Member Letter from Chairman Rhodes
February 23, 2012
Diane and I recently returned from a trip to the United Kingdom where I had been invited to present the first Kingdom of God Bible seminar in the nation’s capital, London.
Over a thousand invitations had been sent out. Eighteen new people came, which is quite a good attendance. I don’t think anybody had driven there—they all used public transport, as we did. It remains the best way to get around the city.
There was a great deal of enthusiasm among the new attendees. A number of them asked many questions afterwards. Most of the people present were from Commonwealth countries, nations that were formerly colonies of Great Britain. These countries all inherited the common bonds of the English language and freedom of religion, which have enabled us to preach the gospel in so many parts of the world.
Our visit came shortly after the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible in 1611. An exhibition at Westminster Abbey commemorated the event. This has been described as the most influential book in history, after the Bible itself, as the British, in time, took the book with them to all their overseas possessions including the American colonies that became the United States of America. There was an incredible enthusiasm for the Bible for centuries. The historian Jacques Barzun wrote that this enthusiasm “did not cease for 350 years; 1900 was the first year in which religious works (at least in England) did not outnumber all other publications” (“From Dawn to Decadence,” page 10, 2000).
How times have changed!
A fellow minister, Mike Caputo, who serves in the Toronto, Canada, area, pointed out recently that most websites devoted to atheism are based in Britain. And, certainly, many of those will be in the London area.
I have five brothers in England. Four of them have never owned a Bible, let alone read one. I reflected on how best we can reach a nation when most people are unfamiliar with Scripture. It’s not just Britain as most of Europe is the same. It’s also increasingly the case in the United States. It’s a challenge, but it’s one we must face. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). It is clear that God is calling people in all nations. “For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
On the Sunday we had a ministerial conference in the former Imperial Schools building in Bricket Wood, a small community north of London. Amongst other items of business, we welcomed our latest addition to the overstretched ministry over there, Alex Preston, who was recently ordained. Alex and his wife Christine live in Scotland. I joked about visiting them before I need a visa—Scotland is set to hold a referendum on breaking away from the United Kingdom in 2014.
We spent a great deal of time in the meetings discussing future Feast sites. As well as choosing locations easily accessible to church members in the British Isles, consideration is given to attracting visitors from overseas who are always welcome, and a reassurance to the small church in the British Isles that they are very much a part of an international association. This year the Feast will be in Llandudno, North Wales.
The following day John Ross Schroeder and I were back in London for a press conference on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Although February 6 was the actual anniversary of the Queen’s ascension to the throne in 1952, official celebrations will take place the first weekend of June when the weather is better. At least, it should be! Britain’s weather can be notoriously unpredictable.
This will be only the second diamond jubilee in British history. Queen Victoria, the present Queen’s great-great grandmother, celebrated hers in 1897 at the time of Britain’s ascendancy, when the map of the world was dominated by the color red, all the nations that made up the British Empire.
One of the people presiding over the press conference remarked, with incredulity, that 400 years ago people actually believed that the monarch was chosen by God, a reference to the idea of the Divine Right of Kings. But you don’t have to go back four centuries. When the present Queen was crowned the majority of the British people believed the same.
Comparing Britain at the time of Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral in January 1965, a momentous event that I still profoundly remember, with the country 32 years later at the time of Princess Diana’s funeral in September 1997, the writer Peter Hitchens wrote that in Churchill’s time: “The country was a profoundly Christian society, in which religion was part of the language, of the state and of daily life in a way quite unique in Europe…Through its great literature, its verse and its hymns it had obtained an idea of itself that was comforting and powerful. It believed in the family and the home, that great zone of private life in which the state has no business” (“The Abolition of Britain,” page 347, 1999). A profound change took place between these two funerals!
This change began earlier, as Jacques Barzun observed. It’s due to a number of factors, one of which is the increasing secularization of society. In turn, this has led to outright hostility toward religion—and this is true on both sides of the Atlantic and in other western democracies.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Britain has lost it way spiritually—and this has a great deal to do with increased secularization and the rejection of the Bible. But it’s also increasingly true of the United States, where we see growing rejection of the country’s biblical roots.
American historian Benson Bobrick wrote: “Englishmen carried their Bible with them—as the rock and foundation of their lives—overseas” (“Wide as the Waters,” page 12, 2001). It was the very foundation of their lives. Those Englishmen eventually became Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans, founding other nations originally on the British model. As Hitchens put it: “Religion was part of the language, of the state and of daily life in a way quite unique in Europe.” The Bible had little influence on the continent of Europe, where the church and its traditions controlled the minds of the people. It wasn’t until after England broke with the church that King Henry VIII was able to lift the ban on the Bible.
When God told Abraham that his descendants would be a blessing this must have been one of the blessings He had in mind—that the Word of God would go out to the world through his descendants, the British and American peoples: “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
It continues today. God’s Church in the British Isles is very small. Compared to mainstream churches, God’s Church in the United States is also small. But thanks to the tithes and offerings of the people in the United States, the United Church of God is able to preach the gospel to the world, out of all proportion to our size.
Our ancestors four centuries ago embraced the Bible with great enthusiasm, so much so that King Henry VIII had to tell the English people to curb their enthusiasm, as he had heard that people were even reading their Bibles in the pubs, which he felt was highly inappropriate (Bobrick, page 160).
As our ancestors took their Bibles with them everywhere, we should also take the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God everywhere we can, going through doors as God opens them.
Next month our minister in Nigeria, Oludare Akinbo, will be presenting the first Kingdom of God seminar in Accra, Ghana. Seminars have already taken place in Australia, Canada, the United States, Germany, England, Nigeria, Kenya, Brazil, Chile, the Philippines, Hong Kong, India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Ireland, Zambia, Bolivia and the Isle of Man.
In the U.S. a new series of seminars will be held in May. We hope to continue the program with a new series three times a year.
As we reach out to the world with a renewed vigor, sharing the good news of the coming Kingdom, we see our Western nations increasingly turning their backs on God. Atheists are becoming more militant with a planned mass march on Washington, D.C., next month. Court decisions on both sides of the Atlantic reflect anti-Christian sentiment.
It is not just coincidence that as Britain turned away from the Bible the nation declined, having lost its way. Now we see clearly the same development in the U.S. Deuteronomy 28 shows a clear connection between our nations’ obedience to God’s laws and the blessings that were received; also the negative consequences of turning away from the laws of God. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
German-Foreign-Policy.com noted on February 20: “According to an expert of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAB), it had already become apparent at the last G-20 Summit that ‘the enormous power of the US’ had ‘noticeably diminished’ because of its economy’s chronic weaknesses.”
Britain’s rapid decline followed two world wars that effectively bankrupted the nation. The U.S. is set to follow after fighting two big conflicts in the last decade.
At a time when we see our nations facing all kinds of serious problems and clearly in terminal decline, it is our responsibility to bring a message of hope to the British and American peoples and, indeed, the whole world—hope in the promised Kingdom of God, the good news that Jesus Christ gave to us, the news of His return to establish a world ruling Kingdom that will never be destroyed.
Melvin Rhodes—Chairman, Council of Elders