The Decline of the Church in Britain

December 2012
Whitby Abbey – “bare, ruined quires”

Writes Fr Dwight Longenecker:

Damian Thompson (who is probably one of the world’s greatest journalists) write here about the decline of Christianity in Britain. The shrinking of those who identify as Christians is combined with a dramatic surge in the Muslim population. You can’t disagree with the statistics:

Since the last census in 2001, the number of Britons identifying themselves, however loosely, as Christians is down 13 percentage points to 59 per cent.

The number of respondents who say they have no religious faith is up 10 points to 25 per cent. Meanwhile, staggeringly, the Muslim population has grown from 1.55 million to 2.7 million, an increase of 1.15 million from 2001 to 2011.

However, I must disagree with Damian’s diagnosis of the problem. Damian points the finger at the dismal leadership of both Rowan Williams in the Church of England and the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols. These men aren’t to blame for the lack of Christianity in Britain. The roots of the problem lie much deeper.

There are two essential reasons why Christianity is dying in the West. The first reason is philosophical and theological. Christianity has been undermined by modernism, the roots of which date back to destructive methods of Biblical critical scholarship and the humanistic rationalism and relativism that accompanies modernism. The roots of these trends within the church are found within nominalism– the philosophical foundations of  historical Protestantism. Therefore, the present problem can be clearly traced back 500 years when Christians started drifting from the supernatural and historic beliefs of the Christian faith. Read The Smoke of Satan for further analysis…

Put simply, Christianity is fading in Britain because British people don’t believe in it. They don’t believe in it because their whole culture and educational system contradicts Christian religious belief.

The second reason the British have stopped being Christian is because the British have stopped being Christian. What I mean is that, despite the theological and philosophical problems, Christian faith still flourishes when there are dynamic examples of Christians living out their faith in a radical way. When Christians live out their faith in simplicity and sacrifice, when their love and patience is exhibited in daily life, and when their spirituality empowers a genuine encounter with Christ and when they are truly transformed, they soon transform the world. What attracted converts the most in the early church was the radical and radiant love Christians lived out. In the midst of a dying culture of death and despair the Christians loved one another. They sang! They were filled with energy, hope, zeal and life.

Pope Benedict understands that the practice of Christianity will continue to shrink in the West. It will contract and seem to fade away, but that contraction will be a purification. We will have quality even if we do not have quantity. Then as the western world is swept away by the combined forces of atheism on the one hand and cruel and oppressive Islam on the other, the few radical Christians will once again shine like stars in the night. They will once again exhibit true forgiveness (which is absent in atheism and Islam) true faith (which  is absent in atheism and Islam) and true love (which is absent in atheism and Islam)

The leadership may be weak, but most leaders are simply reflections of those whom they lead. Christianity in Britain is not weak because of weak leadership. The leadership is weak because Christians in Britain are weak.

And lest my American ( or South Africa added by Fr G) readers are feeling smug and self righteous, the same rot is present in American Christianity, but with far more insidious and decadent manifestations.

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