Heeding the call I recently met with Archbishop Justin Welby at Lambeth Palace, which is a short walk over Lambeth Bridge from CARE’s Westminster offices. He graciously honoured CARE by inviting me to meet him. We talked about some very important issues facing the nation today, including the redefinition of marriage, which he wholeheartedly opposes. We discussed other challenges such as the sexualisation of culture and childhood, and legislation being introduced to allow physician-assisted suicide. He kindly commended CARE’s approach to these vital moral issues. He then showed me a worn paperback entitled Towards the Conversion of England - the then Archbishops’ Commission on Evangelism report. It was written during the London Blitz and published in 1945. It considered the urgent need for effective evangelism at that time and opened with Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple’s words: ‘If we have
to choose between making men Christian and making the social order more Christian we must choose the former. But there is no such antithesis.’ In my last letter I wrote about both John Newton and William Wilberforce’s convictions in the 1790s that only through personal conversion and lives being transformed by the gospel will families and communities be changed. And here, in 1945, was the very same clear message!
Evangelism, moral power and brotherly kindness This extraordinary wartime report called for Christians to engage in evangelism and also ‘to display to non-worshippers a supernatural quality of moral power and of brotherly kindness’. It referred to ‘the decline in truthfulness and personal honesty, and an alarming spread of sexual laxity and of the gambling fever....’ in Britain, adding: ‘This is becoming an age without standards and of self-centred life.’ Sounds familiar? As the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, which roughly translated means: ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’! Human nature is as fallen as it’s ever been, so we must redouble our efforts to communicate the gospel’s truth and work and pray for positive changes in our society. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and the gospel has not changed either! It is still ‘the power of God to save for everyone who believes’. Ways to communicate may be different today but its living message continues to transform people, communities and culture.
A better place to live Justin Welby made another observation which struck me very forcibly. If Wilberforce and the great Victorian evangelical reformers of the nineteenth century were to have a glimpse of London and Britain today, they could be forgiven for thinking that, compared to conditions in their day, this was paradise! Our living environment, and the state provision we sometimes take for granted, would astonish them. Streets are paved and well lit, food is wholesome and drinking water is safe. In today’s Britain we have free education up to the age of 18, strict regulations about health, safety and working conditions, pensions for older people, benefits for the most needy, local council housing, sanitation and clean water in every home, humane treatment of prisoners, a national police force and health service, and a wealth of other wonderful provisions. In the 1850s the now prestigious area around Westminster Abbey, near CARE’s Romney Street offices and a stone’s throw from Parliament itself, was famously one of the worst areas of London. Charles Dickens called it ‘The Devil’s Acre’ - once described as ‘nests of ignorance, vice, depravity, and crime, as well as of squalor, wretchedness, and disease ... in which swarms of huge and almost countless population, ... haunts of filth, which no sewage committee can reach – dark corners, which no lighting board can brighten.’ But Christians from the Salvation Army, who believed in the life-changing power of God, visited these mean streets to bring the gospel to the unfortunate people there. In fact, Edward Allsop Court, in Great Peter Street, was established by them and is still a thriving centre for the needy and vulnerable. It is said that founder William Booth wanted to create ‘a palace for desperately needy people’. Alongside them, philanthropists like Peabody cleared
the slums to make way for new housing; there was also the outstanding work of the London City Mission, proclaiming the gospel and reaching out in Christ’s name to some of the most needy people in the area. The first gas company and street gas lighting was introduced right here in Westminster, where 150 gas street lights still exist to this day! Within a few decades the district’s character was completely changed, as a result of the partnership of charitable societies, the Church and government. One charity, still doing excellent work to support children and families, started as the ‘House of Mercy - John Fegan’s home for homeless boys under 16’ - in the mid-nineteenth century. A plaque on the wall marks the spot nearby. It reads: ‘Mr Fegan’s Homes’ - to the glory of God and the welfare of orphan, needy and erring boys, here and hereafter...’ So although there is much to concern us, let’s be thankful to God and remember the determination and hard work of past generations for the benefits of modern life in the UK.
Golden thread What can this teach us as Christians living in the twenty-first century? Material poverty may not be as extreme today, yet hundreds of thousands of people are burdened with debt, deprived of strong and loving family relationships, homeless, victims of addictions and vulnerable to lawlessness and crime. The golden thread running through CARE’s ministry is our concern for human dignity - that every person has been made in God’s image, loved and precious to Him. This is why we support those advocating an end to human trafficking, and the protection and care of exploited victims. This is why we will speak out for the unborn child, the newly born with special needs, disabled people, children and adults with learning disabilities, and those who are terminally ill. It is why we fight to protect our children and young people from harmful material, especially on the internet. One of the issues that first brought CARE into existence, in the days of the Nationwide Festival of Light forty-two years ago, was that of ‘obscenity and indecency’. In those days pornography was available in magazines, shady adult cinemas and bookshops. Now it is as easily accessible as running water, through mobile phones and computers, in people’s homes and in public places. Young children are viewing explicit material, and teenagers are taking inappropriate photographs of each other on their mobile phones and posting them on social media sites for all to see. This is an area in which we will continue to do battle in coming months and years, along with other issues where human dignity is at risk. Lord Falconer, the ardent pro-euthanasia public figure, is about to introduce legislation in the House of Lords to allow for mentally competent people who are terminally ill, to require a doctor to help them to kill themselves. A change in the law, giving people a so-called ‘right to die’ could soon become for many ‘a duty to die’. We will work resolutely to defeat such efforts.
Renewal in prayer The way society operates today is very different from the era of the Devil’s Acre, and has moved on from 1944 too. But we are still called as God’s people to preach the gospel first, and then fulfil our gospel responsibility to be a clear light and effective salt wherever He has placed us to live, work and worship. I end with the closing words from Justin Welby’s sermon at his inauguration as Archbishop of Canterbury earlier this year. ‘The church transforms society when it takes the risks of renewal in prayer, of reconciliation and of confident declaration of the good news of Jesus Christ. In England alone the churches together run innumerable food banks, shelter the homeless, educate a million children, offer debt counselling, comfort the bereaved, and far, far more. All this comes from heeding the call of Jesus Christ.’ Please remember to pray for Archbishop Justin, his wife Caroline and their family, that the Lord would grant them continued grace, wisdom courage and protection. Thank you again for standing with us, ‘for the battle is the Lord’s.’
1 Samuel 17:47.
Yours in His mercy and grace
Rev Lyndon Bowring
53 Romney Street London SW1P 3RF
Tel. 020 7233 0455 Fax. 020 7233 0983 email@example.com www.care.org.uk
Executive Chairman: Rev Lyndon Bowring Chief Executive: Nola Leach CARE is a registered charity: Charity No.1066963; Scottish Charity No. SC038911, and a company limited by Guarantee No. 3481417