Monday, 12 March 2007

The Situation Before the Church

(From Towards the Conversion of England: The Report of a Commission on Evangelism appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, pursuant to a Resolution of the Church Assembly passed at the Summer session, 1943, London: Press and Publications Board of the Church Assembly, 1945)

1 “To evangelize is so to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church.”

We accept this definition, given by the Archbishops’ Committee of Inquiry on the Evangelistic Work of th e Church, which reported in 1918, emphasizing the truth that to serve Christ as King involves the duty of extending His Kingdom in the world. With this as our aim, our first task must be to examine the situation in which the Church is called to evangelise to-day.

2 In our terms of reference we were asked “to survey the whole problem of modern evangelism, with special reference to the spiritual needs and prevailing intellectual outlook of the non-worshipping member of the community.” Such a diagnosis of the religious condition and outlook of the nation is very necessary before the Church can plan “definite action” to meet the spiritual needs of present-day men and women. [...]


4 There can be no doubt that there is a wide and deep gulf between the church and the people. [...] The present irrelevance of the Church in the life and thought of the community in general is apparent from two symptoms which admit of no dispute. They are (1) the widespread decline in church-going; and (2) the collapse of Christian moral standards.

1. The Decline in Church-going

5 It is indisputable that only a small percentage of the nation to-day joins regularly in public worship of any kind. Though accurate statistics are had to obtain, it is significant that matters usually appear to be at their worst where there is no conscious community life. The most depressing reports come from large industrial cities, and from that wide and heterogeneous belt of population which sprawls round London and includes about one-sixth of the total inhabitants of England. [...]

6 The obvious fact of the decline in church-going throws into high relief the need for finding new means whereby a hearing may be gained for the Gospel message. [...]

2. The Collapse of Christian Moral Standards

7 Depravity is a sure symptom of spiritual disease. 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. [...] Magistrates have expressed their anxiety at the rise (in the serious nature as we as in the quantity) of juvenile crime. School teachers complain of the difficulty of impressing upon their young charges the abomination of lying and stealing which they copy from their elders at home. The Government has found it necessary to resort to poster propaganda against venereal disease, and to issue to all medical officers of health a circular on the problem of illegitimate babies.

In the past 30 years the number of divorces has risen from upwards of 500 a year to approximately 12,250 in 1944. [...]

The “double standard of morality” for men and women, against which Josephine Butler contended so nobly, no longer obtains. Instead, owing to the immunity which contraceptives and prophylactives [sic] promise, the “man’s standard” is increasingly being adopted by both sexes. [...]

8 If we have seemed to emphasize the declension from Christian moral standards more particularly in the realm of sex, it is because it is most obtrusive in this field, not because it is not marked in other directions. In every department of both public and private life the same trend is clearly to be seen. The gravest feature in the whole situation is that there is so little feeling of shame in loose living, still less in untruthfulness or dishonesty. The sense of responsibility and of duty has become undermined. There is no longer a generally accepted moral standard by which men judge their own actions. Instead, they excuse themselves by an appeal to a pseudo-scientific determinism. [...]

9 There is, however, another side of the picture. Despite all adverse influences, the fundamental virtues are still manifested by the men, women and young people of our generation. [...]
The past century, too, has been pre-eminently the most humane age in history. The contrast between the “Hungry Forties” of Charles Dickens’ time and the England of to-day, shows an advance in the social, political and economic status of the masses with which no other epoch can compare. Ours is a closely knit society, with an inherited ideal of service for the community that runs like a golden thread through the fabric of English history. Our people are fundamentally decent and kindly. They would not wilfully inflict injury on another even if they have forgotten why.

10 The vital question that has to be answered is, “Why has such a drift from the Christian religion occurred in a people of this nature? What has caused them to lose their hold upon the faith from which they have, in fact, derived the characteristics which they most genuinely prize?” [...] For, as Sir Richard Livingstone warns us: “The philosophy of life, the standards by which the Victorian and earlier ages were governed, have broken down. We are left with traditions and habits of conduct inherited from them, as the earth may for a time still receive light from an extinct star. But that light will not continue to shine, nor can those habits and traditions long survive the beliefs from which they grew. Those who reject Christian beliefs cannot count on keeping Christian morals.”


Humanism the Age-Long Lie

12 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 God. All down human history these two attitude to life have been in conflict. [...]

13 In the mediaeval period this false view of life, so flattering to man’s self-esteem, was actively challenged, and to some extent kept in check, by the structure of society itself. [...] Every man (no matter what his class level) had his recognised place in society, together with the status and self-respect which such recognition offers. [...]

Unhappily, the mediaeval system was not in reality as Christian as men imagined it to be. While it expressed the true meaning of life as a co-operation to give expression to the will of God, socially it denied the brotherhood and freedom of man. [...]

14 Because of the rigid system of subordination inherent in mediaeval Christendom, the Renaissance, when it came, was hailed as a revolt against the tyranny of the Church. The humanistic view of life, “Man the measure of all things,” was acclaimed as the creed of freedom and progress, while the Christian faith was suspect as cramping and reactionary. The assumption, so common to-day among non-Christians, that they alone are progressive or intellectual and that education and science have “debunked” the Christian faith is no new thing. It comes in uninterrupted descent from the days of the collapse of the mediaeval system. [...]

15 The renunciation of Humanism, which should have resulted from its dreary record of consistent failure, has been avoid3ed (or at least postponed) by each successive age placing in men’s hands some new tool or weapon which has renewed their hope. [...]

16 In the era of the French Revolution, the weapon of political power, now at last in the hands of the people, was confidently expected to bring heaven upon earth in an Age of Reason. It was, indeed, as good as done. The Abbé Sieyès declared that it would only take a fortnight [...]

17 In the first half of the last century there was another great renewal of hope in the power of Humanism to bring salvation upon earth. It was occasioned by the invention of the steam engine. Thenceforth want was as good as abolished.

The one-time proletariat would soon sit every man under his vine—produced in Birmingham, and under his fig tree—produced in Lancashire. More glorious still, through the medium of international trade, war would be for ever unthinkable. [...]

18 We come to our own age—heir, as every age must be, to all that has gone before. Through it, too, there runs the same age-long struggle between two philosophies of life. [...]


19 [...]

1. Increasing Urbanization


2. Secular Education

21 [...] It is true that the general outlook of scientists to-day is more congruous to the Christian view of life than perhaps ever before: but a scientific education, of necessity, inculcates a mental habit which does not predispose to a Christian view of life. [...] Further, and more far-reaching in its moulding of mental habit, science trains its votaries to look for the How, and to disregard the Why; to concentrate on means and to ignore purpose. Homo thus ceases to be Sapiens and becomes Sciens. [...]

23 Religious education, meanwhile, has steadily receded into the background, despite promising efforts to check an ebbing tide. [...]

24 If we have to confess that education has become increasingly secular, scepticism has increasingly characterised educational technique. The individualism of the last century fostered the idea of the completely undogmatic teacher, who thus (often unconsciously) inculcated an all-embracing scepticism in unreflecting youth. The notion was fostered that everyone was entitled to his own truth and that (in the last resort) one belief was probably no truer than another. [...]

It has, also, been forgotten that true Christian education is far more than to teach a certain subject at a certain time. It is a particular kind of education in all subjects and at all times—bot only in the classroom. In other words, Christian education means schools with every activity pervaded by religion. But from at least the last quarter of the nineteenth century onwards, our national system of education has ruled that the young should contrast their childish memories of mother’s knee religion with their knowledge of science or politics acquired at an adult level. [...]

3. Mechanized Thinking

25 The third factor in the reinforcement of Humanism is the appearance of the mechanized mind. [...] In an article, The Perils of a purely Scientific Education, the late Dr. William Temple foretold that such an education must produce a generation adept in dealing with things, indifferently qualified to deal with people, and incapable of dealing with ideas. To-day we are in a position to realise the truth of his warning. There is a large section of our people, whom it would be more accurate to describe as mechanically, rather than scientifically, educated. They may be highly trained and skilled mechanics. [...] And yet great numbers, even of the most able among them, are incapable of reasoning or thinking clearly on abstract subjects, such as politics or religion. [...]

Evangelism, before it can gain an intelligent hearing, is confronted with the prior task of stimulating into activity, among a large section of the non-worshipping members of the community, mental powers which have been allowed to atrophy. [...]

The Modern Exposure of Humanism

26 We turn from the reinforcement which the humanist view of life has received in our times, to the shock which it has recently sustained. It is the shock of shattering disillusionment. The trust in human progress (evidenced in the last war by the high hopes we entertained of a better social order) has been pulverised by the brutal logic of events. [...] It is not man who has been set free, but the blind materialistic forces he has unleashed. The machine has taken charge of its directors and reduced the common people to mere cogs in its wheels.

27 In industry, irresponsible centres of economic power—international in their scope—exercise a virtual tyranny over the lives of masses of men. [...]

28 In politics, the ordinary citizen feels he has no real say in the government of the country and is restive lest bureaucracy should break up his home life.

These are the days of Great Society in which social techniques have increasingly concentrated power in the hands of the few and discouraged enterprise and creative individuality on the part of the many. The Englishman, with his innate independence of character, can never be happy to become a cipher among undifferentiated millions, living on top of each other in a mechanised community. [...]


30 It must not be supposed that disillusionment in the myth of human progress affords a positive help to the work of evangelism. Rather it tends, if not to a revolt, at all events to a settled apathy which sweeps religion (along with all other accepted beliefs) into the rubbish bin. [...]

31 None the less, the prevailing condition of disillusionment does at least present a field of opportunity. [...]

32 It would, indeed, be over-optimistic to regard the religious condition of the country as already fallow ground, for much clearing remains to be done. At the same time, there are not wanting signs that if the Church would speak with conviction and authority, the nation would gladly hearken. [...]

33 In the fact of the unique opportunity entrusted to our race, it would be fatal to minimise the problem that confronts the Church. We are called to a far harder task than to evangelise heathen who do worship (however ignorantly) a Power higher than themselves. 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 dimension) of life; and for whom life has no ultimate meaning. The paramount spiritual need of the non-worshipping members of the community (as evidenced by this survey) is the recovery of their consciousness of God. Only so can they regain a doctrine of man morally responsible to God, and a philosophy of life that sees the material world as the sacrament of the realities of the Eternal. But the Church is ill-equipped for its unparalleled task and opportunity. The laity complain of a lack of creative leadership among all ranks of the clergy. The spiritual resources of the worshipping community are at a low ebb. Above all, the Church has become confused and uncertain in the proclamation of its message, and its life has ceased to reflect clearly the truth of the Gospel. It is for the Church, in this day of God, by a rededication of itself to its Lord, to receive from Him that baptism of Holy Ghost and of fire which will empower it to sound the call and give the awaited lead.


  1. Interesting that the Bishop of Rochester (who was also the chairman of the Evangelism Commission that produced the report), commended it to Evangelicals not only because conversion was naturally something in which they would be interested, but because the work of evangelism would do more than anything else to restore unity to the evangelical community, divided even then into conservative and liberal wings. 'The only institutional bond that has held Evangelicals together, since their emergence in the Church, has been their great evangelising Societies. Evangelicals have have discovered their unity by engaging in active evangelism, and in no other way.'

  2. SeekTruthFromFacts4 February 2014 at 01:23

    When it says "the last war" in para 26, does it mean WW1 or WW2?