Friday, October 10, 2014

Sautéed Frog or FIEC

We’re familiar with the observation that if you put a frog in hot water it will immediately jump out, but if put in cold water you can gradually increase the heat and it will passively sit there while you eventually boil it. Now I’ve no idea if that’s actually true or not – but we understand the point: we react to immediate threats but can be overcome by equally deadly but just more subtlety applied danger. 

The great threat facing evangelical Christianity in the UK today is not full frontal persecution but the culmination of decades of attrition that has blunted its distinctiveness and sapped its confidence. Yes there are incidents of heavy handiness by the authorities in dealing with evangelicals and undoubtedly the framework of society is no longer a friendly place for Bible believing Christians – but on the whole we are not faced with imminent imprisonment or the kind of state endorsed full-on harassment often experienced elsewhere in the world. If we did, and perhaps if we do, our reaction might be a bit more energised than the slow fatalistic retreat we have settled for up until now.

For at least two generations, probably three, evangelicals have endured a relentless ‘drip drip’ of negativity towards their beliefs and way of life. Sometimes the negativity is, and has been, direct and hostile but more often it has just been a rising tide of indifference, incredulity and detachment. The effect can leave Christians, unable to get any traction for their own values and beliefs, feeling worn out and alienated. The resulting temptation is often either to give way or to give up.

Giving way becomes tempting because we yearn to relieve the pressure points (and indeed the loneliness) in those areas where our beliefs most jar with those that prevail in society. So we keep quiet on the controversial stuff, get all ambiguous and philosophical when questioned on it, and dress ourselves up in the buzz words and fashionable causes of the day. Thus we slowly morph from a people out of step with the world and calling on it to change – to being a people skipping and twisting to get in step with it.

The alternative (and often the follow-on) from giving way is simply to give up. The mismatch between ourselves and the culture in which we live can lead to a crisis of faith. The sense of being antiquated in our beliefs can lead to feeling embarrassed and the temptation to slip away and relax with the crowd becomes intense. The lure of this can be all the greater if we have spent our energies going from one ‘magic ministry bullet’ to another over the years – each one promising to be the great fix that will turn the tide and reinstate Christianity to its former glory days in society.

The reality, of course, is that the Gospel is not any less out of step, less out of date, or less relevant in Scotland today than it was in 1st century Rome or 20th century Moscow. As Lord Reith purportedly replied when it was suggested by a young BBC aide that it was perhaps time ‘to bury Christianity’: ‘Young man, the church will stand at the graveside of the BBC’ - just as it did at the graveside of Caesar and Stalin. Nonetheless the pressures are real and the above temptations take their toll. Our generation's ‘shift’ in the Kingdom of God might be to ‘dig in’ and ‘plod on’ without seeing the great harvest we pray that God is preparing - after all not every generation gets to surf the wave of revival.

Whatever happens, if evangelicals are, in the meantime, to avoid being imperceptibly overwhelmed (like the frog) then they need to find each other, encourage each other, challenge each other and show real commitment to each other. The spiritual environment of Scotland and the UK today means that isolationism is to risk a slow creeping death. 

FIEC was formed in the 20th century precisely for such a need - an ‘association of mutual helpfulness’ in which like-minded evangelical churches could support each other spiritually and practically. A fellowship in which gospel churches whether large or small, urban or rural, new or old - could help envision, encourage, equip and enable each other. Exactly the kind of association needed in the 21st Century by Independent Evangelical Churches if they are to keep faithful and keep going.