Last night we finish our month long vision series: "Haggai: The Renewal of the Church and Re-Evangelisation of Scotland". Let’s be honest: there are tremendous challenges facing the church in Scotland and the western world today. Listen to the summary of John Stevens – former leader of the FIEC in the UK:
“The best statistics suggest that little more than 3% of the population as a whole are born-again believers who are meaningfully associated with a local church. Bible-believing Christians are a tiny minority in a mass of unbelief, vague spirituality, or other religious identity. It is therefore unsurprising that the culture of the UK is fundamentally secular, and increasingly so. This is reflected in political and intellectual life, and above all in the all dominant media which reflects a consistently negative attitude towards Christian belief, ranging from outright hostility to apparently benign disinterest. Most people live as pagans precisely because they are pagans, and they live in practical ignorance of the claims of the Christian faith. A younger generation may have had very little exposure to church or genuine Christian faith. The prevailing ideologies are individualism, hedonism, and libertarianism. They are rooted in the philosophies of the Enlightenment, refined by nihilism, scientific naturalism and postmodernism, and have eclipsed the once-dominant grip of Christianity. It should not surprise us that the wider culture has largely abandoned biblical standards of sexual morality, nor that marriage has been redefined so as to encompass same-sex relationships. These are simply the praxis of the dominant philosophies, under which the only constraint on behaviour is that is that it does not harm others against their will. Churches form a relatively isolated subculture within society as a whole, and a very large number of ministers and congregations have simply failed to grasp the extent to which the culture around them has changed, and how marginal they have become to the political, cultural and philosophical life of the nation. The vast majority, particularly the younger generations, have little intellectual or experiential knowledge of Christianity and its basic beliefs. They think that they know enough about Christianity to dismiss it as implausible, irrelevant or intolerant, and therefore have no interest in finding out more about it, as they regard this as unnecessary. The average person is much further back in their understanding than they were even a generation ago, and therefore models of evangelism that have worked in previous generations no longer have the same effectiveness” (John Stevens: Knowing the Times”)
In light of these challenges, we need to hear Haggai’s reassurance that none of these things can hinder Jesus!
That’s also the message of Os Guinness’ important book: “Renaissance: The Power Of The Gospel However Dark The Times”. He begins asking this timely question:
“Can the Christian church in the advanced modern world be renewed and restored even now and be sufficiently changed to have a hope of again changing the world [SCOTLAND] through the power of the gospel?”
How would you answer: are you optimistic or pessimistic about the renewal of the church and re-evangelisation of the nation? Os Guinness encourages us to be realistically optimistic when he writes:
“Yes, we can, because God can – and He has in the past, and He is doing so elsewhere in the world today, and He is able to do so again, even here in the advanced modern world [SCOTLAND], because God is God and His is the last word in human affairs.”
Helpfully he traces how twice before in history the West has been won for Christ and then lost – first in the 4th century with the collapse of the Roman Empire and secondly in the 20th century with the twilight of Christendom. So the question is: how can Scotland and Europe be won for Christ a third time? Well Guinness rightly warns it won’t be through marketing techniques, business strategies, culture wars, or political campaigns – rather it will be through Christians living and witnessing in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ – as individuals and in community.
That’s the dream, but when the rubber hits the road, what will that actually involve? Well church history tells us that these two earlier missions in the West were successful because Christians: out-thought, out-lived, out-died, and out-prayed the world. That’s what we can and must do again! Let’s briefly look at each of them…
- OUT-THINKING THE WORLD
In the 1st century the Christian church was born into a pagan majority world that resembled a sweetshop filled with different religions, spiritualities and philosophies that people could pic’n’mix. In such a hostile climate, Christian apologists rose up to defend the truth of the Christian story and to make the case for the superiority of the Biblical worldview. They brought Christian truth into the highest places of learning and culture making, from where they flowed out into the rest of society. History shows how many of the greatest thinkers who have contributed to social and scientific progress have been Christians steeped in the Bible.
But today Christian influence upon our culture is in decline, because there are fewer Christians. Into that vacuum the atheistic ideas of evolutionary naturalism and secular humanism have waged a war to discredit the Bible as God’s true Word. The radical ideologies of cultural marxism and social constructionism are reshaping our society in ways contrary to God’s good design.
Such godless ideas matter - a century ago Gresham Machen warned:
"false ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here or there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion".
If we are going to OUT-THINK the world again, then we need to retrace the steps of the apostle Paul: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), and the apostle Peter: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you” (1 Peter 3:15).
If that sounds daunting to you, then I’ll let you into a secret: I’m constantly thankful that there are far smarter Christians out there who have done the heavy lifting for us! Today we are blessed to have great cultural analysts and Christian apologists like Tim Keller, Ravi Zacharias, Amy Orr-Ewing, and David Robertson. In a world of blogs, podcasts, youtube videos and kindle ebooks it has never been easier to absorb the insights of these great Christian thinkers. They will help us be confident that the gospel is the better and truer story!
- OUT-LIVING / OUT-LOVING THE WORLD
In a time when biblical truth is regarded as dangerous and life-denying, we need to show people with our lives that it is desirable and life-giving.
We are called to be whole-life disciples of Jesus – not dividing who we are in church on Sunday from who we are at home, at school, at university, at work, or at play for the rest of the week. In all areas of our lives and everywhere we go in society we want to show that Jesus is Lord – as we work for all that is good, right, just, true and beautiful. It should be the case that Christians are known for what we are for, and not just what we oppose. To that end Jesus exhorts us: “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). And Paul encourages us to: “in everything adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour” (Titus 2:10).
Across the centuries, the counter-cultural lives of Christians has made a huge impact on the watching world. For example, listen to this extract from the 2nd century Letter to Diognetus about Christians:
“They marry, as do others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all…They are poor, yet make many rich… they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers.”
That’s what the life and love of Jesus lived out in community looks like. Wouldn’t that be an incredible reputation for the people of this church to have in our city?
- OUT-DYING THE WORLD
The word “martyr” – literally means witness. Across the centuries, Christians have been willing to suffer and die, rather than deny Jesus. That ultimate sacrifice has been a powerful witness about the reality of the hope found in the gospel. For example in the 2nd century there was an African man named Tertullian. He started off a sceptic but was converted after witnessing the courage of Christians through into the public arenas to be killed by gladiators and wild beasts. Later he wrote “Every man who sees it, is moved with some misgiving, and is set on fire to learn the reason… the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. Seeing Christians put their money where the mouth is, trusting in their risen Saviour to the point of death, was a powerful witness.
Around the world today, millions of our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering for their faith in Jesus. They are holding onto Jesus’ promise: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you before of Me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). And it’s no coincidence that in these hard places that the church is growing!
Here in the West, we’re not yet being persecuted – and although things are becoming more uncomfortable that might not be a bad thing for the health of the church! However, we need to remember that we follow a suffering Saviour. That means we must resist the temptation to chase after the approval of the world, or the temptation to compromise on God’s Word just to keep up with the latest opinion polls. Likewise, we must resist the temptation to seek “victim status” or to play the “victim card”. Rather we must live faithfully for Jesus and ask for His help to face whatever consequences such allegiance might bring. That in itself will be a powerful witness for Christ!
- OUT-PRAYING THE WORLD
We must never forget that we are engaged in a spiritual battle. In Haggai’s day that spiritual battle revolved around a building project; today it rages in the universities, in the schools, in the parliaments, in the courts, in the media, in the arts… in our families, in our friendships, in our workplaces, in our neighbours. Haggai’s contemporary was the prophet Zechariah who told Zerubbabel about the weapons of this spiritual war:
“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts”
Likewise, today our best weapon for this spiritual war is prayer. Paul says:
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God … And pray in the Spirit on all occasions” (Ephesians 6:12-13,18)
- Only God can open blind eyes and open deaf ears to respond to the gospel – so we need to pray
- Only God can bring down the strongholds of unbelief in our culture – so we need to pray
- Only God who can depose and dethrone the idols that have captured peoples’ hearts– so we need to pray
- Only God can defeat the deceitful schemes of the devil – so we need to pray
- Only God can renew the church in Scotland and bless our efforts to re-evangelise the nation of Scotland – so we need to pray!
In conclusion: our dream as a church is to see LIVES TRANSFORMED BY THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS in Edinburgh, Scotland and the world! The dream can become a realitiy as we THINK for Christ… LIVE & LOVE for Christ… SUFFER for CHRIST… and PRAY to CHRIST.