The Church is Gripped by the Fear of Comfortable People!

by | Apr 18, 2024

Brothers and sisters, the Church is in the grips of fearful people because they are successful. In this article, I want to explain what I mean by this and share some anecdotal evidence that leads me to this reflection: the theology they have created to maintain it and consider what we can do about it in the formal church and as the informal church.

To clarify terms, what do I mean by ‘gripped by the fear of comfortable people’? By ‘gripped’ I mean that the fearful people are the ones often making the decisions for the formal church. By the words ‘the fear’ I mean essentially a conflict-averse, a sacrifice-light-or-not-at-all mentality; a risk-averse culture. By ‘comfortable people’ I mean people who are successful in life, or in their church life, paid for Christians, comfortable middle class Christians with careers and mortgages and families, living lives that are not blighted all that heavily by crimes, Islamisation, or the struggle of being poor and needy! Yes, they may also have real family problems, but on the whole even this part of their life is stable. Let’s say these comfortable people could be defined by stability.

So, let me share with you some anecdotal evidence that has led to this reflection. I have recently found myself helping more and more converts from a Muslim background – exactly the right kind of problem I want to have – helping those coming to faith. A young brother has recently become Christian and, as you might imagine, has had his life turned upside down as his family has discovered it. He has felt driven out of his own town partly because of not feeling safe (this is the UK today).

I attempted to reach out to a support group, ostensibly concerned with evangelism to Muslims; support has trickled forward from this and is increasing (its a live issue as I write this article). However, I have found resistance from unnecessary and unhelpful questions like, what ethnicity is he (why does that matter – he needs a home and fellowship; he lost his family)? Also, a desire to project him back into his local Church for help which begs the question – well, why did you involve yourself in the first place if you just want to palm him off to others? The responses have been muddled, reactive, and are being cobbled together – because the Church is not investing in this area; because its not a big enough concern, and we do not anticipate success! I think that is because too many Christians ‘fear’ the complications and mess of seeing families turn on themselves, of suddenly having to support as a family those who lose there own, and the mess which comes in trying to help people rebuilding their lives – by being a real spiritual family.

However, I wanted to take a pause – to point out that actually if the Church adopted a more robust structure to absorb new converts who have lost their families and communities, and all the mess that brings with it, such as family break down, bereavement counselling, housing support, employment support, and, yes, security, getting in and being a real encouragement and support to these brethren, emotionally physically and practically, helping them find a marriage partner, the Church would find itself in a much healthier place as a whole. The Church functions best when it is adaptive to the needs of the Christian community – not the surrounding community, which is a common mistake amongst fellowships.

However, this is not the first time or even the most recent time I have encountered this. Let me tell you another anecdote. I remember when I first became a Christian – which was the result of a Muslim trying to convince me Islam was the truth (well, that backfired huh Mustaffa!). Anyways, I approached my church about the need to evangelise Muslims in our area which had a significant Muslim population. I already was evangelising, but I wanted to enlist my Church. The PCC literally shit themselves! They talked in hyperbolic terms of the Muslims rioting if we sought to evangelise them. Now, to be fair, this was a poor congregation and pretty weak anyway (one member of the less than forty congregants only attended because his mum would be sad if he did not – as a 40 year old man. Most were old folk or single mums). So, I was probably putting my shoulder behind the wrong congregation. However, what excuse do we have for another Church who, when approached to host a conference, refused to do so, not because they don’t support what I am doing – but because of security concerns?

Again, and again, and again I find in Churches a fear to confront Islamisation; a fear to consider what is needed to ensure the Church, not Sharia, will be first in our civilizational discourse and focus of organising society. Now, its not because its just too costly; some of it is a lack of personal courage, some of it is because of the lack of trust amongst believers, some of it is sectarian nonsense, some of it is because of a genuine commitment to a liberal humanist world view, or one of its derivative narratives. Some of it boils down to bad theology like saying Christianity is not a civilizational project its about preaching the gospel – as if the two of these do not go hand-in-hand! Some of it is just down to plain inexperience in dealing with these things and muddled thinking. However, a lot of it and I really do mean most of it – is just strait up institutional fear of those running the shop!

Let me give you another anecdote. A Christian spoke to me recently about a Muslima who wanted to become a Christian. He went to a Diocesan meeting in which two the of the following impressions were left with him: one was to keep the conversion secret; and the other was ‘if you keep converting Muslims you will be a candidate to martyrdom.’ Let that just sink in for a second! Here is a young women, embracing the faith, and the church a) did not want to celebrate the fact; but b) thought that further success could be a problem, and c) offered no actual practical support at all either to the convert or to the one who made the convert – but discouraged him from more work; as if we should all accept Islamic militancy setting the limits of our Christian praxis! I am advising the chaplain about how the school needs to facilitate the girl in her practice of the faith in secret – also – how the school should put together a safeguarding package for her based on her conversion. Further, Muslim members on staff should not be informed as it poses an increased risk.

Why then does this fear exist? I want propose – its because most of our Churches are run by comfortable people with comfortable lives, who either are middle class or move and live and have their being in a very middle class way. This culture is conflict-averse; and to tackle Islamisation and to free souls from Islam – truly will and does entails conflict. A whole missiology has been constructed to avoid conflict called the insider movement which, I want to add, is not illegitimate at all; and like with all approaches should be subject to wisdom and has its strengths and weaknesses! However, this non-controversial approach to church life permeates anything. Many Churches avoid talking about ‘controversial’ issues because they just don’t want to lose members because members equal income streams and so many fellowships entire life and theology is reduced to just milk toast and goop; avoiding conflict over: Islamisation, Liberalisation, trans ideology, gay marriage, abortion, or the persecuted Church. Comfortable Christians have built comfortable Churches that are about a Sunday club; not the radical living out of what it means to be the people of GOD! Nothing exposes this more than questions surrounding Islam!

They have then made theologies to match! When you hear a church spiritualise spiritual warfare to the affect that it all just boils down to prayer meetings, prayer and saying words, then we have created a risk-averse theology that allows us to think we are in the fray without ever risking being on the front lines! Prayer is often used by Christian leaders as an excuse to not actually organise to do anything else! Catchphrases like ‘GOD will find the way’ or ‘we wait upon the Lord’ or ‘the bible said we would be persecuted’ are used as if they are ends in themselves and excuse the hard work of thought and action when faced with real problems. The refusal to work with other Christians is often actually driven by the fear of losing members to another congregation or a different denomination. I remember once when I was a young new Christian being warned by my priest that the Jesus Army was a ‘cult,’ who feared he would lose me to them – and he would have – because they lived out their faith in a radical way! We have created theologies, that match our comforts and ask little of us that do not require us to suffer in the way of our Lord, by picking up our cross!

There is no way to free the majority of Muslims from Islam that does not include with it some degree of conflict and suffering. And it is utterly wrong for us to pass over this serious question or to leave it to the Muslim background believes to do and endure on their own! A church that does not want to robustly contest issues is a church that is already irrelevant; which sadly speaks into why so much of the western Church is withering on the vine, because it lacks courage. I want to suggest if you find yourself imagining a way you can avoid conflict or suffering in this matter or other controversial matters, you might actually be part of the problem. Many Christian heroes of the past were considered the villains of the day; they were seen as the ‘bad guy.’ But most Christians today have an over-riding priority to never be seen as controversial or bad in the eyes of the world. They want to be ‘accepted’ by a world that rejects GOD! The Apostles said to this attitude a terrifying rebuke! “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

We can not compromise with the world on issues around abortion, divorce, Islamisation, the persecuted Church (and that includes Muslims becoming Christians), evangelism, or the rejection of liberal values like tolerance; inclusivity; and their flawed understanding of multiculturalism! We must have loyalty to Christ above all and act from Christian beliefs and values, such as the catholic nature of the Church and hospitality, the need to protect and care for the spiritual family. To do this we must drive out fear from our own hearts; fear of rejection by the mainstream, fear of vilification, of being misunderstood, even of criminalisation, of conflict, of violence, vandalism, of loss of jobs or worst of all – our comfortable lives and livelihood. Only when the church truly throws off fear – will it truly be free to follow Christ!

Our Lord said:

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28)..

Yet, it seems to many Christians are fearful even to be seen in the wrong light, or misunderstood, let alone outright persecution; and yes, they fear conflict!

“Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:9). We are called to be strong and courageous; how does that fit with appeasement, compromise, and avoiding conflict and controversy?

“I will fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4). How does that fit in with resisting Islamisation and reversing it; of standing up to Sharia law and its principles?

“Of whom shall I be afraid” (Psalm 27:1). How does this fit in with our attitude of hoping that we will avoid the social and cultural bullies and their disproval?

“He delivered me from my fears” (Psalm 34:4-8). Do we cultivate this reality, and what would it look like – this a point I want to return to, as ‘formation in the faith’ has to be facilitated by the formation in the character, and frankly, a Sunday Sermon and a bible study group; whilst being part of the picture is clearly not sufficient; there must be more!

To lose our fear we Christians must again aspire to be martyrs as the early Church once did. We must aspire to confront rather than appease the adversaries of the Church. This means that we should, once again, allow the stories of the saints (whoever you think counts as one) to encourage us, especially those who have died at the hands of Islamists; of which there are literally millions over 1400 years. We must celebrate martyrdom again! We need to cultivate a spirit of solidarity that cuts across denominational lines, and builds on common causes; particularly the cause of persecuted Christians. Our thinking about Church needs to shift from the local fellowship or denomination to the idea of ‘the people of GOD.’ We need a greater appreciation for the informal church; the sinews of fellowship that are not organised from the congregational formal church. It would also help a lot of Christians to be more confident and less fearful. If they were just more fit and trained in some martial arts; as in, you know you can defend yourself, you are less fearful of conflict situations; and should it arise, you can actually defend yourself and others. We need to celebrate the Christian villains of our society and rally around the confessors of the faith in very visible ways – so as to show – that to tackle one of us is to tackle all of us!

One could think of a number of examples, but hopefully just one should make my point: a Christian student at Sheffield University who was kicked off of his course for some Facebook posts that crossed the acceptable lines of progressive society. Whilst many Christians felt sorry for him, and he did receive help from Christian concern; why were there not mass protests and public pressure against the University for this act of Christophobia? Why did we not ‘pick a fight’ with the establishment in defence of our brother? If that thought disquiets you, I want to gently suggest you might be one of the comfortable Christians who is harming the Church. The point of such ‘fights’ is that it forces people to pick a side, and those that side with us, using this example, would be those generally on the political right, and those who care about freedom of religion and expression would then have been drawn into an orbit around the Christian Church; much like the hate marches, for Hamas draw people into the orbit of Islam are doing. Christians need to think that this, and care less about bad press and being winsome, and more about being the people of GOD in solidarity with one another.

Now I do understand, as someone that works in this, there are real and legitimate concerns around security. Thus, everything is subject to the application of wisdom. However, the fact that the church (the informal church) could not respond flexibly or reactively enough to what was an emergency situation to what is a safeguarding issue shows that we need to create a formal structure within the church to help our own people – the church – that can just be there. I want to credit Christian Concern for at least trying to do that.

Fear is debilitating the Church. It closes down necessary conversations and avenues of thought and action, limits our scope of responses, and leads to a vice – cowardice worthy of hell!

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelations 21: 8).

I want to put it as strongly as this – a comfortable Christianity leads to a cowardly Christianity, and a cowardly Christianity is no more compatible with being Christian than being licentious or vengeful Christianity! So just as we council against bitterness, as it can lead to wrath and revenge and unforgiveness, so we should also council against ‘comfortable’ churches, church leaders, and church lifestyles because it leads to the damnable sin of cowardice!