The Death of Respect
I recently watched an extremely good programme on the TV – Death of Respect (BBC 2). The theme of the programme was how behaviour and culture has changed and continues to change across Britain. It showed clips from family life and behaviour in the 1950s through to the current day.
I remember Britain in the latter part of the 1950s and, as the programme indicated, it was radically different from today. Life for the majority of the population was very basic. My parents, brothers and I lived in a corner shop in the terraced street in the East of Manchester. Life was very free and relaxed – houses were never locked and adults wandered in and out of each other homes. People overall behaved in accordance with an understood and accepted pattern of behaviour.
The TV programme showed clips of family life; everyone in the living room together, Mum and Dad listening to the radio or in the case of the very fortunate, watching the television, and the children either reading or playing games; mealtimes around the table. There was close interaction with neighbours, help offered and accepted. Although this may today sound idealistic, I would suspect across most of Britain, this was how people lived in the 1950s.
The 1960s saw the start of radical social change; the spirit of individualism was born and people began to turn against principles and practices which had been endemic for generations.
Ideas and practices began to radically change; people no longer went to Church with the same frequency and the idea that the Church offered imperative moral guidance to those growing up began to disappear. Individual quests for personal fulfilment at all cost became the cause celebre. My personal wants and my needs became the imperative.
I am most certainly showing my age here, but I remember when the nuclear family was the norm; father was provider of the main source of income and moral guidance and mother, albeit perhaps also supplementing the family income, was primarily carer of the family and maintainer of stable family life. The children garnered their moral yardstick from church and family – parents and grandparents – and school. Of course, there are always exceptions to any norm, but this was widely the pattern across society.
The past decades have brought about enormous changes – amazing technological advances, more wealth, greater access to education, etc., but there does not appear to be a corresponding level of contentment and happiness across society.
The Death of Respect programme pointed to the serious decline in lifestyle today for those at the bottom end of the socio economic scale. An example was shown of a young lady who had had three children, from three different relationships – the first when she was seventeen years old. She now lived in a council house, was in her twenties and although she wanted to move on and to make a better life for herself and her children, she was seemingly trapped in the benefits versus employment for-little-extra scenario. Her background: mother and father divorced, new stepfather whom she disliked, she lived in a children’s home until she was sixteen.
The greatest change over the past decades – and in my view the saddest and potentially the most damaging – is to the family unit and an increasingly widening split between those who ‘have’ and those who ‘have not’ and between those who belong to a strong family unit and those who are part of the increasing dysfunctional families.
Death of Respect, in my opinion, pointed clearly to the link between the decline of the Church and the deterioration in morality and family life. It drew a clear parallel between the lack of influence the Church now had on society and the resulting moral decline. The Church appears to a great extent to have lost its voice and perhaps forgotten the role it once provided in society. As the programme pointed out, people still spend Sundays in ‘cathedrals’, but now the twenty-first century shopping centres.
The consequences have proved devastating for society.
Up to the 1950s it was accepted practice that people attended church on Sunday. In fact in the 1950s, if you were not at church early, then it was unlikely that you could get in at all.
But church attendance is not necessarily evidence of spiritual health.
The church espoused morality, but, in many quarters, failed to proclaim the gospel faithfully. The message too often simply encouraged ‘good’ behaviour and church attendance for many simply masked unregenerate religious morality. And so people wore their ‘Sunday best’, fixed their hair and attended church, but for very many, all of this masked a lack of heart transformation.
People who are not alive to the Gospel of Christ and who do not understand the cost and the wonder of salvation cannot act as witness to their families or to their community. They cannot pass on what they do not know. The result of lack of conviction of sin and of an unregenerate heart is insipid and ineffective evangelism and a departure from the Gospel. If we merely attend church because it is the ‘right thing to do’, or the place to meet nice people rather than because we are worshippers of the Living God, then we may as well spend our Sunday mornings at the shopping centre. Many social commentators and theologians agree that over the past decades the church must carry blame for the gradual disintegration and slide in morality. Although church attendance was high, the numbers of church attendees masked the true spiritual state of the nation and, as each succeeding generation saw a decline and then even further decline in attendance, the church was reluctant or ill-equipped to do anything. And so the decline continued and today we see the fruit of this all around us.
Yes, men and women are to blame. Yes, society must bear responsibility for the moral degeneration which we now find all around us. But my question is this: where is the church of Christ today, now, at this very moment in time?
The church is, sadly, more often quiet when it should be most vociferous and vocal. We fear to be seen to be out of touch. Even more often, we, regrettably, try to be everything to everyone and succeed in being nothing to anyone. We seem to fear the opinion of society more than we fear that the reckoning we will have to make before God.
Is there hope for change?
This country has turned away from the Church of Christ and considers it an anachronism and an irrelevance. Those who have seen and experienced the power and glory of the risen Christ know this to be wrong. Jesus changes lives. The body of Christ – his Church – can demonstrate the difference between living a worldly life and a life surrendered to Jesus. Parents who know Christ as Saviour and who follow him have a calling on their lives to mirror the love of God in their families. They are called to teach their children the Word of God and to pattern their behaviour around the truth of the Gospel. They are to pass on to the next generation the truth of the Gospel.
In Matthew 5:14 Jesus tells his people (his church):
You are the light of the world…
God shone his light into the world, but men and women are blinded to the true horror of the darkness all around them. This is where the Church should be moving and making a difference. We carry the light of Christ in our lives and we have the answer to those who feel trapped and can see no end to the misery that engulfs them.
You are the salt of the earth… (Matthew 5:14)
Christ tells us that we are the ‘salt of the earth…’. People should be able to look at us as individuals – as Christians – and see by the way we behave, at all times and in all circumstances, that we are different; have something that they do not have in their lives.
Many years ago, my wife and I married and, after several years, had our first son. We were extremely happy and thought we had everything we needed. Through a friend who had recently become a Christian, we were cajoled into attending a fellowship/study meeting for married couples. To our absolute astonishment, they were all very normal, funny and extremely nice people, but over and above this we could clearly ‘see’ that they had something we did not have in our lives. This is how we came to hear the Gospel and these were the people who led us to the Lord. We saw them and recognised that they had a mysterious ‘something’ extra which we did not have – we subsequently realised they had Christ in their lives – we then wanted Jesus in our lives as our Saviour and Lord and the rest, as they say, is history.
We cannot, of course, turn back the clock, but for the dysfunctional families, those who rely on drugs and alcohol, the lawless, those who can see only their own wants and desires – for these people and others who feel there is no purpose beyond the here and now – the church of Christ has the answer to their problems and to the problems of the whole world. This is why the church must make itself seen and heard as a united body of Christ speaking out in righteousness and with love and compassion.
If we are ‘salt’ and if we are ‘light’ in our communities then people will see Christ in us. They will see the way we bring up our families, how we interact with each other, the compassion and love which we have for those with whom we come into contact and they, as we did so many years ago, will ask and seek for the source of the difference.
We often forget that we have something which is more powerful and of more value than anything this world has to offer. Christians experience problems and difficulties, but we have Christ who will be with us in all circumstances. He is our help and he is the Hope for all those who are in despair.
The Death of Respect programme was a very good, but also a very sad programme. Although not stated, it was very easy to see that, piece by piece, a little at a time, the church had become embroiled and distracted by so many things that it had relinquished its prime calling to be salt and light in society and to proclaim the glorious truth of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.
Can the situation be reversed? The Church was once described as a gathering place for any army to discuss tactics on how to beat the enemy. In our apathy, our self-obsessed introspection and the resulting busy-ness, we forget that we are representatives of Christ Jesus and our function is to show Jesus to those who are lost, hopeless and without direction.
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)