LONDON – The church in the West doesn’t hold the authority that it once did but the church has historically done just as well when it was in a position of weakness, says Richard Tiplady.
Tiplady, principal of International Christian College in Glasgow, had some assuring words for the church as he delivered the final address at the Keswick Convention this week.
Minority status has been the “norm” for Christians throughout history and remains the case today, he argued.
“It certainly was for Paul and the Christians in the first few centuries – and it didn’t stop the church exploding, not just across the Roman Empire but the Persian Empire as well,” he said.
By the time the first Celtic missionaries were evangelising England in the sixth and seventh centuries, the church in China was already so large that it had its own archbishop, he noted.
With that in mind, minority status is not something that worries Tiplady, and he does not want other evangelicals to be worried about it either.
“The church, through the Gospel, exploded across the world from a position of weakness, persecution and suffering – not of power," he said. “Evangelical Christianity flourishes not where it is in control, but where there is freedom to think differently.
“Evangelicals have a strong tradition of arguing for freedom of religion.”
As for the fact that the church is shrinking in the West, Tiplady suggests that the church move on from beating itself up.
“We give in, intellectually and emotionally, we say that things are getting worse and worse," he said. “We feel beleaguered, pushed to the margins. Maybe that is just life, something we have to deal with."
“Christianity has had a privileged place in our culture, and we do not have that place any more," he continued. “Maybe, instead of trying to hold onto the past, maybe these are the times that God has given us.”
His answer to all this is for the church to harness the evangelistic tools that are already available and train people to take the Gospel to wherever they are, be it the workplace or social settings.
“We need to recover our confidence in the Gospel,” he said. “There is no simple formula, but there is an abiding requirement for simple evangelism.
"We are people of the cross and people of the resurrection. That message will transform our society.”