Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come
- Matthew 24:1-14
“There is very little time today, so I must be short. I am afraid it is certainly true in England that Christians are in the minority. But remember, the change from, say, thirty years ago, consists largely in the fact that nominal Christianity has died out, so that only those who really believe now profess. The old conventional church-going by semi-believers or almost total unbelievers is a thing of the past. Whether the real thing is rarer than it was would be hard to say. Fewer children are brought up to it: but adult conversions are very frequent…”
- C. S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady
Jesus prophesied that many will be led astray by people claiming to be the Messiah, but some will turn from the faith on their own. There will be an increase in wickedness and love will grow cold.
Yet, C. S. Lewis wrote the quoted passage above on May 9, 1953, not yesterday. Lewis described the church of the early 50s in England as dwindling in number, and so unpopular, that there must only be true believers that attend. He saw a sharp decline in attendance once the war was over, but I think he was mistaken regarding those that remained in attendance.
The Gospel was watered down to stem the tide of people leaving. Our denomination’s statements of faith became so diluted, they made no clear claim to any faith at all, yet people still left. Some left because the ‘church’ had abandoned God for the sake of ‘numbers.’
And now, more than 50 years later, people are drifting away from the church again. Of course, some of the church buildings that stood in the 1950s are now apartment buildings or catering centers. I refer to the church buildings and their congregations that survive. Yet, is the word ‘again’ giving a wrong impression?
Many churches survive today due to the popularity of ‘volunteerism.’ If you want to volunteer to help people, but you do not wish to organize anything, go to a church. They are desperate for volunteer help. And so, the church sponsors community support ministries that do not glorify God, because few of the workers even know anything about Him. Harsh words, yes, but it is true in many cases, not in all.
An automobile manufacturer is advertising that they are all about love due to their ‘volunteerism.’ For anyone who knows the Love of God, their claim is disgusting. Volunteerism has become its own religion. You add that ‘ism’ at the end and it becomes a philosophy, in many cases, a religion. Among those volunteers, many of the ones calling themselves Christian think they are working their way into Heaven. They are not. The other volunteers simply do it to feel good about themselves, but once the fatigue wears off after their day of volunteering, the euphoria from the shift in hormones is already gone.
It is highly possible that the England of the 1950s is similar to the America of today. This may not be a case of history repeating itself. It may, instead, be the case that secularism has taken longer to fully infest America. We, that is many Americans, believe in the almighty dollar, and we mock the “In God We Trust” printed on it.
Really, I think that Lewis spoke in a prophetic tone, even for England. He saw his home church and a few others with more and more empty pews and made a rash statement. Yet, his statement was prophetic, mirroring what Jesus said in the Scripture above. Many will turn away from the faith. Are those the almost total unbelievers or the semi-believers? Or is it a gradual process where the almost total unbelievers leave immediately, and the semi-believers leave in a slow trickle? Again, Lewis uses terms that sound like being a little bit pregnant. Either you believe or you do not. Is that ‘belief’ worth dying for?
This is probably not a case of history repeating itself from a different perspective. It is rather a case that over time, the almost total unbelievers and the semi-believers drift away from the church in each generation. Why were they there in the first place? Maybe some were there because their parents told them to be there. There were words being preached about Love, Hope, Joy, and Peace. But they did not find the evidence of those terms and they left.
Let us preach those words, again and again. And maybe add the hard truth about accepting Jesus and having a personal relationship with Him. And let’s live those words for the other 167 hours of the week.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.