Judgement isn't a popular message but we can't shy away from talking about it
I would not want to be so simplistic as to suggest that our present culture is a mirror image of Judah in the 6th century BC but I reckon that, for all our technological advances, the prophet Jeremiah would have felt very much at home in 21st century Britain.
Jeremiah lived in turbulent days. It was a pivotal time in terms of international politics with the rise and fall of several major empires. We are witnessing a similar shift in global politics also with the advent of a newly confident and assertive China. But even more importantly, Jeremiah lived among a people who had turned their backs on God. And he was convinced they had to be told they would face dire consequences if they did not do an about turn.
Can anyone doubt that this is true of us? Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested that Christianity is just a "generation away from extinction" in Britain unless churches make a dramatic breakthrough in attracting young people back to the faith. As he sees it the clergy are gripped by a "feeling of defeat", congregations are worn down by "heaviness", while the public simply greets both with "rolled eyes and a yawn of boredom".
And the consequences are to be seen all around us. We have just witnessed one of the most serious economic crises in modern history and everyone knows that it is the symptom of a deep spiritual and moral malaise.
There are constant attempts to curb our freedom of speech when our ideas cut across the current tide of political correctness. I noticed this trend more than ten years ago when a BBC producer (a close friend) told me I was not to say homosexual acts were wrong, I was to tell my Sunday morning radio audience that "I believe they are wrong". That was the tip of a slippery slope and it has resulted in a London-based nursery nurse apparently losing her job for merely quoting the Bible.
And then there is the depressing picture of the current Archbishop dithering over the whole issue of same-sex marriage. I applaud his compassion of course, as well as his determination to place the plight of the poor at the top of the political agenda. But it is sad, and so symptomatic of our culture that a recent Guardian report could inform us that the Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested he is unable to bless same-sex marriages because taking such a step would endanger the global unity of Anglicanism by alienating members in developing countries who found the issue "impossible to deal with". And it continued: "While the Church of England is preparing to initiate a consultation on the possible introduction of informal blessing-like services, the spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans spoke of the dilemma he believes he faces and warned that a swift change in doctrine risked alienating followers abroad, principally in Africa."
Can anyone doubt that we have turned our backs on the truths we have received and which shaped our culture for good in the past? Not even the Archbishop of Canterbury has the authority to change the clear teaching of Scripture.
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All of which poses a two-fold challenge for those of us who want to be faithful to Scripture today. To begin with we must not fight shy of talking about judgement. Jeremiah constantly warned his people that they were "heading for the rocks" and needed to change course if they wanted to avoid disaster. And like many a messenger he had to bear the heat of their wrath for doing so.
If we want to be a faithful Spirit filled church then we need to take this calling seriously too. But that does not mean we have to stand on street corners with placards telling people that they need to "Prepare to meet your God". It would serve us well if we remembered that the Scriptures tell us God's judgement is not just a distant promise but a present reality.
The apostle Paul spells that out very clearly in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans where he clearly tells his readers that our ability to justify homosexual behavior for example, is not a sign of progress but a warning that we are under the judgement of God. It is the product of futile and foolish thinking.
Now that kind of talk is very likely to provoke an adverse rather than an amused reaction. The caricature of the ranting street preacher is much easier to deal with.
But, just as importantly, Jeremiah would not want us to give up on our culture. Indeed he would tell us, just as he told the exiles who were taken into captivity in Babylon, that we must settle down for we are in for the long haul. We must recognise that we are where we are because this is where God wants us to be. And while we are here we are to pray for our nation and we are to seek its prosperity too because if it prospers so will we.
The Clapham Sect understood this at the beginning of the 19th century and history bears witness to what can happen when a small group of Biblical believers set out to change their nation. I wonder if the future holds a similar promise for the 21st century British church.