Is The Church Half-Dead Today? image

Is The Church Half-Dead Today?

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the day that The Independent newspaper made its famous prediction: "The Church Will Be Dead In Forty Years' Time". It was a British newspaper speculating about the British Church, but on 16th April 2000 its prediction provoked much discussion amongst church leaders right across the Western world. Is there therefore any significance to the fact that, as we reach the halfway mark through the final forty years that The Independent gave us, we find ourselves in a strange hiatus moment for the Western Church? Is God giving us a pause so that he can share with us a few half-time reflections?

I am convinced that he is, so I have been working through the book of Jeremiah as I reflect on what the Lord is trying to teach us about the Church in these trying times. I have been asking myself whether we have used the past two decades wisely, and whether the Church in the West is in better or worse shape than it was when The Independent issued its dire prediction on 16th April 2000.

I have been reflecting on how we handle the Word of God in our churches. Are we more diligent in our Bible teaching than we were twenty years ago? Are we bolder in our proclamation of the Gospel than we were when a secular newspaper called out the problem of Church decline? Are those of us who are preachers spending more time on our knees giving God time speak his Word deep into our hearts, or are we even more busy with other things than we were in 2000? Jeremiah 23:21-22 issues preachers with a solemn warning and a glorious promise: “I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their own message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.”

I have also been reflecting on how we partner with the Spirit of God in our churches. Are we thirstier for the Holy Spirit than we were twenty years ago? Do we make more room for him to move in our church gatherings, and do we place more emphasis on the paramount importance of every Christian being a carrier of the presence of God? Are we less transfixed by church-growth tactics and by the ministry hacks that are offered by the latest paperbacks than we were back on 16th April 2000? Jeremiah 2:13 issues us with another solemn warning and glorious promise: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

I have been reflecting on how much we grasp the Mercy of God in our churches. Are we more aware or less aware of God’s promises to restore the fortunes of his people than we were two decades ago when The Independent predicted the death of the Church two decades from now? Do we talk more or less about repentance? Do we believe more or less in the possibility of revival? How much, in this coronavirus season, are we meditating on the Lord’s promise to his people in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14? “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send an epidemic among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgiven their sin and will heal their land.”

Like everybody else, I want the COVID-19 crisis to pass as quickly as possible, with a minimum of loss of life. At the same time, I believe that God still has things to teach us through the biggest disruption to the Church in any of our lifetimes. I don’t believe that The Independent newspaper was right. I am aware that the English writer Thomas Woolston predicted the demise of Western Christianity in 1710 - shortly before the great revival that came through George Whitefield and John Wesley! I am aware that the French philosopher Voltaire predicted the death of Western Christianity towards the end of the eighteenth century - shortly before the missionary movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries produced more converts to Christ than the previous eighteen centuries combined!

But I do not believe that such turnarounds are inevitable. As we arrive at the halfway mark in the final forty years that The Independent gave to British Christianity, I am convinced that God has given Christians all around the world a moment for reflection through this strange season that we are in. I believe that he wants to give us a half-time team talk about how we handle the Word of God, how we partner with the Spirit of God and how we lay hold of the Mercy of God.

How are you making the most of this half-time moment for reflection? What do you sense that God is saying to the Church in your nation?

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