After a prolonged silence it would be nice to start with some cheery news but sadly there has been plenty of bad news around this week.
Wales is a pretty small place in terms of population with just over 3 million people as against 53 million in England. In fact, some English local authorities are almost the size of Wales, Greater Manchester has a population of 2,682,528, West Yorkshire has 2,226,058 and Greater London is considerably larger with 8,173,941. It’s little wonder then, that we enjoy seeing Wales and its representatives at the top of a league table.
Who could fail to be thrilled at the sight of the mighty Bluebirds (who now wear red and probably go by a different nickname) at the very top of the Championship, I’m told that there is another Welsh football team (a ridiculous idea in itself) apparently doing well in the Premiership, though I’m unable to vouch for the truth of it. The Rugby Six Nations table from last season is still something we rejoice over, since in truth we are such a small country, we should be near the bottom. Sadly this week, Wales has headed a table that many of us find heart breaking.
Whilst much of the interest in the latest set of 2011 Census results to be released has centred on ethnicity, the figures on religion should make sobering reading for Christians.
I listened to a discussion on the radio a few days ago and someone was going through the changes in society highlighted in the 2011 census. There has been a big drop in the number of people stating their religion as ‘Christian’ and a big rise in those ticking the box for ‘no religion’. They were pointing out some surprising results when the correspondent drew attention to Caerphilly, a town I know well just a few miles away. The town has seen a startling rise in those of ‘no religion’ and a much bigger than average fall, in those claiming to be Christians. The correspondent joked, ‘I don’t think the chapels have been doing their job down in the valleys’. I’m ashamed to say the thought crossed my mind, ‘at least it’s not RCT’. Later, on Facebook, someone pointed out just how many South Wales authorities are in the top ten for the percentage of people claiming ‘no religion’ (there are more than 300 authorities in England and Wales). I have checked and he is absolutely correct. RCT has a ‘no religion’ percentage of 40.8 as opposed to Caerphilly’s 40.9. Incidentally, another authority from South Wales, Merthyr Tydfil, stands at number 11 with the same percentage as Torfaen.
|Brighton and Hove
When we look at the English authorities near the top of the list, it is difficult to see any common thread as with the exception of Brighton and Hastings they are spread across the South of England. The Welsh authorities are different in that they form an unbroken band across the industrial valleys of South Wales and make up almost 25% of the population.
It’s only right to take stock and ask the correspondent’s question seriously, have we, the chapels in the valleys been doing our job?
Just over a hundred years ago, two small countries were gripped by a great move of the Holy Spirit. One was Korea, (some of the first missionaries to preach in Korea were Welsh) and that country has been completely changed as a result of the gospel. There are Korean missionaries all over the world and the Church in Korea is incredibly influential. The second was Wales and the results here were less lasting but if we believe in a great God, we have to believe that God can do it again.
Let’s be real
As sad as the figures are there is some good news. First of all it’s good for believers since at least we can see the size of the problem. If we thought 71% of the population were Christians (as the results of the 2001 Census indicated) then perhaps the other 29% are hardened to the gospel so the temptation is to think we can relax. Now we can see there is a great need for people to know about Jesus.
Secondly, I’ve never met a Christian who believed that 71% of the population were true believers as the previous results stated. Anyone on a sinking ship is in need of a lifejacket and believing you have a lifejacket is no substitute for the real thing. Truth is always better than fantasy in the long run. Its better for people to be honest and say they have no real faith in God, than go on in the mistaken view that they are right with God when it is not the case. At least we can then have a discussion.
I know I have said this before but Nehemiah’s response to the desperate state of his own land was to weep, fast and pray.
Maybe it’s just me but prayer is one of those things that when suggested, hearts sink. It’s also one of those things that when we actually pray, everyone thinks, ‘why don’t we do more of this?’ Could it be one of the enemy’s most successful tricks?
We should pray for opportunities to speak and then be ready to use them. The good news is that salvation is God’s business, he does the saving and he prepares hearts. He calls us to be his mouthpieces and the Bibles that people read every day. Scary stuff! If it wasn’t for the work of the Holy Spirit it would be impossible.
Finally, I take great comfort in the words of the Lord Jesus;
“On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
The rock is Peter’s confession to the Lord Jesus; “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus is building his church. We see it all over the world and we rejoice. Jesus has spoken, it is being fulfilled and nothing will stop it.
Build your church here O Lord