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Publications: Practising Faith in a Pagan World

Excerpt from a study based on the books of Daniel and Ezekiel

Not so long ago most people in the West would have called themselves Christians. Other religions existed of course, but they were so remote from our culture and location that they could be disdained as mere pagan superstitions. There were sceptical philosophers, some of whom dared to confess themselves openly as atheists, but such opinions were generally regarded as bizarre and even scandalous. Toleration in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Britain referred only to different branches of the church. No-one seriously suggested that those of other faiths, or even of no faith at all, should be treated with the same respect as a Christian gentleman. The very idea was unthinkable. Christendom was synonymous in the western mind with civilization. Those who did not subscribe to the former had a very dubious title to the latter.

But that is how things used to be. You do not have to be an acute social observer to realise that the twentieth century has witnessed as extraordinary reversal of that Christian privilege. Under the pressure of international trade, technological advances in transport and communication and, perhaps most serious of all, the fear of war, we can no longer treat other religions with indifference. For the world has become a global village. Other religions are now on our doorstep. Indeed, migration has brought mosques and temples into the high streets of Christian nations. Nor can irreligion any longer be dismissed as an eccentricity espoused only by a lunatic fringe. Any Religious Education teacher will confirm that in an average class of school children today, you won’t find more than one or two who are willing to be known by their peers as Christians.

The Christian consensus then, for over a millennium the ideological foundation of European civilization, is crumbling away. In its place a new kind of society is emerging. There are still plenty of church spires on the city skyline, but they are dwarfed by the skyscrapers of contemporary commerce. Bishops still sit in the House of Lords, but their influence on the political direction of Britain today is almost nil. The monarch is still crowned in Westminster Abbey, but it may only be a matter of time before that ceremony is either abolished or turned into a multi-faith service. For pluralism has been effectively accepted as the new social reality, and Christianity is increasingly marginalised, privatized and neutralized.

Statistical analysis over the last twenty years has shown quite clearly that numbers of church members in the UK have been declining constantly over that period. If that trend is not arrested, by the year 2070 there will be no church members at all.

The trend is being arrested, however. There is an underlying groundswell, and that is a cause of encouragement. Some Christians are responding to the bleak picture of the decline of Christian influence in the West by predicting very confidently that we are on the threshold of a major revival. Some even undertake ambitious prayer marches to claim back territory for Jesus from the demonic principalities and powers that have usurped the land.

No-one would be more overjoyed than I if this optimism proved justified. But there is another possible scenario—one for which the books of Ezekiel and Daniel, it seems to me, are uniquely placed to prepare the church. In the days of those prophets also there was popular talk of speedy restoration and revival. But that was not the message God had actually given them. The prophets were very much in the minority, speaking rather of a tragic time of exile for the people of God. For this less happy prospect the western church also must be prepared.

From the Introduction of Practising Faith in a Pagan World

a study based on the books of Daniel and Ezekiel.

Practising Faith in as Pagan World by Roy Clements (copyright1997)
Published by Inter-Varsity Press (UK) ISBN 0-85110-890-3

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