This was the heading of the lead article for the cover story of Time magazineʼs June 16 edition. It speaks of the challenges facing the Church in the light of falling attendances, and ageing clergy and consistent scandal. In all, the article demonstrates that people are becoming disillusioned with the Church and its ways. The last of the faithful who have remained true to the Church are now doubting that God is there or are turning to alternate religions.

Even in Italy, the home of the Roman Catholic Church, monthly attendances have dropped to 53%, which is less than Ireland with 67%. Even the number of Europeans who identify as Catholic, which is by far the biggest denomination on the Continent, has fallen by one third since 1978. Similarly, Britain the home of Church of England has dropped to 18.9%, which includes all other religions too. Remarkably, as the European Union (EU) drafted its new constitution (a document to define European unity of purpose and direction), any mention of God was left out. Remarkable, because the nations of Europe have connections to Constantine and the Holy Roman Empire both on a political and religious plane, together with the fact that there was strident protest from leaders of strong Catholic nations, such as Poland, as well as the Pope.

What is Happening in the Church?

Whilst this trend has been growing over a number of years, which has seen the Church adopt new and sometimes outrageous and blasphemous extremes to hold their poor misguided flocks, in more recent times the constant scandals have rocked the faith of the steadfast.

After months of haggling, the Uniting Church in Australia looks ready to implode, as the synods which make up its ruling body have decided to embrace gay and lesbian clergy. The Australian (“Protest Group to Quit Church”, September 26, 2003), reported that at least a quarter of delegates would break away and form a new alliance. It was not an unexpected result, given that The Sydney Morning Herald ran a story with the headline “Uniting Church Torn over Gay Ordination” (July 17, 2003), in which very strong statements were made by both sides.

Meanwhile, across the Pacific in the US, the equivalent of the Church of England, the Episcopal Church, at its General Convention, approved the election of a gay bishop as the new Bishop of New Hampshire, a north eastern state of the US. (“Gay Minister Closer to Final Vote”, The Seattle Times, August 4, 2003) One of the dissenting members of the convention said that he did not know how he would return to his parishioners to explain that the Church that they love had become an apostate church. But what else could be expected when the church ordained women in 1976, allowed the ordination of gay men in1986 and then permitted the appointment of a female bishop three years later?

Similar scenes occurred in the UK several months back as the Church of England readied to appoint an openly gay clergy man to the position of Bishop of Reading, a large diocese west of London (“Open Warfare as Churchmen Speak up for Gay Bishop”, The Times, June 20, 2003). The Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the head of the Church of England, appealed for more tolerance by stating that what defines a church is “the call of Christ, and our freedom and ability to recognise that call in each other”. In commenting on that statement, a journalist in The Independent (“Will Anyone Now Listen to the Archbishop?” July 15, 2003) responded by saying that a church is also defined by “agreement about a range of common doctrines, dogmas, practices and notions of authority”.

The whole attitude of the church is that it should reflect the values of the society in which it lives, Slowly and inexorably it has left any notion of true Christian values behind as it validates and authorises at the highest levels lasciviousness never thought possible in an organization that espouses religion. We are not immune from the permissiveness of the society in which we live. It happened in the times of Jude: “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (v4). They were in the ecclesia and were turning the liberty in Christ into licence to do whatever they wanted.

We need to be on our guard at all times against the ideas of the world making an indelible impression on our values by continually re-validating the values we hold with those set forth in Scripture. This is a responsibility that everyone bears—not just a few. Trends which cut against the clear injunctions of Scripture need to be addressed urgently by all—as all have responsibilities as watchmen in these last days.

The Dead-end Roadmap

As Europe has sought to bring down the remaining barriers between the EU member states with the removal of the checkpoints on their national borders, Israel has been erecting a large security fence across large stretches of its terrain. The fence is designed to keep troublesome Palestinian insurgents in their own territory, but has become another sticking point in proceeding down the Roadmap to Peace for the region.

The large steel and concrete structure has been designed to snake its way across the countryside for 600km (“Bush Climbs Down over Israelʼs Wall”, Weekend Australian, August 2,3) and has become one of the defensive weapons in maintaining relative calm in some of the more vulnerable villages on the Israeli side. The Israelis cite that “of the 95 suicide bombings against Israel, virtually all have come from the West Bank which did not have a barrier until the fence began going up a year ago (“Israelʼs Newest Line in the Dirt”, International Herald Tribune, July 11,2003) unlike the Gaza fence which has prevented bombers originating from there, which explains the popularity of the fence amongst the Israelis.

Even though the terrorist organization Hamas has ended its truce with Israel, this is perhaps one of the signs of a nation dwelling securely and confidently (Ezek 38:10). The villages have no walls or because their confidence has turned to the construction of a single wall, which they expect will prove to be as effective on the West Bank as it has been in Gaza.

But that is not all that has brought the fragile peace to an abrupt and explosive halt. The Israelis have continued to hammer away at the failure of Yasser Arafat to rein in the militants and whilst a peace of sorts settled over Israel the faint expectations of any lasting cessation of hostilities was soon a smoking ruin. “No one in the blood-soaked corner of the Middle East contested by the Israelis and Palestinians really believed the cease fire declared by Islamic militants two months ago would hold (“Road Map to Hell”, Time, September 1, 2003).

In the week after the cease-fire unravelled, the headline in The Australian (August 25, 2003) said it all, “Peace didnʼt stand a chance”. The article went on to say: “The modern world is offended by the idea that any problem could be insoluble. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict comes closest to that condition”. The hopelessness of an economically and politically viable Palestine, as envisioned in the Oslo Accords, even if a lasting peace could be found, would always ensure that the conflict is on a journey that will never end until the whole concept of sovereign governments is terminated by the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev 11:15).

All the while, as peace struggled to survive amid the simmering tensions, Yasser Arafat was reportedly working on the weakening of the position of the Palestinian security chief, who had promised to restore law and order in the Gaza strip (“Israel Assassinating Map”, The Australian, August 26, 2003). In the meantime Chairman Arafat was also busy undermining his Prime Minister, Mr Abbas (“Arafat and Abbas Cannot Co-operate”, South China Morning Post, September 2, 2003), who has since resigned and Israel have now threatened to expel Arafat. (“Exasperated Israel Threatens to Expel Arafat”, South China Morning Post, September 3, 2003)

What little peace that existed for a time is shattered, the moderate Prime Minister designed to take the Palestinians from their terrorist ways to a socially responsible nation has resigned, Yasser Arafat is firmly in control of the Palestinian national mindset as Israel threatens to expel him—the world has come to the firm realisation that a lasting peace is a fiction.

As tragic as it may be, the continual maiming of the innocent shoppers and diners in Jerusalemʼs and Tel Avivʼs retail precincts seems like it is becoming a permanent part of the bloodied landscape. However, a greater tragedy is if we do not use the opportunity to warn and to urge others to embrace the saving truth of the Word of God as we have opportunity. How often do we have these troublesome incidents raised in casual conversation and we casually let it pass whilst we converse on more mundane and trivial events. The challenge is also there that we might encourage those that are wavering in these final hours of Gentile times, as well as to cause us to take stock of our own personal situation.

Unlike those who perish by chance on the streets of Jerusalem and other major Israeli towns through the random acts of senseless suicide bombers, we will perish through our own deliberate actions if we are not diligent in these last days (Luke 13:1–5). Through the mercy of the Father we have the opportunity to participate in a time of lasting peace unknown in the world since the Garden of Eden. Our time of preparation and service is now (Rom 2:7,8). World peace is as inevitable as the sure return of the Lord Jesus Christ—and we can share in that wonderful time by seeking first the Kingdom of God (Matt 6:33,34, Col 3:1–4).

Europe and the US—Heading Apart?

The political divide between the EU states and the US showed its real colours in the conflict in Iraq. Without a mandate from the UN and against the express wishes of the EU states, mostly Germany and France, the US pressed ahead with smashing the regime of Saddam Hussein. Since then there has been an open stand-off between the leading European nations and the US, with President Bush making hurried trips to try to restore some mutual cooperation.

As the war has dragged on in Iraq, the cost has mounted for the US and President Bush is facing increasing hostility on the home front as the US heads to a Presidential election in just over 12 months. This has led to more conciliatory appeals from the US to the Europeans to help shoulder the huge burden of rebuilding Iraq.

Whilst there are encouraging signs that they will come to the party, two things are obvious: the US will continue to be in Iraq for some time to come as Europe is still strongly of the view that the US got into the mess of its own volition and its help will be little more than a token effort; and the Europeans still harbour a great deal of resentment created by the unilateral action of the US to invade Iraq.

Only three weeks before the staged back-down of the French at the UN to support efforts in the rebuilding of Iraq (“Chirac Boosts US Hopes on Iraq Deal”, The Australian, September 25, 2003) a comprehensive poll showed that the differences between the Europeans and the US are widening, with the Europeans more opposed to the use of force. The report on the poll in The Straits Times (September 25, 2003) stated that the proportion of Europeans that favour a strong US global presence had dropped from 64% to 45% in 12 months. In France 7 out of 10 respondents said American global leadership was “undesirable”, with half of the Italians and Germans polled agreeing.

The US also continues to wage a war on regulation of business across the globe. For European companies to trade in the US, especially on US based stock exchanges, the US authorities require them to comply with comprehensive US legislation. The Europeans consider this excessive and so there are serious issues affecting the balance of trade for some nations (“EU Lines up Retaliation Against US on Regulation”, Financial News, 16–22 June, 2003).

All of this continues to indicate the simmering distrust and animosity that runs under the surface of what appears to be a friendly and amicable relationship between the US and Europe, especially in the new agreements emerging on the rebuilding of Iraq.

But the US not only has its troubles on the Continent. A report earlier this year also detailed that Russia is making significant efforts towards re-establishing its control over the new satellite nations that broke away from the former USSR in the light of increasing US influence in the region. (“Russia Flexes its Muscles Against the US” BusinessWeek, June 30, 2003). The report states that the Russians are building a Rapid Response Force at the large airbase at Kant in Kyrgyzstan (which borders China) only 30km from a large US airbase. The Russians are also increasing the presence of troops in Georgia in response to the US bias of the government, as well as the rebuilding of the rail line to the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, to make sure that the Armenians stay in the Russian camp. The whole question in this new geo-political struggle in the small and vulnerable states south of Russia is oil. The area of the Caspian Sea has reserves which exceed those of the North Sea and Russia clearly wants to remain in control of this vital asset.

Only Britain, as would be expected, continues to stand by the US. Even when the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, is under tremendous pressure over the suicide of a high raking defence scientist and obvious flaws in their reasons for attacking Iraq, the UK has remained faithful to the US. And Britain continues to be at loggerheads with Europe over a wide ranging number of issues ranging from tax on childrenʼs clothing, the EU farm policy that favours more inefficient farms in France, and the amendments to the EU constitution forced through by the diplomats in France. All of this and the widespread perception that Tony Blair has sold out Britain in the recent negotiations over the European Constitution has pushed the UK further away from becoming fully integrated in the EU. In the June 9, 2003 issue of Time, an article on the subject defined “europhobia” as “a strong fear, found chiefly among the British, that giving more power to the European Union spells doom”.

So the alliances continue to fall into line with our understanding of the alignment of the nations in the last days. The Image is on its feet and stands defiantly in the grand plan of God with the nations. And whilst the nations vie to be mighty ones and hunters on the earth (Gen 10:8,9), in heaven the Almighty is preparing to send the stone cut out of the mountain without hands to their ultimate destruction.

Conclusion

This article opened with the question raised by Time, “O Father, where art thou?” The events that have been discussed in this article show that our God is a living God and is at work through His angels. They confirm that we can have the confidence and faith in Him to fulfil His purpose and that the hands on the divine clock are drawing to the midnight hour when He will send our Master back to the earth so that His will might be done as it is in heaven.