Our happy identity


BE TRUE TO YOURSELF
By 
Matt Fuller
The Good Book Company. 185 pages. £6.79
ISBN 978 1 784 982 911
Buy online from The Good Book Company 

file_2cx6bk7ninfb5y5uwyytu34hqy27iseeThe minute I finished this book I bought two copies for my sons! Being true to yourself is everyone’s dream. It’s the key to happiness. But only when you’ve worked out who you are.

Matt Fuller’s 11 chapters help us to do that. He takes us down the dead ends of the usual things that shape how we think of ourselves (like the opinion of others, or fulfilling the desires we have). He examines how we like to project ourselves in a selfie world. He does it with the wisdom that comes from much reading, and an insightful mind that comes from contact with lots of different people. The book is short and written in a style that teenagers will keep reading to the end – it makes you both think and smile!

But I bought it for my sons, who are pastors. It’ll inject wisdom into their ministry. It is sensitive. The desire to be true to yourself affects our approach to our gender identity and sexual appetites. It is hard to refute the world’s drive to self-expression in these areas. Fuller does: convincingly.

He attractively explains that to be true to yourself means knowing who God made you to be. We are image, not original. We are copies of God and you can’t say that of any other creature. He gives us our identity, and happiness comes from being true to it. This helps us to address our struggles, resist peer pressure, handle criticism, and leads to making good decisions.

We may not like ourselves, but the answer is to be amazed that God loves us – like a famous star wanting a selfie with us!

Fuller teaches the gospel by showing it answers this quest for happiness. Self-expression sounds like the route to it. But self-denial paradoxically gets us there. Self-serving sounds like the way to be satisfied. But serving others (in marriage, in church) helps us to be true to our best selves. This book shows how to invest in relationships.

Some books just do you good to read, but this one is impossible to keep; because the more who read it the better.

Mike Reith
Retired vicar who attends St.Peter’s Stapenhill (Burton).

† For help with online ordering please contact The Good Book Company directly. EN will receive a small commission for each sale.

 

Freedom in lockdown?


There’s a mighty argument brewing in Scotland over free speech. With a global pandemic going on, you might think the Scottish Government was too busy with its response to that to be introducing controversial new legislation. But the coronavirus has not stopped the Justice Secretary from pushing ahead with plans to remove Scotland’s old blasphemy laws and replace them with new hate crime laws.

The new Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill removes the centuries-old Scottish blasphemy laws and replaces them with new legislation.

While the abolition of the blasphemy law will make no real difference in day-to-day life (it was last used in 1843), the new offences of stirring up hatred will prove especially controversial.

The Bill also expands the list of so called ‘protected characteristics’ to include age. That list will then be as follows: age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, and transgender identity *.

Some will argue that we don’t want to live in a society where hatred and prejudice are on display all the time. I sympathise with this argument. There is a spectrum of views as to where we draw the line when it comes to the sort of speech that is acceptable or not. However, the concept of hate crimes and hate speech is incredibly slippery and raises far more questions than answers. At the heart of the debate is the issue about who becomes the judge of what constitutes acceptable speech?

Take the phrase ‘hate crime’. Immediately, it begs the question: what is ‘hatred’ and who defines it? Is it even possible to produce a legally workable definition?

When you add the word ‘laws’ to the phrase, it should send a shudder down our spines. For a nation to introduce hate crime laws is a very serious matter. As one Christian MSP, Murdo Fraser, has warned, the laws being proposed in Scotland would trigger a ‘full-frontal assault on free speech’.

If, as is the case in Scotland, the judge of acceptable speech ends up being the State, then that’s a far more serious proposition. The State is not neutral; it holds and evangelises various beliefs. The State in both Scotland and England holds to certain positions on issues like gender or sexuality, and it is not slow to promote those views.

The obvious point here is that evangelical Christians could end up on the wrong side of these laws. For example, under the Scottish Government’s new hate crime laws, will a Christian pastor who teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman be imprisoned? What about a Christian expressing a criticism of Islam? Or what if I say that I believe that God made humans male and female and, contrary to State wisdom, there are not 25+ genders?

The recent treatment of evangelist Franklin Graham highlights that these are not idle fears.

Historically, it is authoritarian regimes that rely on hate speech laws to suppress opposition and control the people. In many Islamic countries there are laws to prohibit negative criticisms of Mohammed. After the Second World War, the Soviet Union wanted to define hate speech. It never ends well.

We are supposed to be living in a democracy and at the heart of true democracy is the freedom to criticise, to accuse, to make criticisms of other systems of belief.

As Christians, how might we respond? Firstly, we can be honest and admit the existence of ‘hate speech’. Racism, sexism, insulting language, are all very real. And these challenges must not be minimised or ignored. James reminds us that the tongue is a ‘restless evil’ and compares it to the spark that can light a forest fire. We should, therefore, guard our tongues in recognition of the damage they can do.

Secondly, we must also acknowledge that hate speech and hate crime legislation cannot solve the real issue, which is sin in the human heart. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can deal with that. Freedom of expression means greater freedom to share the gospel. Therefore, we should champion free speech. In Scotland, the proposed law is a real danger.

So, thirdly, we must pray that MSPs see the wood for the trees and respond with effective, robust and proper scrutiny.

James Mildred

James Mildred is Head of Communications for CARE

*Editor’s Note: Sex is missing despite it being a protected characteristic in the 2010 Equality Act. The Scottish government is said to be considering how it would include ‘sex/gender’, and may introduce a specific offence of misogynistic harassment. Offences motivated by prejudice towards someone’s sex/gender are not at present considered by Scottish law to be hate crimes.

Last Word: Airbrushing


Airbrush (n.) – 1876 invention that spreads paint using air pressure which is often employed in the delicate improvement of photographs.

The noun sounds far from sinister, but its verb form is more disturbing. For in recent decades airbrushing has not merely been employed in the world of cinematography to drive unrealistic portrayals of beauty, but it has cropped up increasingly in the political arena. Dictators of the recent past airbrushing out sections of society who did not conform to Communist ideals, had been highlighted by George Orwell. But the idea that democratic Western governments could do the same (post 1984) has often been derided.

Yet, in recent weeks, we may have witnessed something similar. In late March, government officials spoke of increasing coronavirus-related deaths. At daily briefings, young doctors and nurses who had died were fittingly honoured. When our Prime Minister rose from his hospital bed we rightly cheered. Yet outside the hospital wings there was an equally grim tale untold. Thousands were dying in care homes.

Journalists eventually picked up the scent in April. But when BBC Radio 4 asked Therese Coffey, Work and Pensions Secretary, if hospital deaths were ‘just the tip of the iceberg’, she reiterated that Covid-19 death rates would be based upon hospital records alone. Her reasoning? This data is ‘quick and accurate’. There is certainly some logic to this when one considers the challenge of testing. But how hard would it have been to collect some data? Why was there seemingly such a failure to highlight care homes? Did such impoverished recording occur because ministers didn’t want to cause greater panic? Was it because they didn’t want to report higher death tolls than their European counterparts? Or was it simply because anyone over 80 can be airbrushed from the picture?

At the time, Caroline Abrahams, Director of Age Concern, responded: ‘the current figures are airbrushing older people out like they don’t matter.’ Her point was hard to argue against. On 24 April the Department of Health had recorded 22,173 deaths, yet the true figure was 29,648. Well-respected consultancy group, Candesic, suggested that more than 6,000 died in care homes in April. And, as I write, reports say that almost one third of all coronavirus deaths are happening there. The elderly have been miserably underrepresented in official statistics.

What makes such airbrushing acceptable? Sadly, modern researchers answer, because so few care if the elderly are blotted out. Dr Hannah Swift (University of Kent) published an intriguing paper just before lockdown on the very topic. There she highlighted that ageism is now rife in Britain as many see the baby-boomer generation as merely a societal burden. Accordingly, as some push for the lifting of lockdown, we hear of a younger generation speaking of coronavirus as ‘just an old person’s disease.’

Painting a better picture

So, what might God’s people do amid such times? Firstly, we should remember that local churches have opportunity to equip believers for such debates within the public square. Many Christians have the chance to redress such prejudice in their places of work. All of us are able to write to our local MPs about issues of age-related discrimination. We could, and perhaps should, pray for an emancipating modern Wilberforce to champions the cause of the octogenarians.

More realistically (and perhaps more biblically) local churches, in this season, must demonstrate that they are the alternative kingdoms of justice and love. As outposts of heaven, local churches are to demonstrate that the elderly church member is at the forefront of their minds. We are to do good to all, but the unbelieving senior should become almost jealous of the practical care and love that they see lavished upon their believing neighbours by their local churches (Gal. 6:10).

Moreover, in this season where there is every temptation for churches to airbrush out the elderly in church communication (because ‘Arthur is not on the church WhatsApp group’, or ‘Betty doesn’t know how to operate Zoom’), those in ministry must work particularly hard to include them. Assistant minsters are to pick up the phone to talk on the landline, ministry trainees are to coordinate the shopping, and if necessary the pastor is to print Sunday’s sermon and post it through the letterbox (this is my and my son’s current one-hour exercise slot for Sunday mornings).

While the UK continues to airbrush people out of society, we must not let that happen in our churches. The elderly are still those made in God’s image. They still comprise the body of Christ. And, honestly, they are not blemishes but some of the most beautiful parts of that body.

When I called one of our very elderly members, Dorothy, last week and asked how she was getting on she said: ‘I’m doing great. Bill and I pray for you every morning after breakfast. We just make our way down the list of church members and we pray for all of you.’

Dorothy might not have raised £30 million for the NHS this past month, but she is as much the Captain Tom Moore of our church. She needs to be appreciated and not airbrushed.

Stand up in the presence of the elderly and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the LORD.” (Lev. 19:32)

Jonathan Worsley, Editor

Jonathan Worsley is also pastor of Kew Baptist Church, London

Photograph: iStock.

Coronavirus: The story for Africa


Though the spread of coronavirus in Africa lags behind that in Europe or the USA, a catastrophic effect is predicted, especially in townships, slums and camps, because so many live closely in already unhygienic conditions.

Most African countries are locked down and present a sad picture – daily labourers cannot get to work in the fields to harvest the food needed, so are not paid and have no food. Because food is scarce, people flout the lockdown in order to find some.

The Barnabas Fund has formed an emergency committee to monitor how coronavirus impacts around the world, assessing how best to support the vulnerable. An extensive network of partners is already in place to provide regular updates.

Partners include, among others, ten Anglican provinces, five theological institutions, GAFCON, Anglican International Development and EFAC (the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion).

An Africa-wide committee will: assist in deploying relief and assistance; gather information; make needs known; source finance and supplies; and ensure secure distribution. Its goal is to enable Christian communities to remain in existence with a working leadership that can collaborate with other bodies, local administration and governments to deliver resources, care and comfort.

Archbishop Ben Kwashi, General Secretary of GAFCON, has issued a video to encourage people to: Believe the virus can be defeated, wash their hands and stay home.

The committee will identify the priority needs and areas for the following assistance: food relief especially for those on daily wages who have no income; pastors’ salaries for those dependent on weekly tithes, since churches cannot meet; hygiene materials e.g. thousands of masks to protect health workers and others exposed to the virus.

The committee will also identify secure distribution centres for food, funds and supplies.

The international director of Barnabas Fund, the Very Revd Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, Managing Director of the committee, draws attention to the need to secure trucks and warehouses from attack, to ensure funds are released from banks, and to protect individuals carrying large amounts of cash or food, who are vulnerable.

The Barnabas Fund webpage: barnabasfund.org/en/coronavirus contains relevant information from the global network, updated project needs and news relevant to Covid-19 as they impact God’s people.

A dazzling theatre for God’s glory


Sharon James looks at the role of Christianity in the public square

In 1793 a poor cobbler from an obscure village in Northamptonshire arrived in Calcutta. Driven by the conviction that God should be glorified in all nations, William Carey (1761–1834) is remembered as the father of the modern mission movement and as a great educationalist and social reformer.

He translated Scripture, preached the gospel and trained Christian ministers. He also promoted education for all, pioneered technological, horticultural and agricultural innovations that would alleviate poverty, and campaigned against abuses (such as widow-burning) which demeaned the dignity of women.

William Carey defied the idea that the Christian faith can be pushed into a private sphere involving only personal, family and church observance. He shared the Reformed conviction that God’s glory is supreme in all things and that this world, both natural and social, was created to provide a dazzling theatre for the display of that glory.

What is the public square?

Many today tell us that you can believe what you want, worship as you wish, and run your home as you please, but ‘don’t bring your faith into the public square’!

The ‘public square’ relates to what goes on outside our own religious practice, our home and our church. It concerns interactions with our neighbours and community (work, education, business, voluntary associations, public services), what goes on in our nation (media, academia, politics), and global matters (international bodies and corporations). Whether we go to school, college or work, or engage in voluntary activities, or have positions of influence in public services, local government, media or politics – we can be confident rather than timid if we remember these biblical truths:

• God is the Creator. He has placed His moral law on the heart and conscience of all people made in His image. Following His moral law leads to human flourishing.

• Truth is absolute. God’s truth is true for all people, and true for all of life.

• God has ordained rulers to restrain evil and promote good, but we remember that Jesus is Lord. If earthly authorities command us to do anything in direct opposition to Christ, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

• We are to function as salt and light in a corrupt and dark world. We are to love our neighbour, which includes engaging with policies that affect our neighbour for good or ill.

The transforming impact of ‘ordinary’ Christians

During the first three centuries, Christianity spread rapidly despite strong persecution. Christians insisted on the dignity of all people as made in God’s image, which resulted in an ethic of service to others: a stark contrast to the surrounding culture. Emperor Julian the Apostate, who reigned from 361 to 363 AD, lamented that Christians, who he hated, showed love and compassion, whereas his pagan countrymen did not.

Over 2,000 years, countless Christians have had a transformative impact, even when they have not enjoyed a privileged position in their societies. This has had (and still has) an immeasurable impact on health provision, philanthropy, education, on elevating the dignity of women, and on challenging injustice. For example, today in India many Christians are at the forefront of trying to rescue those regarded as ‘untouchable’ by the caste system.

Some suggest that Christians have only been able to impact society when they have been in an ‘established’ position of privilege. But many have served sacrificially even when discriminated against themselves. John Comenius (1592–1670) of Moravia spent much of his life as a religious refugee because of his Reformed faith. Driven by the conviction that everyone made in God’s image should learn about God, man and nature, he started schools for poor children, both girls and boys. He wrote around 90 books on education, and published the first-ever picture book for children. Many European rulers sought his advice. Some consider him to be the father of modern education.

Right into the 19th century Christians in Britain who, for conscientious reasons, couldn’t belong to the established Church, suffered penalties designed to keep them out of the public square. They were not able to hold public office until 1835 or enter the universities until 1871. Exclusion from the establishment meant they threw their energies behind commerce, businesses, alternative educational establishments or numerous charitable endeavours.

Andrew Reed (1787–1862), for example, left school early and was largely self-taught. This humble Baptist minister became a nationally-recognised pioneer in care for orphans, those with learning disabilities and the terminally ill. Elizabeth Fry (1780–1845) was converted as a teenager in the Society of Friends. Almost immediately she took the initiative to start a school for poor children. Aged 20, she married a fellow Quaker and went on to have 11 children. That didn’t stop her charitable work! Her visits to Newgate prison transformed conditions there. She went on to campaign for prison reform at a national and international level. She is widely remembered today. By contrast, Sarah Martin (1791–1843) is now forgotten. Orphaned at an early age, she had to go out to work as a seamstress aged 14. But her voluntary work in the prison in Great Yarmouth elevated conditions for the inmates and led to declining reoffending rates in the town.

‘You can’t legislate morality!’

On 12 May 1789, William Wilberforce (1759–1833) made his first major speech in the House of Commons on the issue of slavery. He reasoned that the trade in human beings was morally unacceptable. Those who profited from the trade were incensed by his effort to bring ‘private’ morality into public life.

When, 178 years later, the 1967 Abortion Act passed through the Westminster Parliament, nearly all evangelicals remained silent. In 1980, Francis Schaeffer (1912– 1984) brought his landmark film series Whatever Happened to the Human Race? to Britain, attempting to stir up awareness of the need to defend human life. Comments heard at this time among evangelicals included: ‘I don’t want to get involved in politics.’ ‘We shouldn’t impose our morality on others.’ ‘The church should keep to spiritual matters.’ Schaeffer believed that many had bought into the idea that there are ‘two storeys’ of reality: the ‘upper storey’ relating to spiritual values (private), and the ‘lower storey’ relating to facts (public truth). This unbiblical divide served to gag Christian witness by keeping it in the ‘private’ realm. His books and films were one factor leading to evangelical re-engagement with public policy from the 1980s onwards.

The ‘naked public square’?

Some still maintain that governments ‘shouldn’t legislate morality’. We need to remember that fraud, theft and murder are all matters of morality! We are not to try to coerce others into religious compliance. True faith is voluntary. But we are to seek (graciously) to influence others to see the need to defend human life, and to adopt measures that lead to human flourishing.

Many assume that if religion is kept out of the public square it will leave a neutral, tolerant space in which all can flourish. But emptying the public square of the Christian conviction that all humans are created in the image of God, with real dignity and freedom, makes space for a hard secularism which is far from neutral. It is based on a worldview which sees Christianity as toxic and Christian morality as repressive. This worldview dominates the major institutions of the West. It is deeply intolerant.

While many evangelicals have failed to engage effectively with the lies that poison our culture, some non-Christian writers such as Tom Holland, author of Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind,* have shown that the ideas underpinning liberal democracy were, and are, grounded in the Christian faith. In The Madness of Crowds, atheist writer Douglas Murray warns of the totalitarian dangers of ‘liberal overreach’, where views which ‘hurt the feelings’ of ‘victim minorities’ are silenced.

To retreat into a private bubble of personal devotion and chummy corporate worship only encourages opponents of biblical Christianity to push back into the private sphere itself.

• State overreach now threatens church freedoms: for example, some demand legislation against ‘spiritual abuse’ (calls for repentance can be viewed as abusive). State overreach threatens family

• freedoms: for example, therapeutic culture views all exercise of discipline as potentially abusive (hence the banning of smacking in Wales and Scotland). freedom of

• State overreach threatens thought and speech: as when an academic was accused of bigotry after she posted on social media that only women can have periods.

Living for the King

In 1863, a young Dutch ministerial candidate, Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), was converted to living Christianity. The established Church in the Netherlands had succumbed to liberal theology. A pious remnant loved the Lord, but had retreated into private devotion. Kuyper, as a newly-converted minister, wanted to plead with his few believing parishioners: ‘Don’t just sit reading your book in the corner’!

Kuyper recognised the need to challenge the strongholds of untruth. He wanted Christian parents to be free to organise their own schools. In order to campaign for this he entered journalism, going on to edit a national newspaper, found a political party and start a Christian university. Kuyper would ultimately serve as Prime Minister. He pursued policies that would further human flourishing, motivated by his conviction that Christ is King, with all authority in Heaven and on Earth, and that God should be glorified in every area of life. His articulation of the doctrine of ‘sphere sovereignty’ provides a biblical bulwark against overweening state intrusion.

Today, if we truly love our neighbour and seek God’s glory in all of life, we won’t accept the lie that the public square should be stripped of Christian influence. We will see, as Abraham Kuyper did, that: ‘There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, “Mine”!’

Dr Sharon James is social policy analyst for The Christian Institute, http://www.christian.org.uk Sign up to our free mailing list to receive ongoing briefings on issues of current concern in the public square. Forthcoming subjects will include teenage gender confusion and social contagion, and Identity Politics.

* See EN’s review of Holland’s book here

Fright At The Museum: Scrolls Are Fakes


The Museum of the Bible has recently announced that 16 fragments in its collection that it had thought to have been examples of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls are forgeries. Steve Green, the owner of American chain Hobby Lobby, is the major financial backer of the museum and significant money was paid to acquire the fragments.

The authentic Dead Sea Scrolls came to light in 1946 when Bedouin boys found ancient biblical manuscripts from the first century hidden in a cave in the Judean wilderness. Subsequent excavations have identified 12 caves, thousands of fragments and 900 manuscripts. These include sections of almost all books of the Old Testament and many other religious writings as well. The scrolls are of enormous value in providing evidence for the reliability of the copying tradition of the Bible.

However, the scrolls that were discovered are only a fraction of the original writings. They are thought to be the library of a Jewish group living at Qumran near the Dead Sea. Other scrolls were probably lost, stolen, decayed or remain to be found. In 2018, new caves were found in the region that had once stored scrolls but had evidently been looted about 40 years ago. Such scrolls probably made their way on to the black market.

In 2002, about 70 fragments came onto the market and the Museum of the Bible acquired 16 of them. By 2017, five of these acquisitions had been tested by Germany’s Federal Institute for Materials Research and demonstrated to be fake. The Museum then submitted the remaining fragments in its collection to analysis. Art Fraud Insights, who carried out this testing over six months, have concluded: ‘None of the textual fragments in [the] Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic’. The leather upon which they are written is from the Roman period and the handwriting mimics the appropriate style of that time. However, close analysis reveals many faults in the forged scrolls. The wrong kind of glue is used. There is evidence that whoever forged them copied from later manuscripts and even misread some of the characters. One letter seems to be a modern notation from a 1937 copy of the Hebrew Bible. Analysis of how the ink pooled when wet shows that the leather was already ancient and cracked when they were written upon.

The Museum of the Bible have now withdrawn the scrolls from display. None of this casts any doubt on the authenticity of the collection of Dead Sea Scrolls housed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Indeed, this story has helped to confirm their authenticity because it has demonstrated how robust scientific analysis can be. Artefacts are subjected to increasingly sophisticated levels of scrutiny that enable us to discern and dismiss fakes and fabrications.

The rise of ISIS across the Middle East also led to a increase in the sale of dubious, often looted, artefacts on the antiquities market. In 2016, Hobby Lobby agreed to return 5,500 cuneiform tablets and cylinders that it had purchased from an unnamed dealer in Iraq. This is good for the Christian faith, as the search for evidence should not conflict with honesty and integrity. It may also mark a shift away from paying vast sums of money for artefacts with unknown provenance to more interest in funding proper archaeological excavations under controlled supervision.

Chris Sinkinson

Read on e-n.org.uk

Gen Z: What Now… And Where Do We Go From Here?


If there was a prize for the number of key people you’ve influenced before you are 18, Greta Thunberg would probably be a strong contender. She has had an extraordinary time in the last year, speaking at major conferences, going to key places, and meeting so many important world leaders. It’s sometimes hard to remember she will only be 18 later on in 2020. She is part of the Gen Z generation.

The large numbers of people born after the end of the Second World War, especially in the US and the UK, caused the phrase ‘baby boomer’ to be popular for a while, quickly shortened to just ‘boomer,’ and usually taken for simplicity as those born between 1945 and 1963. Those coming afterwards were far fewer in number; they ‘stopped the boom’, or ‘busted’ it, and so for a while were called the ‘baby busters’. This is a disparaging title, however, and when Douglas Coupland published his book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture in 1991 his phrase instantly stuck and they became ‘Gen X’ (born 1964 to 1982) from then on.

The children of Gen X could naturally be called Gen Y and they were for some time, and their grandchildren Gen Z, but with the Gen Y cohort being those born between 1983 and 2001, around the time of the dawn of the new millennium, the term ‘millennials’ became fashionable and has stuck ever since. Different people give slightly different years of birth for each cohort, but the years for Gen Z are here taken as 2002 to 2020: that is, they are all 21st century!

They weren’t born when 9/11 happened; only a few were born when Concorde was mothballed in 2003 and someone born in 2005 was only 11 when the Brexit Referendum took place! In 2005, 39% of the churches in England had no-one attending under the age of 11, and 49% had no-one between 11 and 14, so the number of Gen Z children in church is alarmingly few.

The latest large-scale count of numbers of children at church was the 2016 Scottish Church Census where, as an overall percentage, rather more go to church than in England (nationally 6.4% across all ages in 2020 compared with 4.9%). The Scottish Census, however, broke down the numbers of children under 16 attending church into three age groups. It showed there was very little difference between boys and girls but a quarter, 27%, of all children in church were under five, half, 52%, were between five and 11, and the remaining group, a fifth, 21%, were between 12 and 15. Collectively they were 15% of all Scottish churchgoers in 2016. In England the percentage in 2020 is estimated at 16%.

When do people start to attend and start to leave church?

A 1994 survey, ‘Finding Faith’, asked current churchgoers at what age they had started coming to church. 72% said before they were 15. Some of these had stopped going to church, but at the time of the survey had returned. Of those who had stopped going to church, 2% had done so when aged between six and ten and 16% when aged 11 to 15. When did those now at church first experience a personal faith? Half, 51%, before they were 15. These results are similar to other surveys asking similar questions in years before 1994.

The peak age for leaving church was between 16 and 20, when 42% had done so. The average length of time ‘out of church’ was ten years, but for those who had stopped before they were 15 it was longer, some 16 years.

The results of these studies are seriously challenging. What caused young people and those in their 30s to actually find faith? The 1994 survey asked this as well, and the results by age of commitment to Christ are as follows:

For teenagers the positive factors were: Church attendance (86%); Reading the Bible (68%); Friends (60%); Worship experience (55%); Church activity (34%). The negative factors for teenagers were: Content with no faith (39%).

For those aged 26-40 the positive factors were: Reading the Bible (74%); Experience of homegroup (66%); Reading a book other than the Bible (49%); A particular life event (34%). The negative factors were: Christian integrity (36%); Not knowing how to pray (33%). (Note that churchgoing was not in the list for the older age group!)

A further survey along these lines for Gen Z and their parents would be invaluable in clarifying these trends for the new decade. Almost certainly the results today would be somewhat different, although friends, worship experience and Christian activities would still play a strong part. A recent Barna survey showed the huge importance of mothers encouraging churchgoing, and Christian grandparents also. Christian mothers also talk about the Bible (more than fathers), and especially about God’s forgiveness (as do grandparents). Somewhere into this mix social media would also feature.

Peter Brierley

Dr Peter Brierley can be contacted on peter@brierley res.com or via http://www.brierleyconsultancy.com.

Women: Sex-Specific Persecution


A report issued in March on the top 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian examined the various ways in which men and women experience different persecution.

Quoted by 84% of respondents, the two most-reported persecutions used against Christian women and girls globally are sexual violence and forced marriage.

Across every region of the world, sexual violence continues to be the most prevalent means of exerting power and control over Christian women, as well as being a form of punishment. Often sexual violence is outside marriage, but sometimes a woman is forced into an unwelcome marriage, at times even with the perpetrator himself. In such a case it is used intentionally to dishonour the Christian woman and, consequently, her family and community.

Sexual violence leaves persecuted Christian women in ‘living death’, hidden and isolated, especially if they are converts from another faith.

Although physically alive, these women are hidden and isolated; hence their suffering is frequently unreported. They are also lost to the Christian community and to the future of the church.

Informing the church

Open Doors’ Director for Women, Helene Fisher, said: ‘When women and girls are sexually assaulted they endure untold mental and physical abuse, while also sometimes trapped in “marriages” against their will. Even if they can escape the terrors of this fate, a devastating stigma and rejection will follow them for the rest of their lives. This shame is meant to leave these women alive but with no future. Sadly, even in Christian communities, rejection is practiced out of shame and a lack of knowledge. No future for them also means they won’t be part of a future family within their religious community.’

Without an awareness of sex-specific forms of religious persecution, these methods of undermining the church are often overlooked. A lack of awareness is directly related to inaction and effective solutions. When not recognised as persecution, these incidents are processed as ‘normal’ within their relevant cultural context – leaving the church vulnerable.

Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK said: ‘We need to teach a truly biblical understanding of the dignity and inherent worth of all humans – men, women and children. This prevents persecutors from dividing, and therefore weakening, communities through these attacks.’

The report said that churches can play a strong role in bringing healing in the most difficult circumstances; programmes can teach leaders and members how to restore women and communities after these tragedies.

Train one, impact thousands

Youth leader Tigist mentors teenagers at her local church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They look for truth, meaning, and real hope in the midst of the troubled world they’ve grown up in. Because of her training under Langham Scholar Dr Seble Daniel at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, Tigist can now help her teens find answers to their questions in God’s word.

For Tigist, the mentoring she’s had has made all the difference. She said: ‘Investing in theological leaders [like Seble Daniel] … changes the face of the church … It’s like when you put lights on in a dark room, you can see where the wrong things are, where the messy things are … studying with Seble helps me to understand the word of God and how to deal with issues.’

Dr Daniel’s leadership continues to influence an area where educated women are the exception, not the norm. With the platform her PhD provides, Seble pours her life into building up more leaders who will impact their communities.

Now a passionate and confident mentor, Tigist has seen her youth ministry grow from 20 teenagers to 70. In addition, Tigist serves as director of Alpha Ethiopia, part of a widely-known global organisation that connects people to the basics of Christianity.

‘What I learn helps me to provide a proper [biblical] meal for the young people. I see their lives transformed in their thinking, and in their faith and belief in Jesus. It’s not just ‘I believe in Jesus,’ but they know who Jesus is.’

‘In our community, it’s really tough being a woman and being an educated woman,’ Tigist explains.

Tigist is mentoring these young women and girls so that they know their worth and potential – and it’s transforming lives.

World Watch Monitor / Langham Partnership

View on e-n.org.uk

Leaders Don’t say ‘sorry’?


Recently there have been situations in church leaderships of which I am aware, that have made me cringe to the roots of my boots.

There are elders who have fallen out with each other and won’t be reconciled. There are elders who have sidelined other leaders. There are leadership teams that have truly blundered in showing partiality to their friends. Others have ridden roughshod over procedures laid down in the church constitution, but would rather bluff their way through than own up to making a mistake. All this can put the very unity of a congregation in jeopardy. But on they go. ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word,’ sang that great theologian (?) Elton John.

Why?

Why is it that church leaders find it so difficult to put up their hands and to say ‘Sorry – we got it wrong?’

After all, Scripture shows us plenty of God’s people who are leaders, who mess up and have to repent. Abraham, the very father of the Jewish people, gets it wrong about Hagar but was at least prepared to eat humble pie before his wife Sarai (Gen. 16:6).

Moses, marked by his humility, was not at all quick to defend himself when he was accused (even falsely) – he let the Lord do that (Num. 12:3, 8). And sometimes, in the heat of the moment, he did get it wrong (Deut. 32:51).

The apostle Paul publicly apologised when he had reacted badly to Ananias the high priest (Acts 23:5). The Gospels seem to go out of their way to show the serious gaffs of the disciples, later leaders of the church. They are vying for position (Luke 22:24) having to be rebuked by Jesus (Mark 8:33) and, finally, to a man proving themselves cowards (Matthew 26:56).

With such a biblical library of leadership failure, why, for so many leadership teams, is ‘how can we cover our backsides?’ the first thing on the agenda? Why are so many preachers unable to accept even constructive criticism of their ministry?

Motives

The first motive may be a worry that if they are seen to get too many things wrong perhaps they are not very good leaders. No one likes ‘could do better’ on their school report. They think admission of failure might discourage the church. However, the answer is not to indulge in ‘white lies’, but to pull their socks up and do better.

But the bottom-line motive for the ‘spin doctors’ of leadership, of course, will be old-fashioned pride. Having to admit to failure hurts. This is very dangerous. It was pride which transmogrified God’s servant, a glorious angel, into the prince of demons (1 Tim. 3:6).

Trust

The vital ingredient for all good leadership is to deserve the trust of the congregation. The church has appointed you because they believe they can trust you. If they trust you as leaders then they will be willing to be led. But to insist you have got it right, when it’s quite clear you have got it wrong, is to destroy that trust. (It’s even worse if the whole truth has been covered up and only comes out later. God’s people will then feel they have been deceived – and how can they trust you then?)

But on the other hand if leaders humbly acknowledge when they have made a mistake, in the long run that will mark them out as honest men. They are not perfect (who is?) but they are straight in their dealings.

Here’s a thought: although He is right in all He does, never has to say sorry and is unchanging, nevertheless God Himself is prepared to use the language of changing His mind and ‘repentance’ (Gen. 6:6, 7; Jonah 3:10). But for some leaders, God’s language is beyond them.

James 3 speaks much to leaders. It talks about two kinds of wisdom – one from hell and one from heaven. The ‘wisdom’ from below (v.14) denies the truth. The wisdom from above (v.17) is ‘considerate, impartial, submissive’ – ‘easy to be entreated’ (AV); ‘open to reason’ (ESV).

It is the sign of wise leaders to say ‘sorry’ when they need to.

John Benton

John Benton is en’s former Managing Editor and Director of Pastoral Support at The Pastor’s Academy, www.pastorsacademy.org

Speaking up for Zoe


Abortion statistics for the UK are eye-watering and outrageous. There are about 220,000 abortions per year. That is 25 every hour, of every day. At least one baby will have been murdered in the time taken to read this short review.

But sometimes the statistics are not enough to capture our hearts. If I Could Speak by Mark Jones imagines a series of letters from a female baby in the womb, roughly 20 weeks old, self-named Zoe, whose parents are considering an abortion.

She writes about her development from the fertilised egg, becoming the size of a poppy seed after four weeks, to having a beating heart at five weeks and, through the development stages, acquiring a nose, mouth, heart, lungs, brain and senses, until at 19 weeks this baby – now the size of a peach – can hear the voice of her mother. The text moves between the scientific and the emotional; Zoe imagines how life might be if she is allowed to live and questions her parents’ plan to abort her.

Accountable and responsible

To her mother she writes:

‘Am I an unwanted guest who arrived because of decisions you and my dad made? I don’t want to make you feel too guilty, but I do want to know why two rational, consenting adults can make a decision (for immediate enjoyment purposes) but also question whether they should be accountable for the possible effects of their actions… Do you not think it reasonable for me to simply ask you and Daddy whether you are both prepared to be responsible for putting me here in your belly?’

To her father she writes:

‘Many fathers, I am told, don’t always want the child they are responsible for. They wanted and enjoyed the sex that brings about children, but for some reason they think it is okay to pursue pleasure but not responsibility. A child wondrously emerges, yet we are merely viewed as a glob of cells without any real identity. Such a view helps many fathers avoid taking responsibility for their actions.’

Disturbing and moving

The letter entitled ‘I’m scared’ is the most disturbing, as Zoe anticipates in graphic detail the brutality of a surgical abortion. She writes that they will ‘insert instruments to dismember me and extract me from your uterus … the trickiest part of the abortion is finding, grasping and crushing my head … I will fight. But as a helpless, dependent baby I don’t stand much of a chance.’ She likens her fate to prisoners at a Nazi death camp. It is gut-wrenching reality.

Zoe’s final letter centres on forgiveness – even though her parents make the decision to kill her in the womb. The last chapter of all is a letter, not from the baby, but from the mother, and you will have to read the book yourself to see what she has to say. This is undoubtedly a deeply moving book. Giving Zoe a ‘voice’ works well; she is thus enabled to lead the reader through the scientific, moral and emotional arguments for her right to life.

The book ends with gospel hope – even for those who have been involved in abortion. If there was a criticism, I think it would be that the chapter on forgiveness, including a discussion on moral relativism, is quite complicated. I would also have appreciated some clearer challenge and comfort to those directly affected by the subject matter.

The book is well-produced and laid out with beautiful pictures to keep you turning its 69 pages. While it is not an easy read, it is a good one and I would warmly recommend it.

Graham Nicholls

Graham Nicholls, Director of Affinity and one of the Pastors of Christ Church Haywards Heath.

(This article was originally published in the Affinity Social Issues Bulletin for February 2020. The whole edition can be found at http://www.affinity.org.uk)