The 2021 census has for the first time recorded a drop in people identifying as Christian in England and Wales – down from 59.3% in 2011, to 46.2% last year. A further 37.2% were recorded as saying they had no religion, while people identifying as Muslim rose from 4.9% in 2011 to 6.5%.
It is a sad fact that in our multicultural, multiethnic society, every major religion represented in the country with the exception of Christianity, has over the last decade reported an increase in religious affiliation.
Nevertheless, the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of Canterbury, appears to remain upbeat – cheerily optimistic even. He is reported as saying that the country has "left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christian", but that Christianity still has a major role to play in secular society ... which, faced with the cost of living crisis and war in Europe, would appear in his view to be mainly that of providing food and warmth.
Around 2,500 years ago, maybe more, the author(s) of the book of Proverbs, wrote, 'Without a vision the people perish' (Proverbs 29:18). The Archbishop would perhaps do well to take heed. Yes, people do need help and support in these difficult times, and throughout history the Church has offered support and assistance to those in need. But the role of the Church, first and foremost, is not to be an agency for social work, but to guard the truth of the Gospel and provide spiritual leadership in and to a society that has incontrovertibly lost its way, and that sadly now feels to be in terminal decline.
As in World War II, when King George VI called the nation to pray and those prayers were so miraculously answered, it is to provide vision and a point of connection between the people and God, whereby at times of danger God's power is called in aid.
Increasingly now, however, we live in a God-less age, where the only vision that most men and women appear to have is of a world freed from restraint. We have a new religion – that of Self, and 'It's my right' has become the oft repeated and dominant cry.
But in reality this is a doctrine of despair, that prevents people from seeing anything beyond – from seeing that which is pure, noble, and righteous, and that gives meaning to life, offering genuine deliverance from the pain, suffering, loneliness and despair that so often accompanies society's godless veneration of the material.
This, at heart, is the real tragedy, because it means that disciples of this new ideology have no hope of deliverance and salvation. They are eternally doomed to disablement, and to being less than God created and wishes them to be.
This is the beguilement of Satan, and it was precisely to break this hold that, 2,000 years ago, God sent His only Son into the world – to go head to head with Satan in a battle that only He could fight, and that would restore us to relationship with God.
The final and decisive battle that brought about that victory was fought on the Cross. But though Satan's hold was broken, the victory is not yet complete and for now we live in a period of dispensation, so that every man, woman and child on the planet might be given a chance to hear the good news and repent. So for now evil remains free to spread its poison, and only when Christ returns in glory to claim His own – as Scripture promises He will – will Satan and his hordes be once and forever dealt with, and cast into the lake of fire.
It is the sacred task of the Church, during this time, to proclaim the good news and guard the truth: to seek after the lost; to defend believers from wrong teaching and attack; to be a light in the darkness; and to ensure that we are all aware and ready for what is to come.
Yes, the character of Britain is changing. But not for the better. As the Archbishop of York has already pointed out, it can be no surprise that people are ceasing to identify as Christian. But perhaps the question to ask is not why this is happening, but why, given the gospel of compromise with our decadent and immoral world that denies at root the teachings of Christ, they should bother to believe in the first place?
God will not bless a Church that is apostate. Equally, however, He has not given up on His church ... the bride of His Son ... and even now there are signs of new life. But as every good gardener will tell you, to allow for and promote new life, the dead wood has first to be pruned away.
Christianity will not die in this country, nor indeed in the world, but God will not allow that which dishonours Him to remain. As the Archbishop of York has pointed out, albeit by implication, God is not interested in nominal or social believers. Now is the time for men and women to choose.
Rev Lynda Rose is founder of Voice for Justice UK, a group which works to uphold the moral values of the Bible in society.