We have just completed a series of three Sunday evening services at my home church under the title, 'Let the prophets speak.' Our idea was to invite individuals who we believed would have a message to communicate to the church in Scotland today. I would like to capture the essence of these talks over the next few blogs.
David Robertson, minister of St Peter's Free Church, Dundee (picture above) and director of Solas, spoke under the title, ‘Secular Scotland – is Christianity past its sell-buy date?’
I was struck by the two contrasting pictures he painted of Scottish church and society. On the one hand, he highlighted the rapid secularisation that has taken place in Scotland. By this he means the effort to privatise religion and argue that it should not play any part in public or civic life. It is his belief, speaking as a historian, that Scotland has secularised quicker than any other nation in history, especially over the past decade.
Alongside this there has been a significant decline in church membership. For example, he stated that in the 1950s 1.2 million people were members of the Church of Scotland. Today this has dipped below 400, 000 and the church is losing around 20, 000 members a year. This story of decline is replicated across many streams of the church. Indeed, David said that he has been a minister for 27 years and reckons if we were to plant 7000 churches of 100 members we would only be back to position the church was in at start of his ministry. A loss of 700, 000 members in 27 years!
He argued that this rapid decline in church membership is the result of three things - concession, compromise and confusion. In contrast to the dynamism of the early church it is David's contention that we are far too easily influenced by the culture around us. He also believes that there has been a rise in biblical illiteracy that is the result of an experienced-based approach to faith.
On the other hand, David spoke with great optimism. Right at the beginning of his sermon he made the bold statement that God is clearly at work in Scotland. He believes that people are more open to the gospel than at any time in the past in the past 25 years. He also senses a spiritual hunger in the nation.
So how should the church respond? According to David Robertson we firstly need, conviction (about the truth of the Bible and the gospel), secondly, compassion (learning to care), and thirdly, Christ (discovering his supreme character).
David finished his sermon, having reviewed the spiritual and cultural landscape of the nation with the following challenge - ask God to give you his burden for the people of Scotland. He maintains it is only when we start to pray that things will begin to happen...