The hope of the evangelical church during the 1970s was that we were going to take the UK for Jesus Christ. It was predicted that the evangelical wing of the church, which had been growing steadily despite opposition from the liberal wing, would continue to grow year on year and that the weakness of the wider church would be overcome. In fact this has been far from true. The only reason that the evangelical wing has held its ground at all is the importing of Christians from Africa through immigration. The evangelical wing has become the establishment, the Liberal wing is in freefall, but the real growth is among the non-religious.

When I read the penultimate stanza of Psalm 89 there is a considerable degree of resonance.

40 You have broken through all his walls and reduced his strongholds to ruins.

The defences of the Church seem to be in tatters. We are under increasing spiritual attack, and yet largely unaware even of how to defend ourselves in such a situation.

41 All who pass by have plundered him; he has become the scorn of his neighbours.

The non-religious are plundering the church.  Church after church is being sold off to businesses or other religions. The Church cannot sustain the number of buildings. Yes there are a few new churches not using traditional buildings, but they are a drop in the ocean compared to the number of churches closing.

42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.

Groups opposed to the church seem to be attacking our freedoms on every front. Their vociferous attacks are listened to by the politicians, while the Church is despised and seen as out of date and irrelevant with values that do not reflect our current secular society.

43 Indeed, you have turned back the edge of his sword and have not supported him in battle.

The word of God, powerful and effective seems to be a lost cause. People are losing confidence in it because no one pays any attention. We are left asking the question, Why O Lord have you turned back the edge of your sword?

44 You have put an end to his splendour and cast his throne to the ground.

The Church is a powerless voice in our day. The senior minister of a large church was talking to a newspaper editor, and the editor told him no one cared what the church had to say. It is a spent force.

45 You have cut short the days of his youth;

The youth of our churches no longer attend. While, many are seeking to reach the world out there, the flood of youth out of the church seems forgotten. There are youth churches, but when we survey youth, most from a Christian background speak of their parent’s faith, while choosing a lifestyle indistinguishable from the world around.

you have covered him with a mantle of shame.

The summary of this is startling. We are covered with a mantle of shame. If we are to be honest we have to accept that this is where the church in Europe is today. Yet we live in a world of spin where it is unacceptable to acknowledge weakness. Furthermore, it is always possible to point to examples of apparent growth that go against the overall picture. Yet this growth is the swelling of one church at the expense of another. We allow such examples to give us hope and refuse to look upon where we really are. It is only when we can look with honesty at our actual state that we will be able to learn from God.

In this Psalm there is one clear cause. The cause is clearly identified in each verse by the word – ‘YOU!’ The cause is the Lord.  This is His doing! This is incomprehensible to us. It goes against our foundational assumptions and so we reject it without even a second thought. We run from this strange world where the Lord would diminish His Church and revert to our knee jerk reactions of explaining that WE are the cause of the Churches problems. If I were to go into a Church group and ask why the Church is struggling then I would get responses such as Our failure in – repentance, evangelism, prayer, cultural sensitivity, faithfulness to the Word of God, living by the Spirit, … the list goes on. Fill in the gap with whatever the emphasis of that church group is. In our arrogance we say, I am the answer.

If God is handing us a mantle of shame then there are two things we need to do.  The first is to wear the mantle openly, to acknowledge that we are in a state of shame, the second is to ask Him why He is doing it and listen to Him for what He says rather than presuming we know from our own observations.