Britain’s True Greatness

by Peter Toon

Marshalls, 1984



 1         Britain or Great Britain



 2         Christianity or Churchianity

 3         Marriage or Divorce

 4         Responsible or Permissive

 5         Baby or Foetus

 6         Dignity or Deprivation

 7         Cooperation or Conflict

 8         Education or Indoctrination

 9         God-centred or Man-centred



10        Effect of Ineffective Church

11        Christian or Victorian Values

12.       Epilogue

Appendix I: Work and Vocation

Appendix II: The Other side of 1984



      This book is a message to the people of Boxford, Suffolk, where I am the Church of England priest.  I hope they will receive it as a kind of extension of the letter I address to them each month in the parish magazine.  At the same time it is a message to the people of Britain, of which Suffolk is a beautiful part.  I hope many British people will read it.

      If I may single out an age-range that I particularly hope will consider seriously what I have to say, it is that from around 25 to 45.  In this group are the parents of the infants, children and teenagers with whom rest the future of Britain.  Such parents have been subjected to the subtle claims, vast powers and attractive provisions of our highly materialistic and secularistic culture.  They are passing on to their children – often more by default or by attitude and example than by specific teaching – a false view.  It is this.  Everything that as human beings they can possibly want is supplied today (or will be available tomorrow) by the provisions of scientific and technological know-how.

      Any wisdom I may possess is not mine but is based on study of the Bible and the Christian tradition.  Thus this book may be seen as an extended, modern comment on the wise saying attributed to king Solomon of Israel: ‘Where there is no revelation (= prophetic vision), the people cast off restraint; But happy is he (and she) who keeps the law (of God)’ (Proverbs 29:18).  The king was saying that when a nation pays no attention to faith and morals revealed by God (through Moses and the prophets) then the people have no checks to control their freedom, which they abuse.  Such permissiveness appears to bring happiness in the short term; but, the truth is that genuine personal and social happiness is clearly related to living by values and obeying commandments revealed by God.

      I am also grateful to my bishop, the Rt Revd John Waine for putting me into a position in his diocese which allows me time to read, think and write.

      Finally, I have to thank my wife once more for her patience with me and her help in various ways including typing the manuscript.

Peter Toon

The Rectory, Boxford. 7 October 1983


1: Britain or Great Britain

      The first map of the world that I remember seeing at school in 1946 had large areas of red, showing how vast was the British Empire.  In 1947 the Union Jack flew over more than a quarter of the world’s population and over one-fifth of its land area.  Economically Britain was in the top three, alongside Russia and America.  To speak then of great Britain was to speak realistically.

      But is it meaningful to use ‘great’ of Britain in the 1980s?  If we speak of ‘Great Britain’ in its original sense then the answer is ‘yes’.  It will be recalled that James I of England (and VI of Scotland) used the expression ‘Great Britain’ in order to distinguish his united kingdom from ‘Brittany’ in France.  However, if we use ‘great’ in terms of economic or political greatness then it is less easy to answer ‘yes’.

      Now, the Empire has virtually disappeared to be replaced by a Commonwealth of independent nations.  Economically, Britain is a long way behind America, Russia, Japan and West Germany.  The value of the pound sterling today is about one-seventh of its value in 1950.  Unemployment figures in 1950 were 300,000 but now they are 3,000,000.  There has been a world recession and this accounts in part for economic decline.  This said, it is difficult to escape the persistent feeling that the decrease in the value of British money and the seemingly very high unemployment have much to do with certain attitudes in British society.

      Of course, Britain still has influence in the world, but it is nothing like it was in the days of Empire.  The city of London remains very important for world finance and trade; many nations still envy the British parliamentary system; and thousands still look to Britain for culture, decency, good taste and manners.  And let us not forget the sterling contribution of the BBC world service.


What Kind of Greatness?

      Since the Empire disappeared and the world map gained a greater assortment of colours, British leaders have continued to talk of Britain’s greatness in a political sense.  When Winston Churchill returned for a second period as Prime Minister in 1951 he said: ‘We have to cast away by an effort of will the enfeebling tendencies and fallacies of Socialism, and to free ourselves from restrictive socialist rule, to stand erect once more, and to take our place among the great powers of the world.  Never must we lose our faith and courage; never must we fail in exertion and resolve.’

      On more than one occasion Harold Wilson, socialist Prime Minister (1964–70; 1974–6), asserted that, ‘We are a world power and a world influence or we are nothing.’  And Edward Heath, conservative Prime Minister (1970–74), who was so insistent that Britain enter the European Economic Community, claimed that ‘If we want to remain Great Britain and take the chance of becoming Greater Britain’ then we must join the community.  However, joining it has not yet brought that greatness.

      In mid-1982, when Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female Prime Minister, went to the House of Commons to announce that Argentina had surrendered in the Falkland Isles, she told the crowd outside her residence in Downing Street: ‘Today has put the Great back into Britain.’  In similar way, popular newspapers joined in the chorus, celebrating this greatness.

      Speaking to the Conservative Party Rally at Cheltenham Race Course on 3 July 1982, Mrs Thatcher spoke of this greatness:

      When we started out (on the Falklands Campaign) there were the waverers and the fainthearts.  The people who thought that Britain could no longer seize the initiative for herself.  The people who thought we could no longer do the great things we once did.  Those who believed that our decline was irreversible – that we could never again be what we were.

      There were those who would not admit it – even perhaps some here today – people who would have strenuously denied the suggestion but – in their heart of hearts – they too had their secret fears that it was true: that Britain was no longer the nation that had built an Empire and ruled a quarter of the world.

      Well they were wrong.  The lesson of the Falklands is that Britain has not changed and that this nation has those sterling qualities which shine throughout history.  This generation can match their fathers and grandfathers in ability, in courage and resolution.  We have not changed.

      She proceeded to urge Britons to hold to solid and tried moral values, to work hard and to be patriotic in time of peace as well as in the crisis of war.  And she quoted from her hero, Winston Churchill who said in 1945: ‘We must find the means and method of working together not only in times of war, and mortal anguish, but in times of peace, with all its bewilderments and clamour and clatter of tongues.’

      What does this becoming great again really mean?  If it means regaining an empire then talk of greatness is unrealistic and dishonest.  If it means increasing Britain’s political influence in the world then that will presumably only come about from the increased economic power of the country.  If it means that Britain should be a moral force in the world (an idea much is the air when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned) leading a Commonwealth of nations in the paths of peace, justice and freedom, then it begins to be realistic.  But more of this a little later.

      There are some Britons who still have a sense of guilt or frustration about the loss of Empire and the decline of Britain in the world.  Teething troubles in the newer African countries often cause such feelings to arise.  Those with such feelings suspect that it was a mistake to allow all the Empire to be dismantled; or they believe that the dismantling took place too quickly; or they feel that Britain should have got more out of the dismantling operation.  But we must recognise that the fall of Empire was not due to any particular moral weakness in Britain and her rulers.  It was part of a seemingly inexorable or inevitable process of world history which led to the end of the reign of the European colonial powers.  To feel guilty about the decline of Empire is mostly irrational guilt.  There is much to be proud of in the way country after country became independent.  Arthur Koestler has commented that ‘for the first time we see an empire dissolving itself with dignity and grace.  The rise of this empire was not an edifying story: its decline is.’

      While there is no reason for Britons to be ashamed or guilty about the dissolution of Empire, there is reason for them to be embarrassed that the nation is not as economically and morally strong as she could be.  The failure of British leaders in the Church, politics, commerce, industry and trade unions to recognise that Britain had to stand on its own two feet and find new vision, drive and determination has been harmful to the nation over the last few decades.  We have heard so much about human rights – our rights – but too little about duties – our duties to God, in home, at work and in society.  Selfishness and greed have been too, common; a sense of duty, patriotism and worship of almighty God have been too rare.  It has been too easy to denounce structures and policies and personalities, it has apparently been too hard to recognise sin – the gone-wrongness of human beings as individuals and as organised within society.

      When Dean Acheson, the American Secretary of State, made his famous statement that Britain had lost an Empire but had yet to find a role, he was unpopular with the British government.  But he had a point!

      We need to take the ‘great’ out of Britain if we mean by that adjective such things as relate to economic or military or primary political influence.  But there is every reason why we should put back the adjective if we intend by it patterns, principles and values of and in society that express justice, freedom, mercy and the worship of almighty God.  Is not God calling Britain to be great as an example – a democratic nation in which what God approves (justice, righteousness, integrity, faithfulness and so on) is desired and expressed and what God hates and condemns (immorality of all kinds, injustice, ungodliness and so on) are discouraged by law and by example.  Such a greatness need not be tied to whether Britain is fifth or fifteenth in the table of economic strength.  Such a greatness will mean that Christian (theistic) humanism – human values which are based on belief in God, Creator, Judge and Redeemer – is at the basis of culture and society.

      Probably too many of us are not fully aware of the serious moral and spiritual situation of western society, and Britain as part of it.  Those who have admired the West and come to live in it have been shocked with first-hand experience of it.  Nirad C Chaudhuri, the well known Bengali writer who now lives in Oxford, told me:

I think our times are comparable to the fifth century of the Christian era when St Augustine saw the Graeco-Roman world crumbling all around him.  The present situation of humanity is different from that only in that the scale is larger and the decadence universal.  It embraces even the Americans, who, in fact, are a young nation in point of age, and are regarded as the people to arrive ...  The civilized world we have known and lived in ... will certainly come to an end soon enough as time is judged by the historical scale.  But it will not do so through the hypothetical catastrophe over which there is so much lamentation and even gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair by many and above all by young people, that is to say, a nuclear war ...  Civilized human existence will perish through internal decay as the Graeco-Roman world did.  I have been a life-long spectator of this decay and the experience has made me feel like a heretic being burnt on the stake, but without release by the torture of death.

      There will be fuller explanation in his forthcoming Autobiography.  Having read The Times every day for over sixty years, and having watched British society first through the British Raj and then in this country, he can see that much is wrong and it is getting worse.  Jokingly he refers to the ‘leftist lot’ as a pack of ‘rabid dogs’ and those who seek to spread through the media the immorality of the permissive society he describes as ‘Smart Alecs’ and ‘swaggering puppies’, likening them to a man sitting on a branch while trying to chop it down.

      Alexander Solzhenitsyn has been deeply disappointed by what he has encountered in the West.  Speaking to Bernard Levin he said: ‘Nine years in the West have made me into a pessimist; looking from the East I used to ascribe to the West far more strength, far more determination and steadfastness, whereas now I would no longer guarantee that the West would withstand invasion by communism, withstand being taken over, subverted by, communism.’  And in response to the question ‘Is there anything special that Britain (apart from the West in general) can do?’  Solzhenitsyn replied:

      I think British history has shown more than once that the British have a remarkable faculty, a remarkable ability, to mobilize themselves in moments of danger ...  If there could be a moral mobilization in Britain, now, before the ceiling falls down, then the standing of Britain, even just Britain alone standing up to be counted against communism, would make an enormous impression upon the communists...

      I would like to call the British to come to their senses before it is too late.  The time has come to limit our demands, to learn about self-sacrifice and to learn how to sacrifice oneself for the salvation of one’s country and for society.  (The Times, 23 May 1983)

      It is because of its move away from belief in God and upholding his moral standards that the West has become so spiritually weak as to be vulnerable to communism – a philosophy of life that is wholly secularist and materialistic and which denies the reality of God and the supernatural.

      Chaudhuri is from a Hindu background and he sees no possibility of the reversal of the movement towards collapse.  There may be temporary halts and even steps backwards but the route is clear and unmistakable and it leads to disaster.  Solzhenitsyn is from a Russian Orthodox Christian background and he has hope that there will be a reversal of what seems a lost cause.  With God, we recall, all things are possible.  But what attitude should British people take?  Are they to stay in the boat that is sailing down the river of ungodliness, unrighteousness and decadence or are they to seek to turn the boat round on full steam against the flow of the water?

      The greatness which needs to be put into Britain is not that of overcoming the failures and evils of socialism (Churchill), of making our weight felt in Europe (Heath), of having political weight in the world (Wilson) or proving our might in war (Thatcher).  It is a greatness that arises from the possession of, and commitment to, the right moral and spiritual values.  In this sense it is a vision that cannot be achieved without the regeneration and renewal of the Church, for only when the Church assumes its prophetical and exemplary role in British society, can the true renewal of Britain begin.  Regrettably right now the Church is an anaemic, shrivelled society with little sense of engaging in God’s mission to the world.  I do not doubt that there are Christians here and there and groups here and there who are in a state of renewal by the Holy Spirit, but the Church as a whole is not.  Britain will not become great in a moral and spiritual sense without great changes in the Church.

      In The Times of 10 September 1983 Dr R. P. C. Hanson, the Irish bishop and academic, compared modern western society with medieval society to show the great difference in terms of faith and morality.  For the Middle Ages Christianity was fundamental; for modern times it is, at best, peripheral.  The ages of faith have been replaced by the ages of could-not-be-bothered-about-faith-in-God.  He concluded his short article in this way:

The great question is, can Christianity become again the sustaining genius of a new post-Marxist or non-Marxist civilization (i.e. in eastern and western Europe)?  There seems no other candidate for the job.  To this question we must not answer, No.  But we can conjecture that, if Christianity is to fulfill this task, it must become a very different religion from the divided, conservative, conventional, bourgeois Christianity which we see today.

      The Church needs to be renewed by the Spirit of God and the Word of God.  Britain needs to submit to the law of the Lord to enjoy order and happiness.


Looking back to 1945

      Before the Empire was dismantled, and after victory in World War 2, thoughtful Christians bemoaned the erosion of spiritual and moral values in Britain.  The process, it was felt, had been going on since World War 1.  In that excellent document, Towards the Conversion of England (the report of a commission of evangelism appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York – published in 1945), there is the acknowledgement, still heard today, that:

Seen from a distance, Britain is a country which seems most nearly to approach the ideal of a Christian community.  The ceremony of the coronation, the regular opening of sittings of Parliament with prayer, the Mayor’s chaplain, the provision of religion in the armed Services and in all State institutions, the religious articles in the popular periodicals, the Religious Department of the British Broadcasting Corporation, and many similar phenomena, go to show that the ethos of the State remains Christian.

      The report, however, is quick to make the point that while Britain may still look good from afar – from the far reaches of Empire – it is not so good when you take a closer look, for ‘behind this facade the situation presents a more ominous appearance’.

      By 1945 there had been a serious drift away from the Christian religion.  This drift included both a widespread decline in attendance at church services and a collapse of Christian moral standards in society.  ‘It is indisputable’, the report insisted, ‘that only a small percentage of the nation today joins regularly in public worship of any kind’.  The situation was worst in the great cities.  Concerning morality, ‘the war has revealed and also accelerated a sharp decline in truthfulness and personal honesty, and an alarming spread of sexual laxity and of the gambling fever.’  This decline has occurred during a period of ‘advance in the social, political, and economic status of the masses with which no other epoch can compare’.

      But what were the underlying causes of drift and decline as perceived by the distinguished members of that commission.  First, there was the growing influence of secular and liberal humanism.  ‘Humanism is the word now commonly used to describe that view of life which sees in man the source of all meaning and value, instead of in God.’  Instead of singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest ...’, the song of the age is, ‘Glory to man in the highest!  For man is the master of things.’  The spirit and strength of humanism had been reinforced by the tremendous advances in science and technology.  Its onward march had been made easier by the fact that most of the population lived in the cities, where God seems less near and where moral values are the more quickly eroded.  And the march has been assisted by secular education, which places the emphasis on how things are rather than why things are, and is more concerned with meaning than with purpose.

      Further, the great increase in the number of those trained in ‘mechanized thinking’ (to meet industrial and technological needs) meant more people in society who were good at particulars and details of things, but who could not easily deal with abstract ideas.  This results in the discounting of the intellectual and moral appeal of Christian Faith.  So the blue-collar workers develop a mentality which does not easily or quickly respond to the spiritual, non-mechanistic appeal of Christianity.

      Regrettably the Church of England did little more than shelve this report.  The situation in 1984 is much more serious than it was in 1945 because, despite the arrival of the Welfare State and the benefits of advanced technology, the march of the secular spirit has continued.  What the report stated in 1945 about the problem facing the country and the Church is also true today, but more urgent:

In England the Church has to present the Christian Gospel to multitudes in every section of society who believe in nothing; who have lost a whole dimension (the spiritual) of life; and for whom life has no ultimate meaning.

Regrettably sections of the Church itself have little dynamic faith.


Helpful Analogies

      The moral and spiritual sickness of Britain is not merely like the veneer on a modern table – thin and easily removed.  It is found on the surface and in the depths for it is an all pervasive mood, ethos, spirit, attitude and feeling.  Thus this pervasive ethos may be compared to an iceberg, the kind that the good ship, Titanic, encountered.

      Because this is a popular book, and because our technical facilities are few, we can only look at that part of the iceberg which is visible to the ordinary eye.  Yet, as we do this, we remember that the attitude and acts which we examine are signs that point to a deeper reality hidden from our eyes.  And this hidden reality is of the same essence as what we can see.  Those with keen eyes have already looked and they see that our society is suffering from a ‘sickness unto death’ and is blissfully unaware of it.  The prophets of our time see us like sailors on the deck who make merry as the ship sinks, or labourers enjoying their beer at the bar as the pub burns down, or passengers in the Jumbo-jet eating their dinner as it crashes into the sea.

      Part 1 could be called ‘The Tip of the Iceberg’.  Here we put on our binoculars to view, from a variety of angles, that part of the iceberg which is visible.  We shall not be able to view from every possible angle but we shall see enough to come to conclusions about the essence or nature of the iceberg.  So the final chapter in Part 1 will seek to portray what is the true nature of the iceberg.

      Part 2 could be called ‘An Alternative Iceberg’.  We all know that icebergs move about in the deep sea of the Arctic and Antarctic.  We also know that they increase and decrease and may return to water.  On the supposition that the iceberg of Part 1 either moves away or melts into nothing except water, we shall look for a superior kind of iceberg.  Indications of the kind of iceberg required will have been given in Part 1.  So the content of Part 2 will be shorter in length but not less important in principle than that of Part 1.

      I realise that the illustration of an iceberg may make you feel spiritually or even physically cold!  So here is another way of stating what the content of Parts 1 and 2 are all about.  Part 1 could be called ‘Symptoms of Disease’.  Here the picture is of a person who suffers simultaneously from a variety of complaints – headaches, tiredness, high-blood pressure, backache and constipation, for example.  Each of these is a real complaint but each one, and all together, point to an invisible medical problem.  These symptoms point to an internal disease.  Part 2 could then be called ‘Cure for Disease’, because it points to a way out of the moral and spiritual disease that is affecting the nation.

      Whichever of the two illustrations you prefer is a matter of personal preference and choice.  What is important is the truth to which these illustrations point.  The decline of Britain can be reversed but only with God’s help and according to his ways.

      This book is, therefore, about values and norms.  It is critical of the value system and rules of behaviour that are daily commended in parts of the media and presupposed in so much of the thinking and activity of Britons.  And, positively, it points to other, superior values and norms for life.  If it were sufficient merely to present the superior values and norms I would be very glad.  It is painful to present the evidence of ungodliness or secularism and immorality or unrighteousness.  But many of us need our eyes opening to the power and content of modern, destructive values and norms before we can see the authenticity and claim of Christian values and norms.

      One final point: the moral and spiritual changes, (decline!) in the West have occurred at a time of tremendous, hardly believable, scientific and technological advance.  Much of this has brought beneficial results to mankind while also bringing the possible horror and disaster of nuclear war.  In order to handle aright the results of this advance, we need solid and tested values and norms, not fragile and untested ones.




2: Christianity or Churchianity

      In one of my monthly letters in the magazine of Boxford Church I wrote these words:

      What really bothers me is that we are raising an ungodly generation.  The value system of teenagers and people in their twenties today in Boxford, as elsewhere, is that of secularist and materialistic humanism.  In general this system welcomes tolerance of others but tells people that this world alone is what matters and so they ought to make the best of it in terms of self-satisfaction.  God is not so much denied as forgotten because he is seemingly irrelevant!  What is relevant is only what can be seen, touched, felt and smelled.

      I would say that this value system is able to hold sway because (and only because) it is living on the legacy of Christian faith and values.  When the bank account runs out, the ungodliness will be free of restraints and will reveal itself in its ugliness.  Boxford is living on this legacy and it is fast running out.

      Several people rightly pointed out to me that their experience of the Church of England in the Suffolk countryside was also highly materialistic.  They had been asked to support all kinds of money-raising events; garden fêtes, coffee mornings, cheese and wine parties, musical entertainments, bicycle rides and flower festivals; but, they had never been invited to attend worship, to read the Bible, to hear the Gospel or to engage in prayer.  The ‘church’ they had encountered was a group of nice, religious people who always needed money to upkeep ancient buildings.  So instead of being challenged by Christianity, they had merely encountered Churchianity.

      In the English language we use the word ‘church’ to describe both the people who gather for the worship of almighty God in the name of Jesus Christ, and the building in which they (normally but not necessarily) worship.  In everyday talk in Suffolk to refer to the church is to refer to the building.  It was a surprise to me that in the first confirmation class I taught in Suffolk not one of the young people realised that ‘church’ in the New Testament is a community of people not a building.

      If the word ‘church’ has two basic meanings, then the word ‘Christian’ also has several meanings.  It is used generally to refer to someone who has a connexion with the Christian Faith or Church in contrast to a connexion with Islam, Hinduism, or Communism.  It is also used to describe someone who is kind, considerate and who does not openly deny the truth of the New Testament; such a person need not attend worship regularly to merit the description.  Then there is the use, which is usually accompanied by the adjective ‘committed’, meaning one who attends worship, tries to live by Christian morals and is ready to commend his faith to others.  This third usage is similar to that found in the first recorded use of the word ‘Christian’ in Acts 11:26: ‘It was at Antioch that believers were first called Christians.’  Here were people who identified with Christ and with other disciples of Christ, who joined for worship and fellowship, who were willing to be persecuted for the name of Christ.  Related to this usage is the word, Christianity, which should refer to that way of life and worship, and that teaching concerning God, Christ and his world, which is based on the New Testament.


A Dilemma

      The Church, as the people of God and the disciples of Christ, has been in the world since the time of Jesus Christ – nearly 2,000 years.  There is a continuous history of a community of worshippers and believers from the day when Jesus gathered a group of disciples to follow him, through to the present time.  So, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a twentieth-century Church or a Church of the 1980s.  There are Christians today who belong to the Church which has a family tree going back through nineteen centuries.  Many of the buildings used by the Church have long histories but there is none which is as old as the Church itself.

      The Lord Jesus entrusted to the Church his message for the world.  The treasure of the Church is nothing other than the Gospel of God, declared and exhibited in Jesus Christ.  ‘Go into all the world’, he said, ‘and preach the Gospel to all the creation.’  The Gospel (good news of the kingly, saving reign of God revealed in Jesus Christ) is set down in the four gospels and explained in the rest of the New Testament.  Because the Gospel was originally given to people in the Roman Empire, where the common language was Greek, the New Testament is written in Greek.

      So, as the Gospel was preached and taught in countries where Greek was not spoken, the message had to be explained in the local language and the Bible translated into that language.  This process has been going on through the centuries and will continue to the end of time.  The message which is the Gospel has to be explained in ways that make sense to the hearers and in ways which help them to begin to follow Jesus and live holy and righteous lives.  It is in this effort to make the Gospel meaningful to hearers that the Church faces a dilemma – how to express the truth of the Gospel (written in Greek in the New Testament) in the language and thought forms of the new hearers while remaining faithful to the truth of the original.  Two basic mistakes are possible.  First of all the Gospel can be so accommodated to the prevailing ideas in a culture that its truth is lost, eclipsed, or compromised.  Or, the Gospel can be so presented in the thought patterns of the first century AD (or of medieval times or Shakespearean times) that it has little impact on the general population and only appeals to those who are familiar with patterns of thought in the past.  Of these two options, the first is the most dangerous for by it the Gospel ceases to be good news from God.  The second mistake probably ensures that the Church hardly grows and is ineffective.

      Accommodation to prevailing ideas and habits occurs in various ways.  One is that there is little or no relation between the content of worship on Sunday and the way the congregation thinks, lives and behaves in the week.  The corporate and individual activity of churchgoers effectively denies what is said on Sundays.  The Gospel makes little or no impact on their lives and the result is churchianity not Christianity.  Churchianity is a long term disease in Britain.  Another way of accommodating to prevailing culture is to deny the truth of traditional Christian teaching as summarised in Creeds and Liturgy.  This has become common within the Church in the last twenty or so years.


Church Attendance on Sundays?

      During the 1970s around one million Britons stopped attending church worship regularly.  About one thousand church buildings were closed and the number of stipendiary clergy dropped by some 255.  The only denominational group to grow was the Pentecostalist.  Take one example.  The numbers of Anglicans on the electoral roll of parishes was 1,985,703 in 1974 and 1,751,022 in 1979.

      During April 1970 the Harris Poll asked a sample of people throughout Britain why attendance at worship had declined.  The results were published in the Daily Express.  The most common answer was that there were too many distractions – bingo, TV, motor cars and too many other things to do.  Other answers included ‘people do not have the spare time’ and ‘people just can’t be bothered’.

      Bingo is a social activity but TVs and cars are objects.  They are, however, not merely objects; they are symbols of two important modern social patterns of behaviour – mobility and privatization.  The motor car has followed, and now exists alongside, the train and the bus.  A family can now go wherever it wishes by car, or take the car to the station and catch either the long distance bus or the express train.  The motor car has brought a mobility of a new, private kind allowing the driver and passengers to choose when and where they go.  It brings the ability to individuals or small groups to choose leisure and recreation and thereby assists the process of privatization.  The TV (with the video recorder) keeps the family at home for private recreation.  Many people spend up to 20 per cent of their waking time watching the ‘box’.

      In contrast to the exciting places that can be reached by the car, and the absorbing and exciting images that arise from the screen, services of worship (especially where the congregation is small and in a large, cold building) seem dull and boring.  Only the large congregations have the human talent and the space to offer an attractive variety of forms of Christian worship and activities.  In the small congregation it is not easy to create a spirit of celebration, joy and wonder.  So unless people have a sense of the living God and a desire to worship him, they are disappointed by the dullness of worship, in comparison with what is available through use of the car or TV.  This is especially true of young people who want to be entertained and for whom traditional services seem (to their materialistic minds) irrelevant, boring, and out of touch with reality.

      Though congregations are growing here and there, the general picture is still one of stagnation or slow decline in numerical strength.  However, there seems to be a general feeling that the bottom of the valley has been reached and the road will begin to climb again.


Capitulating to the World?

      The pressure on the Church to conform to the dominant ethos within society has been very strong in recent decades.  The mood in society has been ‘change, and change often’ and ‘look to science and not to history’ for wisdom.  This has had the effect of making traditional Christian doctrine and morality seem outmoded or outdated as well as irrelevant.  Theologians of the Church, as well as prominent churchmen, have let it be known that to be ‘honest to God’ there must be ‘a new reformation, involving the updating of ways we think about God, the making of salvation into a this-worldly experience, the abandonment of old forms of worship, and the inclusion within Christian morality of modern, permissive insights.  Thoughts of heaven must give way to thoughts about improving this world, and thoughts of hell must give way to thoughts about the injustice, evil and deprivation in this world.  The horror of nuclear war and the quest for peace has to be preached in preference to a message about individual salvation in the world to come.  Further, marching against the bomb or protesting about apartheid are more important than engagement in evangelism, prayer or worship.  The spirit of humane secularism insists that we only have this world to live in and we must do all we can to make it a humane and tolerable place in which to live.  This spirit is absorbed by some Christian leaders who then Christianise its concerns and attitudes and agendas.  They are sincere and believe that such is what Christianity ought to be about, in our world today.

      To say all this – and more could be said – is not to say that all that matters is salvation of the soul for its life in the world to come.  There are certainly some politicians and journalists who think the Church should deal only with this dimension of Christianity.  For example, in an article entitled ‘The pestilence of pulpit politics’ in The Times of 27 September 1983, Roger Scruton wrote, with some justification:

      We must remember that a certain kind of politics is, for a priest, an easy way out.  It is far more agreeable to exalt oneself through compassion for what is anonymous and abstract – the working-class, the victims of capitalist oppression, the Third World – than to work humbly in the ways of charity, which obliges us to help those concrete, knowable, and often unlovable individuals whom Providence has placed in our path.

      Not only is it more agreeable, it is also more gratifying to the ego.  The attention of the world is more readily captured by the man with a cause than by the man who merely attends to his duty.  There lies the origin of modern heresy, which sees true religion in large-scale worldly enterprises, and which exhorts us to fight oppression in Chile, racism in South Africa, or nuclear weapons at home – rather than to save our own souls.  It is significant, indeed, that the causes chosen by those in the grip of this heresy are precisely those which further the interests of the world’s most militant atheist power.

The true priest works quietly, outside the publicity that gravitates to those of little faith.

      The Church of God is called by Christ to preach the Gospel within the love of the neighbour.  This means that merely to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ is not enough.  The whole mission of the Church means involvement in God’s mission to and in the world and this includes bringing of salvation, justice and peace (on God’s terms not man’s) into the world.  The Church exists to bring people into spiritual union with God and into the fellowship and worship of the Church as the body of Christ in the world.  Living for God in his world means being salt and light – bringing the flavour and illumination of the Gospel into human life and experience.  This communication of the grace and mercy of God is above party politics but often needs anchoring through local ‘political’ action.

      Regrettably the pronouncements of official Church leaders so often sound like the exposition of the liberal, humanist, social democratic policies of the S.D.P. or Liberal Party.  Their political sermons sound like editorials from the Guardian.  To say this is not to say that everything that the Conservative Party or government proclaims is Gospel.  It is merely to indicate where many church and official leaders stand.  They are schooled in liberal or secular humanism at university and in theological college, and they tend to read those newspapers which encourage this type of thinking.  Thus their pronouncements are often indistinguishable from those of humane liberal-minded politicians.  Their sincerity is not in question: it is the foundation of their thinking which is questionable.

      At the other end of the spectrum there are those – mostly laity – who identify the more right-wing policies of the Conservative Party as the expression of Christianity in practice.  They appear to believe that the maintenance of the status quo, which is in their interest, is what Christ the Lord requires.  Middle class values, just as much as liberal, secular values need to be challenged by the Gospel.

      The absorption of liberal or secular views and the attempt to be in touch with modern ‘enlightened’ society may be seen in these illustrations.

      1.  The identity of Jesus.  The way Christians and non-Christians think about Jesus determines how they think about God and Christianity.  If we adopt the traditional Christian position, which is based upon much careful, devotional study of the New Testament and long experience of worship, we say that Jesus is unique.  He is so, not only because he is perfect man, but also because he is the eternal Son of God made man.  In saying he is perfect man we mean that he is perfect in his moral and spiritual nature, enjoying perfect fellowship with God.  In saying that he is the eternal Son of God made man we are expressing a truth that we cannot wholly understand but which we believe to be at the centre of the truth about Jesus.  Because this kind of estimate of Jesus is made it follows that we can believe that such a person would have performed the miracles described in the gospel accounts and that such a person would have risen from the dead to appear to his disciples.

      If the answer to the question, ‘Who is Jesus? is begun, not from the historical Christian position, but from the presuppositions of modern secularist culture, then the identity of Jesus will be fitted into these.  He will be a Christ acceptable to the modern mind.  It will be said that the virginal conception could not have occurred; that Jesus was Son of God only by virtue of being called so, not because he was so; that the miracles are subject to explanation by natural causes or they are exaggerations or fabrications of the disciples; that Jesus did not rise from the dead in a bodily form; and that his ascension into heaven is not to be understood as a movement of his resurrected, spiritual body from earth into God’s immediate presence in heaven.  In fact, some professional experts in New Testament studies are more disbelieving of traditional Christian interpretation and understanding of the book than are non-Christian experts in ancient literature.  Instead of taking what the Church has always believed, taught and confessed about the identity and role of Jesus and putting that into attractive modern forms, and answering modern questions, so many modern theologians seem to want to try to do better than the Church had done in previous centuries and create new estimates of Jesus which are not offensive to modern ears.

      Let us be clear.  Jesus has so many aspects to his identity, achievements and impact that there are many ways of describing and evaluating him.  However, to believe and affirm this is not to say that any way of describing him is as good as another.  So many of the modern academic portraits of Jesus seem to contain a delight in denying primary aspects of him which the Church has long treasured.  Further, modern estimates and theological portraits of Christ can and do become the basis for Christian political and social action which is wholly this worldly in orientation, and seems not to have any eye to heaven or to a right relationship with God through Christ.  It is justice in a humanitarian way without also being justification – a right standing as a forgiven sinner before God.

      Let us also be clear that it is not enough merely to have a traditional, orthodox doctrine of Christ.  Too many churchgoers accept without question the presentation of Jesus found in the traditional liturgies and hymns of the Church.  But they appear not to realise that orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxis (right living) go together.  You can deny the truth of Jesus not only by false teaching but also by a way of living that effectively denies that he is Lord and Saviour.

      2.  Moral foundations.  As the nation has lived through the origin and development of the permissive society, so the Church has experienced the introduction into its ethical teaching of what may be called a permissive morality.  Situation ethics, as permissive morality is called, seemed to strike a responsive chord with the mood of the 1960s, and many Christians saw it as a breath of fresh air taking away the gloom of stuffiness of traditional morality.  ‘Away with puritanical attitudes’ and ‘let us be done with legalism’ and ‘no more Victorian morals’ were the common cries.  ‘We do not want any more of the old narrow-mindedness or hypocrisy’, it was said, ‘for what is needed is freedom – freedom to be, to act and to love.’

      What is situationalism?  It is the teaching that the situation in which you have to act is all important.  ‘Love’ must guide you when you are fully acquainted with the situation.  Thus you can never decide in advance what you will do in any given situation, for no situation is identical with any other.  You must wait until it arrives, or you get into it, and then you can decide what ‘love’ requires of you.

      To know the Ten Commandments, to be aware of what God hates and approves, and to know what Jesus said about motives and behaviour in the Sermon on the Mount may be helpful.  But rules, laws and commandments must not be used prescriptively.  They are not absolutes.  At best they are guides to possible behaviour, not divine laws that must always be followed.  Only ‘love’ is absolute and how ‘love’ acts will differ from one situation to another.  So you may in specific situations (to revert to traditional terminology) fornicate, commit adultery, steal, tell lies, kill and refuse to hallow the Lord’s Day all in the name of ‘love’ and with the motivation of ‘love’.  Thus sin is not acting according to ‘love’.

      But whatever is this ‘love’?  Traditional Christianity has insisted that God himself is Love and all genuine love flows from God through human hearts into attitudes and actions.  Though it is more than the keeping of rules, it certainly includes obeying God’s laws.  So genuine love in action does all that God’s law requires to be done and does it in such a way that it is pleasing to God.  The supreme example of what love is and means in human living is provided by Jesus.  He said, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’  St Paul insisted that love is the fulfillment not the negation of the law of God: ‘If you love someone, you will never do him any wrong: to love, then, is to obey the whole law’ (Romans 13:10).

      Situationalism or permissiveness refuses to accept that genuine love both fulfills and expresses itself through obedience to God’s holy law.  The love of God in the heart causes the true believer to obey Jesus as Lord and therefore to follow God’s commandments.  Situation ethics take the theme of love as care and concern for people and then allow each person to work out (according to his feelings, intuitions and own rules) what such loving care means in practice.  It is highly subjective and prone to misuse and abuse.  Regrettably, this approach to morality, still in tune with the mood of secularism and permissiveness, is deeply ingrained in much ‘christian’ thinking: people seem unable to see that it is contrary to the teaching of Jesus and his apostles.

      What is true in situationalism is that we must take the human context of moral action seriously.  This is especially so in some of the difficult decisions that are made in hospitals today where medical technology has brought new questions into prominence about the meaning of life and death.  It is also true in areas like divorce where decisions have to be made concerning the division of property and the fixing of maintenance payments.  But the situation does not determine the principle according to which action proceeds: it guides the form of the action.

      It is easy, but wrong, to put all the blame for the weakness of the Church in morality on modern approaches such as situation ethics or utilitarianism (the view that an action is good when it produces good consequences and reduces evil).  Moral endeavour has been weakened just as much by those who claim to hold to traditional morality, but who, through negligence, weakness, or some other cause, make little effort to live by it.  In fact all who say, ‘Do what I say but not what I do’ help to weaken the moral life of the Church.  Orthodoxy in ethics is to be matched by orthopraxis in morality!

      3.  Marriage services in churches.  In the Church of England the marriage of divorcees has not been allowed by Convocation.  However, as marriage officers of the State, priests have been legally free to marry any couple who were legally free to marry.  In practice, most priests have submitted to the discipline of the Church and not exercised their rights and used their parish churches to marry a couple of which one was a divorcee.

      But at the General Synod (which incorporates the Convocation of clergy) in July 1983, it was agreed to implement the decision originally made in 1981 – to allow the marriage of some divorcees in church under specified conditions which were to be worked out later.  The voting in favour of doing this was 284 for and 143 against (bishops, 53 for, 10 against; clergy, 131 for, 64 against; laity, 120 for, 69 against).  As the apparatus and conditions have yet to be agreed, it is possible that the Synod will not be able to agree and so the marriage of divorcees may not be implemented.

      However, many would claim that the important point is that the Church of England has, at last, submitted in part to the pressure of modern, permissive society.  It has decided – with the bishops being most sure of their ways – to break the practice of centuries.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the more conservative of British newspapers were critical.  In the Sunday Telegraph of July 17 1983, an editorial appeared under the title, ‘Let no Church put asunder’.

      In deciding last week to sanction remarriages in church for divorced people, the Synod of the Church of England, unsurprisingly but nevertheless deplorably, has surrendered another moral discipline in keeping with the spirit of the age ...

      When couples marry in church they pledge themselves, in the presence of God, to an indissoluble union.  Human nature being what is it, not all find it possible to honour these solemn and sacred vows.  Many – an increasing number – have recourse to divorce and then proceed to marry again.  Of course they should have the secular freedom to do so.  But should they also expect to have the indulgence of the Church, as well as the legal right, to break their vows and be absolved from suffering the consequences! ...

      An understanding Church is one thing; but an indulgent Church quite another.  The effect of sanctioning second marriages in church can only be to cheapen the absolute value of the vows made during the first.  It is always tempting to argue that everybody should be given a second chance.  But cumulatively such arguments lead to a general decline in moral rigour, the results of which – so dismally obvious all round us – serve the interests of neither Church nor State.  Prime Minister Macmillan once said that he left matters of morals to the Archbishops.  In present circumstances, his successor is very wise to be somewhat less detached.

      Whatever be one’s judgment of the political stance of this, newspaper, it surely has a right to make these points concerning a State Church and at a time when Britain has the highest divorce rates in western Europe.  Once the doors in the Church of England are opened a little, they will soon be pushed wide open.

      Many more examples could be supplied.  For example: the secularist presuppositions in parts of the training of ordained and lay ministry in the Church; the debates on peace in Church assemblies and synods following the same lines of reasoning as those in secular societies; the rarity of sermons on heaven or hell; and the increasingly popular idea that since all religions lead to God they are all equal in value.  The Church appears to be losing her relation to the supernatural, to that spiritual world where live the angels and the spirits of departed saints, and to the living God.  She seems to want to walk by sight not by faith and to live on earth more as a permanent resident than as a pilgrim and sojourner.  The Church as a whole needs to recapture her true identity as the body of Christ, the household of faith, the temple of the Holy Spirit, the pillar and bulwark of the truth and the pilgrim people of God.


3: Marriage or Divorce

      When most of us use the word ‘family’ we mean either the nuclear family, a married couple with one or two children living under one roof, or that same family with perhaps one or more relatives – e.g. grandparents.  Some of us, especially Asian, African, Chinese or Cypriot, mean by family the extended family, where three generations live together under one roof or in close proximity.  And in recent years we have begun to talk of the one parent family, usually a woman with one or two children.


The Nuclear Family under Pressure?

      Although many of us act and talk as though the nuclear family has always been around and is presupposed in the Bible, the nuclear family is in fact relatively new.  The extended family, in one or another form, has existed for a long time in Europe and has only been in rapid decline in western society this century.  In feudal society there was the stem family.  ‘The head was the oldest male parent, who ruled a number of sons and their wives and children.  The work of the household was divided according to the status of the female in question.  The unmarried daughters did the washing and spinning and weaving, the breeding wives bred, the elder wives nursed and disciplined the children, and managed the cooking, and the oldest wife supervised the smooth running of the whole.’  Traces of this remain in certain Mediterranean countries and similar social units exist in Asia and Africa.  And, let us recall, much of the family life in the Bible is nearer to the life of the stem or extended family than the nuclear family.  This fact has been recognised by those Christians, who, in recent times, have sought to establish Christian communes and communities in which Christians live together in a disciplined and, permanent way.

      There are, of course, many causes for the changing form of the family in western nations.  The process of industrialisation, the movement of people from the countryside to the ever-growing towns and cities, the expansion of secondary and higher education and the arrival of the Welfare State are all important factors.  We have witnessed the dispersal of children away from the parental homes and into the loneliness of nearby or distant urban centres.  Without suggesting that there were no major problems associated with living in the stem or extended family, it is nevertheless true that the problems created by an abundance of nuclear families, one-parent familes and single people living side by side in towns and cities are far greater.  Consider how many people today do not know who lives above, at the side of, or below them in a block of flats; consider how many hardly know the person who lives through the wall in the adjoining semi-detached house, or a few feet away in the next detached house.  Consider the loneliness of the person in bed-sitter land who does not even know who lives in the next room.  Little wonder that we speak of alienation in modern society.  To take one example.  A young mother who cannot consult her mother or auntie about her baby when he/she seems to be ill, but has to rely on a book on babies or ask other (ignorant) young mothers or go to the local impersonal clinic.

      The feminist movement of the last twenty years has rightly emphasised the great strain that the modern nuclear family can (and very often does) place on the wife/mother in such a unit.  Feminists have learned not only from their own experience but also from the criticisms of others.  For example, in his oft-quoted Reith Lecture in 1967, Edmund Leach described the inward-looking small family with the emotional stress between wife and husband and between children and parents and said: ‘Far from being the basis of a good society, the family, with its narrow privacy and tawdry secrets, is the source of all our discontents.’  This was to exaggerate rather than to tell a blatant lie.

      In her provocative study, which had such an influence on the 1970s, Germaine Greer wrote as follows in The Female Eunuch (1970):

The working girl, who marries, works for a period after her marriage and retires to breed, is hardly equipped for the isolation of the nuclear household.  Regardless of whether she enjoyed the menial work of typing or selling or waitressing or clerking, she at least had freedom of movement to a degree.  Her horizon shrinks to the house, the shopping centre and the telly.  Her child is too much cared for, too diligently regarded during the day, and when her husband returns from work, soon banished from the adult world to his bed, so that Daddy can relax.

      Since her home is her province, the wife/mother is lonely there.  In contrast the husband/father is out all day, meeting people and going places.  This is important.  Men tend to identify with a public world where there is job or leisure and so their home is a kind of retreat.  For women with children at home there is usually no retreat – except perhaps a trip to see mother, a friend, or a sister to shed a few tears with.  It is no accident that the incidence of mental illness is higher among married women than single, while for men it is the other way round.  Maybe this partly explains why women are keener to find alternatives to life in the nuclear family!

      But to return to Miss Greer.  She found little good to say about the nuclear family in Britain and came to the conclusion that the only one who benefited from it was the man.  A family in which parents replace themselves with one or two children is not a desirable unit in which children should grow up, she claimed.  So she proposed a different type of approach to child-bearing and child-rearing which requires the creation of larger household units – forms of extended family or relics of the stem family – like those she had seen in southern Italy.  In these there would be no necessary relation between having a child and being married, but there would be a happy and larger, atmosphere in which children could be brought up happily and in which their blood parents could visit from time to time, staying for shorter or longer periods.  Since 1970 various experiments in this direction have been tried.  They are usually called alternative or collective households, but they have not been very successful, as yet, in terms of their stability.

      Lynne Segal, a psychologist, and editor of What is to, be done about the family? (Penguin 1983) lives with her son, Zimri, in such a community in north London.  She begins her own contribution to this symposium by women writers insisting that there is need to ‘think through again the significance of this powerful symbol, THE FAMILY’.  She is very conscious of Mrs Thatcher’s emphasis on ‘family’ and so she writes:

Thatcherism’s emphasis on family life, which is always about women’s role in the family, fits neatly with Conservative policies of tight monetary control and welfare cuts.  But it is women’s sacrifice, their toil and selflessness in the home, which conservative thought must encourage as spending cuts increase the demands of caring for the young, the elderly, the sick and disabled.  It seems a cynical manoeuvre, but it is nevertheless a powerful one.  Stressing the importance of the ‘strength of the family’ in these difficult times is powerful because ‘the family’ means so much to us.  It symbolises our deepest dreams and fears.  These are dreams of love, intimacy, stability, safety, security, privacy; fears of abandonment, chaos and failure.

      Miss Segal is keen to improve the lot of the women (especially the lot of the working-class woman in the great urban centres of population) in the nuclear and one-parent family by calling for more State provision of such things as playgroups and nursery facilities, and more forms of self-help by women acting together.  She emphasises that ‘the loneliness and depression of women confined at home, men’s absence from home and women’s over-dependence on children who come to resent it, together with the lack of any larger community for intimacy and companionship all continue to undermine family life’.  Anyone who has lived in a predominantly working-class, urban area in Britain with his or her eyes open will know that there is much truth in what she says.  Miss Segal is also still keen to encourage experiments in alternative households but recognises that the recession of the 1980s leaves little space for experiment.

      Wendy Clark, a New Zealander who teaches in London and who has been involved in Gay politics, takes up this theme in the book.  She lives in an alternative household and with frankness describes her experience:

Alternative households, which attempted to be big collective living spaces are turning into pseudo-family groups based around several monogamous relationships; the well-balanced house these days would have a mixture of heterosexual and gay (men or women) couples, possibly two single (but settled) persons and one or two children (with possibilities of others) and of course a cat or two.  All of these alternative households, unlike families, are a loose association of persons of the same age group artificially brought together by economic necessities and ideological theory.  They are initially bound by little else.  The ties between this diverse group of people have to be painfully constructed.  It has never been easy, and whenever a crisis has struck the household and people move out or in, the whole process has begun all over again.  One household that I lived in for four years saw eleven individual personnel changes, and that did not count the various relationships which came and went and countless visitors in ‘the spare room’.

      It is easy to criticise such experiments.  What they say to us – among other things – is how important for people is true community, the reality of belonging and relating to others.  They also remind us that the nuclear family is a very fragile unit and we all – men especially – need to work at making it a better and more satisfying unit.

      If the lot of the wife/mother in a nuclear family can be hard and lonely, the lot of the woman in the one-parent family is rarely other than always hard.  If she is a professional woman and can afford help, or has very helpful friends or relatives nearby, then her life may be tolerable and even happy at times.  However, the lot of the one parent, working-class woman in the inner cities (and elsewhere) is usually far from tolerable, even though her needs are publicised by such organisations as the National Council for One Parent Families and the Child Poverty Action Group.

      What life is like for many women who depend wholly on the Welfare State has been sympathetically described by Paul Harrison in his moving book, Inside the Inner City: Life under the Cutting Edge (Penguin 1983).  You do not have to accept Mr Harrison’s socialist views in order to feel pain at the misery of such women and their children (as well as other groups in the inner city).  So many of them seem to be caught up in what seems to be an inevitable web which involves either marriage followed by divorce, or pregnancy without marriage, leading to fatherless children and utter dependence upon the Welfare State, together with a sense of deprivation, alienation and poverty.



      We all know that divorce is on the increase and that one in three couples who marry now (if present trends continue) will be divorced in a few years.  Here are the basic statistics for England and Wales.


Table 1.







Divorce petitions filed





Decrees made absolute





Number of couples





First marriage for both couples





First marriage for one only





Second or subsequent marriage for both






This shows a 40 per cent increase in divorce from 1973 to 1980 and a 15 per cent increase in the breakdown of second and subsequent marriages.


Table 2.  Divorcing couples and their children, 1973 to 1980







Couples with children under 16





Number of couples





Number of children





     Under 16





     16 or over






Here we note a 20 per cent increase in the number of children involved in divorce cases from 1973 to 1980.


Table 3.  Number of children (under 16) per couple and ages of children, 1973 to 1980







Number of children


Number of


















     4 or more





Total (couples stating children under 16)






      Divorce can happen to the nicest of people. But divorce is a messy business even if the couple remain ‘friendly’ afterwards. And, let us not forget that, though marriage can be legally dissolved, parenthood cannot.

      In June 1983 the Children’s Society published a report, Children and Divorce, by a working party drawn from various caring professions.  Concerning the effects on children the working party observed:

1.   The divorce process upsets and disturbs all children in the short term.

2.   Divorce may affect children detrimentally in the long term, and probably does so to a much greater extent than is commonly realised.

3.   The degree of distress caused to a child arising from conflicting loyalties may lead to a severe loss of integrity, self-esteem and capacity for responsible judgment which can affect his or her spiritual, mental, physical, moral and emotional development.

4.   Divorce involves spiritual dilemmas for children, as well as for adults.

5.   There can be no doubt about the general importance of access; nevertheless it can be very emotionally demanding for a child to be repeatedly re-separated from either loved parent.

6.   Children need time for adjustment to, and for working through, changes in family circumstances.  They have difficulty in adjusting to a re-marriage: which may be compounded if step-brothers or sisters are involved.

7.   When the structure of a child’s life collapses, security is lost – leaving a child bewildered and at a disadvantage; the more deprived the family, the greater the insecurity for the child.

8.   The importance of opportunities for fun, relaxation and leisure activities shared with others in their peer group for children of divorced or separated parents.

And it stated with particular regret that:

1.   Children may be penalised for socially unacceptable behaviour which may be a natural response to an emotionally unbearable situation.

2.   Children pre-occupied by the separation or divorce of their parents appear more prone to accidents and illnesses.

3.   Conflict about sexual identity and relationships can arise for children affected by the divorce or separation of their parents (including the resentment of, or reaction against, a parent’s new relationship).

4.   In certain cases, some children may suffer by not receiving visits from their non-custodial parent where the latter is in receipt of Supplementary Benefit and cannot afford the journey, and where the custodial parent is uncooperative in respect of D.H.S.S. provision for the child.

      Further, it also regretted that ‘the breakdown rate in second marriages (some 40 per cent) is higher than in first marriages, adding to the disorientation already experienced by the children’.

      Obviously, the reality of divorce and broken homes is a painful problem and an unhappy experience to each couple and their children.  But the basic problem facing the country is more than the sum of all the individual problems (around 150,000 each year to add to the problems carried over from previous years).  It is the fact that there is a mood within the nation that, with reluctance or with acquiescence, accepts that easy divorce is a necessary part and expression of individual rights and freedom in society.  Thus it is believed that divorce must be maintained and made even easier and more humane whatever be the cost in terms of human misery both individually and for groups (as will be the case if the ‘Proposals’ of 21 September 1983 for the Matrimonial Causes Procedure Committee set up by the Lord Chancellor under Mrs Justice Booth are implemented).  Thus we are in the situation today that each young couple who marry know that if things do not work out then divorce can be a simple and quick remedy.


Christian Response?

      The Christian response is not merely that of preachers and politicians proclaiming that the family unit is ordained of God and so its sanctity must be honoured and maintained.  On its own such a message may have the effect merely of making many people feel guilty, depressed and more powerless.  Proclamation and teaching are to accompany understanding and caring.

      Amazingly, marriage is still a popular institution; many who divorce wish to marry again.  In the Alternative Service Book (1980) the Christian view of marriage is summarised:

      The Scriptures teach us that marriage is a gift of God in creation and a means of his grace, a holy mystery in which man and woman become one flesh.  It is God’s purpose that, as husband and wife give themselves to each other in love throughout their lives, they shall be united in that love as Christ is united with his Church.

      Marriage is given, that husband and wife may comfort and help each other, living faithfully together in need and in plenty, in sorrow and in joy.  It is given, that with delight and tenderness they may know each other in love, and, through the joy of their bodily union, may strengthen the union of their hearts and lives.  It is given, that they may have children and be blessed in caring for them and bringing them up in accordance with God’s will, to his praise and glory.  In marriage husband and wife belong to one another, and they begin a new life together in the community.  It is a way of life that all should honour; and it must not be undertaken carelessly, lightly or selfishly, but reverently, responsibly, and after serious thought ...

Since many couples still marry in church buildings rather than in the office of the registrar, pastors and church members have an opportunity to do all they can to commend and explain what this Christian doctrine of marriage means in practice.

      Those who are married, and those who are not married, constantly need help.  The loneliness of members of nuclear and one-parent families (especially the women when they are a long way from relatives and close friends) must be recognised.  Married men need to be encouraged to talk more with their wives when they get home from work – not just have a meal and then be glued to the TV for the evening.  Each Christian congregation has a duty these days to become as a large, extended family in which God is seen as Father and the members as brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties, nieces and nephews ... and so on, so that loneliness and isolation for those who become part of this family will decrease.  Too often in congregations lip service is paid to God’s family through monthly ‘Family Services’.  Unless these are merely a part of a total programme of ‘family life’ they serve only to celebrate the ideal nuclear family and leave the one-parent family and the single people with spiritual vacuums in their hearts.

      As part of its caring mission in society, the Christian Church will also work with people of good will to foster better human contacts between young mothers and help provide suitable facilities for their children.  Because churches often own halls, they can provide the facilities for playgroups, nurseries and other means whereby mothers can meet socially and find ways of helping one another to cope creatively with their particular difficulties.

      More of us also need to speak positively of the work of women in the home so that men, especially, accept that the work of a woman in the home is dignified and important work, not to be minimised or cheapened.  And when a woman also works outside the home, the man should see it as his normal duty to do his fair share of housework.

      Obviously there is also great scope for providing help and counselling for those who think that separation and/or divorce is the only answer to their marital problems.  Probably thousands of marriages could be saved, made happy and fulfilling, if the right help could be offered (and received) at an early stage.  To witness the ever-increasing rate of divorce with all its social and psychological effects must bring grief to the sensitive Christian heart.  So there is need for open ears and eyes to discern where problems are beginning to exist; and there is need for loving hearts and wise counsel to take action to help.

      The Order of Christian Unity estimated in mid-1983 that the cost to the community of marital breakdown was around £1,000 million per annum.  This figure is computed by adding together the cost of supplementary benefits, children in care, housing, legal aid, advice and assistance, the attendance of social workers, medical treatment for stress, absenteeism, juvenile crime, truancy and delinquency.  So it called for more emphasis to be placed on saving marriages, rather than picking up the pieces after they have disintegrated.

      A final comment.  One major area where a great effort is needed – but it can only be done by the gifted few – is the infiltration of the general culture of the nation with a new picture of family life.  Christians need to pray that gifted novelists, playwrights, poets, song-writers and TV producers will begin to feed into our culture new and positive pictures of marriage for life and happy family units, so that new attitudes and aspirations can gradually be created.  What has been knocked down by the power of secularism and materialism can surely be built again in a superior way.  As long as the general supposition in the popular TV programme and in the daily newspapers is that divorce and one-parent families are necessary, and with us to stay in ever increasing numbers, then people will believe this and act accordingly.  We need a new vision of marriage and the family based on Christian values.


4: Responsible or Permissive

      Sexual desire is a powerful instinct in human beings.  It is part of our humanity, just as is the desire for food.  And, as there is a time and place for eating (if we eat all the time we shall get sick or fat and if we eat anywhere and everywhere we shall get poisoned), there is also a time for sexual intercourse and pleasure between a male and female.  The big questions are when and where and with whom?

      The present generation has tended to allow the sexual drive itself to answer the big questions.  This reduces the dignity of human personhood.  Since we have minds (with which to think) and conscience (which says what is right and wrong) and wills (with which to determine to do something) it is regrettable that we have allowed our feelings so often to dictate the answer to this big question.  Feelings and emotions and instincts are important; but, they are not that part of our human personhood by which we make moral decisions.


The Permissive Society

      When the Pill (= a daily dose in tablet form of hormones) became generally available from the local doctor or family planning clinic after 1962 it took the fear out of spontaneous intercourse (usually now called ‘love-making’ so as to remove the possibility in some cases of the use of such words as ‘fornication’ and ‘adultery’).  So what we call the ‘permissive society’ was born.  As a result an 18 or 20 year old virgin seemed to be an endangered species by the early 1970s.  At the height of the sexual revolution the done thing among teenagers and young people especially at colleges was to jump in and out of bed on successive days/nights with new sexual partners.  There were few lasting ‘relationships’ (in terms of weeks or months) among young people.

      So often sexual intercourse was presented by the media not as the enjoyable and responsible physical union of two married people but rather as the right of any couple, who liked each other, to excitement, satisfaction and pleasure from each other’s bodies.  The sexual organs became the means to uninhibited self-indulgence and so an unedifying literature arose about male and female orgasms.  Sex counsellors helped couples, married and unmarried, to reach such physical delights.  Women, worried that they could not achieve orgasms, felt guilty, inadequate and deprived.

      But, things in the 1980s are not quite the same as they were in the 1960s and 1970s.  The Sunday Mirror of 4 September 1983 had a centre page spread entitled, ‘Is the Permissive Society out of date?’  It claimed that the findings of its ‘special’ inquiry would amaze every family in Britain.  In a sentence the truth that amazed us was: ‘Yes, to live-in loving.  No, to sleeping around.’  According to the ‘experts’ consulted by the journalists, ‘Today’s youngsters now reject some of the more frenzied excesses of permissiveness like sleeping around.  But they accept things once considered shocking – such as living together – as perfectly normal.  They want steady partners to whom they can remain faithful rather than an endless succession of bedmates.’

      What this means is that the permissive society has matured or come-of-age without ceasing to be permissive.  For, to quote the article again, ‘the sexual explosion in the Sixties sent out shock waves that will be felt until the end of the century’.  There are still those who sleep around but they are fewer for the trend seems to be to have regular sex with a person you like and whom you may possibly marry one day.  One in five girls who married in recent years lived with her man before marriage as a ‘lover’.  Further, while it was once regarded as in the 1970s as unforgiveable and socially unacceptable to be a virgin at college, nowadays it is considered OK to be a virgin, just as it is considered OK to be a lesbian or a homosexual.  The permissive society now equates virginity, lesbianism and homosexuality as different but equal states of life.  Virginity is an option for those who want it and who can cope with it.  So the mood is freedom and the dominant virtue is toleration: and the ethos is liberty and the guideline is laxity.

      If a boy or girl wishes to lose his or her virginity and engage in sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex, that is fine; if a girl with lesbian tendencies decides to exercise them and live with another girl with such tendencies that is fine; and if a boy with homosexual drives decides to exercise them with another man, that also is fine.  What is not fine or acceptable to the permissive society is that people should be prevented from ‘doing what comes naturally’.

      So deeply has this spirit of toleration and laxity entered our society that it is found in the heartland of the once prudish Mothers’ Union.  In a recent leaflet, Understanding Homosexuality, aimed at parents who find their son or daughter has homosexual or lesbian tendencies the emphasis is on understanding and accepting the practice, rather than (the authentic Christian stance) of compassionate understanding with a view to help to cope positively and firmly with the tendency.  The Gay Liberation movement has certainly been one of the success stories of recent years.


The Pill?

      Each day some 60 million women around the world swallow a tiny tablet which removes their ability to produce a baby.  The Pill, developed by men, produced largely by men, marketed mostly by men, and often prescribed by men, is taken by women, as much for the benefit of men as of women.  The Pill, in one form or another is part of modern civilization.

      The national debate in July/August 1983 over whether or not doctors should prescribe the Pill to girls under 16 revealed that permissiveness is endemic in British society.  At the centre of the stage stood Mrs Victoria Gillick, a stalwart mother, a campaigner by temperament, and a Roman Catholic in belief.  The case of Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority was held in the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court before Mr Justice Woolf.  His judgement, delivered on 25 July 1983, was that advice given by the Department of Health and Social Security to area health authorities in December 1980 that contraceptive advice and treatment might be provided to children under 16, at a doctor’s clinical discretion and consent, was not unlawful.  This judgement delighted those who accept the presuppositions and practice of the permissive society and brought grief to those who thought that, at least, in this area the law was against the permissive society.

      Mrs Gillick, a mother of five girls under 16, had asked the Court for a declaration (1) that the advice given by the Department of Health and Social Security in December 1980 (ref. HN (80) 44) was unlawful and (2) that no doctor or other professional person employed by the health authority might give any contraception or abortion advice to any child of the plaintiff (herself) below the age of 16, without the prior knowledge and consent of the child’s parent or guardian.

      The judgement against Mrs Gillick relied heavily on the ability of the doctor to decide questions about the emotional and intellectual maturity of the girl under 16, as well as the claim that, by giving contraceptive aids, the doctor was probably saving the permissive girl from an unwanted pregnancy or from venereal disease.

      It is probable that Mrs Gillick will appeal.  If she wins, then it will be an offence for a doctor to give contraceptive advice to under 16’s without involving the parents in the decision-making.  If she loses, or if the judgement of Mr Justice Woolf is upheld, British society is placed (to say the least) in a strange position.  First of all, it will become apparent that courts will have greater authority over wards in their care than have loving and caring parents over their children.  Since the law on the rights of courts in regard to children under their care is crystal clear, any doctor who gives contraceptive advice to a girl under 16, who is a ward of court, without consulting a judge would be in severe danger of punishment by the law.  When a court takes on a parental role it does not tolerate any interference with that role.  So it, seems that the natural parent is less worthy of being consulted than an artificial parent.

      Secondly, it still remains an offence for a man to have sexual intercourse with a girl under 16 whether or not she consents.  So what is recognised as illegal and criminal on the one side is, on the other side, condoned or encouraged (even if only minimally) by the supplying of contraceptives.

      Finally, there is the fact that while parental consent is required for a surgical operation in a hospital for under 16’s, it is not required for the supply to her of such powerful drugs as those which constitute the Pill.  And, further, while a girl of 16 or 17 can only enter into a stable, loving sexual relationship through marriage with parental consent, a girl of 14 or 15 helped by contraceptives can enter into an unstable, transient sexual relationship without parental consent.

      In the Guardian, a newspaper that is normally friendly towards the permissive society, two letters appeared on 30 July 1983 from which I shall quote. Dr Roger F. Hurding of Bristol wrote:

What a sad indictment of our society that Mr Justice Woolf could rule in the High Court that children under 16 are entitled to receive contraceptive advice from their doctors without parental consent.  It is interesting that the alternatives to contraception are seen to be unwanted pregnancy, abortion and venereal disease and never – at least from the official views of the British Medical Association and Family Planning Association, and now the State – advising a girl about keeping her more intimate sexual experience for her maturer years and assuring her that she can actually say, ‘No’.

      And another doctor, Dr David J. Hill, a Consultant Anaesthetist from Cambridgeshire, pointed out that the judge had probably confused the Pill with the condom in some of his remarks and then wrote: ‘Not only does the Pill afford no protection against venereal disease, if may also provide the conditions to favour the spread, with pelvic inflammatory disease, of later infertility or ectopic pregnancy, and increased risk of the cancer of the cervix.  If the judge does not grasp the situation, how can a girl of 15 or under – whom he refers to as a ‘woman” – make a reasoned decision?’  And he ended with this comment: ‘It is still true that the best contraceptive advice is to take a glass of water, not before or after, but instead of.’

      The most comprehensive and readable book on the Pill is John Guillebaud’s The Pill (Oxford University Press, 2nd ed. 1983).  It contains clear information on how the Pill works and how it is to be taken.  Side effects are noted and fears removed.  Different versions and trade names are explained and advice given on which one is best for any individual woman.  The relation of the Pill to other forms of contraception is discussed and the book ends with ‘100 questions everyone asks about the Pill’.  The book is for educated women not for those whose literary taste is satisfied by the Sun and who do little or no reading of serious literature.

      The Introduction is by his wife, Gwyneth, who is a nurse and a family planning adviser.  This, together with the Postscript written by Dr John, reveal the moral tensions felt by the Guillebauds as Christians, involved in the whole area of what is still inaccurately called ‘family planning’.  The book actually carries the words ‘Recommended by the Family Planning Association’ on the front cover.  We may be sure that it would not have earned this imprimatur had the Guillebauds written the book from the perspective of Christian faith and morals.  It is significant that they express their Christian faith in the Postscript, not in the main chapters.

      For Dr John and Mrs Gwyneth the question as to whether it is right for Christians to use any form of contraception is answered in the affirmative, thus they reflect a typically Protestant rather than Roman Catholic position.  Mrs G. writes: ‘As a contraceptive user, I have tried all the recommended, irreversible methods with a record of success and occasional failure, or overall satisfaction, but also of having to live with some, side-effects.’  Secondly, as Christians, they have decided (surely after much heart searching) that they will give contraceptive advice to people whether or not they are married and when they are living in adulterous or other questionable relationships.  Dr John writes: ‘Circumstances vary, but the main thing is to help people avoid the nightmare of an unwanted pregnancy.  I feel it is not my role to judge but to care.  Although my own views often differ from those to whom I prescribe the pill, to draw attention to this, except at their request, might mean losing the opportunity to help, often not just with their contraception.

      Put crudely, this is the philosophy of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’  In Dr John’s words: ‘We live in the real world of the 1980s and my medical practice must be relevant to that world.’  This means preventing the nightmare of unwanted pregnancies.

      Dr John goes on to make a confession of faith which is very difficult to reconcile with the principle of accommodation to the permissive society.  He writes:

I am not in favour of the lifestyle that contributes to increasing numbers of broken marriages; single-parent families; induced abortions; not to mention prescriptions for tranquillizers for more and more insecure housewives and their partners, quite unable to trust each other.  The ‘copulation explosion’ is the root cause of the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases; and also, we now know of abnormal cervical smears and the risk of cancer of the cervix.

      And he expresses his belief that the sexual intercourse God designed us for is that of ‘a one-man woman who makes love only with her one-woman man for life’.


Family Planning

      Christians like the Guillebauds are like two people in a small boat rowing against a powerful tide and actually moving slowly with the tide.  The Family Planning Association and the Brook Advisory Centres are expressions of the permissive society, which they have helped not merely to create but also helped to maintain and to service.  There is no commitment to the principle that the right place for sexual intercourse is within marriage.  Indeed, literature on sex-education which they sell and recommend often advocates the opposite by implication, if not overtly.  Their attempts to be neutral in morality means in fact that they are agents of immorality.

      ‘Family planning’ originally meant what the words imply – the spacing of the births of an acceptable number of babies in a family.  It was a topic regarded as private and personal before the 1960s.  The first time the phrase was used on the radio was in 1956.  Now ‘family planning’ means advice on the supply of contraceptives, advice on abortion and venereal disease, and permissive sex-education.  In this change is seen what traditional Christian teaching calls the effects of original sin.  The Pill and other forms of contraception (e.g. intra-uterine devices and the condom) should have become aids, provided by medical technology, towards happy planned parenthood within a stable family life.  In some cases, they function as such.  But in too many cases, because of the fact that human beings are ‘fallen’ creatures, with impure minds, hearts and instincts, they have become through the manipulation of the few in the media and in advertising, the means whereby fornication, adultery and immorality occur with little or no censure.

      The latest Pill is the ‘morning after pill’, for those who forget to use a contraceptive the night before (or used one, which failed).  Two tablets of a particular 50mcg oestrogen-containing pill are taken in the doctor’s surgery or clinic.  And the dose is repeated twelve hours later.  This method has the effect of preventing a fertilised egg (if there is one) being implanted in the womb.  What is clear is that we have again the use of what is in essence a good thing (a useful drug) for purposes which are highly debatable.  Original sin is with us and in us and will not go away: it reveals its power in human lives in all kinds of ways!

      There is a relationship between the use of the Pill and abortion, despite the claims made by sex-education literature that we are now in the age of ‘safe sex’.  There is also a relationship between the use of the Pill and venereal diseases, and between the use of the Pill and cancer of the cervix.  The promotion of contraceptives creates a climate in which there is simply more practice of sexual intercourse because the fear or threat of pregnancy is supposedly removed.  And, the more troops you commit to battle the more casualties you get, especially (as with the Argentine Forces in the Falklands) when many of the troops are too immature rightly to handle their weapons.  So if a condom bursts, a pill is not taken, an intra-uterine device is not properly fitted, or passion rushes blindly on with the result that the sperm fits the egg and fertilisation occurs, then abortion (or perhaps the ‘morning after pill’) becomes the final form of birth control.  It is significant that Dr Guillebaud takes great pains in his book to explain the consequences of forgetting to take a pill each day.  He must when unwanted pregnancy is a nightmare.

      There is a nexus between the Family Planning Association and the Brook Advisory Centre (Clinics) and Family Planning Sales Ltd.  In 1964 the FPA set up the Brook Centres when it was thought expedient to open clinics for the young.  In 1972 the FPA set up the Family Planning Sales Ltd.  It will be recalled that the FPA campaigned successively for a free contraceptive service for all, regardless of age and this was achieved with the National Health Reorganisation Act in 1973.  Later the FPA negotiated with the Department of Health and Social Security for the bulk distribution of the contraceptives supplied by F. P. Sales Ltd.  Now having passed most of its clinics over to the Area Health Authorities the FPA is not an independent body, but is highly committed, using government money to the extension of the permissive society.

      The whole truth is even more salutary.  There is a nexus also between the FPA and the International Planned Parenthood Federation.  The latter is a body with a philosophy of life which is apparent in its attempts to change laws concerning sexual relations and family matters.  This philosophy includes definite commitment to keep down the population of the world, to encourage the use of contraceptives and abortion to keep the size of families small, and an aggressive sex education that undermines traditional views of family ties and responsibilities.  In 1972 the FPA set up Population Concern which has the same number (registered with the Charity Commissioners) as the FPA; of its profits 60 per cent go to IPPF and 40 per cent to FPA.

      Not everything that FPA and IPPF do is wrong.  The point is that they are organisations with a philosophy which in the long term is destructive of the true dignity of human beings, who are made ‘in the image of God’.


Christian Response

      To claim that the basic drive behind the manufacture and general availability of contraceptives (especially the Pill and condoms) is the legitimate desire of married couples to control their fertility is to be naive.  The driving force comes from a deeply secularist understanding of life which does not see sexual relationships under God’s love and judgement.  And, so pervasive is the modern obsession with the cult of sex that Christians, without realising it, are often caught up in the values and norms which belong to such secularist thinking.  They need to open their eyes to see where they are going!

      The Christian Faith includes the affirmation that God has created man and woman, male and female, and placed in them sexual desire which is intended to be expressed in beautiful relationships.  In the right place and at the right time, sexual intercourse is to be enjoyed both as delightful, physical union and as a joining with God in his creative activity, so that a baby is formed.  The right time and place are in the marriage relationship.  We have seen that the Permissive Society now accepts the right of a boy or girl to remain a virgin.  Christianity teaches that it is not a right but a duty and the duty is part of a noble uplifting view of sexual intercourse as the expression of spiritual and physical union within marriage.

      Where contraceptives are used, they are to be used within marriage and responsibly – not as means to self-indulgence.  They are to help deepen the relationship, physical and spiritual, of man and wife and to assist them in the spacing of the birth of babies.  There are some Christians and also some non-Christians who hold that contraceptives are unhealthy and against the laws of nature.  They believe that married couples should exercise discipline and make use of the natural methods of birth control.  This is the position of the Roman Catholic Church and also (not so strangely!) of certain feminists who see natural methods as a way of affirming the dignity of women.

      Since we live in a world of permissive sex and the irresponsible use of contraception, Christians are called to be ready to help and advise those who find they are not wholly happy with the values of permissiveness or who are casualties of them.  There is a great ministry here waiting for the Church to grasp and exercise.


5: Baby or Foetus

      Nurses working on gynaecological wards in British hospitals often find themselves in a situation of emotional conflict.  On the one side, there is the woman who is desperate to have a baby of her own and is being treated for what is known as infertility; and, on the other side, is the woman who has so easily conceived and who has decided to get rid of her unwanted foetus/baby.  Or, there is at one end of the ward the woman who much desires to have a baby but is lying in bed to avoid a miscarriage, while at the other end there is a woman who, having had an aminiocentesis1 and found that she will have a subnormal baby, is waiting for an abortion.

        [1. Amniocentesis (drawing fluid from the womb) is done around the sixteenth week of pregnancy and is impossible at 12 weeks because the womb is too small.  It is carried out to diagnose congenital abnormality, and with spina bifida an answer can be obtained within days of the test.  However, in Down’s syndrome and other chromosome abnormalities analysis of the fluid takes about three weeks and termination cannot be carried out until the twentieth week of pregnancy, even if no technical or administrative delays occur.  Faster methods of making these diagnoses are being examined, but are not yet reliable.]

      A doctor, too, sometimes finds himself in what has been described by a well-known gynaecologist as a ‘wounding process’.  This occurs especially when he is performing a late termination of pregnancy – twenty to twenty-four weeks from gestation.  Here the foetus/baby is recognisably human and the woman has to go though semi-labour pains to abort.  If the foetus is born alive then medical staff are faced with the decision whether or not he is placed in an incubator.  If there is sign of life and no effort is made to preserve that life then the doctor faces the charge (from conscience or from anti-abortionists) of murder.  If there is life, and the baby goes into an incubator, then there is the further agony of watching each day to see whether he survives.

      As the law stands, a foetus becomes a baby at the twenty-eighth week from gestation.  However, modern technology has made it possible for a foetus of twenty-four weeks to survive outside the womb and grow into a normal infant.  Most doctors and nurses see themselves as serving society and, therefore, accepting the generally-held moral or immoral values of that society.  So they induce abortions and nurse those who want a termination of pregnancy as part of their duty.  However, many of them instinctively feel that this kind of work is of a different order to the medical care that saves life, cures disease and removes infertility.  In fact, the practice of induced abortion is a dehumanising process and, over a period of time, does violence to the moral and spiritual nature of the human beings involved.  There can surely be no professional pride in reporting successful termination of pregnancy in young, healthy women, especially when the reasons are wholly social – a kind of late form of birth-control.



      In 1967 the Abortion Act was passed.  It was sponsored by David Steel, leader of the Liberal Party.  By its provisions a pregnant woman may have an abortion up to twenty-eight weeks from gestation in either the NHS hospital or in a private clinic.  Two doctors must be satisfied that the woman’s request is in line with one or more of the statutory grounds provided in the Act (for which see below).  Whatever good reasons lay behind the framing and passing of the Act, it has been used in a way that few originally expected or predicted.  It has become an expression of the permissive society.  In a culture that emphasises human rights it has become the basis for a woman’s right to abortion on demand.  For most people of the 1950s the suggestion that about 150,000 abortions would take place in each year in the hospitals of the new National Health Service in the 1970s would have been an impossible thought.  But it happened.  Over 1 million abortions have been induced since 1968.

      This table shows the vast number of abortions performed since 1968.








NHS hospitals

Private clinics

NHS hospitals

Private clinics






















































































      To get these numbers into perspective we must think of the crowd at the Cup Final at Wembley Stadium and recall that, had these abortions not taken place, the number of human beings saved would fill that Stadium twice over each year.  Or, the number each year is equivalent to the population of such places as Brighton, Dundee, Swansea and Ipswich.

      The next three tables provide (1) a breakdown in terms of the ages of women who have had abortions (2) the age of the foetus (child) in weeks when aborted, and (3) the marital status of the mothers.


mothers’ ages (residents only)


Under 15











































































*under 16. More detailed figures not available


unborn children’s ages in weeks (residents and non-residents)


Under 9





24 and over

Not stated







































































25 and over











mothers’ marital status, totals and percentages thereof (residents only)


















































































The statutory grounds for abortion are:

1.   risk to the mother’s life.

2.   risk of injury to the mother’s physical or mental health.

3.   risk of injury to the physical or mental health of existing born children.

4.   substantial risk of serious handicap of the child.

5.   to save the mother’s life in an emergency.

6.   to prevent permanent and/or serious injury to the mother.

      Thus the major reason given for abortion is the second – the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.  This needs interpreting within its context.  The context is a society whose standards are dominated by secularism and materialism. So mental health means fitting into the ethos and expectations of such a society.  In other words, having a baby will interfere with plans for the future and will remove liberty to do what is considered desirable and satisfying.  Even to go ahead with the pregnancy, and offer the baby for adoption to a loving couple who desperately want a child, is not deemed acceptable by most secularist assumptions, because this involves too much physical and emotional cost for the pregnant woman.  The figures for adoptions speak for themselves:


ADOPTIONS: illegitimate children under nine months (England and Wales)














We are all aware that adoption agencies have far more requests from possible adoptive parents than children to offer for adoption.  It seems that, as a society, we prefer to condone the destruction of a foetus than urge the mother bearing the foetus to carry it to birth and offer her child to be raised in a loving caring home.


Arguments Advocating Abortion

      In the 1980s we have reached the situation when it is not thought necessary either to offer a defence of the practice of abortion on demand or to defend the tremendous use of time and resources within the National Health Service which abortions take.  As a society, we apparently believe that abortion is acceptable and necessary because, with modern technological aids, it is usually brief, painless and with relatively few side effects.  There are groups i.e. LIFE and CARE – and Churches (especially the R. C. Church) who oppose it but they are only a vociferous minority.  If only by its lack of interest and criticism, society in general seems to accept that abortion on demand is here to stay and the doctors can be left to sort out the ethical and medical issues involved.

      But what are the reasons used to justify this violent act against a developing foetus (baby)?  Here are some of the popular ones which have been heard over the last fifteen years.

      1.  Abortion is a woman’s right.  When a pregnant woman says, ‘My body belongs to me: it is mine alone.  The foetus within me is totally dependent on me for growth and without me could never have come into being’ she is correct as far as she goes.  Is she right, however, to compare the removal of a foetus to the removal of an appendix?  By asserting her own rights, she is denying the rights of the man who supplied the sperm to fertilise her egg.  Perhaps in the case of rape he has none; but let us suppose that she is pregnant through voluntary sexual intercourse and the man agrees that she gets rid of the foetus that they have created together.  Is that the end of the story?  No, for at least there is the possible right of the foetus itself to live!

      2.  A foetus is not a human person until birth and so cannot be said to have independent human rights when in the womb.  This approach sees the severing of the umbilical cord as the moment when a foetus become a baby, when a human person is born.  Any possible rights that the foetus had before that moment are subsidiary to those of the woman who carried the foetus in her womb.

      The weakness of this approach is seen in incidents which, because of modern technology, are not uncommon in hospitals.  A woman has a later abortion (after the twentieth week of gestation) and the foetus when aborted turns out to be a live baby, which a midwife hastily takes to the incubator.  The woman, who came in for the removal of a foetus, has had a baby!  And then all the care and expertise of the medical staff, plus a fantastic amount of money goes into a great effort to keep that baby alive.  It seems that one morality applies to the foetus in the womb and another to the tiny baby outside the womb.  And the ability of modern medical technology to keep premature babies alive effectively pushes backwards the possibility of such survival.  In 1967 a thirty-six week old foetus (baby) did not always survive; in 1984 it is possible for a twenty-four week old foetus (baby) to survive.

      3.  Society should not be burdened with either unwanted babies (for they are susceptible to psychological and social pressures which may cause them to become social misfits of one kind or another) or severely handicapped and subnormal children (for they are a tremendous drain upon emotional, physical and financial resources).  In some NHS hospitals the amniocentesis test is only offered to a pregnant woman on the understanding that, if her foetus (baby) is found to be subnormal or abnormal, she will agree to a termination of the pregnancy immediately.  It is often the case also that women who live in poor housing and without basic financial and family support are urged by social workers to have an abortion rather than try to look after a baby in squalid or over-crowded or deprived conditions.  Thus abortion becomes a means used by society to control the type of people who make up its membership.

      Ironically, the tremendous increase in abortion together with the mentality that allows, advocates and, where necessary, defends it, comes at a time in the history of medicine when the very best pre-natal and post-natal care are available to look after mother/foetus/baby.  We seem to have got our morality and our technological ability off line.  We encounter here something which is more than an individual error or sin or mistake.  The society which legislates and provides for abortion on demand stands guilty as well.


A Christian Response

      If you look either at the Bible or the ethical teaching of the Church over the centuries, you will find no justification for abortion.  It is true that modern techniques such as amniocentesis and scanning were not available until very recently, thus questions raised by their use are modern questions.  But at least this can be said.  Christian teaching possesses no doctrines or principles that can justify the termination of a pregnancy when a healthy foetus and healthy mother are involved.  I here leave aside in terms of moral judgement the comparatively few cases where (1) a choice has to be made between the life of the mother or the foetus, (2) there has been a proved rape which caused the pregnancy, and (3) it is known that the baby will be severely deformed or abnormal.  Here there is some indication in the ethical tradition – especially in Protestant Christianity – that in some cases the termination of pregnancy is the lessser of two evils and so should be done.  Christianity affirms that the life of the foetus (baby) is precious and sacred in God’s sight and must be allowed naturally to come to birth, after which it has a right to proper care and protection.

      To be human in a biblical and Christian sense is to be created in the ‘image of God’ – an ancient way of saying that the human being is unique in creation and reflects characteristics of God’s nature in his human nature.  It is because of this fundamental belief in the sanctity of human life that murder is judged as immoral and sinful (with the exception of the taking of life by the State acting as the minister of God, Romans 13:1f.).  The command ‘not to kill’ applies both to the child inside as well as the child/adult outside the womb.

      So the Christian approach is based on this proclamation and teaching that God is Creator of life and that each human being is precious in his sight.  The value of human life is not deduced from its potential usefulness to society or potential discomfort to society but in the light of its relation to God, Creator and Redeemer.  This God-centred approach is totally contrary to the dominant views and ideas in British society.  These views and ideas are man-centred, making man the master and creator of all things.  So what man and woman have made they can destroy!

      The Christian Faith puts before pregnant women – and the fathers of their unborn children – the teaching that they are co-creators together with God of new life and in this light they are to preserve and cultivate that new life both in the womb and after birth.  What they have created they are to care for as servants of God.

      A special responsibility lies upon the shoulders of doctors. In The Times of 29 September 1983, Ronald Butt wrote these words in an article entitled, ‘A moral dilemma for doctors’:

      For 2,000 years, the medical profession condemned abortion and did so because it got its ethic from Christian belief in the sanctity of life and from the Hippocratic principle.  Today, with society’s moral uncertainties, people with powerful means of persuasion proclaim that there are no higher standards for sexual conduct than an individual’s personal preferences, provided no unwanted birth occurs.

      With the exception of an honourable minority, the medical profession has connived at this false assumption.  Whereas it preaches against tobacco for lack of a cure for cancer, it offers abortions, if contraception fails, with little public comment about the psychological, physical and moral consequences.  The doctors have little to say publicly against the causes and effects of abortion.  Yet they do not have to deceive people by euphemisms concealing the ugly truth that would be revealed if an abortion were shown like any other operation on television.  Why, if there is nothing to be ashamed of, should it not be?

      Mr Butt proceeds to call for the immediate reduction of the legal terms for permitted abortions (in view of the ability to keep the foetus of 28 weeks and less alive) and for doctors to explain what abortion means in order to help change the climate of opinion.

      Christianity is action as well as proclamation.  So, living in the reality of abortion on demand for the present, Christians (together with others of good will) need to do all they can to provide homes for pregnant women where they can receive counselling and help and decide whether to place their babies for adoption or keep them.  Some Churches and the ‘Life’ organisation are already involved in this ministry but there is room for more positive action.

      Then the Church has the ministry of forgiveness to offer.  For women who have had abortions and who suffer from guilt feelings or feel haunted by the spirit of the ‘murdered’ child, there is the ministry of forgiveness, of inner healing through the Gospel.  And the doctors and nurses need help as well to sort out their feelings and to formulate their ethics.

      Today the life of one baby in five is being destroyed before it arrives at birth.  This termination of life in the womb is a national shame of which the nation must repent.


6: Dignity or Deprivation

      In 1909 David Lloyd George said: ‘I cannot help hoping and believing that before this generation has passed away, we shall have advanced a great step towards that good time, when poverty and wretchedness and human degradation which always follow in its camp will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests.’  In 1984, despite the Welfare State, it is claimed that 7.5 million are living in poverty in Britain.


Breadline Britain

      Under the heading ‘Breadline Britain’, the editorial in the Sunday Times of 21 August 1983, stated: ‘It may be that as you read this, you are sipping a cold lager straight from the fridge, looking forward, perhaps, to your Sunday joint and contemplating with pleasure a well-deserved holiday.  If so, you might reflect that some seven and a half million people are not so lucky.  For today, we publish two major pieces of evidence which demolish the comforting myth that such modest affluence is universal.’  The two major pieces of evidence were (1) a survey carried out by Market and Opinion Research International (MORI) for a new television series on ITV, and (2) an extract from a new book by Paul Harrison entitled, Inside the Inner City. Life under the Cutting Edge (Penguin), a study of poverty and conflict in recession in the London borough of Hackney.

      The definition of poverty used by the MORI organization was in terms of what people consider to be necessary for a decent life.  On this basis it was estimated that the following number of Britons were lacking the following:

1.   A damp-free home.  4.3 millions.

2.   Roast joint once a week.  2.9 millions.

3.   Adequate heating.  3.25 millions.

4.   New clothes, not second-hand.  3.4 millions.

5.   A warm coat for winter.  2.9 millions.

6.   A week’s holiday away.  9.7 millions.

7.   A bath in the home.  1.1 millions.

8.   Money for Christmas celebration.  2.2 millions.

Britain’s new poor are found in five vulnerable groups within society.  First there are the country’s 900,000 single-parent families, and then there are the unemployed, the elderly, the disabled and sick, and the low paid.

      Paul Harrison provides many illustrations of the difficulties, hardships and trials that people in an inner city area have to face.  For people who live in comfortable suburbia or in pleasant country villages (as I do) such accounts are difficult to believe.  But Mr Harrison does not exaggerate his factual accounts of bad housing, poor diets, financial difficulty and harassment.  Having read a chapter or two, the temptation is to put down his book and to try to forget about it.  His argument is that there is both absolute poverty (insufficient basic heating, clothing and food) and relative poverty (a sense of deprivation in contrast to what others possess).

      Single-parent families, usually a woman with one child or more seem unable to exist without all the benefits payable by the Welfare State.  Of course such families do not just happen – somewhere an act of will causes them to originate.  However, when they exist, and they exist in large numbers, they seem destined to become caught in a cycle of deprivation.

      The example of poverty supplied by the Sunday Times was that of an unmarried Scots girl of 23 years of age who has one child and is expecting a second.  She lives in a ‘battle-scarred hovel’ in north London which is divided into bedsits.  The house is in an advanced state of decay and so are the facilities inside.  Her room is twelve feet square and she shares toilet, bathroom and kitchen with others.  Her rent of £22.50 is paid for her and she receives £43.35 every Monday in cash from Social Security.  When she has paid for food, travel, clothing and heating/lighting, she has nothing left and is in danger of going into debt.  The future for her holds little hope.  She has been on the Council housing list for a year and in January 1984, she was due to go into hospital to have her second child.  There is a problem finding someone to look after her child when she is in hospital, and she fears that her children will soon be taken from her and put into care – as she had been as a child.

      To be unemployed and to be on a small wage means in practice to live on about the same amount of money.  The Economist of 1 October 1983 put the matter in this way:


Incomes in and out of work, April, 1983

(£ per week)






Unemployment benefit


Child benefit


Child benefit


Rent rebate


Supplementary benefit


Rate rebate


Rent and rates




Tax rebate


National insurance








Replacement rate = 83.19 / 98.49 = 84%


      Sometimes the replacement rate is 100 per cent or over.  This causes the ‘why work syndrome’ resulting in some men choosing to give up work indefinitely and others spending longer looking for a job.

      Mr Harrison recognises that the deprivation experienced in the inner city is found among all ethnic groups.  Also he knows from listening and watching that racial prejudice is not simply that of white against brown and black; it is also black and brown against white, and brown and black against each other!  Nevertheless, he became aware in his long stay as an investigative journalist in Hackney that ‘by almost all indicators New Commonwealth immigrants and their children fare worse than whites in every sphere that determines the overall quality of life’.  In housing unemployment and education black and brown people do less well than white.


Disturbed Inner Cities

      Many of us recall with pain and horror the Brixton disturbances of 10–12 April, 1981.  Lord Scarman reported on these events in south London for the government.  His report is justly famous and was published as The Scarman Report (Penguin, 1982).  It begins with a description of the situation of Brixton and its people.  The poor housing (especially in the wards where the disturbances took place) and the minimal social and leisure facilities within the context of urban decay are noted.

      After a sympathetic description of the function of the extended family in traditional West Indian society, he described how this social unit had not been able to withstand the move into the decaying inner cities:

It is no cause for surprise that the impact of British social conditions on the matriarchal extended-family structure of the West Indian immigrants has proved to be severe.  Mothers, who in the West Indies formed the focus of the family, became in many cases wage-earners who were absent from the family home.  Some idea of the destructive changes wrought in their family lives by their new circumstances can be got from a few statistics.  The percentage of children in care and of single-parent families in the black community is noticeably higher than one would expect in relation to the proportion of black people in the community as a whole.  50 per cent of single-parent families in the Borough of Lambeth in 1978 were non-white.  The two wards where the April disorders were centred – Tufse Hill and Herne Hill – contain some 22 per cent of all the single-parent households in Lambeth and 2.1 per cent of the 0–18 age group in those wards are in care.  Of the 185 children in care in those two wards on 10 September 1980, 112 (61 per cent) were black.  In addition, the Melting Pot Foundation, which provides hostel accommodation for young black people, has estimated that 200–300 young blacks are homeless, sleeping rough or squatting in the Brixton area.

The situation in 1984 is worse than in 1981 for national, economic recession has made the area more deprived, even though the relationships with police are better.

      Lord Scarman also described the high unemployment (also worse now) and recognised that racial discrimination was a fact of life – ‘I have no doubt that it is a reality which all too often confronts the black youths of Brixton’.  And he summarised the position in the inner cities:

Although there is evidence to suggest that the position of the ethnic minority groups has seen some improvement relative to the rest of the population in recent years, overall they suffer from the same deprivations as the ‘host community’ (i.e. the white population), but much more acutely.  Their lives are led largely in the poorer and more deprived areas of our great cities.  Unemployment and poor housing bear on them very heavily: and the educational system has not adjusted itself satisfactorily to their needs.  Their difficulties are intensified by the sense they have of a concealed discrimination against them particularly in relation to job opportunities and housing.  Some young blacks are driven by their despair into feeling that they are rejected by the society of which they rightly believe they are members and in which they would wish to enjoy the same opportunities and to accept the same risks as everyone else.  But their experience leads them to believe that their opportunities are less and their risks are greater.  Young black people feel neither socially nor economically secure.

Such social conditions must create a predisposition towards violent protest.  Deprivation and frustration are the soil in which the plant of violence grows.

      Paul Harrison has come to believe that the situation in the inner cities is grim, very grim, and is ripe for disturbance and troubles.  He writes:

The British system is not self-correcting.  Thus the process of polarization may continue and intensify.  Unless its present course is quickly and radically reversed, Britain could become a country as deeply and as destructively divided as many in Latin America.  Revolution does not seem likely, rather a chaos of individual and sectional pathologies and disruptions.  The disadvantaged of today are far less restrained by deference, by the moralities of private property and propriety, or by the bonds of community, than were the victims of the last great depression.  Crimes of theft and of violence will continue to grow.  Riots will recur, and urban terrorism reappear.  The poor, as always, will bear the brunt, but the prosperous will not be insulated, and will enjoy their privileges only at the cost of increasing vigilance and self-restriction.  Police methods will become the primary response to socio-economic grievances.  As the threats to law and order grow, so will the pressure for stricter measures to contain them, reducing the civil liberties of everyone.

It is not surprising that he calls for positive reforms.


Christian Response

      The decline and decay of the inner cities did not occur simply by accident.  Because of government policies of dispersal and decentralisation, and because influential people went to live in the suburbs, the inner city areas were left to decay after World War II.  And they became ‘twilight zones’.  Commonwealth immigrants, and needy people from other parts of Britain, moved into areas which were already ripe for renewal.  Few will deny that there needs to be investment of the right kind – private and government funded – in these areas so that the possibility of a new environment will become a reality.

      Having said this, and recognised the need for outside help, several obvious points must be made.  First of all, many of those who are living in deprived conditions need not be there.  This is especially true of the one-parent families.  A man who gets a girl pregnant, and a girl who does not resist the sexual advances of men bear a great responsibility for the sad state of so many women and children in bad conditions.  So also do those men who marry and forsake their wives when they are pregnant or when they have children.  While it is true that sexual intercourse is one of the few adult enjoyments that need not cost money, the results of it, as we know, can be the birth of babies into sordid and deprived surroundings.  Surely even in deprived areas, the sexual drive can be controlled and men can be more responsible if they become fathers.

      In the second place, we need to be aware that when we are discussing poverty we usually are referring (in Britain but not in Africa) to relative, not absolute poverty.  As long as there are people in society who have more than others there will always be relative poverty.  There is no escape from ‘relative poverty’ unless all of us have identical money and possessions.  When people do not have enough food to eat, clothing to wear and a warm, dry place in which to live, then such poverty is an evil.  It is offensive to God.  But when the deprivation concerns lack of material goods and comforts, together with items of food and clothing which are not necessary for physical health and well-being, then such relative poverty cannot be called an evil.  Certainly such poverty makes those in deprivation feel resentment or anger or frustration; but it is not immoral.

      With justice it can be said that God is specially on the side of the genuine poor, as the Old Testament often stated, (Psalm 82:3–4; 140:12; 146:6–7); and it can be said, as Jesus did, ‘Blessed are the poor ...’ (Luke 6:20); to claim, however, that God is on the side of those who, because they live in a highly materialistic society endure relative poverty, is another thing.

      We are grateful to those theologians who have made it clear that the God of the Bible is the Lord who wants justice in his world and who is on the side of the poor – the widows, the fatherless, the genuinely needy.  Such people – in absolute poverty and poor in spirit – have a special place in the heart of Jesus, and the Gospel must be preached to them (Luke 4:18).  But are theologians and activists right to tell us that the poor also include those who are in relative not absolute poverty?  If they are right, then the only way to make such teaching practical it to have equality of goods. and possessions in a society.  To speak of relative poverty means that there will always be the poor – those who may have sufficient or even plenty, but who are deprived in compassion with others.  Surely, while God has a special concern for those in abject and absolute poverty, he also has a real and genuine concern for all the rest – those who are in relative poverty as well as those who have plenty of this world’s goods.

      Obviously, the solution to the needs of the urban poor cannot be an endless supply of handouts from the Welfare State.  In the long term, the receiving of handouts takes away from human beings their dignity and reduces them to dependent and grovelling creatures.  People need to be taught rightly to love themselves.  Ways must be found which seek to help people help themselves.  A context needs to be created in which people desire to do whatever they can to look after themselves and their families and also to care for their neighbours – whatever their race or colour.  (There is useful discussion of these problems by the Director of the William Temple Foundation, John Atherton, in his book, The Scandal of Poverty, Mowbrays, 1983, and by the Bishop of Liverpool in his Bias to the Poor, Hodders, 1983.)

      Paul Harrison is a socialist who wants Britain to be a compassionate, socialist and equal society.  He writes: ‘What is required more than anything ... is a new consensus on values: on the importance of compassion and a far greater measure of equality and participation than we have enjoyed hitherto.’  In his plea for a consensus on values, he is certainly right.  The great and fundamental value of compassion cannot exist alone: it must be rooted in spiritual union with the living God, who is Love.

      The inner city areas need an internal spirit of compassion, of justice and faithfulness.  Human beings living there should be valued as children of God, whatever their age, circumstances or ethnic origins.  Relationships of all kind – landlords and tenants, employers and employees, government officers and citizens – need to be guided by justice and faithfulness.  Looking in from the outside, we need compassion, understanding and wisdom.

      Christians are only a minority in the inner city.  There, by God’s grace, they are to be the salt of the earth and light of the world.  To be so they need the support of their fellow Christians who live in more affluent areas.  It is to be hoped that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Urban Priority will provide wise and practical guidance concerning the mission of the Church in the inner city when it reports in 1985.

(See below Appendix I: Work and Vocation.)


7: Cooperation or Conflict

      My father was a coal miner for fifty years and he came from a family of miners.  My mother’s family worked as farm labourers and domestic servants.  I was brought up in a mining village in South Yorkshire.  Here virtually all my contacts were with manual labourers and semi-skilled people and their families.  The only professional people I knew were schoolteachers and the local doctor.  Because of this background, I feel a deep and natural sympathy with the aspirations of working people as well as with the historic role of trade unionism in British society.

      So it is with sadness and pain that I have watched the changes within the Labour Party and trade unionism in the last two decades.  I think especially of the mineworkers union.  My pain arises from unions paying little heed to the moral values and principles which were once so important to their aims and relationships.  I think of concern for the needy, the motto that if a job is worth doing it is worth doing well, of brotherliness and a sense of responsibility one for another, of respect for employers, of a vision of a just society and a concern for less fortunate people in other lands and places.  These virtues owed their origin to the Christian influence that came into the movement, primarily from the nonconformist chapels – especially Primitive Methodism (one of the few genuinely working-class expressions of Protestant Faith).

      Before I proceed to point out the failures and weaknesses of trade unions, I must explain that I am not thereby suggesting that business corporations and political parties of the centre and right follow right norms and are necessarily based on Christian values.  Because the trade union movement is near my heart and origins, I have chosen to write about its failures as one sign of moral and spiritual disease in Britain.  I could so easily have written of the greed and self-indulgence of many in the professional and business communities.  I simply write of that disease which gives me most pain.


Trade Unionism

      Eric Varley was right to say: ‘Free trade unionism in Britain is an essential ingredient in our free society and one of the safeguards to our liberties.’  Modern trade unionism is the result of 150 years of development and this development has not been a simple one of evolutionary growth towards moral maturity.  Growth in size and power in changing material conditions has not always been matched by growth in responsibility and sensitivity to the national good.

      There are about 12,000,000 people in trade unions which are composed of four types – craft-based, general, industrial and white collar.  What is the aim of trade unionism and what are its objectives?  The general aim is to represent the members (workers) so as to get the best deal for them not only in their jobs but also as members of a wider society.  Trade unions are associations of wage and salary earners who negotiate with a view to improving their position.  They aim to reduce the power-imbalance between employer and employees by organising the employees to act together.  This may not seem necessary in a small business where everyone personally knows the boss, but the situation is different in a large factory owned by a transnational company.  Workers can only guarantee justice for themselves by being organised.

      From the evidence of what trade unions have done in the past and are doing in the present, it is possible to see four objectives to their activity.

      1.  The material well-being of members.  The union exists to defend and to improve the living standard of the members.  Therefore it is not surprising that most strikes are for more money in the wage-packet or salary cheque.  To go on strike can be honourable but it is a weapon which can so easily be misused through selfishness or greed.  Withdrawal of labour is the major instrument of power possessed by unions, but it should be used last not first as a way of gaining what is regarded as just.

      2.  The regulation of the job.  The union exists to defend the rights and secure good working conditions for the members.  This is necessary because an employer tends to think of efficiency and profits before he thinks of the rights of his workers.  Some strikes are about the rights of members.  Obviously both sides have to balance rights with duties.  To emphasise one at the expense of the other brings discord and resentment.

      3.  Influencing national welfare policy.  One of the sources of modern trade unions is the Friendly Societies of the Victorian period.  They were concerned with the needs of their less fortunate members and their relatives – for the widows and fatherless.  This concern for the needy in society is still a feature of trade union activity in its expression of concern for the elderly and the very young as well as about the cutbacks in the National Health Service.  Many trade unionists still possess what is often called ‘a social conscience’.  The creation of the Welfare State owes much to the activity of trade unionists before 1944.

      4.  Bringing social and political change through conflict.  This may be called a radical objective for it is based on Marxist (or related) teaching.  It is a relatively recent aspect of trade unionism.  The idea is that conflict between workers and employers is necessary in order to create the situation in which there is the possibility to bring about the collapse of capitalism and the present social order.  From the media we are aware of contests between leftists and rightists for seats on important trade union committees and councils.  Also the so-called investigative journalism brings to our attention plots to infiltrate British industry with those whose intention in the long term is to wreck it.  The recent dismissal by British Leyland of 13 alleged political activists from the Cowley Plant on August 12 1983, is a case which aroused much national interest and led to the publication of documents relating to the strategy of ‘the comrades’ to infiltrate the production line of the new range of British Leyland cars.  There are certainly a few ‘reds under the beds’ in the modern trade union movement.

      It is not surprising – given the media coverage of the failings of trade unions – that there is within the nation a sense of exasperation with, as well as loss of patience in, trade unionism.  It is seen as irresponsible, greedy and unpatriotic.  In their criticism of the movement and its privileges, Mrs Thatcher and her men have been riding on the crest of the wave.  However, constant criticism of trade unionism by government ministers and others who have no experience of the shop floor either as workers or managers, only serves to drive the moderates towards the left and extreme attitudes.  Further it makes the job of fair-minded union leaders increasingly difficult.  There is no tradition of revolutionary violence in British trade unionism but such a tradition could arise.

      A bitter feeling of conflict has developed in the last few years and this means that government ministers on the one side and trade union leaders on the other are presented as ready to cut each other’s throats.  Should they talk or should they not talk to each other?  This question is seriously debated and unionists come up with different answers.

      It is well to remember that union power is basically negative power.  Although it is a great power it is usually exercised in reaction to initiatives from employers and government.  Employers propose a wage rise and unions react.  The government proposes legislation and unions react.  To possess negative power is a strange position to be in and reduces the options available by way of response.


Christian Response

      The majority of those who may be called committed Christian worshippers in Britain are from the middle and professional classes.  This is a regrettable but true statement.  So it is not surprising that criticisms of trade unionism from committed Christians often reflect a lack of knowledge of what it is really like to work on the shop floor and how trade unionism functions at the local level with the unpaid officials (rather than TV personalities) of the union doing the organising.  It is easy even for Christians to criticise something of which they are practically ignorant.

      In Morality and the Market Place (1981), Professor Brian Griffiths of the City University has criticised the activity and legal position of modern trade unionism on what he believes are Christian principles of justice.  What he says is the truth as he sees it from the perspective of an office in the City of London.  His criticisms are as follows:

      1.  Individual trade unions raise the real wages of their members at the expense of non-unionised workers.

      2.  Through the use of restrictive practices and their ability to veto industrial change, unions are a direct cause of low productivity and overmanning.

      3.  By raising the level of wages above that which they would otherwise be, unions are guilty, of helping to increase the level of unemployment in the country.

      4.  Through the use of secondary picketing – often accompanied by intimidation – unions become a threat to personal freedom.

      5.  Because of the closed-shop agreements from which individual workers find it hard or impossible to withdraw, personal liberty is under attack from the unions.

      The Professor is also very critical of the whole idea of collective bargaining and favours individual wage-setting, which he thinks is better able to reward those who work hard and conscientiously.  It is here where he reveals especially his lack of experience of the reality of work and workers on the shop-floor in factories, on production lines, in ships and aeroplanes and in mines.  A more realistic Christian assessment of the place of collective agreements and bargaining is provided by Sir Frederick Catherwood, who has had much experience in talking to trade unionists and seeking to understand how they feel and think.  There is much wisdom in his book, The Christian in Industrial Society (new edition, 1980).

      Sir Frederick writes: ‘Union ideology is very different from middle-class professional ideology.  When someone joins a union he gives up his individual position in order to gain the protection and benefit of a collective position.  The essence of unionism is that you do not compete, you combine’.  Collective bargaining is both necessary and, when motivated by right values, it is good.  Yet he recognises that ‘the unions are not perfect and there is much that they could do to reform themselves, both in order to do their job more effectively and to police their own activities at shop-floor level’.

      There is also sensible presentation in the Scottish report The Role of Christians in Trade Unions: A Church of Scotland Working Party Report (1982).  Concerning collective relationships it says: ‘In trade unions the individual member is involved in collective relationships.  It is through his own group that he relates to people in other groups with whom he is involved in working life.  Such groups exist to further the interests of their members.  They are about power – gaining it, holding it and using it.  Decisions about using power are seldom wholly good and sometimes people get hurt.’  It goes on to explain that collective relationships operate through a slow process of discussion, resolution, negotiation, acceptance of majority decisions and usually ending in some form of compromise.  They are quite different from the relationship of an individual to another individual: such a relationship is at least immediate and straightforward, even if difficult.  Regrettably Christians in trade unions gain little encouragement and training concerning the way to function in such collective relationships and it is so easy to opt for a simple model of personal relationships which is just not applicable.  Christians need to be committed to their trade union branch and speak out within it for such values and attitudes as they deem to be Christian.  Too many stand outside to criticise.

      In A Better Way (1975) Sir Frederick made various suggestions concerning the improvement of the position of members of unions.  To those who work in important industries and services (whose grinding to a halt affects everybody) he emphasises the need ‘to recognise the exploitation of shop-floor power for what it is, the moral issue of usury, the expropriation of the weak by the powerful.  When people understand that they are not taking money from the employer but from other workers, that one man’s wage increase is another man’s price increase and that some other men cannot afford it, then personal conscience backed by public conscience can exercise some restraint’.  The moral issue is that people with power are to use it responsibly.

      He also emphasises the need for worker participation in companies to a degree which is, as yet, rare in Britain.  Even as political power is accountable to those over whom it is exercised, so also in industrial society economic power should be accountable too.  And one way to move in this direction is more involvement by the workers in the plans and decisions of management.

      And Sir Frederick is surely right to state that ‘the ultimate need is trade-union support for a fair wages policy, a policy in which differentials which are capable of agreement within the great bargaining groups ... are agreed between groups in one annual wage round.  This would avoid the present leapfrogging and enable special cases to be recognized without opening the floodgates to everyone who thinks that they have a similar case’.  Since differentials can be fixed within a plant across trade-union boundaries, why cannot differentials be fixed outside the plant?

      I do not doubt that we are dealing with complex issues but the point is that unless there is a value-system from which debate and discussion can begin then there is little hope of moving towards justice.  Only when trade unionism, government and major employers of labour have a common value system will there be change of lasting trust and agreement.

      Professor Griffiths is strongly of the view that justice demands that the position of trade unions as exempted from the ordinary law of the land must be changed and that they must be on the same footing in law as business corporations.  He writes: ‘On grounds of Christian justice there is an overwhelming case in Britain today for a fundamental reform of the rights, privileges and responsibilities of trade unions.  The object of reform should be to require of trade unions the same degree of responsibility within law that is at present required of corporations.’  And he goes on to recognise that this would be far-reaching legislation with all kinds of consequences.

      Mrs Thatcher’s government is committed to the introduction of legislation which will curb the immunity of trade unions.  Most fair-minded people agree that some reforms of the position of trade unions before the law are necessary.  But the matter is not so simple as Professor Griffiths suggests.  Recently the Institute of Personnel Management had this to say: ‘Much of the support for legislative action is based on misconceptions about the structure of trade unions and the fallacious belief that legal pressures will force union officials to assume and use powers over their members which they do not in reality possess.’  It is well to remember that sovereign authority lies with the union membership in the final analysis and so in this respect a union is very different to a business firm where the authority lies with the hierarchy.

      Acts of Parliament in and of themselves will not bring trust, cooperation and harmony.  Unless legislation is realistic and has been framed and passed in dialogue with trade union representatives, and unless there is a fundamental change in the basic values by which our affairs are conducted, matters will not improve.  The Scottish report declares: ‘A vision of human brotherhood and for a more just society was an important element in the rise of trade unions.  Such a vision is not so evident nowadays among the broad membership, whose concern is often restricted to defence of short-term or sectional economic interests – reflecting of course, the materialistic values of our society in general, with its emphasis on the pursuit of self-interest.’  Trade unionism is suffering from the national disease of absorption with materialistic values.  This disease will not be remedied by legislation even though some of the symptoms may be removed.  The cure is the recovery of a vision of brotherhood, responsibility for the weak, and concern for the national good.  This type of cure requires a massive injection of moral and spiritual values based on the Christian Faith.  This is why Christians cannot opt out but should be much involved in their own trade unions.


8: Education or Indoctrination

      Since World War II a tremendous amount of money has been spent on education – new schools, new universities, new polytechnics and new facilities.  Exciting developments in the use of computers are also beginning.  Many schools and departments in universities/colleges/polytechnics continue to do a fine job.  Yet there is growing disenchantment among responsible people about what has happened and is happening in our schools and institutions of higher learning.  As I write, news of the very critical report by government inspectors of two degree courses at the North London Polytechnic has appeared (The Times, 5 October 1983).  They found slipshod teaching, casual lecturing and the danger of a Marxist bias in these courses leading to degrees in sociology.  Such reports raise the worries and fears of parents who often suspect that courses in the behavioural sciences – especially sociology – serve only to destroy whatever traditional values their children had, to be replaced by new modern ones.  Parents of younger children – often against their political inclination and involving financial hardship – send them to fee-paying schools for what they believe will be a more solid and stable type of education.  Though parental fears, disenchantment and disillusionment are often expressed vaguely and incoherently, they point to a recognition that a new system of values is undergirding novel methods and experimentation in education.

      Here are some of the areas of concern in primary and secondary education that seem to me to be valid.

      1.  The collapse of authority.  Gone are the days, in many schools, when the teacher could expect to be respected and heard in silence.  In some schools little teaching is done because so much time is spent in trying to maintain order.  And this lawlessness is spreading from secondary to primary schools, especially in urban areas.  The problem is most acute where the social and environmental problems are worst – the inner city – but it is no longer rare in new towns, old towns and even parts of suburbia.

      According to a six-year study in schools conducted by London university academics (reported in The Times of 24 August 1983) the problem of disruption is increasing.  The survey shows that although the disruptive behaviour did not take the form of violence or aggression against teachers, it was in a sense more pervasive and undermining, consisting of inattentiveness and an unwillingness or inability to learn in the way the teachers wanted.  In fact disruption is so widespread in secondary education as to be normal.  One of the researchers, Dr David Steed of Goldsmiths College, London, told the reporter from The Times that ‘teachers who attempt to ignore or deny the latter (i.e. changing views of order in society), and who refuse to negotiate, or who rely solely on imposition, should not be surprised if their authority, no longer supported in the same unequivocal way by wider societal norms, breeds resentment, apathy and aggression among their pupils.’  Perhaps so, but will discipline be better if teachers do their best to adopt those views that they believe the children to hold?  In the USA it is not uncommon for policemen to be on duty in the corridors of secondary schools.  Let us hope we do not reach that stage here.

      2.  The demise. of rote learning.  It is rare to find a school where multiplication tables and theorems are learned by pupils and then tested by teachers.  It is also rare to find schools where there is insistence on correct spelling and grammar.  These omissions trouble many parents and they are not wholly convinced by the arguments they get from teachers when they talk to them.  In fact most teachers have merely adopted the methods they were taught in colleges of education, where older methods were ridiculed or said to be inferior.  To rely wholly on rote learning is foolish: to abandon it altogether is even more foolish.  But in the name of progress good things are often discarded.

      Education certainly needs the occasional shake-up.  But innovative methods need to be treated like new drugs – they need to be laboratory-tested before being widely adopted and used.  The three R’s, reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetic not forgetting the fourth R –  religion – cannot be ditched.

      3. Discovery methods.  In the 1960s and 1970s this approach was hailed by many teachers as the real way to get children to learn.  The teacher becomes a resource person providing resources for children in order that they may find out information for themselves.  If the teacher is well-informed, energetic and hard working, it can be a very successful method.  But much mischief flows from the use of this method when (in the hands of ordinary or poorly motivated teachers) it is the cause of a great waste of time and effort to achieve very little.  In many cases, a more straightforward, well executed instructional approach can be more interesting and can achieve far more in less time.

      This method does not exist in a philosophical vacuum.  It is an expression of a view of education which is not only about making learning, more interesting but also presupposes that children are naturally curious and will naturally learn what they ought to know.  Such a view is open to challenge.

      Together with this method has come an open-plan design of primary schools providing (it is said) greater space and flexibility.  In some cases this works but so often it produces (as discipline deteriorates) a noisy environment where teachers and children have no base to call their own.  Further, many miss the security provided by the four walls of the traditional class room when they wander all day with possessions from one spot to another.

      4.  The Comprehensive System.  Many grammar and secondary modern schools have been fused in the last twenty years to create comprehensive schools.  Looking back on my life, I regard it as a great privilege that I went to a grammar school in the early 1950s before that school (founded in the 16th century) became a comprehensive school.  Coming from an honest, but unsophisticated working-class culture, the grammar school was the place where I was introduced to the wider, richer western culture and scientific understanding.  My working class background was not denied: it was affirmed and extended.  Of the three other children in my family, one went with me to the grammar school and two went to the local secondary modern school, against which they have no complaints.

      There are good and bad comprehensive schools – just as there were good and bad secondary modern schools.  One real problem with comprehensive schools is that they reflect their catchment area and so vary tremendously in their character and achievement.  This fact causes aspirant parents to take part in a breathless shuffle of mortgage readjustments and removal vans to get close to a favoured school.  So those who suffer most from the reality of local catchment are the children of those who cannot move – who live in council housing or who are highly dependent upon the Welfare State for economic survival.  In particular, bright children from ‘twilight areas’ and inner-city areas suffer most by this system for they are not given the chance to get away into a different environment where the process of learning is easier, and less impeded by disturbance and poor motivation.

      Usually classes in these schools are of mixed ability; the tendency of teachers is to aim at the middle band.  This is good for the average child but does not encourage the bright child, to whom the nation must look for a contribution to the development of knowledge and expertise and, just as seriously, neglects the problem of the under-achiever, who is usually spotted too late to be helped.  John Swallow, President of the National Association of Head Teachers, claimed to be speaking for his 20,000 members when he wrote: ‘They know clearly that comprehensive secondary schools, far from having failed children and parents, have, in fact, done the job they were designed to do: to raise the attainments of middle-ability children closer to those of the most able, and not the other way around.’ (Letter in The Times, 26 September 1983).

      Responding to this, Professor Antony Flew of Reading pointed to the Standard in English Schools, a survey by John Marks and Baroness Cox, published by the National Council for Educational Standards and wrote:

Apart from showing that some comprehensive schools are indeed doing very well indeed, while others perform abominably, their most significant finding in the present context (discussion of the plans of Solihull Education Committee to reintroduce Grammar Schools) is that, even when due allowance is made for social class differences in pupil intake, those maintaining a system of grammar and secondary modern schools achieve on average between 30 per cent and 50 per cent more O-level passes per pupil; while, allowing for the nature of their pupil intakes, the performance of the secondary modern schools is especially creditable.

There are still 180 grammar schools left in England and Wales, but, this is only a fraction of the number of the 1950s.

      One of the arguments used for ‘going comprehensive’ was that because of their size comprehensive schools could maintain a wider range of subjects.  This is not occurring!  Latin, Greek, Russian, German, Music and Geology (to name only some subjects) are often not available.

      The whole policy of a comprehensive system (in the intention of its enthusiasts) is based on a doctrine of egalitarianism (or equalitaгianism).  This is not merely an equality of opportunity and an equality before the law, but a more wide-ranging concept of equality.  Comprehensive education was first implemented by a socialist government, whose senior members sent their children to private, fee-paying schools, and was not opposed sufficiently by a Conservative party, whose senior members were also sending their children to fee-paying schools.  The demise of the grammar schools was a blow felt most acutely by those from the working classes and lower middle-classes, who wanted the best education for their children, and who had traditionally looked to the grammar schools to provide the desire to pursue excellence and to work hard and conscientiously (otherwise called the Protestant work ethic).  The very dogma that undergirds the comprehensive system is a dogma that is ultimately unworkable and which cannot, therefore, produce the best results – academic and cultural – in the majority of pupils.

      In the USA there has been a tremendous growth of private schools, primarily because of parental fears about the lack of discipline and solid education in state schools.  This is unlikely to happen here.  But something needs to happen here!  Ideally the state schools should carry all children to the extent of their ability – whatever their measured IQ.  To do this the present system will certainly need modification.

      (Roman Catholic educators recognise this as well.  They have an impressive system of Catholic comprehensive schools but they are now recognising their weaknesses and calling for changes.  See The Tablet, 8 October 1983).

      5.  Religious and moral education.  It is true, as I remember from my youth, that much religious instruction in schools was boring.  I can recall each child having a copy of the Bible and the lesson beginning with the reading of a passage, each pupil reading a verse.  At the same time that there has been a tremendous improvement in the availability of interesting text-books on biblical material both for schools and for Sunday Schools, there has been a move away from bible-based religious instruction (religious education) in schools!  The alternatives now include the absorption of religious education into a general programme called ‘Humanities’, the turning of it into activity best called ‘social concern’ (humanistic concern about racism, deprivation, poverty, famine and so on) or the ephemeral study of aspects of all the major religions of the world.  The result is that a generation of students is now leaving schools who have little or no knowledge of the contents of the Christian Bible.  This is both culturally and religiously a bad thing.

      When moral education is seen as a separate area from religion, then it seeks to help students to think carefully about morality and moral issues but claims not to give them any preferred system of morality.  The education in morality is intended to be value-free, giving the pupil the opportunity to learn how to make moral choices.  This sounds fine in theory but presumes far too much in practice.  The traditional Christian (as well as Jewish and Muslim) approach is that morality is not discovered by right methods but is learned from God’s revelation to Moses or the prophets or through Jesus and his apostles.  Certainly help can be given to people on the way to use the revealed principles and precepts of morality, but morality cannot be divorced from religion.  In the last analysis, moral law is dependent upon, and proceeds from, God.  The result of the teaching of ethics divorced from revealed religion is the production of a generation of students who think that all systems of morality are of equal value!  Thus one chooses that system which is most appealing or attractive.

      For a long time the British Humanist Association has been working both in public view and behind the scenes in order to change the teaching of religion and morality in state schools.  Much of what its activists desired has happened – not primarily because of their efforts but because of the general indifference of too many parents and teachers in the context of the inevitable movement of a culture, that is increasingly rejecting God and the supernatural and moving towards secularist humanism (which works on the general assumption that man is the master of all things).  To make things worse, so many Christians, imbued with the modern spirit of tolerance, have believed it Christian, to agree with changes, and even to help them on, not realising that they were eroding the possibility of the provision of sound moral and religious teaching in one of the few places where it could still be given in an attractive way – the schools.

      True religion and morality are also being undermined, often unwittingly, by the confusion of the real supernatural and the occult.  Take the celebration of Hallowe’en, which many primary schools encourage.  The Christian festival is All Saints’ Day – All Hallows’ Day (1 November): All Hallows’ Eve is on 31 October.  All Hallows replaced a pagan festival and features of that pagan festival were retained in the activities of Hallowe’en in medieval times.  It is these features – witchcraft, foul-fiends, demons – that are being revived today in class rooms as children hear stories, act plays, and paint pictures.  So children are prepared sympathetically for later encounter with occultism, witchcraft and satanism, and the immorality that accompanies them.  The victory of Christ the Lord over Satan and the triumph of the saints was celebrated in earlier times.  Now that aspect is absent and so interest in the pseudo-supernatural/occult is encouraged, and this can be dangerous.

      6.  Sex education.  Parents would do well to look carefully at the books on sex education used in many secondary schools, and to peruse those recommended by such bodies as the Family Planning Association and the National Marriage Guidance Council.  Many would be surprised and even horrified.  In 1981 the Department of Education published guidance on sex education in The School Curriculum.  This assumed that sex education would normally be available and stated: ‘Sex education is one of the most sensitive parts of broad programmes of health education and the fullest consultation and cooperation with parents are necessary before it is embarked upon.  In this area, offence can be given if a school is not aware of, and sensitive to, the cultural background of every child.  Sex education is not a simple matter and is linked with attitudes and behaviour’.  Regrettably, too few parents take an active interest and so their children receive a sex education which is contrary to the values which their parents believe to be acceptable and right.

      Sex education concerns the giving of factual details of human sexual intercourse and reproduction and often includes instruction in the nature and use of contraceptives.  This may occur in biology classes or in special classes which discuss parenthood, love and marriage, relationships of the sexes and related topics, but also in the general attitudes taken by teachers of history, literature and social studies, as they talk about what goes on in any given society, ancient or modern.

      If the purpose of sex instruction/education is merely to make children aware of the kind of permissive sexuality which is becoming increasingly common in society, and prepare them for participation (if they wish) in it then some of the books recommended or produced by the Family Planning Association, the Health Education Council, the Marriage Guidance Council, the Schools Council will suffice, regrettably!  To give one example, Make it happy. What sex is all about, by Jane Cousins (Penguin) treats incest and bestiality, not to mention masturbation and sexual intercourse outside marriage, as normal, desirable and pleasant.  In early October 1983 the Inner London Education Authority ordered a ban on a course in sex education in which pupils considered rape, incest and various sexual fantasies.  It had been organised by that Authority and the Cockpit theatre, Marylebone, to explore ‘sexual questions’.  Protests from parents led to its cancellation (report in The Times, 5 October 1983).

      There is great need for sexual education to be education based on positive values.  In teaching the physical procedures of sexual attraction and intercourse, it is impossible not to imply a mental attitude towards it.  If physical details alone are taught (so that it is supposedly ‘value free’) then such teaching implies that these acts, like eating or going to the toilet, are acts performed only for the physical pleasure or relief which they provide.  Thus the teaching of them can actually increase the interest and desire of young people to experiment with sex.

      Parents have a right to ask that sex instruction and education be related to specific, traditional values – e.g. that sexual intercourse is only normal between married couples, that chastity before marriage and fidelity in marriage are worthy ideals, and that homosexual and lesbian relations, as well as incest, are abnormal rather than normal unions.  There is much wise counsel for parents and teachers in Sound Sex Education by Margaret White and Jennet Kidd, published by the Order of Christian Unity.  So often parents and teachers do not take action because they do not want to be regarded as supporting Mrs Mary Whitehouse or advocating an out-of-date morality.  By their inaction, those who have ‘progressive’ and ‘permissive’ views of sexual relations get their way and propagate their views.  So the life of society is poisoned.

      Nothing less than the adoption of a new system of values will provide the basis of an educational philosophy and methods needed to renew the British educational system.  If its values continue to be moulded by egalitarianism, utilitarianism and materialistic secularism then moral decay will continue.

      Perhaps the rigours of financial cutbacks together with the growing disturbances felt in school from children raised in undisciplined homes, will cause teachers – and those who train them – to see that some of the old values are not so out of date as they thought.  At the heart of education in schools there needs to be the recovery of an act of worship.  Only as we learn to see ourselves in the light of our position as creatures of God can we rightly estimate our dignity and duty in life.  Associated with worship and with a sense of the reality of another world, God’s world, religious and moral education, based on the Bible and accomplished in an attractive way, will provide those basic and lasting values by which the rest of education can develop.


9: God-centred or Man-centred

      The values that cause the Church to tailor its message and stance to please the world, force the termination of life of a human foetus, encourage sexual intercourse between unmarried couples and condone homosexuality and lesbianism, dissolve marriages and family life, disrupt trade and industry, create poverty and deprivation, devalue the true dignity of human beings, and prevent the pursuit of excellence, have no point of reference outside of space and time – except perhaps with the demonic.  Such values are this-worldly, subject to change as the mood of society changes.  They are not anchored to a firm rock but adrift in the choppy sea of disturbed and disorientated western society.

      Certainly these this-worldly values are not the values of everyone in Britain.  Yet they are dominant values, even if so by default as much as by design.  As dominant values they are not as effective as they could be because we are still living on our capital of Christian inheritance.  But this capital is running out and attitudes, traditions and standards will be formed more and more by this-worldly values and less and less by Christian standards.

      When I talk of the dominant values of Britain, people quickly tell me that I must not forget how much good there is in people in society.  This I do not doubt.  We are made in the image of God which means that, despite the fact of sin, we are still capable (without special divine help) of doing all kinds of civic and communal good.  Further, I fully recognise that this-worldly values do often encourage attitudes and actions which are intended to help people cope in this world.  My major point, however, is that the values are this-worldly, having no point of reference in God, Creator and Redeemer.

      There are various ways that contemporary British society can be described.  Here are three significant ones.

      1.  A secular(ist) society.  A fully or thoroughly secular culture would be one in which the values, norms and ways of interpreting reality, together with the symbols and rituals which express and reinforce them, are totally free from all reference to God and the supernatural.  In theory, a communist country is of this kind.  Britain pays lip service to religious values but is in the process of moving towards such a position of a totally secularist culture.  People are not so much active atheists as unconvinced theists.  They are so impressed by human achievements in science and technology, and so confident that human beings are, or will be, able to master themselves and their environment, that they treat this world as though it were the only world.  For them this world is autonomous, having no dependency on the word and power of God to sustain it.

      The process of secularization has been going on for several centuries but, in recent decades, there has been an acceleration.  Its roots are in the great intellectual movement in Europe in the eighteenth century that we call the Enlightenment – the setting free from the dogmas, morals and institutions of the past in order to be led by reason.  We recall Alexander Pope’s couplet:

Know then thyself, not God to scan,

The proper study of mankind is Man.

From the end of the eighteenth century Christianity was still dominant, but it was no longer normative.  And its dominance has been eroded as processes of industrialization, urbanization, and dependence on technology have weakened the sense of relation to God and the supernatural.

      Though Britain is going quietly down the road of secularization, it would be a mistake to attribute this to the influence of ‘secularism’ (an atheistic philosophy which aggressively rejects religion, faith and morals).  Much more important is what may be called ‘scientism’, the popular view that science is all-powerful and the undisputed saviour and guide of the human race.  Within this popular scientism is the belief that science has disproved the claims of religion.  Of course, many scientists are theists and Christian believers, but the popular image of science and technology is a major force in secularization.  As long ago as 1884 Sir James Stephen, an eminent Victorian, wrote:

If human life is in the course of being fully described by science I do not see what materials there are for any religion, or, indeed, what would be the use of one, or why it is wanted.  You can get on very well without one, for though the view of life which science is opening up to us gives nothing to worship, it gives us an infinite number of things to enjoy ... (Nineteenth Century, lxxxviii, June 1984)

      In Boxford, I find that the fine old medieval church is valued, not as a place to worship, but as a sign of continuity of village life and as an architectural centre for the village.  The creed of the English seems to be that there is no God but that it is wise to pray to him from time to time – just in case!

      2.  A post-Christian society.  For a society to be Christian a majority of people must accept the truth of Christian faith and morality and attend services of worship reasonably regularly.  If Christianity was normative before the Enlightenment (which occurred 1650–1780) and dominant after it, then since the First World War it has become increasingly peripheral.

      One important indication that Britain is a post-Christian society is the changed moral standards undergirding the output of the BBC in radio and television.  Originally the duty of the BBC was seen as guiding the people in moral and aesthetic standards.  In the entrance hall of Broadcasting House there is a Latin inscription.  Translated it reads:

This temple of the arts and muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first governors of broadcasting in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being director-general.  It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest, that all things hostile to peace or purity may be banished from this house, and the people inclining their ears to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the paths of wisdom and righteousness.

Such was the original vision.  As late as 1948 Sir William Haley, the director-general could write:

We are citizens of a Christian country, and the BBC – an institution set up by the State – bases its policy upon a positive attitude towards the Christian values.  It seeks to safeguard those values and to foster acceptance of them.  The whole preponderant weight of its programme is directed to this end.  (Broadcasting, Society, and the Church; 1973 p.1)

      But by 1970 Charles Curran, also director-general, could state that we live in ‘post-Christian era’ and that broadcasting must play a morally neutral role in society.  ‘It is not our job,’ he said, ‘to adopt a particular morality and then try to persuade everybody else to follow it’.

      You have only to watch television for one evening – be it BBC 1 or 2 – to recognise that we are in post-Christian Britain for the moral values, norms and assumptions are more often than not, those of the permissive society.  The route from the original vision to the present situation took two major turns.  Of these, the first was the adoption of the principle of tolerance – i.e. give everyone a right to express their views and the discerning (?) public will recognise which is best.  The result has been that the moral malaise of society is now the basis of values in the BBC.  The second turn was the policy that the Christian faith and values should be preserved through the religious programmes on Radio and TV.  Now the giving of time, or peak time, to these is regularly being challenged and pressure to secularise them is constant.

      Thus in that Britain has become a society ‘preoccupied with technical skills, scientific knowledge, mundane goals and humanistic values, the Christian religion has become epiphenomenal within it; and this is true despite the fact that the skills, knowledge, goals and values in question are not, in most cases, inherently counter-religious.’  (A. D. Gilbert, The Making of Post-Christian Britain, 1980.)

      What the majority of people appear to want out of life is reflected in the contents of the popular newspapers – the Sun, Daily Mirror and News of the World.  The latter has about 11,500,000 readers each Sunday, which is more than a quarter of the adult population.  Its editorial formula is straightforward and unblushing – sex, crime, showbiz, sport and a modest fig-leaf of political coverage.  In the copy dated 14 August 1983, the whole of the front page, the whole of page three and a column of page two were given over to the ‘world exclusive’ of the headmaster who married a 16 year-old girl, with whose mother he had previously lived for several years!  The headmaster was interviewed, the 16 year-old girl was interviewed and the abandoned mistress was interviewed.  An ample supply of photographs was also produced.  Other stories were no more edifying.  Here is a paper whose values are those of a decadent society.

      3.  A plural(ist) society.  This is a way of saying that there are several or many value systems operating in society.  These may be specifically connected with religion, or loosely associated with religion, or separated from religion.  So, while it is recognised that society needs basic laws and norms to prevent anarchy, people can freely choose the values to which they hold and the norms they follow.

      A plural society may also refer to a multi-racial society which British society, in certain geographical areas, may now be said to be.  Here a plural society means both different religious faith and practice as well as different values existing in proximity.  However, it is interesting that when faced with the effective denial of the anchoring of morality in belief in God, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians often find that they have much in common.

      Some would say that British society is plural, containing a variety of religions and ethical views/groupings, but that it is not yet pluralist – i.e. a society that truly recognises its new character as plural.  Kenneth Leech believes that the right future for the Church:

Is that it accepts, honestly, humbly and joyfully, its essentially minority role within a plural society, the role of being salt and leaven.  Salt is not a meal in itself, nor is the purpose of leaven to produce more leaven.  The symbolism of salt and leaven shows that the church is meant to be not a vague religious club spread throughout the nation, but a dynamic minority, disturbing and exploding as leaven in a lump of dough.  In a situation where conventional religion is in decline, the church is in a position where it could seriously examine its new role.  It is in fact an old role, for it is the position of the primitive church in the Roman Empire. (Third Way, October 1982.)

      But a post-Christian, pluralist society is not in the same position as a pre-Christian pluralist society.  Certainly the Church must be salt and leaven, but a country with a Christian past may also be called to regain Christianity as a dominant feature of its life.

      Having used the terminology of the historians and sociologists to describe Britain, it is now appropriate to use the terminology of prophets.  From the prophetic viewpoint, Britain may be described as an idolatrous society and as given over to ungodliness and unrighteousness.

      4.  An idolatrous society.  Idols are of many kinds but they are as common today as they were in the ancient near East where the Hebrews lived or in the Roman Empire in which the apostle Paul travelled.  Human beings who are called to be co-creators with God, the Supreme Creator, so easily forget that relationship with God, and presume to worship what is created rather than adoring the Creator.

      An idol is something to which you give or offer your allegiance, devotion and support.  It is that which captures your heart, mind and energy.  And it is that which symbolises the meaning you see in life.  Here are some modern idols:

      i. Money or material possessions.  Whether people belong to the relatively poor or affluent, they bow before the image of ‘possess more’, as the sweet music of advertisement propaganda is heard and as they try to keep up with the Joneses.  The fact that modern technology causes gadgets to be quickly out-of-date or obsolete certainly helps this particular cult.

      ii.  Science.  The cult of scientism worships the universal power of science at a variety of altars and in an assortment of holy places.  Believing that science has provided the answer to problems of the past, it is trusted to provide the answers to problems of the present and future.

      iii.  Leisure.  To keep fit is fine; to enjoy sport is good.  But some sporting activities – e.g. golfing – and leisure activities are more than mere sport.  They become a dominating power in human lives and demand first place in family life and time.  They also often demand that Sunday be kept holy for their sole service.

      It will be recalled that God gave to Moses two tablets containing the Ten Commandments.  The first contained the duty to worship God alone and to reject idolatry, and the second contained the duty to live in a way that is pleasing to God, as the Moral Governor of the world.  True worship produces holy living.  Idolatry, being evil, necessarily produces immorality.

      This is what St Paul believed and taught.  Here is his estimate of the pre-Christian Roman world that he knew:

God’s anger is revealed from heaven against all the sin and evil of the people whose evil ways prevent the truth from being known.  God punishes them because what can be known about God is plain to them, for God himself made it plain.  Ever since God created the world, his invisible qualities, both his eternal power and his divine nature, have been clearly seen; they are perceived in the things that God has made.  So those people have no excuse at all!  They know God, but they do not give him the honour that belongs to him, nor do they thank him.  Instead, their thoughts have become complete nonsense, and their empty minds are filled with darkness.  They say they are wise, but they are fools; instead of worshipping the immortal God, they worship images made to look like mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.

And so God has given those people over to do the filthy things their hearts desire, and they do shameful things with each other.  They exchange the truth about God for a lie; they worship and serve what God has created instead of the Creator himself, who is to be praised for ever!  Amen.

      Because they do this, God has given them over to shameful passions.  Even the women pervert the natural use of their sex by unnatural acts.  In the same way the men give up natural sexual relations with women and burn with passion for each other.  Men do shameful things with each other, and as a result they bring upon themselves the punishment they deserve for their wrongdoing.

Because those people refuse to keep in mind the true knowledge about God, he has given them over to corrupted minds, so that they do the things that they should not do.  They are filled with all kinds of wickedness, evil, greed, and vice; they are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deceit, and malice.  They gossip and speak evil of one another; they are hateful to God, insolent, proud, and boastful; they think of more ways to do evil; they disobey their parents; they have no conscience; they do not keep their promises, and they show no kindness or pity for others.  They know that God’s law says that people who live in this way deserve death.  Yet, not only do they continue to do these very things, but they even approve of others who do them.  (GNB. Romans 1:18–end).

St Paul was speaking of what was generally true of the world of his day.  Is it not also generally true of British society in the 1980s?  If so then we are a nation under the judgement of the living God!

      St Paul would say, were he here, that Britain needs the Gospel and the values that the Gospel brings.  ‘I have complete confidence in the Gospel’, he said, ‘it is God’s power to save all who believe ... for the Gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself’ (Romans 1:16–17).  The Gospel ‘creates and renews the Church of God and the Church of God preaches and exemplifies the Gospel in the nation.  (See my Born from above: the Gospel of Regeneration and Justification [Marshalls, 1984] for an explanation of the Gospel.)




10: Effective or ineffective Church

      If Britain is to be morally and spiritually great, then the Church of God in Britain must first be renewed by the Spirit of God through the Word of God.  This is not to say that the Church is to be renewed for nationalistic reasons!  It is to say that the Church is called by God to be continually reformed and renewed by the Spirit of God according to the Gospel of Christ: and that such reformation and renewal is the only ground on which Britain will be enabled to set Christian values and norms as the goals and guidelines of society.

      Only God himself can renew the Church for renewal is a spiritual operation and activity of supernatural power.  Yet, members of the Church, ordained and lay, are not like leaves in autumn waiting to be blown by the wind.  They are children of God who already have duties – to worship, to pray, to evangelise, to care for others and to influence society with the salt of the Gospel.  So, the Church already has, within its grasp, by the gift of God, spiritual and moral power.  The people of God need to move into action, taking their God-given privileges and duties seriously.

      It is not possible to indicate in detail what the shape of a renewed Church would be, or look like, or do.  But from the sacred Scriptures it is possible to gain the general outline of such a Church.  One way of summarising this general picture is to present the Church as a community/society looking in four directions simultaneously and looking with the intention of acting.

      The Church looks back to the people of God of the old and new covenants.  This means receiving the Holy Scriptures, in which is the record of God’s revelation to Israel, in Christ, and through the apostles.  The Church of today also looks to the Church of yesterday as it has developed through the centuries.  For, as we have already said, while there are twentieth-century Christians there is no twentieth-century Church.  The Church looks back to learn.

      The Church looks up to God as the LORD, Creator, Sustainer, Judge and Saviour.  To look up is to worship and adore, to praise and give thanks, to ask and intercede.  The Church looks up to receive grace.

      The Church looks forward in hope to the life of the age to come.  Since the people of God experience, through the Spirit, the life of the age to come now, they naturally long for the fullness of that life after the end of the present age.  The Church also looks forward in order to be able rightly to evaluate life in the present.

      The Church looks around to see, not only the needs of its own membership; but also to view the need for the Gospel and for the love of God expressed in caring action.  The Church looks around in order to know when and where to act.


Looking Back

      The Church is an ancient society with a long family tree.  As the people of God, the Church is a community with a history beginning with the call of Abraham by God to follow him (Genesis 11), includes his descendants, the Israelites of the old covenant (Hebrews 11), is centred on Jesus, the Christ; Lord and Saviour, is built upon the work and teaching of the apostles, and has a continuous, if chequered history, from the first century to the twentieth.  Basic to the belief of the Church is that God has acted within human history and the record of that involvement is found in the Old and New Testaments.  So the Church must look back, not in nostalgia or with sentimentality, but in order to learn of God’s character and will, to be clear as to what is the Gospel and the lifestyle appropriate to the Gospel, and to know what Jesus and his apostles actually taught.  To look back means, in practice, to read the Bible prayerfully and sincerely.  In the words of the old collect:

Blessed Lord, who has caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

A renewed Church is a Church in which the Bible is regarded as containing in its pages the Word of God to the Church and to the world.

      The Church also looks back over its history in order to benefit or learn from the spirituality, liturgy, ethics, doctrines, creeds, confessions of faith, and practical wisdom together with the failures, mistakes, errors, heresies and schisms.  There is something useful that the modern Church can learn from all periods of the history of the Church.  Whatever progress there has been in the world over the centuries, it is still true that great heights of spirituality and experience of God were reached when life was ‘primitive’.

      ‘Looking back’ is an attitude and activity which modern culture does not usually encourage.  People are so used to changing and to changing often that they tend to devalue the past and its achievements.  Certainly the achievements of modern science and technology are great: but they do not make the spiritual insight and moral achievements of the past of no value or out of date.

      There is greater wisdom in the Book of Proverbs than in modern books on moral philosophy or political science.  There is greater insight into the meaning and purpose of life in the Torah and Gospels than in any modern novel or treatise on ethics.  And there is more profound insight into the reality of human nature and history in the recorded thought of St Augustine of Hippo than in that of modern pundits.

      The Church has no alternative but to look back in order to know how to be the people of God in the present.  The Bible is not to be worshipped but it is to be deeply respected as the written, authoritative source of the Word of God from where true faith and morals can be learned.  The long traditions of the Church, enshrined in creeds, liturgies, forms of spirituality and approaches to mission, are to be respected as pointers and guides to the way God wants his people to worship, serve and commend him.


Looking Up

      To look up is to worship. The Church as the people of God in history may be said to exist in order to look up to God in worship and thereby receive his grace. The psalmist of Israel expressed it in this way:

Lord, I look up to you,

      up to heaven, where you rule.

As a servant depends on his master,

      as a maid depends on her mistress,

so we will keep looking to you,

      O Lord our God,

until you have mercy on us.  (Psalm 123:1–2)

To look to God is to look to the One who has no equal and whose greatness allows no comparison.

      When Jesus was faced with 5,000 hungry men and their families, he looked up to heaven, gave thanks and broke the five loaves (Mark 6:41).  He looked to the Father in faith so that the five loaves and two fishes could become sufficient for a great crowd.  When he was facing martyrdom, the deacon Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God with Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:55).  In doing this he set an example for the whole Church, for we are urged to ‘keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.  He did not give up because of the cross!  On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now enthroned at the right hand side of God’s throne’ (Hebrews 12:2).

      It is imperative for the right understanding and use of services of worship that the Church holds not only to the idea of the descent of the eternal Son of God to take our human nature, but also to his ascent with our human nature.  The human nature that he made his own in the womb of the Virgin Mary has become the vicarious, representative humanity which he now has in heaven.  Without his vicarious humanity our worship loses significance.  Our exalted Lord is in heaven as our Priest before the Father and he is perpetually offering perfect worship to the Father, arising from perfect trust and love.  Christian worship is to worship in such a way that in ‘looking up’ we accept the gift of participation through the Holy Spirit in the communion of the exalted Lord Jesus with the Father.  Our worship is not only through our Lord Jesus Christ but also in him, in his vicarious humanity.

      Jesus is certainly the Mediator between God and mankind; but, he is also our Priest and Representative and the Church is included in him as the Second Adam.  As we allow the Spirit to lead us so that in union with Christ we are united to his self-offering to, and worship of, the Father, then our adoration, praise and thanksgiving is perfect within his worship of the Father, and our petitions for the Church and the world are joined to his heavenly intercession.  This approach to worship is the way of grace, proceeding from grace and receiving grace.

      Too many people think of worship as something they do in their own power and by their own steam.  They view worship as that activity – singing, kneeling, listening, standing and, so on – in which they engage each Sunday.  Worship is something they do by their own effort and in their own strength.  It can lead so easily to weariness, boredom, frustration and meaninglessness.  Only as the people of God allow themselves to be lifted up in the Spirit to be united with the worship that Christ is offering will they truly know the joy and depth of worshipping in spirit and in truth.

      In an age of busyness, activism, speedy travel and much noise, the Church is tempted to neglect worship and to forget prayer and to cease to ‘look up to heaven’ where is the exalted Lord Jesus.  To be busy here below is not wrong: but, if busyness here below causes the Church to cease to place emphasis on that other world above, then the Church is failing.  Only the Church that looks up to heaven can be effectual in prayer and effective in witness.


Looking Forward

      The Church is to watch and pray not for the bomb to go off but for the return to earth in glory of the Lord Jesus.  ‘I believe he will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead’, we say in the Apostles’ Creed.  St Paul told Titus, his ‘son in the faith’ that ‘we wait for the blessed Day we hope for, when the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ will appear.  He gave himself for us, to rescue us from all wickedness and to make us a pure people who belong to him alone and are eager to do good’ (Titus 2:13–14).  To the congregation in Philippi he wrote: ‘We are citizens of heaven, and we eagerly wait for our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, to come from heaven.  He will change our weak bodies and make them like his own glorious body, using that power by which he is able to bring all things under his rule’ (Philippians 3:20–21).

      In the light of this confident hope, Christians are presented in the New Testament, and in the Christian tradition, as ‘aliens and strangers in this world’ who are looking for ‘a better country, a heavenly one’ and longing for the heavenly city, whose ‘architect and builder is God’ (Hebrews 11:20, 23, 16).  They await their membership of the people of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21).  The Church of God certainly belongs to this world; but, it also belongs to another world, the world that will become a full reality at the second coming of Jesus Christ to earth.

      George Bernard Shaw distinguished between meliorism (the view that the world can be improved by human effort and intelligence) and salvationism (the view that the world is a vale of tears to be negotiated on the way to eternal bliss or damnation).  This distinction does not give sufficient emphasis to the positive aspects of salvation involved in looking forward as a member of the kingdom of God to the full realisation of the kingdom in the age to come.  For, to be looking forward to the kingdom’s arrival with the second coming of Jesus is also to be experiencing the life of the kingdom here and now.  As St Paul said: ‘God’s kingdom is ... righteousness, peace and joy which the Holy Spirit gives now’ (Romans 14:17).

      To look forward in anticipation involves living in the light of that anticipation.  As St Peter expressed it: ‘We wait for what God has promised: new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will be at home.  And so, my friends, as you wait for that Day, do your best to be pure and faultless in God’s sight and to be at peace with him’ (2 Peter 3:13–14).  In other words, the Church has to resist the temptation to live as though this world alone is what matters.  The people of God are pilgrims and sojourners in this world.  They best serve this world by living according to their true calling as pilgrims, not by behaving as though only this present, evil age mattered.


Looking Around

      When the Church looks around at the world, the members should interpret what they see with the eyes and mind of Christ.  From this perspective, self-sufficient society is seen as needing the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  Technological and scientific man is seen as needing spiritual regeneration and a divine calling and purpose in life.  Affluent man is seen as needing God’s riches of grace, and alienated man is seen as needing reconciliation to God and to human beings.  What the Church sees as it looks around is that on which not only the eyes are to be focused, but the energy also is to be concentrated.  To look becomes to care; to care becomes to act in love.

      We look to Jesus for the example of looking around.  In conversation with his disciples he urged, ‘Open your eyes and look at the fields.  They are ripe for harvest’ (John 4:35).  In the context, he was speaking about cooperation in the work of the kingdom between those who sow and those who reap.  To the seventy disciples whom he sent out to proclaim God’s rule he also said, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few’ (Luke 10:2).  To see the need in God’s world is to take action, for love cannot remain indifferent to need.  A further example is provided by Jesus in the way in which he looked at Jerusalem, the centre of the worship of the old covenant.  ‘As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it’ (Luke 19:41).  He looked; he wept; he entered; he taught; he suffered; he died; and he rose from death.  Love must act.

      The Church as the people of God are to be witnesses throughout the world to the fact and truth of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Acts 1:8, 22), and ambassadors of the God, who has reconciled the world to himself through Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:19–20).  They are to proclaim the Gospel to every creature (Matthew 28:19).

      Christians, as the body of Christ in the world, are to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13).  Salt is essentially different in taste from the food into which it is put and is therefore able to change the taste of the whole.  So the effectiveness of the Church lies in its quality and in its difference.  Salt which has lost its taste is useless, and a church that has lost its Christian values, norms and lifestyle, and adopted those of the society in which it is found, is virtually useless in the work of extending the kingdom of God.

      Salt is also used to preserve meat from decay, and is still rubbed into meat in order to prevent it from going bad.  So the Church in the world is to be God’s agent in society, maintaining standards of honesty, faithfulness and truthfulness in that society.  Salt that has lost its power cannot preserve meat from decay and a church that has lost its wholehearted commitment to the Lord cannot hope to set an example and affect the society in which it is found.

      Christians are to be the light of the world: as the body of Christ they are to shine with the light of Christ (Matthew 5:14–16; John 8:2; 9:5).  For light to be effective it needs to be placed in a strategic position, e.g., a candle in a candlestick, a headlamp in the front of a car.  A city which is built upon the crest of a hill can be seen from miles around, and a church which lives to obey God and to embody his will in action will not be missed by local residents.

      Light is most appreciated when it is contrasted with darkness.  So the fellowship and lifestyle of churches in the world is to be qualitatively different from those of other local societies or clubs.  Further, light dispels darkness, and the Church has the function in the world of dispelling all those barriers of belief and conduct that separate mankind from the living God and which also separate one man/woman from another.  Light is a reconciling light.

      So it may be said that ‘looking around’ with the eyes of Jesus leads to mission and mission is a large concept.  The claim may be made with justice that everything which the Church is and does has a missionary dimension, but not everything has a missionary intention.  Being in the world and being different from the world, the Church is involved always in a relationship with the world.  Even when there is no direct activity towards the world this relationship exists.  What the images of salt and light highlight is that the Church has a missionary dimension even when the members are involved in worship.  Light shines from a worshipping community and a distinct flavour enters the world.

      The Church holds the treasure of the Gospel so that the Gospel may be offered to the world by the Church.  The Church, however, is not only the agent of evangelism, the bearer of the good news, it is also a part of the message.  The good news of the kingdom of God in Christ is directed towards real people in concrete situations, and people and situations differ.  To be meaningful the Gospel has to be presented in different ways to different people with different cultural tastes.

      If the good news of the kingdom of God is taken to the lonely and the alienated, then with the proclamation and explanation will go a continuing loving care and concern by the church members.  If the good news is taken to the poor and destitute, then attempts will be made to relieve the poverty and possibly change the structures which create that poverty.  Good news entails good works.  They belong together.  Evangelism cannot be separated from whatever action is necessary to love the neighbour in his/her real situation.

      The Church of God which is the household of living faith is inseparable in practice from the good news of Jesus, for the Church witnesses by its attitude and actions as to the kind of people whom the Lord creates through the Gospel to be the body of Christ in the world.  Therefore to preach and not to act, to proclaim and not to care, and to bear the good news and not show practical concern, is not truly to engage in God’s mission in the world.  Also to show concern for the mental and material needs of people without also presenting to them the Gospel is not to engage in God’s mission.

      The Church, we may say, is always involved in a double movement.  It is called out of the world by the Gospel and sent into the world to bear the good news by word and deed.  Its life of spirituality, worship, prayer and fellowship as the community of the new covenant leads to mission in the world, and mission in the world, rightly executed, strengthens the life of worship and prayer.

      A final word about the relationship of the Church to political parties in Britain.  Here we may endorse what the Bishop of London has recently said:

I do not believe that the Church, whose prime allegiance must be to God, can ever commit itself corporately as an institution to the support of a political party, for the simple reason that any political party will have a mixed programme, involving some policies which the Church can endorse and some which it cannot.  If it commits itself to the party as such then it is inhibited from exercising its proper duty of bringing the Christian judgment to bear.  At the same time an individual Christian, who is called upon to involve himself in political affairs may well, certainly in this country at the present time, have to involve himself in the affairs of a particular political party.  Our system is such that, for example, it is very difficult for a person to stand as an independent candidate and to be elected to Parliament.  Involvement in a particular party will, of course, bring issues of conscience for those who do so.  It is, I believe, the responsibility of the Church by corporate utterances to indicate the kind of principles on which a person so involved will be able to exercise a Christian discernment, and at the same time should be prepared to give personal guidance to those who have to decide between certain courses of action, or whether a particular course of action, which is that of the party, can be followed with a clear conscience.  (‘The Christian and Politics’ in The Christian and Conservatism Conference, 1983 p. 5.)

      At the same conference, held in Westminster Chapel, London, on 1 February 1983, Sir Frederick Catherwood said this: ‘The Christian view balances love with justice, rights with duties, rewards with sanctions.  Christianity is not sentimental.  There is a potential for good which must be encouraged.  There is an understanding of human nature which is neither mystical nor obscure.  The plain wisdom of the book of Proverbs is as valid today as it has ever been’.  He spoke as a Christian and as a Member of the European Parliament.

      God is looking to see in Britain an effective Church, growing in membership and in spiritual power and influence.  Britain needs an effective Church in order to be committed to the right values and norms by which to arrange and order its national life.  With God, as Jesus said, all things are possible.


11: Christian or Victorian Values

      Mrs Margaret Thatcher is a determined – an iron – lady who is deeply committed to restoring certain values and norms in British society.  For Britain to be great again she believes these values will need to be prominent in British life.  What she has in mind are such values as duty, service, responsibility, hard work, thrift, solid family life, patriotism, self-reliance and the pursuit of excellence.  In fact, in the campaign leading up to the General Election of June 1983, Victorian values were widely commended by many Conservative candidates.

      This call to recover values that have been, or are nearly, lost, occurs in a period in which there has been a great interest in Victoriana and tremendous growth in the collecting of Victorian antiques.  Standing outside a shop in Northumberland recently, my wife heard a working-class woman say: ‘When I see all this stuff, I could spit: I threw out things like this years ago.’  She was looking at Victoriana in an ‘antique shop’.  What were the common bits of furniture or features of the hard toil of women in the kitchen or washroom are now prized artifacts, decorating many homes of the aspiring middle-classes.  Commercial enterprises are making use of the nostalgia for Victoriana in a variety of profitable ways.

      Whatever we think of Victoriana, it is true that there was great moral strength in Victorian Britain.  Mrs Thatcher is right to call our society to base itself on solid and well-tried moral values.  Unless honesty, responsibility and reliability undergird our society we can never be a genuinely free and just democracy.  But is she creating something of a myth of Victorian values?  Does careful historical study reveal that such values were widely held and widely practised?  Or were they the values of only a part of that society – the successful middle-classes?  To state passionately that you hold to Victorian values and want to see them in operation again, does not of itself prove that such values were the basis of all Victorian political, social or economic life.  Also to say that these values made the Empire great is only a partial truth.  The cult of manly chivalry, greed, lust for power and exploitation of the weak also played a part!

      It is interesting to compare the passionate call to return to Victorian values in Britain with the equally passionate call in America from the ‘Moral Majority’ to return to the values of the founding fathers of the republic.  ‘It is time’, says Jerry Falwell, the eloquent Virginian preacher, ‘for Americans to come back to the faith of our fathers, to the Bible of our fathers, and to the biblical principles that our fathers used as a premise for this nation’s establishment.’  Francis Schaeffer, the well-known evangelical leader, accepts that America was never a theocracy and should not be equated or confused with the kingdom of God on earth.  But he insists that, ‘None of this, however, changes the fact that the United States was founded upon a Christian consensus, and that we today should bring Judeo-Christian principles into play in regard to government.’  (See further, ‘Quest for Christian America’, Eternity, May 1983.)

      It seems to be a common tendency in a group or society which has historical roots, and which is under stress, to look back to an earlier age or period when it is believed that things were right or better, and then call for the restoration of the spirit or character of those times.  Yet, it is a stubborn fact of history that you can never cross the same river twice.  Time moves on and no period or event is exactly the same as another.  The social context of the twentieth century is so very different from that of earlier centuries.  If we are to look back, and look back we must, then we must look with care.


Victorian Life

      If we were to return to Victorian values, and to family values in particular, then Mrs Thatcher’s place at 10, Downing Street could only have been as the wife, or the servant, of the Prime Minister.  As the wife of the Prime Minister she would supervise several servants and maintain the house as a haven of peace to which her husband and children could return after a day’s hard work.  She would have time for needle-work, reading and writing, polite conversation, occasional visits to shops and friends and the weekly visit to church each Sunday.

      The Victorian wife and mother spent her time looking after her home so that it could be a place of refuge from the hard, wicked world outside.  As John Ruskin wrote in 1865: ‘This is the true nature of home – it is a place of Peace: the shelter, not only from injury, but from all terror, doubt and division.’  And it was the wife’s job, he said, to preside over this refuge and place of peace.  If Mrs Thatcher, as a Victorian lady, had tried to enter politics she would have been regarded as a revolutionary, to be looked down upon by people of her class.  A woman Prime-Minister is a denial of Victorian values!

      The middle-class wife today manages without servants because she does a lot herself, has the use of ‘mod-cons’ and employs a ‘cleaning lady’ for a few hours a week.  In 1851 the Registrar General made this comment on the 1851 Census: ‘The English family in its essential type is composed of husband, wife, children and servants.’  In 1891, according to the Census, 1,386,167 females and 58,527 males were employed as servants.  Of these 107,167 were girls and 6,891 were boys aged between ten and fifteen years.  They worked long hours for little money and slept in poorly furnished attics.  Servants were expected to be obedient, diligent, sober, just, honest, frugal, orderly in behaviour and submissive and respectful towards their masters and mistresses.  They were taught that this was how God wanted things to be for it was his will that some were called to be masters and others to be servants.  Transferred overseas into the corners of the Empire, this type of belief often led to a sense of British racial and moral superiority.

      Though their lot was often unpleasant, domestic servants usually lived in better conditions than their relatives and comrades who worked long hours in the factories, potteries or mines for little money and lived in slum conditions.  In the present mood of sentimentalism about Victoriana, it is easy to forget the squalid conditions in which much of Britain’s population in industrial areas lived and that hours were hard and long at work, not only for men but also for women and children.  Also, today, when the Trades Union Movement gives the impression at times of irresponsibility and selfishness, of stating rights but not wanting duties, it is easy to forget that this Movement came into being in order to fight for basic human rights for workers in British industry.  Very few Victorians improved the lot of workers without being pressurised to do so; and organised labour, possessing the threat of strike action, was able to gain what today would be regarded as basic rights.  Further, the great social reformers of the period, such as Lord Shaftesbury, had to work hard to persuade members of the upper and middle classes to accept improvements for the working classes.  Regrettably, Christian faith was often the basis for arguments against the just improvements of the position of working-class people in society.  Only a minority of Christians in Victorian England realised that the Christian ethic demanded a serious investigation of the status quo and the creation of new values – or the better application of accepted values.


Darkest England

      General William Booth of the Salvation Army certainly had a social conscience concerning the state of those whom he described as ‘the submerged tenth’ of the population of England.  Very soon after his namesake, Mr Charles Booth, had disturbed Victorian complacency with his estimate that a third of the population were living in the condition of ‘poverty sinking into want’ (in a massive study entitled The Life and Labour of the People of London), the General of the Salvation Army also shocked genteel, middle-class society with the calculation that there were about three million people in England living in conditions of misery, despair and destitution, vice and crime, placing them outside the limits of civilized society.  The shock was produced by the contents of In Darkest England and the Way Out (1890), dedicated to his recently deceased wife, who had long laboured with him among the poor and destitute.  At the front of the book is a large, coloured chart, setting out the evils of Victorian Britain and the practical remedies proposed by the General to remedy them.

      In the first part of his book, Booth compared ‘darkest Africa’ (recently described by Henry Morton Stanley in his widely-read, In Darkest Africa, 1890) with ‘darkest England’.  ‘The Equatorial Forest travelled by Stanley,’ he wrote, ‘resembles that darkest England of which I have to speak, alike in its vast extent, its monstrous darkness, its malaria and its gloom, its dwarfish, dehumanized inhabitants, the slavery to which they are subjected, their privations and their misery.’  Booth well knew that it was easier for Victorian people to admit that there was a dark Africa than to recognise that there was also a dark England.  So he described what he meant by ‘darkest England’:

What, then, is darkest England?  For whom do we claim that ‘urgency’ which gives their case priority over that of all other sections of their countrymen and countrywomen?

      I claim it for the Lost, for the Outcast, for the Disinherited of the world.

      These, it may be said, are but phrases.  Who are the Lost?  I reply, not in a religious, but in a social sense, the lost are those who have gone under, who have lost their foothold in society, those to whom the prayer to our Heavenly Father, ‘Give us day by day our daily bread’, is either unfulfilled or only fulfilled by the Devil’s agency: by the earnings of vice, the proceeds of crime, or the contribution enforced by the threat of the law.

      But I will be more precise.  The denizens in darkest England, for whom I appear are (1) those who, having no capital or income of their own, would in a month be dead from sheer starvation were they exclusively dependent upon the money earned by their own work; and (2) those who by their utmost exertions are unable to attain the regulation allowance of food which the law prescribes as indispensable even for the worst criminais in our gaols.

      He went on to argue that the horses drawing the vast number of London cabs were often treated better than the three million poor and destitute English people.

      After further comparison with Stanley’s darkest Africa, Booth wrote of ‘darkest England’ that:

the borders of this great land are not sharply defined.  They are continually expanding or contracting.  Whenever there is a period of depression in trade, they stretch; when prosperity returns, they contract.  So far as individuals are concerned, there are none among the thousands who live upon the outskirts of the dark forest, who can truly say that they or their children are secure from being hopelessly entangled in its labyrinth.  The death of the bread-winner, a long illness, a failure in the City, or any other of a thousand other causes which might be named, will bring within the first circle those who at present imagine themselves free from all danger of actual want.

      Written in 1890 this begins to sound like a description of the inner cities of Britain in 1984.  They are certainly for many of us like ‘great lost lands’.


Victorian Values

      In looking back to the reign of Queen Victoria we need to note both the achievements and the failures, the hypocrisy and the genuine piety, the poverty and the wealth, the high rate of middle-class church-going and the low rate of working-class church-going, the contents of Oliver Twist as well as the sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the charity and philanthropy of the few and the miserliness of the many, the claims to racial and moral superiority as well as the talk of brotherhood and cooperation, and the great success of missionary work abroad in contrast to the virtual failure of missionary work among the working classes of Britain.

      The cult of Victoriana can lead us astray.  To describe anything in art, architecture or attitudes to life as Victorian was, until recently, a term of abuse.  Lytton Strachey in his book, Eminent Victorians (1918), sowed the seeds of this revulsion in many minds.  As a consequence of this reaction, especially in liberal, intellectual circles, the maxims contained in Self Help with Illustrations of Character and Conduct (1855) by Samuel Smiles, the social reformer, were held up to ridicule.  (This book sold about 250,000 copies in Victoria’s reign).  Today we are in danger of polarisation, with the conservative-minded celebrating Victorian values and achievements, and the liberal-minded ridiculing them.  Possibly a serious debate about the distinctive values of Victorian Britain would be a healthy stimulus to help us determine what those values are that we ought to uphold today.

      To return once more to Mrs Thatcher.  In ‘My Victorian Values’ in the Evening Standard on 15 April 1983 she wrote:

You were taught to work jolly hard.  You were taught to prove yourself; you were taught self-reliance; you were taught to live within your income.  You were taught that cleanliness is next to godliness.  You were taught self-respect.  You were taught always to give a hand to your neighbour.  You were taught tremendous pride in your country.  All these things are Victorian values.  They are also perennial values.

      She could have added others – Sunday as a day of rest when not even the non-churchgoers would put washing on the line, and respect for the dead and for mourners shown in closing curtains and closing shops and businesses as the funeral cortège went by.  She described the values she was taught in a lower middle-class home in the period before the second world war.  I was brought up in a working-class home north of Mrs Thatcher’s and I was taught the same kind of thing at home and at school, but I cannot recall that they were called Victorian values.  Such values were based on Christian teaching, on common sense and on the best of utilitarian ethics.  Regrettably these values have begun to disappear from British society to be replaced by inferior and more self-centred ones.


The Nonconformist Conscience

      One feature of Victorian religious, political and social life was the ‘Nonconformist conscience’.  This was possessed not only by those who attended the Congregational, Methodist and Baptist chapels regularly but by others as well.  It was inherited from the Puritans of the seventeenth century via the Methodists of the eighteenth.  Conscience was ‘a man’s judgment of himself according to the judgment of God’ according to the Puritan tradition.  It was the mind of man, informed by the moral law of God making moral judgments about past behaviour and giving guidance as to what ought to be done in the future.

      At the beginning of Victoria’s reign the Nonconformists, virtually to a man, held to the authentic Puritan view of conscience as that which judges and determines individual attitudes and behaviour, according to the revealed will of God.  By the end of her reign many Nonconformist leaders had adopted a different view of that which should inform conscience.  This was that ‘I ought to do all I can to maintain and increase the amount of good in the world and diminish the amount of evil of every kind, in the lives of other people whom I can affect appreciably by my actions.’  The old view was that God’s law should be obeyed whatever the consequences: the new view was that consequences, where known, should affect what actions are taken.  Both views emphasised the doing of the will of God, but the former saw this in obedience to revealed laws and the latter saw it in the adoption of an ethic which aimed at promoting the greatest good and diminishing the most evil.  The new, utilitarian ethic seemed to be more relevant to practical politics.

      As long as a utilitarian ethic is related to a firm belief in the living God it does little harm and can promote great good.  But when it is divorced from faith in God and allowed to be moulded by secularist emphases then it can be little better than pragmatism.  This is what has happened to the Nonconformist conscience.  It will oppose racism in South Africa or the deployment of nuclear weapons with great moral fervour and will condone adultery, telling lies and abortion.

      Obviously Britain ought not to be called to recover the original Nonconformist conscience for that was moulded not only by the Puritan view of ethics but also by the legal struggle with the Established Church for specific rights in education and political life for Nonconformists.  But what is needed is the re-educating of the conscience of the nation by belief in the living God and by knowledge of his revealed values and laws.  This alone will provide a lasting and firm basis for individual, family and national life.

      Too many people have been led to believe that ‘conscience’ is a kind of green light which tells a person to go right ahead and do what he/she really wants to do.  It is said to be that within the human person which continually gives permission ‘to do your own thing’.  This approach to conscience scorns the idea that my conscience has to be formed or educated in accordance with objective, divinely-revealed truth (values and norms reflected in the Ten Commandments etc.).  The erosion of the older idea of conscience as needing properly to be formed, and its replacement by this new idea of conscience as my right to do what I see as right for me, lies behind the erosion and decay of Christian moral values in western society.  We need to recover our consciences as the structure within us for hearing God’s voice, telling us by what norms he wants us to live.


Identifying Conscience

      How do I know that I have a conscience?  The answer is simple: I feel sure that I have a duty to do a particular thing: or I feel sure that I ought to perform a particular action.  Let us look more closely into this experience.

      Each day you and I make many judgments.  If something pleases us we say, ‘It is beautiful’ and if something is repulsive we say, ‘It is ugly’.  When you have food that you really enjoy, you say, ‘This is terrific’ or ‘This tastes great’.  As you go shopping you hear people remark, ‘Isn’t it cheap?’ or ‘That is very expensive’ or ‘Here is a real bargain’.  As I write these pages I find myself saying, ‘This is a demanding job’.  I’m sure that if you reflect on your experience of life you will recognise that you are often making judgments of one kind or another.

      While making these varied judgments we sometimes make a special kind of judgment.  In fact it is a unique kind of judgment.  It is normally introduced by the word ‘duty’ or ‘ought’.  Perhaps you remember a friend telling you of a sick relative who was in hospital and then saying, ‘I ought to go and visit her as soon as possible for she will have very few visitors.’  Or, maybe, you are a parent with a child who needs correction.  Though you are very hesitant to administer discipline you say to yourself or to your spouse, ‘It is my/our duty to impose discipline for the child’s own good’.

      This moral judgment is also commonly expressed in statements about right and wrong.  For example, a young man spends a morning helping an infirm, poor, old lady.  She wants to give him money which she cannot really afford to give him.  He says to himself, ‘It is wrong for me to take money’ and so he graciously refuses it.  Or, a young woman is challenged to spend two years in voluntary social service in a deprived part of the Caribbean, and, feeling deeply about her obligation to go she says, ‘It is right for me to go.  It would be wrong of me to refuse to go.’

      If you are a committed Christian then you believe that by saying, ‘It is right’ or ‘It is wrong’ and ‘It is my duty’ or ‘I ought’, you are claiming that the Lord requires you to act in a certain way.  In fact you may sometimes use religious language instead of moral language and say something like this: ‘The Lord has laid it upon my heart to go and visit my relative in hospital.’  So Christians experience a feeling of duty either from the depths of their consciences or from the direct action of the Spirit of the Lord acting upon the conscience.  Here what we need to note is that when people of all kinds experience the power and authority of conscience, the strength and force of its direction is not from outside but is from within.  It is a part of me but it speaks with an authority that is greater than I personally possess.  This is why it has sometimes (inaccurately) been called the voice of God within me, and why the Church has taught that conscience must always be followed/obeyed (conscientia semper sequenda).

      The authority of conscience is revealed when what I feel sure I ought to do is in competition with both what I desire to do and what I believe is in my own self-interest.  Two examples will help to clarify this point.  Take the case of a reasonably happily married woman who meets an attractive man.  He seems to have none of the failings of her husband and she is attracted to him.  She desires to spend more time with him but she feels deeply that she ought to be faithful to her husband and to the vows she made before God and her church.  Take, secondly, the case of a successful businessman who has a wife and two teenage children.  It is Friday and he has been away all week doing his job.  Then a phone call comes asking him to fly to Europe where there is a possibility that he will be able to clinch a profitable deal.  He knows that his wife is under pressure and that his two teenage children need to see their father sometimes.  He feels he ought to go home but he is tempted also to go after this deal in Europe.  In each of these cases the person concerned could silence or ignore conscience.  Yet in these experiences both the woman and the man know that the command of conscience is not lightly to be ignored or disobeyed.

      Everyone has a conscience.  It does not matter whether a person is a theist or an atheist, old or young, rich or poor, male or female; to him/her comes this experience of feeling ‘I ought’.  Of course this does not mean that what is felt to be duty is identical in all consciences of all people in all cultures.  What is found everywhere is a sense of right and wrong; and, for many good reasons, what is judged to be right and wrong is not the same in all societies and cultures.  A garden can be planted with many different vegetables and flowers: or it can be left to the planting of seeds by wind and birds.  Likewise a conscience judges what is right and wrong but how it judges depends on what is planted in it.  This is why the education of the conscience is so important.

      Not only is conscience unique.  Words used to express moral obligation are also unique.  Such words as ‘duty’, ‘ought’, ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘evil’ and ‘good’ when used in moral judgments cannot be changed into other words.  I may say that ‘I ought to tell the truth’ means the same as ‘I must tell the truth’ and think that I have contradicted this point.  However, if I feel a duty to tell the truth then my ‘must’ is just careless grammar and means ‘ought’.

      Here is a definition of conscience from Bishop Joseph Butler (1692–1752), famous as the author of the Analogy of Religion, but who made his reputation through his preaching at the Rolls Chapel in London.  He is regarded as one of the greatest of British philosophers.  He said:

There is a superior principle of reflection of conscience in every man, which distinguishes between the internal principles of his heart, as well as his external actions: which passes judgment upon himself and them; pronounces determinately some actions to be in themselves just, right, good; others to be in themselves evil, wrong, unjust; which being consulted, without being advised with, magisterially exerts itself, and approves or condemns him the doer of them accordingly: and which, if not forcibly stopped, naturally and always of course goes on to anticipate a higher and more effectual sentence, which shall hereafter second and affirm its own ... (i.e. God’s judgment).  It is by this faculty, natural to man, that he is a moral agent ...

      (From the second sermon in his collection of Fifteen Sermons.)

A modern definition of conscience puts it this way:

Conscience is a judgment of the practical reason at work on matters of right and wrong.  There is an element of emotion in the workings of conscience because when the reason decides what ought to be done, we feel emotionally drawn towards it, or emotionally divided if we partly shrink from doing it.  In the same way if the moral reason passes judgment on what has been done we feel either ‘pangs of conscience’ or feelings of approval, whichever way the judgment goes (Dictionary of Christian Ethics, ed. J. MacQuarrie).

      For the honour and glory of God Christians must educate not only their own consciences but also those of their fellow citizens.  For the sake of western civilization, the Church of God must train the consciences of its membership as well as those who are outside that membership.  Both the Church and the country need to receive the values and norms of the Scriptures so that the consciences of men and women in all areas of life will speak clearly and firmly of their duties to God and to their fellow human beings.  The Law of the Lord and the Gospel of God must be heard and received so that consciences are rightly trained and educated to know what God approves and what God condemns.


12: Epilogue

      It is true that I have not dealt with certain particularly emotive issues – Northern Ireland, overseas aid, the deployment or non-deployment of nuclear weapons.  This omission does not mean that I have not collected material and given thought to these matters.  The fact is that I had to be selective in my reference to signs of moral/spiritual disease in Britain and so, for various reasons, I chose to leave these out of the presentation.  I recognise that the bringing of a just settlement to Northern Ireland may not of itself bring the cessation of hostility, that giving of more aid to developing countries is not always the best way to help them, and that a policy of unilateralism or multilateralism does not of itself guarantee there will be no war.

      What I have been trying to emphasise is that political decisions will be better ones if they are made on the basis of a value system that is sound.  Politics is often the art of achieving what is possible, and what is possible is affected not only by knowledge of true values, but also by the reality of original sin.  This fact made Archbishop Temple once comment that ‘the art of government is the art of so ordering life that self-interest prompts what justice demands’.

      It is also true that I have not pointed to specific illustrations of what may be termed signs of hope – spiritual renewal and growth in church congregations, unselfish. and devoted work done by organisations and charities caring for people in physical, mental or spiritual need, and the implementation, especially by local councils, of policies firmly based on principles of righteousness and justice.

      Let me say again that the process of secularization does not mean that everyone is corrupted and in a state of total depravity, so that they have no feelings of right and wrong and no desires to help others.  While there is a definite and accelerated movement in our culture towards complete secularism, there is still a tradition of Christian virtue, service, and morality and human beings are still capable (as made in the image of God) of doing much good to one another and for the community.  My purpose, while fully recognising that Britain is not bankrupt of noble, high-minded, gracious service, has been to give a warning – a prophetic warning if you like.  It has been to point to a seemingly irreversible trend, an apparently inexorable movement and a slow but sure march towards the abandonment both of Christian faith and morals as an integral part of the national life of Britain.

      The prophetic tradition in the Bible did not exist to praise people but to bring a word from the Lord, to cause people to look at themselves as God looks at them.  I hope that what I have done is to help people see Britain in the light, not of the presuppositions or policies of any particular party or pressure group, but in the light of heaven.  The prophets of Israel and the early Church were specifically chosen by God and anointed with the Holy Spirit for their task, and then they received messages directly from the Lord.  I cannot claim such an immediate knowledge of the divine will.  My presentation is based on what I believe the Church has taught, believed and confessed over the centuries in her clearest doctrinal understanding and moral insight.

      So I shall be grateful if this book is read seriously and the issues it raises are pondered and discussed.  The key to the future of Britain is the renewal of the Church so that it becomes a centre of spiritual and moral power in the nation and is a people so in touch with God that they know what worship and prayer really mean.  Unless the Church of God is revived, renewed and reformed there is little hope of the reversal of the process of secularization.  So I end where I began: ‘A nation without God’s guidance is a nation without order’ (Proverbs 29:18).


Appendix: Work and Vocation

      Think of yourself at a reception/party/coffee morning where you are a stranger to most people present.  After conversation about this or that, the question will arise: ‘What do you do?’  By your answer to this question, people are enabled to place you in a pigeon-hole, to guess how much you earn, to ascertain your status in society and to decide whether or not you are worth cultivating as a friend.

      Behind this kind of question there are usually presuppositions and these reflect the value system of our society – whether we call it capitalist or social democratic.  But what are the Christian values and presuppositions that should produce Christian attitudes to vocation and work?  Let us briefly explore this matter.

      In medieval Europe, when to be a Christian was the ordinary thing to be, vocation was used to describe the call of God to the monastic or religious or priestly life – a life of celibacy with vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  This ‘religious’ life was seen as a higher form of life than the attempts of the laity to live Christian lives in their day-to-day experience.  Against such a division the Protestant reformers of the sixteenth century rightly protested.  They claimed that all Christians serve God in their different types of work and occupation.  They emphasised that from God’s viewpoint there was no superiority in being a priest, monk, nun, or even a Protestant pastor.  A farmer, carpenter, butcher, baker, soldier, surgeon, housewife and midwife were all to be seen as occupations done in the service of God and his people in his world.  Vocation was the call of God to be a Christian and to work for him – in one of many different ways – in his world.

      But the whole concept of vocation has been secularised.  We hear talk of people having a ‘vocation’ to be a teacher, doctor, nurse, social worker and so on.  We never hear talk of a vocation to be a factory worker, a garbage collector, a sewerage worker, a mortuary attendant, a miner, a postman, a bus driver and so on.  Vocation has been equated with the supposed ‘caring professions’ and the dignity of unskilled or semi-skilled work with the hands has been devalued.

      In its biblical setting (to which talk in western society of vocation is to be traced) vocation at its basic level is the effectual call of the God of grace to enter into spiritual union with him.  It is the call of God the Father through God the Son in the power of God the Holy Spirit.  Such a call to be a child of God and to fulfill the purpose of one’s creation by God stands firm whatever type of work is done on earth (see Romans 8:30; 9:24–26; 2 Timothy 1:8–9; and Hebrews 3:1).

      The basis of the divine call comes from outside space and time.  However, the sphere in which the calling of God is to be experienced, appropriated and contextualized is within and through the fellowship of those who also have heard and responded to the divine call.  Within the fellowship of Christians in the local (and broader) church, there is a sharing in prayer, worship and service, with each member benefiting from the gifts that God has given to the others (Ephesians 4:1–7).  In an age and society that encourages individualism, the sharing together in the body of Christ develops true personhood through healthy interaction with others.

      The calling of God to be his child is not only expressed in the fellowship of the church.  It is also expressed in the lifestyle that is seen inside and outside the home.  Thus it includes the duties of being a father or mother, a brother or sister, a son or daughter, as well as being a church member, a citizen, and a neighbour.  If we take this full context for calling/vocation seriously, then there is a wide area of duty and work before any paid employment begins and after it is completed.

      St Paul has an important section on vocation in 1 Corinthians 7:17–24.  It appears that the new converts to Christ at Corinth wanted to change their position in the world.  They wanted a new ‘status’ or ‘rank’.  Some unmarried women wanted immediately to marry.  Slaves, finding equality in Christ, wanted to be set free from their household slavery.  Paul did not say that they ought not to think of, or wish for, such changes but that there was something more important than these desired changes – namely learning how to serve God in the precise position or state (married or unmarried, freeperson or slave, farmer or fisherman) which they were in when they were converted.

      Paul did not say that Christians should always accept things as they find them and so perpetuate the status quo, and he did not say that as a Christian one must not change one’s job.  What he did say, and this is important, is that to be called to be a Christian is first and then to be a Christian in employment comes second.  The living of the true Christian life always and everywhere and the serving of the neighbour is fixed and unchangeable duty: the type of employment or status is not fixed and is therefore secondary.  To say secondary is not, of course, to dismiss it but merely to set it in its proper context and perspective.

      Certainly there is a command to work (Exodus 20:9) and work is necessary, good and honourable.  Further, idleness is condemned often in the Bible (Proverbs 19:15; 31:27).  However, work as presented in the Bible, covers much more than what we now call paid employment.  The biblical concept of vocation and work covers twenty-four hours a day, not only what is done in paid employment from nine to five.  This means that to be unemployed in terms of a paid job is not to be without work.  For everyone has a set of duties, relating to his/her relationships in life, which to be done well take much care and time.  There is no excuse for laziness or idleness even when unemployed in terms of paid work.  There are always many jobs to be done for the neighbour, for the community and for society.  (I гecognise that such work as part of one’s vocation needs organising carefully and today may run foul of rules controlling eligibility for unemployment benefits.  But there must be a way round this hurdle through negotiation).

      Only by recovering the true meaning of vocation shall we be able to restore dignity to so-called manual jobs.  As long as we talk in such a way as to place a ‘caring profession’ higher than a ‘cleaning’ or ‘mending’ or ‘making’ profession, and as long as we talk in community life of non-manual jobs (for example, president or secretary of this or that society) being more important or prestigious than manual work (cutting the grass in the graveyard, clearing the dirt and leaves from paths etc.), we shall continue to denigrate manual work.  As there is more time available to people, through shorter working-weeks or through unemployment, so there is a great need to develop values that are relevant to such a situation.  We cannot all be involved in leisure activities all the time!  There is, and will remain, much to be done in homes, gardens, in public places, and in a variety of other spheres which must be called work, arising from the calling of God to be a good neighbour and family-member.  Unemployment or a short working week is no excuse for idleness: it is an opportunity to serve God by serving the neighbour – do unto others as you would have others do unto you.


Appendix II: The Other Side of 1984

      Some books are significant because of their authorship: others derive their significance from their contents or their sponsors/publishers.  The little book, The Other Side of 1984, by Leslie Newbigin is significant – at least in Britain – not because of the link with George Orwell’s 1984, but because of the relationship between the contents and the sponsor of the publication.  It is published by the WCC and sponsored by the British Council of Churches, for whom it was originally written as a study document.

      Bishop Newbigin was consecrated a bishop in the Church of South India.  He has been a Director of the Division of World Mission and Evangelism at the World Council of Churches.  He now lives in Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, England, from where he has a ministry as a teacher, preacher and writer.  Among his published works is a book on missiology, The Open Secret (1978).

      The BCC represents all the major British denominations, with the exception of the Roman Catholics.  As a body it is generally regarded with suspicion by conservative politicians and churchmen because of its apparent commitment to socialism: and it is regarded with misgiving by evangelical Christians because of its lack of interest in good news of personal salvation in Jesus.  All too often it appears that the agenda and framework of understanding within BCC are derived more from the concerns of liberal intellectuals than from Scripture and the Christian tradition.  In fact, Dr Newbigin virtually accepts this criticism when referring to a book about Britain sponsored by the BCC a few years ago.  ‘Recent efforts by the British Churches, such as those documented in Britain Today and Tomorrow, have been criticized on the ground that the proposals made depend more upon contemporary liberal opinion than upon exegesis of Scripture and the Christian tradition’.

      Dr Newbigin takes his starting point for thinking about the future of Britain (and western society) not in liberal. or secularist humanism but within the canon of sacred Scripture.  For Dr Newbigin to do this is not surprising: however, for the BCC to sponsor it is both surprising and significant.  Raymond Johnston, the Director of Care Trust and a leading layman in the general synod of the Church of England, has welcomed the book as ‘an historic initiative’.  He also said:

‘Its appearance is a sign of the readiness of the BCC to take into its system (albeit gingerly...) the Christian presuppositional critique of cultural history based in Scripture.  If the British Council of Churches will listen to Dr Newbigin and accept his main principle of the primacy of revelation, it could be the herald of a radical transformation of the British church scene.  For it would mean a return to our roots ... a return to the biblical vision of God and of history’ (Church of England Newspaper, January 13 1984).

      Dr Newbigin begins his study by referring to the lack of hope that he finds within Britain.  Having returned from a long period in India he has been struck by the lack of hope for the future.  He writes: ‘In the space of one lifetime our civilization has so lost confidence in its own validity’.

      Self-criticism is common but it is not the self-questioning that belongs to a healthy culture: rather it is more, like the groaning of a civilization approaching death.  The widespread hope of progress towards an earthly utopia, which was common several decades ago, has virtually disappeared.  The vision of human progress created by the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, and assisted by the success of scientific studies, has become dim.  Confidence in human ability to create a better world is weak.  People are becoming aware that their problems will not be solved within the terms of reference and methods provided by western culture.  In the words of Dr Newbigin:

We normally proceed on the assumption that there must in principle be a solution which proper research can identify and proper techniques can deliver.  Today we are becoming sceptical about this approach.  We are coming to see that there are ‘problems’ in human life for which there are no ‘solutions’.  The question has to be asked whether we do not need new models for understanding the human situation.  This means that we have to re-examine our accepted framework of understanding.

      So, following the argument provided by Michael Polanyi (Personal Knowledge, 1958), Dr Newbigin asserts that the principle of the Enlightenment which makes doubt to be the first principle of knowledge has to be abandoned.  In its place the principle of faith must be revived and set forth as the first principle of knowledge.  This is because the critical faculty which enables us to question any belief is itself dependent upon beliefs which provide the ground for our questioning.  Doubt, therefore, is essential but secondary in the enterprise of knowing how things are.  What is primary is the act of attending and receiving, and this is an action of faith.

      Thus the Christian Church, sharing in God’s mission to the world, must unashamedly begin with the principle of faith (dogma) – even as St Augustine did as he faced the collapse of classical culture in the fifth century.  The ‘self-evident truths’ derived from the Enlightenment must not be accepted as such; that is such ‘truths’ as the autonomy of the human reason and conscience, the right of every person to the maximum happiness, the ability of modern science and technology to deliver what is necessary for human happiness, and that God’s existence has to be proved.

      For too long Christianity has sought a peaceful coexistence with post-Enlightenment culture and is now so wedded to the framework of understanding of this culture that many Christians are often unaware of this union.  Dr Newbigin writes:

It would be hard to deny, that contemporary British (and most western) Christianity is an advanced case of syncretism.  The Church has lived so long as a permitted and even privileged minority, accepting relegation to the private sphere in a culture whose public life is controlled by a totally different vision of reality, that it has almost lost the power to address a radical challenge to that vision and therefore to ‘modern western civilization’ as a whole.

      Polanyi called for a post-critical philosophy based on the principle of faith/dogma: Newbigin calls for the revival of Christian dogma – that is commitment to ‘the blessed gift of an assured truth on which we can rely’ as the first principle of knowledge.  Then this dogma should be presented by the Church not merely as that by which Christians understand the universe and their place in it under God, but also as a ‘public truth’ to be offered to all for the renewal of western culture.  The Church is to invite everyone to recover a proper acknowledgement of the role of dogma.  Dr Newbigin writes:

It is an invitation to the Church, to be bold in offering to the men and women of our culture a way of understanding which makes no claim to be demonstrable in the terms of ‘modern thought’, which is not ‘scientific’ in the popular use of that word, which is based unashamedly on the revelation of God made in Jesus Christ and attested in Scripture and the tradition of the Church, and which is offered as a fresh starting point for the exploration of the mystery of human existence and for coping with its practical tasks not only in the private and domestic life of the believers but also in the public life of the citizen.

      This way forward is for Dr Newbigin (a former missionary to Hindus) an authentically missionary approach to modern culture in the West.

      He admits that such an approach makes him face three interrelated questions:

      1.  How is the proper role of dogma to be preserved from distortion into that attitude of mind which has made ‘dogmatism’ a term of abuse?

      2.  If divine revelation, as understood by Christianity, is to be taken as the framework for understanding and action in the public sphere (in politics, economics and social organization) how can we avoid falling into the ‘Constantinian trap’ with its synthesis of church, state and society in Christendom?

      3.  Does Scripture supply any authority for specifically Christian judgments and actions in the public sphere?

      In facing these questions Dr Newbigin argues that there is a way to have dogma as a dynamic truth calling for faith, there is a path which avoids the dangers of the equation of Church and society, and there is within the canon of Scripture the solid basis for a fiduciary framework of understanding and dogma, on the principle of credo ut intelligam, I believe in order that I may understand.

      So he is ready to move on to indicate areas where a resolute challenge to the assumptions of western culture is called for.  He supplies five examples:

      1.  What it means to be a human person.

      2.  The goal of human life.

      3.  The capabilities and rights of governments.

      4.  Our vision for the future.

      5.  Contemporary assumptions about what is involved in knowing.

      In each area the task is to challenge the views which have arisen since the Enlightenment with the views that arise from within the teaching given in the canon of Scripture.  The answering of these questions from within the fiduciary framework of Christian understanding is a job for many within the Church, and it is a job that has hardly begun and which, when started, will take time.

      Thus Dr Newbigin brings his essay to an end.  He is convinced that our situation is analogous to that which the great Augustine of Hippo faced as he witnessed the collapse of classical culture.  Like Augustine we have to offer the world a framework of understanding rooted in the twin dogmas of the Incarnation and Trinity.  Anything less than such a basis will be insufficient.

      There will be those who say that all this has been said before.  There will be those who will still prefer to take their agenda and framework of reference from liberal humanism.  Hopefully there will be a sufficient number in the British Churches who will pay heed to this prophetic message and be ready not only to investigate their presuppositions but to seek to base their Christian thinking on a definite Christian dogmatic base.


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