Do Not Be Afraid
The media dominate our lives and living. Many television channels, the internet, radio, newspapers and magazines offer a deluge of views and opinions. If you look and listen critically, you see and hear large scale bias nearly all of the time. Minorities with disproportionate access have been successful in having their agendas become the orthodoxies of our time. Militant atheists have managed to influence politics at all levels in spite of the fact that they are very few in numbers. If you read the letters pages of The Scotsman and The Herald you would think that atheists were many. Their opinions are on display nearly every single day. They want all vestiges of Christianity exorcised from the public life of our land, from its institutions and from education.
Alister McGrath published a book called Why God wont go away in 2011 in which he demolishes the arguments of the new militant atheists. He also provides details of how many people attend their meetings. One group, The London Brights has recorded attendances for its meetings on the internet for years. They actually use the word 'meetup' not meeting to distinguish themselves from all other meetings.
Sept 2003 13
Oct 2003 Cancelled
Jan 2004 Cancelled
Feb 2004 Cancelled
Mar 2004 22
This pattern continued throughout 2005 and 2006. In 2007 there were only 4 meetings, 2 in 2008, 1 in 2009 and none in 2010.
Christians Richard Lucas and David Robertson are always challenging Scottish secularists, atheists and humanists to publish the numbers who attend their meetings. They do not do so. But – they have the ear of politicians. Those without Christian faith are all to keen to listen to those with arguments which justify their own godlessness. Politicians see the establishment of an absolute secular society as something which allows them to manage and be directors of society. They can have full control which is what all politicians want. Most unfortunately for Christianity in our land, the growth of the Islamic agenda has given good excuse for governments to seek to control what they call 'religion' by making no distinctions between one and the other. Richard Dawkins used the 9/11 2001 terrorists attacks on the New York Trade Centre as clear evidence that religion is harmful and then built the case that all religion is the same and therefore all religion is harmful. He gained much traction for a time. But his arguments are spurious and have been shown to be so. No-one can reasonably dismiss the good that 2000 years of Christianity have brought to the world. No-one can equate Jesus or the best of his followers with Islamic murderers. No-one can deny the Christ inspired humanity, charity, formation of institutions like the Red Cross, the Samaritans, Oxfam, the Food Bank movement and even the United Nations.
It is undeniably true that Christianity has been set aside in the public policies of Scotland. It is true that the Churches do not have the role and status that they once did. Nicola Sturgeon has been successful in promoting her own lack of Christianity in SNP policy. The result of the referendum was a narrow defeat for an outright old fashioned socialist revolution. The struggle is not over. Every month or so we read of some new attack on the Christian fabric of our nation. How long will they tolerate St Andrew or the concept of a patron saint? Militant atheists want to stop the teaching of theology in our universities. Public institutions, they say, should not support any such folly and waste of resources.
Do not be afraid. Worse has happened in history and the Church of Jesus Christ has survived. Remember communist Russia. There today, churches are being built and rebuilt. In China in spite of persecution Christianity is growing. Some Christian research suggests that upwards of 2 million Muslims have converted to Christianity in the last 20 years. Christian strength has ebbed and flowed throughout history. The Methodist Church brought great revival to the north of England in particular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Billy Graham has spoken live to more human beings than any other single person including popes. In England Church attendance is increasing at present. When I was at college we were told that there were academic estimates that the Church of Scotland would not exist by the year 2007. Pessimists suggest today that it will not survive another generation. Of course it will, Do not be afraid.
The prophets of the Old Testament have often been thought to have been moaners and complainers, criticising anyone and everything with a negative and doom and gloom message only. This is simply not true. Isaiah, for example, was an inspiring and uplifting public preacher at the Temple in Jerusalem. In difficult times he and others offered encouragement and comfort. So we heard his words read earlier to us this morning...the wilderness will rejoice and blossom...say to those with fearful hearts, 'Be strong, do not be afraid'...your God will come...the ransomed of the Lord will return...They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.
St Paul was no stranger to atheists and agnostics, mockers and naysayers. Acts 17 reminds us of this. Paul was in Athens. He visited the Areopagus. The name just means 'big rock' like Ayres Rock in Australia. It was where the Athenian High Court of Appeal sat. Learned people gathered there, speeches were made there, cases were hard. It was a busy and sophisticated and interesting place. Some the leading people had heard Paul speak and preach in the market place and streets. At that time it was like Hyde Park Corner used to be. Anyone could speak if he could get anyone to listen. Paul did and was invited to the Areopagus to speak further. There was a mixture of interest and inquiry in the invitation but it was equally laced with curiosity scepticism and contempt.
Paul did not get on that well in fact. He gave a good account of his Christian faith beginning with a common sense in humanity of God and with the Athenians attempts to connect with and describe God. He then went on to say that he could share with them the real thing. As far as ideas went they like what they heard but when he based the ideas on the resurrection of a person, a human being, Jesus, then they began to lose interest. Not all. Some remained open minded and wanted to discuss matters further. Others just sneered. A very few were soundly converted on the spot. We have the names of two, Dionysius and Damaris. There may have been about 10 in all. Paul was no Billy Graham with his mass conversions and large choir singing Blessed assurance.
Paul actually took a pasting and went on to Corinth having decided that arguing and theoretical disputation was not the way to win lives to Jesus Christ. There he determined to speak only about Jesus Christ crucified and risen. But Paul was no failure in Athens. He planted good seed and in later years they bore great harvest. Today 98% of Greek people belong to the orthodox Christian Church and they base the origins of their faith in Paul 's visit to Athens in 49AD. Do not be afraid.
The terrible events of Paris more than a week ago and their aftermath have woken many people up. The marches for freedom showed that in France and elsewhere, people will not give in to Islamic terrorism. It is counter productive. It does not attract people to Islam. It deters, disgusts, repels. But further outrages will occur. It is precisely because of the hopelessness of their case that Islamic terrorists exist and perpetrate murder. It is to be hoped that Muslims in this country realise that they are now further and further away from influencing the British towards becoming an Islamic state. Allah's victory is not assured at all. Do not be afraid.
The best defence for the peoples of these islands against Islam is a return to Christianity. Not one of our Church leaders has said as much. They have not said anything at all. This is because for decades they have cultivated a rapprochement with Muslims. Inter-Faith services are held. They do not wish to offend local contacts. The Church of Scotland has trod this same path in Scotland. Very little progress has been made. The certain truth is that Islam and Christianity are incompatible and irreconcilable. Of course building friendship across differing faiths is a good thing. Anything that prevents violence in the future is to be welcomed. Christians are even called to love their enemies. Blessed, said Jesus, are the peacemakers. But that should not stop us from proclaiming the Gospel from the metaphorical rooftops – that is - in the media. We should not disavow our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. There should be critical evaluation of Muhammad. There should be comparison with Jesus. Islamic propaganda should be countered, especially the lie that Islam is a peaceful religion. Islam has never since its inception been a peaceful religion. It is not in essence a peaceful religion. Christianity is in essence a peaceful living faith. Because Jesus was and is a peaceful Living Saviour. We must however admit confess and allow that throughout history Christianity has been used by others for less than peaceful purposes. In the eyes of Muslims, there is no difference between Muslim warfare and Christian warfare. The British Empire was built on militarism. No one here can deny it. It was mitigated by Christianity though and never became the murderous entity that other empire became including the 20th century Russian atheist empire. Britain gave back its colonies in Africa to the peoples there, not with out a fight in Kenya for example, but neither without a long term determined brutal ruthlessness to deny self determination. But in broad world political terms Christianity and Jesus Christ were and are compromised by identification with the purposes of nation states in the world.
But there is a continuing encouraging liberating dimension to Christianity which is absent in Islam. Did you ever think for example, that you would see on your TV screen images of people being crucified as they have been in Iraq by ISIS? Did you expect to hear about mass slavery of women and girls by Islamic fundamentalists who regard non-Muslims as human refuse? Some here lived through the Nazi era and later learned about the treatment of Jews – the final solution. That was a godless regime which did not seek to justify its conduct as a divine mission. What is happening needs to be put into perspective. The point is that Islam is regressive. It takes us away from Christian civilisation to something worse. Muslims long for nuclear capability. There is every possibility that in frustration they will use it. At the heart of Islam is falsehood. But Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the way the truth and the life. He is there to save. He will bring back creation to a better way. He will save. He will deliver, he will redeem. We are not left comfortless. We are not left without hope or strategy or plan. Christ's work is complete on Calvary and in resurrection. Nothing can destroy what he has done. Do not be afraid.
Let us whistle in the face of adversity. Let us sing praises with confidence and joy. We are redeemed. The Lord is with us.