Apologist and scholar, C.S. Lewis, had foreseen the dire fate of the Church even in 1946:
· The ‘decline of religion’ so often lamented (or welcomed) is held to be shown by empty chapels. Now it is quite true that chapels which were full in 1900 are empty in 1946. (God in the Dock, “The Decline of Religion” (218)
However, Lewis observed that this change should have been anticipated from the writings of the 19th century where “only secular and natural values are taken seriously,” even though they might bear a strong similarity to Christian values:
· But if we judge the nineteenth century from the books it wrote, the outlook of our grandfathers (with very few exceptions) was quite as secular as our own.
Consequently, Lewis noted:
· The religion which has [now] declined was not Christianity. It was a vague Theism with a strong and virile ethical code, which, far from standing over against the ‘World’ was absorbed into the whole fabric of English institutions and sentiment and therefore demanded church-going as (at best) a part of loyalty and good manners as (at worst) a proof of respectability. (219-20)
Lewis believed that this secular shake-up would be good for the purification of Christianity:
· The decline of 'religion', thus understood, seems to me in some ways was a blessing. At the very worst it makes the issue clear…The fog of ‘religion’ has lifted; the positions and numbers of both armies can be observed; and the real shooting [accurate Christian argumentation] is now possible. (220)
Nevertheless, Lewis thought that the rejection of Christianity, even in its secularized form, would prove costly for the UK:
· The decline of religion [secularized Christianity] is no doubt a bad thing for the ‘World’. By it all the things that made England a fairly happy country, are, I supposed endangered: the comparative purity of her public life, the comparative humanity of her police, and the possibility of mutual respect between political opponents. (220)
Lewis predicted that the marginalization of the Christian faith, albeit secularized, would prove costly. However, he doubted that this would negatively impact the true Church:
· But I am not clear that it makes conversions to Christianity rarer or more difficult: rather the reverse. It makes the choice [between the World and Christ] more unescapable. (220)
The light of Christ shines brighter in the darkness than in the light. However, Lewis was insistent that the Church must also provide intellectual light:
· If the intellectual climate is such that, when a man comes to the crisis at which he must either accept or reject Christ, his reason and imagination are not on the wrong side, then his conflict will be fought out under favorable conditions. Those who help to produce and spread such a climate are therefore doing a useful work. (221)
This principle of providing an intellectual climate conducive to salvation is seen throughout Scripture:
· And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. (Acts 17:2-4; ESV)
Lewis believed that cycles of interest in Christianity, followed by acceptance, rejection, and persecution are as inevitable as forest fires, which renew the forest:
· At first it is welcome to all who have no special reason for opposing it: at this stage he who is not against it is for it. What men notice is its difference from those aspects of the World which they already dislike. But later on, as the real meaning of the Christian claim becomes apparent, its demand for total surrender, the sheer chasm between Nature and the Supernatural, men are increasingly ‘offended’. Dislike, terror, and finally hatred succeed. (222-23)
What does this suggest for us? We must not be overly concerned about these inevitable cycles. We must not follow them, cater and pander to them, and give ourselves over to our fickle culture. We cannot forget our first vocation to love the Lord our God with all our being.
Envisioning the coming apostasy, Paul’s counsel to Timothy was very clear:
· Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
We too must do the same, no matter how discouraging the times, knowing that even hell shall not prevail against the Church of Christ.