The reaction of much of the church to the fresh lockdown exposes just how irrelevant the church institution has become whilst Christ has never been more relevant for a nation in urgent need of hope.
In his press conference announcing the new lockdown for England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not even give a cursory mention of churches. In the government guidance released soon after, churches made a brief mention in a section about weddings and funerals. What are we to make of this? Is the church being deliberately ignored and excluded or has the church just become irrelevant to a large part of society?
I don’t believe there is an organised state led conspiracy against the church. To credit the state with arranging a conspiracy would be to give their intelligence and ability far more credit than is due. Certainly there are evil demonic spirits operating and there is an insidious scheme to shut the church down which has accelerated since the advent of covid, but it probably isn’t coming directly from our own state authorities even though the spirits operating behind many of our officials certainly do want to see the church silenced.
The central issue in all of this is the state overstepping the realm of its authority by determining what the church can and cannot do when that is in the gift of church leaders to decide, not the state. If pubs were staying open, but churches shut then it would be obvious there was a direct attack on the church, but its an almost blanket shut down, so the issue is not necessarily primarily the shut down itself, more the state overreach.
The lack of attention given to the church is a result of the church becoming largely irrelevant in much of society. It has voluntarily withdrawn from the public square and in many cases has been silent for far too long when it needed to speak up on key issues whilst society has descended into a mire of moral depravity which has sucked the lifeblood out of much of this once great and godly nation. It has exchanged the truth of the gospel for the sweeties of the food bank. The reality of heaven and hell, sin and forgiveness, life and death for a cosy message of self help and sticky plasters that barely cover the wounds of life.
There is of course (sadly) a place for food banks in society as there is for many of the other charitable works the church is involved with and it is absolutely right that the church should be at the centre of providing such services. However, if they are just the same as a food bank organised by a local secular community group you have to stop and ask if the church food bank is really being done out of love, or for love.
I know of many churches that operate food banks, but yet when you ask how they go about sharing the gospel through the food bank you are often met with a rather blank look and a response along the lines of ‘we’re just loving our neighbours’. This is all very well meaning, but handing out food parcels to ‘love our neighbours’ will not save a single soul from the eternal fires of hell. There are of course churches that do it well. My sister’s church in Leicester for example meet to pray over the food and people they will serve before they prepare the parcels. They place prophetic words in the packs that often speak powerfully into people’s lives. They offer prayer when people come to collect the food parcels and they share the hope of Jesus. They do it out of their love for Jesus and their community, not to be loved.
If the gospel is not preached to those who need hope the most, what is the point of the church? Church is meant to be far more than just a cosy extension of social services, it is a hospital for sinners, a place of reckoning, repentance and rejoicing.
The separate responses to the new lockdown by both the Roman Catholic and Church of England Bishops are very revealing. The Roman Catholic Bishops, whilst not explicitly calling on the government to keep churches open say the new lockdown is a “source of deep anguish” and stress the important and vital role the church plays in supporting the spiritual life of worshippers. Their letter expresses concern that churches are being closed without evidence being released that church gatherings are a problem and call on the government to publish the evidence.
The Church of England on the other hand refers to the announcement as ‘difficult and challenging’ and takes a rather lamenting and weak tone that at no point suggests what the state has done is justified or within their gift to do. They make a reference to some vicars being unhappy at the bishop’s response back in March, yet say they will unquestionably comply with the lockdown. The most telling part of the letter is when they say they were not consulted about a new lockdown at all, but they do not seem particularly bothered by it. This perhaps in itself shows just how irrelevant the church has become. We have an established church, the bishops sit in the House of Lords and are part of the legislative process yet it was not even considered to consult them at all. The bishops could not be closer to state government, yet appear to be completely invisible to them and a mere irrelevant sideshow at best.
The problem we have is so much of the church and its leadership have such a juvenile understanding of the church’s place in society and the biblical mandate to create a gospel centred culture. It is out of this lack of understanding that so many seem so ready (however unhappy it makes them) to unquestionably submit to state authorities even when the state acts out-with the realms of its authority.
God has appointed three seats of government for the good governance of society. They are; the family, the church and the state. Society works well when these three seats take up their God given responsibilities fully and do not overstep their area of governance. Things go wrong when there is overreach and this is most common with the state overreaching into either church or most commonly family life.
We need to understand that just because the state has taken authority for itself over the family and the church, it does not need to be that way and the way we change it is by challenging the state.
In the first lockdown, a small group of around 25 church leaders challenged the government on shutting churches down. They didn’t deny the presence of a virus, they didn’t debate whether the churches should be shut down, they merely challenged the authority of the state to act as they did. Eventually the government backed down and almost all regulations affecting churches became guidance and recommendations with no power of enforcement.
This was a crucial victory because for the first time the state accepted they did not have authority over churches to close them down, yet here we are today back at square one again because of sheer ignorance at the heart of the British State.
The battle we are engaged in is a spiritual one. Is is not, as Paul writes in Ephesians 6, a “battle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
God is in control but not controlling, whereas the devil is not in control but seeks to be controlling as he tries to wrestle for control. This is a war that started in heaven when the devil tried to usurp God and it is a war that ended on the cross with Jesus’ death and resurrection. We continue to fight spiritual battles until the devil is finally killed off forevermore.
Once we understand this, we can view what is happening to the church today in that context: the devil wants nothing more than to keep people in the kingdom of hell. The church (the body of believers rather than the institution) is the main thing standing in his way and so he is wrestling to shut the church down. You only have to look to North Korea, China, Burma and other regimes that hate God, the first thing they do is seek to silence and shut the church down because the church represents a challenge to the demonic authority of totalitarian regimes.
The church has never shut down before in times of war, famine, plague until the year 2020 when a pesky China flu erupted and the church was shut down with barely a whimper of disquiet.
Praise God that now many more church leaders have woken up and are fighting back, but significant damage has been done not least to a people who are now nearly totally gripped by fear that has totally paralysed their cognitive ability to see through the agenda of what is going on.
For many people in society today, church does not feature at all. Even weddings and funerals increasingly take place in secular settings without even the hint of a hymn, prayer or reference to God. Most children growing up today will not be taught bible stories. The church is now relegated to a position of irrelevance in society.
This irrelevance has not happened by accident. Nor has it happened overnight, but the covid crisis has exposed the condition of the church.
Despite all this, whilst the church may be cornered into a position of irrelevance, Christ and his message of redemption has never been more relevant to a nation in urgent need of hope.
So many have been swamped by the media barrage of scare headlines and empty supermarket shelves. For so long many people have tried to succeed in life by themselves pretending they have no need to recognise their place as a sinner in need of God’s mercy. Many have considered themselves immune to death. Indeed much of the government messaging around covid has been about “saving lives” as if it is in our gift to do such a thing. It has far more to do with avoiding death than saving life because for people without hope, death is a disaster.
For as long as the pubs were open people thought they were happy. For as long as people could go to the cinema with friends and watch gratuitous imagery they thought they were not lonely. For as long as people could casually hook up and engage in acts of extra marital sexual relations they thought they could find contentment in life. Yet once all this was taken away many people found their lives to be without meaning, purpose, happiness or contentment because they had sought to fill the God shaped hole in their heart by looking everywhere but nowhere. The tragic reality is for many they saw the only way out as ending their life.
In the midst of this chaos, confusion and fear, the gospel message is one that resonates with so many. Of course it would be nice if people responded to Christ in the good times, but often it takes a crisis for people to be humbled and recognise their need for salvation.
I believe that because of how rotten the institution of the church in this nation has become, because of the false idols it has erected Jesus is now moving through individuals and small gatherings in a way not seen since the revivals of the early 20th century. Many have been crying out for God to intervene and shake the nation that it would turn to him. We have the shaking, now will we get the turning?
The history of revival shows us that before every revival there is widespread social, spiritual and moral decline. The pews empty as the pubs and prisons fill up, the weddings dwindle as the illegitimate children mount up. The laws change from honouring God to exalting man. Widespread holiness is replaced by hopelessness. Prosperity turns to poverty and laughter to loneliness.
Yet, God through his grace and mercy has always maintained a remnant who refuse to accept the drift and decline of the nation. He calls those few to humble themselves, to pray, to seek his face, to turn from their wicked ways and he hears from heaven, he forgives the sin and he heals the land. It is a promise made in 2 Chronicles 7:14 and it is a promise that still stands today.
Right now in the United Kingdom we are at a place of spiritual drought. Much of society has not just turned its back on God, but is now actively operating against him. These forces of hell shall not prevail and this nation will once again see revival and from there, great moral and political reformation.
Almost every major political reform in the last several hundred years has been preceded by a major revival, itself the result of the remnant refusing to accept the spiritual decline of society. This is no coincidence. When a nation gets right with God, He puts the nation right. How amazing would it be if what follows the coming revival is the sort of political reform that brings an end to abortion in this nation?
So many are currently living in a state of fear, unhappiness, loneliness, joblessness and hopelessness. Christ defeated fear, he brings joy through salvation, he is a companion to the lonely, he creates jobs and wealth and brings hope to even the most hopeless of situations.
I am confident that we are going to see a great and mighty revival in this nation. The devil is raging, but the remnant is rising.
Christ is in the process of reforming the church that has become so dry and stale. He is calling people to pray like never before and that gospel message of hope in place of hopelessness, faith over fear, light in place of darkness and life instead of death is exactly the message the people of this nation need to hear right now. The time for church silence is over, it is time for the church to arise and loudly proclaim once again that Jesus is Lord over this nation.
The church institution may be largely irrelevant just now, but Christ is just as relevant today as he always has been. The tide is about to turn are you ready to be revived by God? Are you willing to stand up, speak out and proclaim the Lordship of Christ to a broken and needy people in this nation’s hour of need?