The history of Western nations testifies of their Christian roots and what happens when this influence is silenced. It was silenced in early 18th century England. Indian Scholar Vishal Mangalwadi writes,
- In 1738, two centuries after the Reformation, Bishop Berkeley declared that religion and morality in Britain had collapsed “to a degree that was never before known in any Christian country.” The important reasons for the degeneration of Protestant England were the restoration of the monarchy and the supremacy of the Anglican Church at the end of the seventeenth century. Once the Anglican Church came back to power, it began to oppress the Puritans and expelled more than four hundred conscientious Anglican clergymen. They had become priests to serve God, and therefore they refused the oath of allegiance to William of Orange.” (The Book that Made your World, 259)
Along with this, the Anglican priesthood became utterly corrupt:
- A succession of archbishops and bishops lived luxuriously, neglecting their duties, unashamedly soliciting bishoprics and deaneries for themselves and their families. Parish clergy followed suit. (260)…Corruption spread like cancer. (261)
The church is the conscience of society. When it is silenced, corruption and moral decay are free to spread to all segments of society. Mangalwadi continues:
- The moral darkness of the age expressed itself in a perverted conception of sport, which, like alcohol, brought attendant evils in its train, such as further coarsening of the personality, cruelty, and gambling. (262)
- As for lawlessness, thieves, robbers, and highwaymen, Horace Walpole observed in 1751, “One is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one were going to battle.” Savagery showed itself in the plundering of shipwrecked vessels, lured by false signals onto rocks, and in the indifference shown to the drowning sailors. This was a regular activity along the entire coastline of the British Isles.
Similarly, it appears that as the Christian influence has been replaced in the Western nations in the early sixties by a virulent and monopolistic form of secularism, social ills have multiplied. However, there are also revivals. Into this English malaise stepped the Christian John Wesley and others. However, their ministry to the poor and downtrodden wasn’t appreciated. No one likes their sins to be exposed:
- For three decades, magistrates, squires, and clergy turned a blind eye to the continual drunken and brutal attacks by mobs and gangs on Wesley and his supporters. Wesley endured physical assault with missiles of various kinds. Frequently bulls would be driven into the midst of the congregations or musical instruments blared to drown out the preacher’s voice. Time after time, the Wesleys and Whitefield narrowly escaped death, while several of their fellow itinerant preachers were attacked and their homes set on fire. Hundreds of anti-revival publications appeared, as did regular, inaccurate, and scurrilous newspaper reports and articles. And the most virulent attacks, not surprisingly, came from the priests, who referred to Wesley as “that Methodist,” “that enthusiast,” “that mystery of iniquity” [anti-Christ], “a diabolical seducer, and imposter and fanatic.”
The foulest criticism is always clothed within a veneer of decency and concern for the “rights and needs” of others. How else to appeal to the masses apart from disguising it as a moral and just cause! Despite the fierce opposition, Wesley and Whitefield persevered:
- The biblical revival affected the lives of politicians. Edmund Burke and William Pitt were better men because of their Bible-believing friends. They helped redefine the civilized world…Perceval, Lord Liverpool, Abraham Lincoln, Gladstone, and the Prince Consort, among others, acknowledged the influence of the Great Awakening. The biblical revival, beginning among the outcast masses, was the midwife of the spirit and character values that have created and sustained free institutions throughout the English-speaking world. England after Wesley saw many of his century’s evils eradicated, because hundreds of thousands became Christians. Their hearts were changed, as were their minds and attitudes, and so society – the public realm – was affected.
The following improvements came in a direct line of descent from the Wesleyan revival. First was the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of the industrial workers in England. Then came factory schools, ragged schools, the humanizing of the prison system, the reform of the penal code, the forming of the Salvation Army, the Religious Tract Society, the Pastoral Aid Society, the London City Mission, Muller’s Homes, Fegan’s Homes, the National Children’s Home and Orphanages, the forming of evening classes and polytechnics, Agnes Weston’s Soldier’ and Sailor’s Rest, YMCAs, Barnardo’s Homes, the NSPCC, the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the list goes on. Ninety-nine out of a hundred people behind these movements were Christians.
This redemptive story has been repeated many times throughout the history of the church. Why then is the church so widely despised? Perhaps it has something to do with this observation:
- “I believe that, disappointed in not finding the field of licentiousness quite so open as formerly, [the traders] will not give credit to morality which they do not wish to practice or to a religion which they undervalue, if not despise.” (Charles Darwin)