. “Echoing sentiments heard throughout Britain in recent years, the authors of the report say the traditional pillars of British identity have now vanished or been greatly weakened. Church attendance is at historically low levels, the British Empire is gone, the monarchy is far less popular and the Second World War is inexorably slipping into memory.”
The government should create a “new and more inclusive national identity, part of which includes honoring the diverse cultures found in Britain,” the study recommended. Conservative critics charged that the study’s authors were calling for “throwing out” history and “denying the fundamental contribution” of Christianity to Britain.
Meanwhile, overall Sunday church attendance declined from 3.7 million in 1998 to 3.2 million in 2005 (the latest United Kingdom church census) — barely more than 6 percent of the population. At current rates, it’s likely to fall below 5 percent by 2015.
So has the “Christian civilization” the late, great Winston Churchill courageously called Britons to defend against Nazi barbarism finally succumbed to the quiet onset of senility, secularism and shariah?
“Upon this battle depends the future of Christian civilization,” Churchill had said in June 1940, preparing the British people for expected Nazi invasion.
If “Christian civilization” means a civic religion to which government and society pay lip service, yes, it’s dead in England — or on life support. If it means the Kingdom of God on earth, however, reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated.
“Denominationalism is in big decline, but Christianity is on the increase,” contends evangelical Anglican vicar Mark Melluish, whose multicolored London flock is rapidly growing. London Baptist pastor Boyd Williams agrees — and challenges other London churches to break out of their siege mentality and get moving.
“We’ve got eyesight that isn’t clear,” Williams says. “We don’t see the [believers] around us from other ethnic groups for all the potential they have. They’re more gifted than we are in many ways. They’re evangelistic. They have faith. They just need training and channeling and they will be a mighty force. We’re just scratching the surface.”
Make no mistake: London is an enormous challenge for missions.
“Secularism is the predominant ‘religion’ of the city, but every other ‘ism’ is here in strong force,” acknowledges a Southern Baptist missionary in the city. “The largest Sikh and Hindu temples outside of India are in west London. London is the Islamic capital of Europe. Satanism and all kinds of mystic practices are also alive and well.”
In other words, London mirrors many of the urban centers of Europe. The Gospel is one often-lonely voice in a noisy, crowded marketplace of ideas — not unlike first-century Athens, where the Apostle Paul preached to intellectuals and pagans, scoffers and seekers.
Christian history shows that sometimes God sends His children to the nations, and sometimes He sends the nations to us. London ceased to be the capital of “Christian civilization” long ago. But it might just regain that title as Asians, Africans, Arabs, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and every other variety of people find Christ there — and take His Gospel to the world.
Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, here to comment and see what others think.