November 17, 2014

The Legacy of No (or Poor) Evangelism in Scotland's Schemes

“You can go into almost any city centre in Scotland and take your pick of evangelical churches. Granted, they are not as numerous as previous decades but there are still, by and large, some healthy ones to be found. Sadly, you cannot do that in many of the poorest communities of our country. If the Christian church keeps going in its current direction, the poor in Scotland will have no access at all to gospel-preaching churches, while the middle and upper classes will be the ones with all the choice.”

These words, or at least something very close to them, were uttered by Thomas Chalmers in the early 1800’s. Despite the fact that he was talking to a group of MP’s about a specific part of the country, his words have the prophetic ring of truth about them in 2014. If Thomas Chalmers were alive today, he would be frothing at the mouth and incandescent with rage at just how true his warnings proved to be. There is little doubt in my mind that Chalmers would be on the board of directors of 20schemes, and he’d be buzzing about it. In fact, Chalmers would have founded 20schemes before me, such was his concern for the poor and their access to gospel-preaching churches.

We’re told by experts that Scotland is falling below 2% Christian, and suddenly there is a great ‘hoohaw’ about it. Well, the schemes of Scotland have been well below that figure for many decades, and not a sniff of indignation has been heard from the church of Jesus Christ. Where are our Knox’s? Where are our Chalmer’s? Our Guthrie’s? Our William Booths? Our Whitfield’s? Our Spurgeon’s? Where are our great evangelical warriors raging against the injustices of the world and imploring the church to do her duty by caring for the sick, the poor, the orphan, and the widow?

Any activity that offers the hope of raising the tone of a nation deserves our support. And we must do it from the bottom up. In the upper and middle levels of our society there is affluence, education and security. In the basement there is ignorance, squalor and violence. Our task is to raise the level of the basement.” (D. Macleod)

There is a resurgence in Scotland of church planting and revitalisation. And so there should be. But, if we are to take the quote above seriously, we have to ask where this resurgence is among the poor and needy? Where are the church planters and church revitalisers that are going to the dark places of our land that are in sway to mediums, witchcraft, spiritism and historical paganism? Religion is not dead in the schemes: the local church is. There are no worship wars going on nor debates about Psalm singing or Hymns. Nobody is arguing about which version of the Bible is closest to the original text. There are no issues on the primacy of preaching or whether we should baptize babies. None of this is happening simply because the gospel is not there! The church is not there! Our seminaries are not training, equipping, and sending out leaders for our housing schemes. Our big city centre churches are not sending their brightest and best young men and women to spend their lives in our poorest communities.

The gap between the church in Scotland (and the rest of the UK) is widening as it shrinks within a largely middle-class constituency. We need to think and plan carefully if we are to turn it around. Churches are dwindling in council estates and housing schemes all around Great Britain. We need training, we need resources, and we need a movement of Jesus-loving, gospel-centred, church-loving young people to rise up and help us take the good news back into some of our darkest and neediest areas.

Let’s discuss some of the issues over the next couple of posts as we work out a way forward.

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