"Gov due to lift restrictions on church services over Christmas." (1)
So ran the headlines on Premier Christian Radio's website on Sunday 22 November 2020. As the national lockdown in England is due to come to an end on the 2 December 2020, we can now look forward to once again being afforded the right to legally meet in a Church building with a gathered congregation. That's great! However, I confess it was frustrating to have to go to a Christian website to find this out rather than being able to discover it on some of our national news websites. The BBC for example, in contrast to Premier Radio had the headline: "Covid-19: Christmas get-together plan backed by UK nations." with a subheading that read: "Gymns and all shops to reopen after English lockdown." (2) Would there be anything at all about churches being allowed to worship, I wondered? Well yes, more than halfway down and in a single paragraph of 4 lines! Symbolic I guess, of just how secularised we have become as a Nation and how marginalised we the Church of God have become in this nation.
Still, the BBC did at least do us the service of drawing attention to a letter sent by a cross-party group of MPs and peers asking the Prime Minister to guarantee that church services will go ahead this Christmas after the current lockdown restrictions end. Those peers and MPs graciously pointed out to the Prime Minister that ever since reopening in the Summer of 2020, "Churches have shown they are capable of introducing social distancing and following Government guidance" observing that the Government's own Chief Medical Officer has said that "there is no evidence of places of worship contributing to the spread of the virus." (3) So what does all of this say to us about the place of the Church in UK society in 2020?
Firstly it demonstrates that we sadly live in a highly secularised society in which our Christian heritage and even more worrying our Christian influence has been hugely diminished. It is still there, and thank God it is still recoverable which should give us hope. However, it is incumbent upon the Church to recognise that our marginalisation is not down to Governments, but entirely down to us. God has not changed and the world of unbelievers has not changed, the Church has changed, and not for the better. Where the Church has made a difference to Society in the past, it has done so because it has been a fearless, prophetic voice of the nation as well as its conscience. It offered hope and salvation and brought Kingdom values of justice, peace and freedom to help transform the social and political landscape. We once provided that for our nation, let us humbly repent and seek God in prayer and ask Him to help us to provide such a voice today!
Secondly, it reminds us, as the cross-party group of MPs declared to the Prime Minister in their letter to him, that the "Christmas message of hope is needed more than ever in a year that has brought dark days for so many people." (4) Why? Because as the Apostle Paul declared so long ago, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." (5) In a world that offers hope only for time, Jesus offers hope for all eternity.
Whatever else may be subject to Government restriction over the Christmas period, God's message at Christmas is unrestricted. The UK looks forward to a Covid-free, normalised society in 2021, hoping for a vaccine to prevent people contracting and dying from Covid19, and we pray that it will be a hope that is realised. However, Jesus offers a vaccine in the form of His precious blood, that prevents eternal death and promises eternal life to all who will trust in Him for salvation. In a world of great uncertainty, God's gift to us remains unchanged. He calls upon us to turn to Him, seek His forgiveness and receive His precious gift of salvation. To quote the words of the Apostle John, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life." (6) Are you ready to accept His precious gift?
5. The Bible, 1 Timothy 1:15
6. The Bible, John 3:16.