You heard it here first! Well, probably not, but let’s pretend you did anyway. We are officially moving into the post-Christian UK! The results of the latest 2021 census are not out yet, but if the media buzz is to be believed (and I strongly think you should believe it) most people in the UK will not tick ‘Christian’ on the census form. Now to those of us who have kept our finger on the pulse about such things, this is not going to come as a shock. However, for many uninformed and unlearned Christians, this might come as a shock when they wake up one day next year to headlines touting the obvious – that most people do not see themselves as Christians and de facto, we are living in the post-Christian UK. It would be trite to say alarm bells should be ringing; they should have been ringing for the last 50 years.
My telos in this article is not to rake over the coals how we got here. Well, I might a little. Rather, I want to talk about what we should do in the present and how we go forward.
In 2001, only 71.6% of people identified themselves as Christian. In 2011, this had dropped to 59.3% My betting money is that the next drop will go down to as low as 30% from the 2021 census (the results take a year to process). Even if my number is wrong, we have no reason to assume that the number is going to be above 50%. This tragic dying of Christendom has been long underway, I would say, for at least three hundred years and much to the glee of the opponents of the Church. Now our quivering, incompetent leaders (here is looking at you bishops) will not even be able to hide behind statistics, as they have sought to do for the whole of my life, at least.
Let us be clear, the opponents of the Church will rejoice at this coming news and will rub this in our faces. In turn, we should point to the bishops and priests and say, “Look what you did or, more realistically, did not do!” We have known for a long time that most people in the UK are not Christian. What we are seeing here is a large fall in cultural Christianity. I am not referring here to Christians being led by the surrounding non-believing culture regarding their priorities and values and in some cases even their doctrine. No! In this article what I mean by cultural Christianity is the vast erosion of those non-Christians who increasingly see no attachment between them and the historical faith of the land.
Actually, I feel I must explain briefly how we got here. The civil war fought between the Christians of Europe led to the death of a political vision for society within the Christian Church. It also prompted a search both for tolerance and a new way of being certain about the truth. This led to the rise of a new ‘nation state’ in which national identity was paramount over religious identity in which ‘reason’ would be the ordering principle of society. Tolerance between different creeds emerged as the real route to the truth was to be found in reason and science. This became known as the enlightenment period. This, combined with the death of Christianity as a moral force due to WW1, and culturally in the 1950s with the cultural revolution, has meant that we have arrived now – after some 400 years, in the post-Christian UK.
For us to see how we may recover the initiative, we must ask ourselves, sadly in retrospect, what we could have done at each of these key points to avoid the nail in the coffin – and thus envision a way forward for ourselves as the Christian peoples of Europe.
The first thing to recognise is that what unites Christians is of infinitely greater worth than that which divides. The ecumenical movement still has a crucial role to play in uniting Christians to a common identity. Consider the fact that a joint declaration was released by Catholics and Lutherans on nothing less than the doctrine of justification in which it called for the anathemas by both churches. Had Christians realised their positions were not as much in opposition as they thought at the time, perhaps the Thirty Years’ War could have been avoided. Perhaps eight million lives could have been saved, and perhaps all that warring energy could have been directed toward the Ottoman Turkish Muslim Jihadi, instead! Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps! Yet, if we Christians could put our denominational rivalries to one side, call a truce, as it were, on all that divides us, and instead focus our energies, pool our resources, and target our efforts to those outside of the Church, perhaps we could regain the initiative. By this, I mean without any shame, politically. We Christians must not be a people who simply say, “No!” to the direction the non-Christian world is pulling in, but we must envision what that world would look like if it were Christian. That starts, and it must start somewhere, with securing the rights and freedoms of the Church, both here in the UK and abroad. We must win our rights, which are increasingly impinged upon here in the UK, and fight for the liberation of our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted abroad. Once we have done this, we will have something to build on again!
We need to recover the initiative in terms of the narrative that is told about us, and that we tell ourselves. Despite all the evidence showing that Christianity continues to grow, most Christians in the west think Christianity is a dying faith. Despite giving birth to modern science, Christians are viewed by many as being opposed to science. Christians have simply lost their confidence. We must recover this through fighting the right battles in the right ways.
Let me give you a few examples:
1) Christian Doctrine: Lots of tropes about Christian doctrine imply that the Trinity was invented at the council of Nicaea, which is so far from the truth and evidence. It would be laughable if it were not for the fact that so many people believe it and regurgitate this belief.
2) History: Historical arguments are used against us. We must, as part of the rhythm of our lives teach our history from our own perspective, so that our community can correct these myths in culture when they encounter them. This should include things like the Crusades (a noble cause poorly executed), the birth of science (a Christian initiative), and celebrating our Christian contributors and heroes and their historical legacy as ‘secular champions’ of the faith.
3) Epistemology: It is obvious that real epistemology is found in the use of narrative, yet most people feel that science and empiricism are our only route to truth. This is such a flawed way of thinking, yet dominates the culture. We Christians need to become more robust, more confident in our heritage and our worldview: telling our truth in terms of its culture, history, values, and beliefs, living our lives by these things, and demanding and expecting space to be cleared for it to thrive!
4) Morality: We must regain the initiative morally by recovering virtue ethics as the way, and it really is the way, we do ethics and morality. Within this system is how we explain so clearly why Christians inevitably fail while holding on to the possibility of redemption. So many non-Christians still think Christianity from the lived perspective is about following ‘rules and commandments’. Actually, the things they perceive to be so are disciplines to cultivate virtue and goals to strive towards. However, we have lost the ability to communicate our values, our beliefs, and our attitudes.
5) Identity: Finally, we need to rediscover our identity. By this I mean we Christians need to double down on our identity as Christians above anything else, and not simply pay lip service to this idea. We need to live it out in where we shop, what we buy, who we buy it from, what political causes we put our muscle behind, and who we oppose politically. We should, as were, deliberately become that muscular missionary-minded minority that people learn to respect and not trample on, as they are as tough as they are loving! Christian men need to rediscover the ideals of the medieval knight, the scholarly warrior who, as C.S Lewis put it, is as fierce a fighter in the field as he is gentle and meek at court! Christianity has to come first – to us – and for us – and we have to be willing both to fight and to die for the cause of the Christian peoples (Note: I said peoples, not denominations). We need to rediscover the theology of martyrdom and always stand in solidarity with anyone who suffers for the faith.
We have to live out our faith culturally: celebrating our festivals, wearing our symbols, marking time by our own calendar, living out our disciplines, upholding our values, proclaiming our faith. We can do this best by consolidating geographically. Yes, you heard it right! We Christians need to move into the same areas and live geographically next to one another. Currently, we are spread out like too little butter over too much toast, too little salt in too much water. All of this has to be done by honouring one another’s denominational and cultural differences, even embracing one another’s differences to celebrate in the body of Christ. When we do this in a concentrated geographical space, then you will see real growth. The Church (the people of GOD, the body of Christ) has to be evangelistic and willing to stand up for herself! It may take another four hundred years to reconvert the UK, and Christians need to be telling themselves the story of the long game.
The civic ritual kind of Christianity as seen in so many Anglican and Catholic Churches is dying. For the most part, it is already dead wood, doing nothing but gathering on a Sunday to perform rituals as if they were magic – with little to no connection to a wider life. Christianity has to be a community, a people, a society within a society and at the heart of that alternative kingdom of another world must be the family. It is families that singularly are the rise and fall of every religion families must instil the faith in their children, instil pride in their Christian identity. The Christian community MUST TAKE SERIOUSLY THE NEED TO BE DELIBERATE ABOUT CREATING CHRISTIAN FAMILIES. I can not stress this point enough as the western liberal progressives die off due to not having children. If we create families that bring children into the world, we will eventually outnumber and replace the progressives in all institutions of the state and can then shepherd society increasingly in a Christian direction. Furthermore, the club Christianity of so many fellowships is also not up to the task of reconverting the world. Sadly, each one ends up just being a ‘business’, a members’ club, that can grow even into the thousands, but does not have the ability to convert a nation. They avoid a Christian political identity and do not even have the structures to communicate their faith beyond the club setting, nor do they seem to have a desire. At most, they simply establish other clubs of the same brand in other areas. These bubbles eventually burst and these churches all end the same way – closed.
Now, do not get me wrong. We ended up in this situation quite by accident. These models of Church are totally understandable, but we now must move towards a new way of doing Church given our now certain future of post-Christianity. I hope I have outlined it above. I think I will return to this theme in my next blog as there is still much to say. However, for now, I want to leave you with this certain truth – that simply continuing as we have done with a lack of imagination, determination, and commitment that we Christians in the west have shown up to now, can simply not go on! We must change, but not as the ‘cultural Christians’ want us to. It is not by emphasising all that makes us the same as everyone else in society, not by changing to become like everyone else, not by adopting progressive values. Rather, it is by doubling down on our Christian life, which can only be sustained if we consolidate geographically. The ‘sword of the spirit’ movement in London gives us the halfway house and the Brudahof, gives us the destination; with two caveats: 1) the Brudahof are terrible evangelists, and 2) their commitment to pacifism guarantees they will never be anything but a sideshow. If we can avoid their weaknesses while learning from their strengths, the Church may yet win again in the west!