2011 Census figures released in December 2012 show the changing religious landscape in England and Wales. Over the last ten years the number of people identifying themselves as Christian has dropped from 72% to 59%. Those who say they have no faith have increased from 15% to 25% and the proportion of Muslims has grown from 3% to 5%. Let’s take a look at the true picture behind these statistics.
The last ten years have seen significant changes in Britain. Christianity is still the majority religion, but it seems to be losing ground while groups who oppose Christianity are growing and becoming more vocal. Four million fewer people identified themselves as Christian compared to a decade ago. This is seen as a sign of Christianity’s weakening influence in society. But is the current erosion of Christian values in our society simply a question of numbers?
The 2011 Census showed that the proportion of people who were Christian was over 45% in nine out of ten areas in England and Wales. It was the largest religion in all local authorities except Tower Hamlets in London. An average of 25% stated that they had no religion with the highest peaking at 42.5% in Norwich. In terms of individual identity, Christianity outnumbers all the other groups put together – atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Humanists, Secularists and Pagans. Britain is still, in some real sense, a Christian nation.
If the issue is not numbers, then what is it? How can our nation be so influenced by minority groups? Why is our society so intolerant of Christian teaching and values? How come Christian views on the sanctity of life, marriage, sexual ethics and, on many other issues, are vehemently opposed or simply ignored? When we look at what is tolerated or promoted we are tempted to conclude that anything goes in our society – Anything But Christian, that is. This is the simple ABC of life in Britain today. But what is the reason for it?
The answer to the darkness in human hearts is the revelation of God in Christ
For Bible-believing Christians the answer is above all a spiritual one. The playing field is not level. We do not live in a morally or spiritually neutral world. In fact, the whole system of this world is implacably opposed to God as darkness is to light. The apostle John says, “the whole world is under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). Paul explains that our fallen humanity is controlled by “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). Our real battle is against “principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Paul also makes clear that, “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14-15). The answer to this darkness in human hearts is the revelation of God in Christ:
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
When the light of the gospel shines, our hearts are set free from the captivity of godless thinking, but until then, we remain in darkness. Why then, does so much darkness persist in our society? Why does Christian witness and testimony not shine so brightly as to expel darkness and bring the light of reason to the craziness around us? Do not almost 60% of people in Britain profess to be Christian? We need to examine this statistic more closely.
Many people will say they are Christian because that is their traditional identity.
The problem with the National Census question on religion is that it invites you to divulge your religious identity, not your religious beliefs or practices. Many people will say they are Christian because that is their traditional identity. It is a cultural label rather than a personal faith. Increasingly, traditional Christian culture is being removed from our society and consequently people no longer feel attached to the faith that once was almost a part of being British. That is one reason why the Census of 2011 saw a drop in people identifying themselves as Christian compared with that of 2001.
This nominal Christianity is easily exposed when we compare the national statistics on church attendance. Less than 10% attend church services weekly and, as we all know, not everyone who attends church is a committed Bible-believer. However, during the last decade, the long decline in British church attendance bottomed out and in many places it has consistently been on the increase.
Therefore, the real question is, are there enough true and robust Christians to make a difference and halt the moral and spiritual decline in the nation? It seems that minority groups of anti-Christian activists achieve far more than the equivalent numbers of born again Christians. This is the real cause of the spiritual crisis in Britain.
Homosexuals are less than 2% of our population and yet in a few decades, activists among them have managed to influence the media, education and the government and seem to be on the verge of changing our society’s definition of the very nature of marriage. From both a Christian and historical perspective, marriage is between a man and a woman. Gay activists are not content with the legal provision of Civil Partnership brought in to prevent discrimination against committed homosexual couples. They now want to fundamentally alter the institution of marriage in the name of equality.
That the gay agenda is being pushed by those in government shows how powerful a tiny minority of campaigners can be if they are totally committed to their cause. What a difference it would make to our society if Bible-believing Christians were equally active and stood up for what they believed. Many think that the homosexual challenge to traditional Christian marriage and morality is one of the greatest issues facing Christians today.
The real question is, are there enough true and robust Christians to make a difference and halt the moral and spiritual decline in the nation?
The National Secular Society was delighted by the 2011 statistics showing an apparent decline in Christianity and an increase of those who said they had no faith. Recently, the society’s president Terry Sanderson, said in the Press that these figures should serve as a warning to churches that their increasingly conservative attitudes are not playing well with the public at large. Others also believe that traditional teaching on sex and gender makes Christians appear out of step with secular priorities such as equality. They suggest that this associates the Christian religion with oppression. In a society where there are more members in one church (such as Kensington Temple) than the entire national membership of the Humanist Society, why is it that the secular humanist agenda is so successful in shaping the basic attitudes of much of the British people? Is it because we have vacated the public arena and allowed our faith to pushed to the margins? Where are the Christian voices speaking into government, influencing education policy and articulating their faith in the Media? Christians are in all these places, but how vocal are they? How solidly do churches stand behind such people and how effectively do we prepare them for their ministry in the market place?
As I have said, the playing field is not level, but that does not mean we sit back and do nothing, hiding ourselves in our cell groups and churches. We believe that Jesus has the words of eternal life. It is time to shine the light of the gospel into every corner of our world. We must speak more boldly, engage more intelligently, work more effectively and generally be more passionate about what we believe. We must speak more boldly, engage more intelligently, work more effectively and generally be more passionate.
The social, moral and philosophical environment of our society has a chilling effect on Christian witness and testimony. We dare not confront sin and immorality for fear of appearing uncharitable. We are reluctant to oppose false religion anxious not to appear bigoted. We avoid positions of influence such school boards, social action projects and community groups uncertain that we have what it takes to make a difference. All that has to change. We must get back to genuine New Testament believing and living. The church is the “called out company of God’s people” existing in a 24/7 relationship with God and each other. We have been called out of the world in order to be sent back into the world – saved, sanctified and shining as lights in a dark place. The apostle Paul put it this way:
… become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life (Philippians 2:15-16). We must know what we believe and why we believe it, ready at all times to give a reason for the hope that is in us in meekness and the fear of God (1 Peter 3:15). Even more than that – we must be living examples of the life of God. Saved people are different people. People will listen to us more if they see Christ in us and show them that God’s way works. We need to rediscover the boundaries that separate us from the world’s values and morals and live the life that only grace can produce – a life of love, purity and power.
How can we speak to a society on the brink of rejecting Christian standards of marriage when our marriages are failing? How can we preach the sanctity of sexual relationships when abstinence from pre-marital sex is no longer the standard for Christians? How can we proclaim God’s love when we are just as bitter, critical and self-serving in our attitudes as the world is? We must also get to grips with genuine New Testament spiritual warfare. The battle ground is the mind and our weapon is the truth. Truth powerfully received into our hearts and proclaimed in word and deed is the only way of tearing down strongholds and bringing every thought captive to the Word of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). The battle ground is the mind and our weapon is the truth.
We are privileged to live and minister in London the nation’s capital of crime, false religion and godless ideology. Where the darkness is greatest the light can shine the brightest. It is not about numbers, but it has to do with total dedication to Christ. It took a few short years for the 120 Jerusalem believers to fill their city with the teaching of Christ. It has happened before and it can happen again. But the real question is, are you going to be part of the move of God that can make it happen?
The National Census recorded differences
in religious affiliation across local authorities Christians formed the majority religion across most areas in England and Wales. In over nine in ten areas, the proportion of people who were Christian was over 45 per cent. It was the largest religion in all local authorities except Tower Hamlets where there were more people who identified as Muslim.
The areas with the highest proportion of Muslims were in London with the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham having 34.5% and 32% respectively, and Redbridge and Waltham Forest having proportions of the population higher than 20% . There were several areas outside London with proportions higher than 20% including Blackburn with Darwen in the North West (27%), Bradford in Yorkshire and the Humber, Luton in East of England, Slough in South East, and Birmingham in the West Midlands.
Religious affiliation in England and Wales in 2011 Source: Census – Office for National Statistics