A while ago there was a debate, unwittingly (or was it?) kicked off by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron – about whether or not Britain is a Christian Country.
Letters from secularists to newspapers, twitter all a flap – many comments appeared to be either ‘of course it is’ or ‘of course it isn’t’ and then there were “comments” writers who were proclaiming that Britain both ‘definitely is’ and also proclaiming that it most definitely ‘is not’ in the same articles!
Thankfully, as with so much debate that appears to be very much of its day – we have been here before. I say that, with a few caveats – which I will get to . . .
But, before that, my own context and understanding as a children’s and youth worker for both local church, regional and national Christian organisations over the last 34 years tells me that:
:: Firstly, We are engaged in children’s and youth work in a world that is no longer ‘Christendom’ – books have been written about this in recent years, my three personal favourites would be ‘Postmodern Youth Ministry‘ by Tony Jones; ‘Ambiguous Evangelism‘ by Bob Mayo and ‘Youthwork After Christendom‘ by Jo and Nigel Pimlott. If you are after a ‘primer’ on the challenges of Christian children’s and youth ministry today – start with these.
Follow these up with ‘Almost Christian‘ by Kenda Creasy-Dean. This book, although American – gives a pretty accurate picture of the state of the church in the ‘western World’ in particular, The States, Canada, Australia and the UK . . .
:: Secondly, I am also taking the view that ‘Christian’ means being a Christ follower, a disciple of Jesus. Someone who has acknowledged their need of a Saviour, given their life to Christ and is seeking to live for Him daily in community with fellow believers. This is not someone who knows some stuff ABOUT Christianity, or ABOUT Jesus. I am talking about a Christian as someone who KNOWS Jesus and desires to put Jesus at the centre of their whole life.
So, with those two caveats – the discussion about whether we are, or are not, a Christian country seems to me (frustratingly) to be about Religion, about ‘values’ and where we have got our ‘morals’ from and being proud of our history – and, obviously, a focus (by some) of all the rubbish done in the name of Christianity or Religion or BIG institutional stuff . . . . Jesus did not break the power of sin and death to lay the ground work for religious institutions – but to reconcile all things to Himself!
Anyway . . . . I don’t want to get lost in having a debate with a few people about my tiny perspective on this huge subject – but, would like to refer ALL those interested in this debate (the exasperated too, like myself) to Wilberforce!
He wrote a cracking book, 200 years ago – uncannily he could have written it in response to SOME of the articles and thought about whether we are a Christian Country – it has commonly been known as ‘Real Christianity’ but has the longer title of, ‘A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classed of this Country contrasted with Real Christianity‘ (a bit of a mouthful, so you can see why it was shortened!) . . .
Essentially, Wilberforce was encouraging his readers to throw off a kind of ‘cultural Christianity’ and pursue what he saw as ‘authentic Christianity’ which was a life of faith, lived after Jesus Christ. Not something that a person is simply born into, neither was it something to benignly be a ‘part of’ without fully grasping what a person believed and why they believed it. He sparked a debate, a fair bit of repentance and laid some of the ground work for seeing the slavery of the time banned!
This isn’t the debate that I see happening when Christendom is mentioned. We seem to be sat in that cultural malaise and discussing the cultural ‘merits’ of Christianity – which seems to be totally missing the point of being ‘Christian’!
Lord God, how I pray for men and women of God like Wilberforce to be raised up in this generation and have the kind of influence he had on this nation – would that such a book could be written today (and find a publisher!)