For two and a half weeks I was in England and Scotland with 71 students and faculty from SEBTS and SWBTS on our annual Oxford Study Tour. The tour consists of courses taught by faculty combined with trips to some of the important historical sites in Baptist history and church history. I taught “History and Theology of British Preaching.”
England and Scotland are filled with once-vibrant churches many of which now are only a shell of their former selves. Beautiful, elegant, buildings that once seated hundreds, even thousands in days gone by, now have a small contingency of the grey-headed faithful rattling around in their spacious sanctuaries.
Many churches have closed their doors and stand like ghostly galleons; mute testimony to former life. Some church buildings have been renovated into offices, garages, even bars and nightclubs.
Oxford itself, the place where in the 18th century John and Charles Wesley, along with George Whitefield, were members of the “Holy Club,” is now a secularized city, with many liberal churches. Some say it is the heart of England’s militant atheism.
Just down the road from Oxford’s famous Bodleian library, the circular man-hole size marker with the faded red cross on the pavement on Broad St. marks the spot where in October, 1555, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, and five months later, Thomas Cranmer, were burned at the stake by “Bloody Mary” for their championing of salvation as justification by faith alone against the Catholic Church.
As the crowds passed by with hardly a soul paying any attention to the marker, I heard three teenage girls pause briefly and with a quizzical look on their face, one queried, “I wonder what that stands for?” Another said, “I think it is where they burned three witches a long time ago.” They then hurried on their way into a local shop.
England, the country that was shaken by the bold preaching of the Puritans in the 17th century, the soul-stirring evangelistic preaching of Wesley and Whitefield in the 18th century, the powerful preaching of the likes of Spurgeon in the 19th century, and men like G. Campbell Morgan and Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the 20th century, is now a post-Christian nation.
Liberal Christianity of all denominations is in vogue. Most people exhibit attitudes ranging from an outward nonchalance toward Christianity to an out-and-out hostility to anything religious.
But thank God there are still some evangelical congregations in the land, though they are of the smaller variety. Our group teamed up with two Baptist churches in London for two mornings of door to door and street-corner evangelism.
On Wednesday of this week, for two hours we spread out over old Oxford, in parks, markets, and malls to share Christ with those who would listen. For the most part we found an unwillingness on the part of people to give us the time of day. Some were cold and dismissive. Most were disinterested. A few listened and received evangelistic booklets. Three prayed to receive Christ as Savior. They entered Jesus’ narrow gate that leads to life.
Standing at the entrance of the old parish Church of Saint Mary in Harlington, Bedfordshire, where John Bunyan once attended, I looked upon the old wooden double-door main entrance to the church. Just to the left, not 20 feet away was a smaller, narrower “wicket gate,” a personal door only large enough for a single person to enter and exit. This door had long-since been unused. It is said that this is where Bunyan got the inspiration for the “wicket gate” in his famous allegory Pilgrim’s Progress.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.”
Many in England, . . . and America, are on the broad path, thinking in the end they will be alright without Jesus Christ. But the Gospel is just as potent and powerful today as it was in the days of old when many were swept into the Kingdom of God through the preaching of men like Bunyan.
May the revival that once swept England and America begin afresh. Pray that it begins with us. Otherwise, in a few short years, America will be a post-Christian nation. She is certainly well on the “Broad way” at the moment.