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Changing Britain

We live at a time of rapid and significant change. We have benefitted from advances in technology and medical science but not all the changes in our lifetimes have been for the better. These include the increasing incidence of family and community breakdown. Scientific developments have included the invention of ever more sophisticated weapons of mass destruction. Technological innovation has been accompanied by increased greenhouse emissions, global warming and climate change.

As ever, there is something at the heart of our world and society that is out of step with the intentions of our Creator. It has been like this ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God but the consequences have become significantly more damaging as one millennium has given way to another. Certain social changes in our time are contributing to this.

First, Britain is becoming increasingly individualistic. Whether the focus is on work, shopping, relationships or even religion the prevailing attitude is that ‘it must fit me’. This is reflected in rising divorce rates, with two million children likely to experience the harmful effects of family breakdown.

The exaltation of the individual is expressed in consumerism and this is not just experienced in our shopping habits. The legislation that allows people to change their gender and record this on a new birth certificate is a radical manifestation of individualism and consumerism.

It is but a short step from individualism to relativism. The moral consensus rooted in the Judeo-Christian worldview is disintegrating and it seems that everyone now does what is right in their own eyes. 42% of marriages are being dissolved and cohabitation outside wedlock has more than doubled in the last 30 years.

Relativism spawns pluralism. Post-modern tolerance typically allows everyone to believe in whatever deity or deities they choose, so long as they keep it to themselves. It is this model of religious privatisation which motivates campaigns to abolish church schools and religious assemblies. Carried to extremes it could result in the curtailment of open-air evangelism and mission among people of other faiths.

There are three possible responses to these trends. We can accommodate them, we can retreat from them into a Christian ghetto, or we can engage in a constructive counter-cultural movement. Accommodation and retreat are not Christian options. Jesus called his disciples to be different from the world, as different as light is from the dark (Matthew 5:14-16). Indeed, the message of the entire Bible is that God’s people are to be holy and set apart for his service. What Jesus adds is the call for his disciples to penetrate society like salt rubbed into fish or meat to slow down decay and give them flavour (Matthew 5:13).

We have to be different and remain different from the world in order to make a difference in it. Those who acquiesce in a God-free culture neglect this vital differentiation, and those who retreat into a Christian ghetto abandon it. The remaining option is to unite to change our nation and its culture. How realistic is that?

History records how William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect succeeded as Christian agents of change in the 18th century. Lord Shaftesbury did the same a generation later. In our own time we see the Green Movement working to change how we treat our planet and environment. The gay movement has also changed attitudes to homosexuality. We may not agree with some of these movements but we cannot deny that they have influenced public opinion and public policy.

The American sociologist Robert Bellah suggests that “the quality of a culture may be changed when 2% of its people have a new vision.” There are still more than 2% in Britain who confess Jesus Christ as our Saviour. It is time for us to take Jesus’ challenge to be agents for change seriously and begin to work together to make a difference, trusting in the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit.

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