Monday, 27 November 2017

A Golden Age

What Christianised England "Looked" Like

We live in a secularist society.  It is atheistic, humanistic, statist . . . the adjectives go on.  Consequently, it is difficult for us to imagine a society which is (or was) thoroughly Christian.  We do not imply by that adjective that it is or was completely Christian.  Rather we mean that society was influenced and steered by the Christian faith.  In other words, we refer to a place and time where the Christian faith dominated individual, family and public life.

Has ever such a time existed in the past?  Yes.  It has.  Historian Robert Tombs describes England in the seventeenth century.  In particular, he describes parish life.  Prepare to enter an alien world--that is, a world profoundly different from our own.
The truly serious issue, as it had been for a century, was religion, now the focus of cultural, social, personal and political life to an unparalleled extent.  In the wake of the Reformation and the impact of the English Bible, most people felt more intensely about religion than all but the most fervent minority today.  [Robert Tombs, The English and Their History (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2015), p.214. Emphasis, ours.]
We acknowledge that being fervent Christians (that is, true believers) we indeed are a small minority in our own countries today.  This is pretty much consistent throughout the West.  But we would make a grave error if we believed that it has always been this way.
  The extent and depth of commitment to the Christian faith in England in the seventeenth century, singular though it may be in our experience, came about not by royal declarations, wars, laws, invasions, or the like.  It was a true Christian advance in that it came from the bottom up.  The more pervasive it became, the more it began to be reflected in schools, parishes, communities, and--eventually--in parliaments.
Furthermore, religion [Christianity] had an inescapable social and political impact that it has now almost lost in Europe--though not, of course, elsewhere.  The ligament of society was the parish--on average, 500-600 people, of whom about a quarter were adult males.  The parish was the spiritual embodiment of the community and also the basis of local government, responsible, for example, for roads and poor relief.  All were required by law to belong--even Catholic "recusants" were required to show minimum participation.  . . . "Men are governed in peacetime more by the pulpit than the sword," commented Sir John Eliot, a leading parliamentarian.  [Ibid.]
Thus, there was no emperor sitting atop a throne ordering his subjects to believe and to obey the Crown's diktats to profess allegiance to Jesus Christ.   If anything, it was the reverse.  When English kings or queens in this period did issue diktats, it was usually to steer the country towards Roman Catholicism--which is to say, they were more orientated to link the English throne with regal cousins and allies in Europe.  Mostly political struggles had to do with the Christian populace refusing to recognize the divine right of kings to rule in the place of King Jesus, over against the divine right of King Jesus to rule every heart, hearth, and community, as well as the throne.  This meant that the largely Christian populace believed it had been granted divine rights that the throne must respect.  The regal claim to a divine right of kings was sharply curtailed by the the assertion of the divine rights of citizens.

Consequently, most government was devised and executed at a local level.
Parishes, charities, Church courts and the Poor Law regulated individual and family behaviour, punished the unruly and care for the vulnerable.  The parish was meant to reflect the political and social hierarchy, with clergy appointed by the Crown, local landowners or the bishops, and with respectable men taking turns as parish officers.  So national religious politics affected every community in the land. [Ibid]
 All this begs a question: is there any possibility that a modern Western secularist nation might again become so thoroughly Christianised that (say) eighty percent of its population were genuine conscientious Christians?  The answer is immediately to hand: of course-if it were to please the Lord.  For reformation, revival, and true saving faith come via the regenerating work of the Spirit of God.

Today we find ourselves a "fervent minority".  What prevents us from becoming a fervent majority?  Nothing--if (and when) it pleases the Lord.

No comments: