Welcome to Affirming The Faith
- Jayne Ozanne's Forecast
There are many in the Church today, in the West, who foresee a bleak future. They look to the way culture and values are changing, and particularly to the developments and trends in government, the media, and the ruling establishment, and they see that traditional, orthodox Christian values and beliefs have little future here.
A few try to draw the attention of church leaders to the times that will soon be coming upon us. In December 2004, Jayne Ozanne presented a brief “personal reflection” to the Archbishops' Council of the Church of England, at the end of her term of membership of that group; it was probably not the kind of document that Anglican archbishops like to read.
Jayne Ozanne is a laywoman who has had a very successful career in marketing and promotion. Her professional work has involved many well-known household products. In 1996 she set up a marketing department in BBC Television, and has operated as a Parliamentary lobbyist, advising on matters of specific concern to Christians, such as the Communications Bill (which regulated our access to the broadcast airwaves).
Her report to the Archbishop's Council concludes with a forecast of the future of the Christian Church as experiencing a time of persecution, which will all but drive the church underground. While the persecution may be more social and economic than physical, it will involve pressures to force Christians to accept their faith as being a purely private matter.
The reaction of the official churches to such pressure will be to fragment, as some within them cling to this-worldly values and deny the principle of absolute truth and objective reality, embracing, instead, a gospel which can be presented as socially acceptable to all. Amidst this, however, a new Church will begin to arise, one which will be based on cell groups whose members will not recognise denominational badges, but rather, will discern “the mark of a spirit-filled faith in each other”.
Not surprisingly, reaction to Jayne Ozanne's document has on the whole been defensive, typifying the attitude of many church leaders, which is one of denial. Some seem to have taken refuge in the old ploy of suggesting that she simply represents an out-of-touch fringe.
In fact, she is clearly more aware of the true state of things than her critics, who seem to have been quick to return their heads to the sand (if they think that that reaction to the increasing anti-Christian trends of society comes only from young Evangelicals, they should read Harry Blamires's The Post-Christian Mind (SPCK, 2001), a book from a very different stable).
Her critics seem convinced that we can believe that all will be well with the church (suggesting to me that their experience is of that which I have called the Church Compliant). We only have to consider the changes in the church and society since, say, 1950, and then try to project those changes continuing along the same lines till 2030 or 2050.
It is obvious that in those times we will live in a world where crime, violence and disorder are "normal", where the continued "downward moral spiral" will have all but destroyed any idea "good" and "bad", "right" and "wrong", and the relativism and accommodationism in Christian (or rather Post-Christian) thinking will have robbed the church of any distinctiveness, any edge, or any message at all; except for those who stand out for the "old" truths.
Even now, as Ozanne has pointed out, those holding orthodox Christian beliefs (ordinary, unexciting, middle-of-the-road stuff, fifty years ago) are being labelled - by government ministers - "fundamentalists", with the associations of extremism, and even terrorism, being not so far behind.
This forecast, it will be said, is far too pessimistic, things won’t get this bad. Certainly, not all will be gloom; the enemy will not win every battle. Occasionally, one sees hopeful signs: among scientists, philosophers, and other intellectuals, traditional hard-line materialism seems finally to be cracking.
Just as before in history, there is bound, eventually, to be a reaction against today’s seemingly-unstoppable moral/ ethical collapse. But Christians can in no way “rely” on these trends.
Many of Jayne Ozanne’s views are fleshed out in a fascinating article contributed to a booklet in the Grove Pastoral series. The Future of Ministry. Looking Ahead 25 Years (edited by Gavin Wakefield, December 2004) presents five Christians, lay and ordained, who look at the possible state of ministry around 2029, 50 years since the Grove Pastoral Series began.
Ozanne’s "Resisting the final occupation" (pp. 23-28) draws on its author's childhood in Guernsey, where the memory of Nazi occupation and its atrocities, still lies heavy. "Perhaps it is because of my upbringing, or maybe it is because of my more recent work with the persecuted church, but I believe that the West is about to face another occupation" (p. 23).
The future of the church, she states (as in her report to the Archbishops' Council), is that of an organisation “underground”, one where traditional formal structures may no longer exist, but be replaced by one of recognisable, God-given leadership qualities, where members are willing to pay “the ultimate price” which opposition and persecution – which is very much the norm in other parts of the world – demand.
Not everyone will remain loyal to God’s commission and call for faith: the “critical question … will be whether we have turned tail and become collaborators with the occupying forces, or whether we too will be resistance fighters – underground, ready to pay with our lives for the things we believe in” (p. 27). Let us hope that you and I, if still around, will be among the loyal resistance, and not collaborators, blind to where history is taking us.